The Coalition Government's freeze on policy for learning with technology may be ending
Matthew HancockSkills minister Matthew Hancock MPA new report on the role of digital technologies for learning and teaching in further education (FE) outlines around 40 changes that should be implemented by policy-makers, education leaders and teachers and learners to bring about a step change and a cultural shift for the sector.

The recommendations of the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (Feltag) now go to the politician who set it up, Matthew Hancock MP, minister for skills and enterprise in BIS,for his consideration. A ministerial response is expected within weeks.

The Feltag development has already resulted in the creation of the Educational Technology Action Group, chaired by Professor Stephen Heppell, which will identify opportunities and barriers to be removed for schools, FE and Higher Education (see "Etag ICT policy group told 'be bold and ambitious'"). The developments signal a shift in thinking by education minister Michael Gove that leaving all decisions to the education front line might not be the best policy when there is a clear need for leadership and support.

Action groups a blueprint for agile policy groups?

The operations of these inclusive, tech-savvy and relatively open action groups are seen as a potential blueprint for future agile policy-advice outfits. They signal the unblocking of policy on technology for learning which had instantly stagnated with the emergence of the Coalition Government, the dismantling of the government ICT agency Becta and the virtual shunning of the educational technology 'community' by senior politicians.

The new report was launched at the Education and Innovation Conference and Exhibition in Manchester today (February 27) at a special Feltag discussion panel where it was warmly welcomed by Mathew Hancock (via Skype) who saw it as a helpful development in using technology to raise achievements.

The context for the creation of Feltag was that technology is not an end in itself, that Government cannot provide all the answers and that the project had to be owned by the FE community rather than politicians, a government department or a quango. It was charged with making practical recommendations to ensure the effective use of technology for learning and quickly identified six 'workstreams' to focus on.

The 'workstreams'

This is how the report presents them:

  1. Horizon-scanning – the sector has to keep abreast of change;
  2. Investment and capital infrastructure – procurement should be appropriate and agile;
  3. Regulation and funding – ensuring these should not inhibit innovation and its effectiveness in improving learners’ outcomes;
  4. Workforce capacity – the entire workforce has to be brought up to speed to fully understand the potential of learning technology;
  5. Employers – relationships between the FE community and employers should become closer and richer, and enhanced by learning technology inside and outside the workplace;
  6. Learners – seen as the greatest resource available to FE and skills providers, they must be empowered to fully exploit their own understanding of, and familiarity with, digital technology for their own learning.

The report will be broadly welcomed in the FE community as a way to push forward the integration of digital technologies. It comes hot on the heels of a City and Guilds report, "Culture, Coaching and Collaboration: How to unlock the potential of digital technology in vocational teaching and learning", by Charlynne Pullen and Olivia Varley-Winter, which urges FE colleges to be bolder in their use of technology.

The recommendations include a major increase in online learning

There is plenty of material in the Feltag report to support follow-up action by the minister and education leaders, around 40 in all, and many of them specific.

In the section concerning learners there are thought to be recommendations for stepping up 'digital leader' schemes, further developing learner voice and incorporating feedback into policy, raising awareness of assistive technology. The employer recommendations may include input in the design and delivery of learning which would include more technology, and supporting the development of Moocs and Voocs (vocational Moocs).

The recommendations regarding the capability and capacity of FE and skills providers are thought to encourage the development of new courses to further professionalise key players in FE and their use of technology for learning, raising the profile of accreditation systems in relation to the professional use of technology for learning, the development of further research to support decision-making for the deployment of technology, and FE staff having minimum capabilities for online learning as well as plans for further improvement, and adoption more online video sharing.

When it comes to investment, all building projects should first consider how the deployment of technology can help, support alternative delivery and be future-proofed, and industry-standard infrastructure should be the norm, while low-cost collective licensing should be explored.

Regulation is seen as a rich field for finding ways to ensure that technology is put to appropriate and good use, and that it is not hindered by out-dated or irrelevant rules. Assessment is clearly a focus for action and there will be suggestions, some explicit, for awarding bodies and regulators, including Ofsted. Open badges schemes get the green light and awarding bodies are encouraged to dramatically step up the use of e-assessment, in some areas pushing it up to 50 per cent by 2018/19.

'This is just the start. Now we need action'

Finally, the report will focus on funding, and this is thought to take the leading edge of successful use of technology in FE to model a system that fully supports the integration of digital technologies and can differentiate between ‘learning presence’ and ‘physical attendance’ and will mandate a 10 per cent wholly online element in every publicly funded learning programme by 2015/16 (50 per cent by 2017/18).

Bob HarrisonFeltag's Bob HarrisonOne of the key members of Feltag is Bob Harrison, education adviser for Toshiba Information Systems UK who has been watching the fruits of a year of research and planning come to fruition. "I am pleased that something that started with just a tweet over a year ago is now set to nudge the FE sector a bit more along the digital continuum," he said. "But this is just the start. Now we need action from BIS, providers, funding and regulatory bodies and, most important, some leadership and vision from policy makers, principals and governors.

"We need to create the space for FE teachers to innovate with learning technology and then support them."

The Feltag Report is available for download at from February 28

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