Inspiring learning through technology


Jenny Williams, Director of Vocational Education and Training, Education and Training Foundation

On a college visit recently, the application of technology to support teaching and learning was very much in evidence.   All around the College, QR codes gave students access to short animations to reinforce and revise different maths concepts.  The week I was there, it was simple illustrations of how to calculate the area of a rectangle and the volume of a cube.

I also saw how the idea of the ‘flipped classroom’ was being used by vocational teachers.  Beauty therapy tutors had videoed themselves setting up a massage table so that students could practise before the lesson.  It had freed up the tutor to focus on coaching massage techniques during her contact time with students, enabling real time learning from practice and feedback.

Technology is transforming the way we live, work, teach and learn, shaping our working practices and patterns, and changing how we communicate and share ideas.  And yet, as the Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning (CAVTL) noted:  ‘the challenge for leaders, teachers and trainers is that the speed at which businesses and learners will adapt to new technologies is outstripping the way that teaching and learning changes’.

At the Education and Training Foundation our priority is clear.  We want to get behind staff at all levels to support their ambitions to use learning technologies to deliver high quality outcomes for learners and employers.Our aim is to support staff right across the sector to unlock innovation in teaching and learning, through the optimal use of learning technologies and digital pedagogies.

We know that on its own, the use of technology is not a guarantee of excellence.  But we will help governors, leaders and managers plan and invest wisely to combine the need for a responsive curriculum, with new digital pedagogies made possible by learning technologies, to create high quality 21st century teaching and learning environments.

For teachers, trainers and assessors, our support will focus on enabling them to understand how to shape learning technology, and make use of its current and future potential to enable:

  • access to personalised content and support, including expert tutors via remote online learning;
  • peer to peer support that capitalises on the knowledge and experience of learners themselves;
  • digital simulations of practice and safe opportunities for practical learning;
  • online and blended approaches to English and maths teaching and learning;
  • real time feedback and assessment, and analysis of learners’ progress.

And we will support the education and training sector to collaborate with employers – to enable access to industry-standard technologies – in a further extension of the CAVTL ‘two-way street’ concept.

The work of FELTAG (the Further Education Learning Technologies Action Group) has sharpened the focus on this critical area of the education and training sector’s business over the last year.  It has offered solutions, but also challenges – in particular to the way organisations think about pedagogy using technology; redesign curricula and learning spaces, both physical and virtual; and keep up to date through collaboration with employers, and across the whole education sector.

We know that there are innovative examples of technology in action right across the sector – not only in colleges, but in work-based and community learning too.   But how should we stimulate, spread and embed that innovation more widely, and in ways that are sustainable?  We are building on a rich heritage.  The work of JISC and other bodies has been instrumental in establishing a strong learning technologies presence in the education and training sector.  The Foundation’s £1 million learning technologies programme, which runs through to autumn 2015, is based on this heritage, and draws on the findings from FELTAG, the recommendations from CAVTL, and our strategic conversation with the sector on learning technologies, commissioned from Coralesce earlier this year.

The programme will be run for us by Gazelle, supported by the Association of Colleges (AoC), Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), 157 Group, and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).  A steering group – bringing together other representatives from the wider education and training sector and technology companies – will be convened to oversee the work.  A suite of innovation and action research projects will sit at the heart of the programme, and communities of practice will enable the spread of learning from these projects through local and regional networks.  The projects will be inclusive and innovative, engaging with staff and organisations right across the education and training sector, and involving both learners and employers in their design, delivery and review.

Alongside this, we are putting in place a field-tested self-assessment tool for leaders, managers, and practitioners to review their own practice and arrangements for learning technology, as the basis for robust improvement plans, linked to the Common Inspection Framework.  Coralesce will be leading this work for us.

Of course £1 million is not enough to solve the enormous learning technologies challenge the sector faces, but it is at the top end of our investments in priority areas.  It will enable us to commission a range of high quality action research and innovation activity, and to support networks to spread and share the learning and innovation that emerges from those projects.  In line with the ambitious FELTAG recommendations, we know that it will only be through shared endeavour that we can address this agenda effectively.  We are pleased to be working in partnership with JISC, and will continue to look for other opportunities for investment and collaboration to support the education and training sector to develop inspiring learning through technology.


Sarah Wood, founder and COO of Tech City company Unruly, said:

“The UK tech industry is crying out for a new generation of talent and must work closely with educators to ensure that relevant digital skills become a central part of curricula.

“The starting point for this is teachers and it is encouraging to see the Education and Training Foundation recognising the need to enhance awareness of the digital tools that can deliver a twenty-first century education to young people who access information in a way that is not reflected by traditional teaching methods.”


Martin McCourt, director, Montagu Private Equity and former CEO, Dyson, said:

“A vital thrust in ensuring that Britain maintains its rightful place on the global stage as a Nation of Innovators is to encourage more of our children to become engineers and scientists, helping them to see how exciting that world is and what they could achieve if they were part of it.

“In this digitally sophisticated world our youngsters are accessing information in a smart way and so their educators must employ digital methods to engage them, otherwise they will not pay attention to the big opportunity that awaits them.

“It’s heartening to see the Education and Training Foundation making a strong move towards equipping teachers and principals with the technological expertise they need to bring learning firmly into the twenty-first century.”


Ali Blackwell, co-founder of Decoded, said:

“An understanding of technology is fundamental to successful businesses in every sector and it should be no different for educators.

“Appreciating the vast potential of digital tools can transform the way organisations think and operate. So it’s great to see the Education and Training Foundation committing to help teachers gain the digital awareness that will significantly enhance the education they provide to their students.”

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