The further education (FE) sector needs to address significant problems to support a shift to more remote learning, according to a new report from Jisc.
The not-for-profit technology provider to the sector has compiled a report on the issue with the Association of Colleges (AoC) in response to the trend accelerated by the coronavirus lockdown.
It says there are big differences in FE colleges’ capability for delivering education online, with no standardised approach, a lack of digital resources and a pressing need to improve staff digital skills.
Secondly, disadvantaged learners who have limited access to devices and adequate broadband connections are struggling disproportionately and need support.
Named Shaping the digital future of FE and skills, the report has been compiled as the first in a research project of the same name and brings together findings from a series of webinars and roundtables held during the summer.
Among its recommendations is an effort to develop a framework for online learning delivery across the UK, drawing on the Welsh Government plan, and a further development of continuous professional development in the field.
It says the Government should fund the creation of digital content for priority subjects and high demand sectors identified by employers and professional bodies, and back a centralised FE and skills search and discovery platform that highlights high quality content.
There is also a need for template virtual learning environment courses, and content using Creative Commons licensing to enable greater collaboration and sharing.
To overcome digital exclusion, the report urges the Government to provide access to funding for digital devices and connectivity to support disadvantaged learners.
Rising to challenge
Robin Ghurbhurun, Jisc’s managing director of further education and skills, said: “A few colleges have years of online teaching experience using a wide range of technology, but this is not the norm. Most are not digitally advanced organisations, but rose to the pandemic challenge as best they could by switching lessons to platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, but this is not a sustainable model.
“Lockdown has also exacerbated the digital divide and disadvantaged learners are suffering. Some colleges have been posting laptops to learners who don’t have one, but even if there is a device at home, it might be shared among the whole family. We are also hearing that families on lower incomes struggle to afford decent broadband packages.
“There are other challenges, too. For example, there is a lack of affordable and accessible digital resources and assessment tools, which means that courses such as engineering, construction, or hospitality and catering are impossible to deliver entirely online.
“It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Staff have made enormous efforts under challenging conditions to support learners over the past few months and I’ve been impressed with their flexibility and commitment.
“The sector has the ambition and willingness to respond positively to this new ‘digital first’ impetus, and I hope that it can come together to further improve and develop digital confidence and delivery.”
The report has appeared a few weeks after Jisc highlighted similar problems for the higher education sector in the light of the lockdown.
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