According to the old proverb, “Necessity is the mother of invention”, and we have seen this become reality during the Covid-19 pandemic in so many ways, not least in education. The necessity of remote learning has spawned innovation in educators’ practice. Even the most resistant to educational technology (EdTech) have found themselves exploring new ways of teaching and learning using technology. Now the question is, now much of this will stick?
This question is very pertinent for my organisation, the Education and Training Foundation, which is responsible for developing the workforce in the Further Education (FE) and Training Sector in England. The role of our sector is to prepare learners to live and work in a rapidly evolving society and economy where change is being driven by technology. We can only do this by giving our learners the skills to adapt to new ways of living and working underpinned by technology. That in turn means that our teachers and trainers need to adapt to new ways of teaching using technology, not only to improve learning outcomes but also to build learners’ professional skills using technology to study.
The need to teach remotely over the best part of a year has taken teachers and trainers out of their traditional classroom comfort zone, propelling a move away from traditional teaching approaches often rooted in the 19th century to exploring 21st century teaching and learning approaches. This has forced a shift from thinking about teaching as providing information to thinking of learning and creating learning environments.
In this new landscape, the teacher’s role is becoming one of a coach and facilitator, guiding learners to take ownership of learning through enquiries, interpretations, correlations and understanding. In this context, technology advances are promoting the rise of the individuality foreseen by Rousseau in the 18th century:
The state of nature, according to Rousseau, no longer exists, and it cannot be recovered. It was an articulated period of time during which changes in the physical environment pushed our forebears to adapt by cooperating with one another more than they had in the past. Rousseau presents a frankly conjectural account of the stages through which mankind probably passed.
We are witnessing the rise of the independent learner who takes ownership of his/her education. Learning is not so much about acquiring knowledge, but about acquiring the skills to source and apply knowledge when needed. This applies as much to educators as to learners – educators taking control of their own learning and modelling this independence to their learners.
This is the philosophy that underpins our EdTech offer at the Education and Training Foundation. In January 2019, we launched the Enhance Digital Teaching Platform #EnhanceDTP at the Bett 2019 Show in London. It features a bite-size, easy-to-access EdTech training offer focused on digital pedagogy that gives educators control over their own learning.
All the training – soon to reach 175 modules of just 5-6 minutes each – is mapped to an EdTech competency framework, the Digital Teaching Professional Framework #DTPF, which allows educators to engage at three levels – Exploring (starter), Adopting (intermediate) and Leading (advanced). The whole offer is designed to take down barriers to CPD by allowing educators to self-serve and pick out training to meet their needs as and when they need it. The offer proved popular from the outset and take-up has surged from March 2020.
From February 2020 we started on a new phase of development promoting educators’ critical reflection on their digital pedagogy. A digital badging system has always rewarded completion of modules on the system, but now practitioners can gain higher level digital badges for sharing reflections on their learning and resources they have developed. Educators are encouraged to reflect: “I have completed five minutes of training, now I will apply what I have learnt to my teaching context.... this is what I did, this is what happened, this is how I will do it next time.” When educators submit their reflections and resources to receive a digital badge, they receive personalised expert feedback to guide, challenge and stretch them in taking their changed practices one step further, to become innovators and empower their learners. When they are awarded their digital badges, their reflections and resources are then shared on an ‘awarded practice’ wall so that other educators can like, bookmark, comment and share. Contributors are also encouraged to ‘follow’ each other as on social media and to post about their discussions using the hashtag. The whole approach echoes a social media model, engaging #EdTechSWAP.
In the latest developments, we have created two new roles – Super Contributor and Reviewer. Super Contributors commit to regular comment on their fellow practitioners’ reflections and Reviewers become part of the digital badge awarding process, reviewing submissions of both reflections and resources. These roles not only allow educators to progress in their own personal EdTech development, but they also help to create a sustainable peer-to-peer support community.
The model is designed to foster a self-sustaining dialogue about digital pedagogies amongst practitioners both within individual learning providers and across networks based on use of the resources on the platform. Participating practitioners become part of a growing EdTech community helping to drive improvement in online practice across the sector, moving out of comfortable silos to examine the world of the possible. The whole approach is based on the idea of shared practice, collaborative critical reflection and co-creation of knowledge as envisaged by Mercer. Educators take charge of their own learning and help to drive change from the ground up, modelling the ownership of learning that they are seeking to nurture in their learners.
Daniel Susskind in his latest work makes the point that we used to think of education as an asset to be invested in at the beginning of our lives, like a capital investment, which enables us to step into employment. Yet in today’s world, skills are constantly being displaced. This is recognised in the UK government’s latest white paper for FE which introduces a Lifetime Skills Guarantee – a recognition that learners will need to access education and training they need throughout their lives to be able to adapt and thrive in a changing economy.
Susskind queries whether the ‘what, when and how’ we teach is adequately preparing leaners for the future of work – or, indeed, given the rise of automation, a future without work. The digital revolution is impacting every industry with new ways of engaging, interacting and operating. The development of competent learners in the digital age is the key to the future. We are now training students to become career surfers who must ride the digital wave and embrace the digital disruption with multiple jobs and a portfolio of careers. Our remit as educators is to equip learners to make a future for themselves in a global digital world. As such, we have to ask ourselves:
- Is what we teach relevant to the subject and industry as well as the learners’ needs?
- Is how we teach mirroring “real life” operations and building skills for employability?
- Is when and where we teach optimising engagement? Do we need to rethink learning spaces?
Building on what we have learnt over the past year as we turned to technology to support remote learning can help us answer these questions. We are still in the midst of dealing with this massive disruption to learning but soon we will need to be in the vanguard of helping to rebuild our economy. Our mindset and the support of our educational organisations will be key.
The Enhance Digital Teaching Platform can help. Why not join the #EdTechSWAP community? Together we can do so much more!
Vikki Liogier is National Head of EdTech & Digital Skills at the Education and Training Foundation (ETF)
 Edwards, Derek, and Neil Mercer. Common Knowledge: The Development of Understanding in the Classroom. London, UK: Routledge, 1987.
 Susskind, D. A World Without Work: Technology, Automation and How We Should Respond. London, UK. Allen Lane, 2020.