Sam Willson, Senior Account Executive - UKI Further Education, Skills & Training, Canvas at Instructure

It’s no secret that the Coronavirus crisis has highlighted the need for Further Education providers to prepare students for an unpredictable and fast changing workplace. The employment market is in flux, and as businesses cope with the double whammy of a global pandemic and the relentless march of automation, the need for skilled, adaptable and capable employees - able to make an immediate impact on the workforce – has never been greater.

Indeed, all eyes are on educators –particularly those in Further Education – as the economy recovers and rebuilds. The Prime Minister has already said that his government is prioritising the training and skills system, through initiatives like the Lifetime Skills Guarantee (giving adults the chance to take free college courses) and new entitlement to flexible student loans.

However, as well as more government support and an injection of funding, we believe there are some fundamental changes the FE sector can make to teaching and learning - to support a post-Covid economic recovery and to prepare students for a changing, automated, business landscape.

A soft spot for soft skills

Some studies, including data from Instructure, suggest that there is a ‘‘soft skills crisis’’ facing UK businesses. Soft skills - defined as a cluster of productive personality traits which include collaboration, communication abilities, teamwork and leadership traits - are increasingly valued by businesses but overlooked by educators due to focus on ‘hard’ academic standards.

If students are to be employable post-education, educators now need to prioritise building the kind of critical thinking and emotional intelligence skills that currently form the gap between humans and artificial intelligence (AI). In fact, educators must lay the groundwork for these skills to continue developing and changing over a lifetime, as tech continues to march forward.

Good teaching already incorporates a focus on critical thinking, but prioritising this skill further as part of pedagogy is an essential part of this drive, and can be infused throughout all disciplines (even the most practical courses) by using in-depth evaluation techniques, and enabling more independent study. And soft skills like communication and teamwork can be driven through providing the right tools for collaboration – both off and online.

The critical role of tech

The second piece of the puzzle is in harnessing technology. While it might seem counterintuitive to say that adding more technology is the best way to offset technology in the workplace rendering certain skill sets obsolete, it’s true. In short, EdTech is exactly what’s needed to help prepare students for an automated world.

And while tailored courses in specific areas of tech development – like the new Certificate in Robotics and Automation – will help to plug an immediate (and wider) skills gap, it’s the use of broader, institution-wide, EdTech that will really help in the quest to create multi skilled and adaptable students, ready to deal with the challenges both automation and a recovering, changing, workforce brings.

Accessing information and knowledge through diverse technological media – everything from academic journals to social media – affects learning itself. It calls for, and facilitates, a learning approach that is more self-directed, and an environment that welcomes independent discovery It encourages collaboration too, helping students learn from peers, as well as establish direct links with employers and industry. Of course, self-directed learning is not just a skill to prepare young people for a career – it also continues when in the workplace.

However, for any shift of this nature to work, educators and students must be allowed to take on quite different roles. Students are no longer passive participants in their education. Instead, they must be empowered, confident, and self-directed. And the value of teaching staff isn’t always as content creators, but curators of information; facilitating the student’s learning journey and helping to create better continuity between education and in-work training. This is something that FE providers are already very good at – and now they have the opportunity to lead the way, showing other facets of education how it can be done.

Ultimately, all this means that technology can no longer be viewed as a luxury in education, rather an all-important necessity. Institution-wide learning management platforms can help teachers deliver more flexible, progressive, and student-centred learning that can meet the demands of both the modern education environment and the changing business world. We know that it's going to be a challenging time for both educators and businesses – but we believe that the determination, passion and knowledge of the FE sector means that the future is bright.

Sam Willson, Senior Account Executive - UKI Further Education, Skills & Training, Canvas at Instructure

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