Talking about #FELTAG: keynote on workforce development in Learning Technology

This week I am contributing to a conference called FELTAG 2017: Embracing Digital Technology in Further Education and I am pleased to have been invited to give a short keynote as part of the programme. My talk (slides) will focus on workforce development to maximise Learning Technology impact in three ways: first, I set out what questions we need to ask about skills and capabilities, second, I explore how and open online course can support workforce development and third I showcase how ALT’s accreditation scheme, CMALT, can help increase intelligent use of Learning Technology.

This sets out the context for the talk and draws on other things I have recently written, first for FE News in an article about Digital Skills development in the workforce , and then also on the Efficiency Exchange in a post called Accreditation fit for a (digital) purpose?

ALT Strategy Aim 3 (visual thinkery)

The ALT strategy places a form emphasis on professional development and recognition for different roles in Learning Technology and the broad range of professionals who need different levels of skills and capabilities is something I am particularly interested in. CMALT, ALT’s accreditation framework is one of the topics I will be exploring in my talk.

One of the projects I am involved in via ALT is the development of the Blended Learning Essentials courses, led by Prof Diana Laurillard and Prof Neil Morris. These open online courses run on the FutureLearn platform and the next one to launch has a focus on developing digital skills.  It’s a useful example of how such initiatives can support individual and institutional CPD across the sector.


As I was part of the original Ministerial FELTAG Group and a contributor to the recommendations made in 2014 the opportunity to speak about what’s happened since and how much progress we have made is welcome. However, while I can see much positive change, there are also mounting challenges not just in relation to Learning Technology, but the FE system more generally.

Using technology for learning, teaching and assessment continues to be of increasing importance and its potential grows  each year. Yet technology by itself is no answer to some of the larger, structural challenges facing learners, teachers and providers and those continue to mount. So whilst I am looking forward to being part of a conference that encourage participants to embrace Digital Technology in FE and look forward to contributing, I think it is the people, the teachers and trainers, that we really need to focus on.

Group, Action, Technology, Learning, Empowerment, Future… FELTAG inside out

FELTAG Revisited
CC-BY-ND @BryanMMathers

This talk is for the FELTAG 2016 conference taking place on 28 September 2016 in London. Having given plenty of talks about FELTAG in the past few years, I have been pondering what I really want to say to my audience in twenty minutes. Part of being the opening keynote is that you get to speak first and help set the tone for the day, but looking at the agenda of what’s to follow, it feels a bit like every case study and best practice example  imaginable will be well covered. In addition, I had a conversation recently with Bryan Mathers about Revisiting FELTAG, and the resulting visual thought which I have linked to in this post (and which was published here) , made me think about where we go from here – what does the future hold for FELTAG? I hope this talk will help us find the way.

View of Westminster Abbey
CC-BY @MarenDeepwell

Westminster Abbey:  where it all began for me was in February 2013 when I was the new chief executive of ALT and was invited to represent our members as part of this group convened by Matthew Hancock, who was then  Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise in BIS. The picture shows a foggy morning view of Westminster Abbey as seen from the meeting room in BIS where we met. Subsequently I have been part of FELTAG’s cross-sector successor ETAG, the FELTAG Coalition, our own FELTAG SIG, FELTAG panels, responses, updates, its evolution and most recently I revisited FELTAG with Bryan Mathers. But in February 2013 there was only one thing about FELTAG that I was interested in: firstly I was trying to figure out the “G”, namely who the other members of the group were, their aims and vision. Many of them are in the audience today, but others are no longer directly involved. As a group we stopped convening formally as soon as our recommendations were finalised in late 2013. But once the original group had done its work came the time for action. The “A” that gives FELTAG its power.

FELTAG Report (2014)

Teachers: The original report included ambitious recommendations and  a vision that demanded a change in culture, in thinking. It was as radical as was possible at the time, but what followed in the Government response, progress updates and so forth was not, at least in my view. However, it is extremely complicated to try and operationalise change in a rapidly evolving technological, social and economic context and  even harder to devise robust drivers for change through funding and inspection mechanisms that hold so much sway across the sector. So trying to define in quantitative terms what progress should be made was in some ways a logical next step. The infamous 10% online learning quota requirement comes to mind here.  This particular recommendation about bringing the workforce up to speed was meant to recognise that teachers play a key role in the intelligent use of Learning Technology, not machines.

Source: Hack Education

Technology: Yet while we may have thought a lot about teachers, about people generally, the technology quickly took centre stage. It was clear to all that there is a consistent disparity between different providers across the country, some struggling with providing basic infrastructure while others are investing heavily. At the same time various threats technology embodies became more pronounced as we read about the automation of jobs, the power of big data networks, the might of the technology companies. At times it seemed as if instead of finding ways to empower and support people in learning and teaching, Learning Technology could be a fast track to restructuring them out of the business of education all together.


Conflict: It think this quote from David Noble from his book Digital Diploma Mills captures the conflict at the heart of the FELTAG recommendations perfectly. It juxtaposes the potential of technology to scale up, reach out and increase output with the power of human agency in learning and teaching, and with the importance of the teacher, support staff, managers or governors. Further Education is passionate about its learners.

Now I have thought about the first three letters (G, A and T), I want to turn my attention to the “L” in FELTAG. L stands for Learning. And for Learners (all of us). It’s at the heart of what FELTAG was and is about.

Source: YouTube Clips from ALT

Learning Myths: One of the challenges we face in Learning Technology is knowing how to make the best use of it. It’s the “what works and what doesn’t work” dilemma that is hard to answer. However even if we take technology out of the equation, keeping up with what we know about learning and how we learn best can be challenging. Lia Commissar from the Wellcome Trust recently illustrated how high a percentage of UK teachers still believe in learning styles. The answer to her quiz questions as the one in the picture above is “not true”. Highly recommended viewing.


The business of learning: I suppose in many ways the crux of the matter is that as an industry Further Education is faced by challenges from many different directions. There is little continuity of strategy or support, competing demands from employers, government agencies and not least a growing base of learners at all stages of life. Fitting what is essentially a messy, individual human experience and life stage transition into a business-enterprise model using technology can often result in a drive to standardise interaction and provision, a wish for being able to predict what happens next, when and to whom. Cue the rise of learning and learner analytics.

Sheila MacNeill speaking at the OER15 conference. CC-BY-NC ALT

Empowerment: If we compare the power the technology industry has and the pace of technological innovation to what we have, you might get the impression that we like using new gadgets and spend more time online than anywhere else, that we hear about the rapid pace of change, the rise of the machines, the arrival of artificial intelligence… but it can feel like we don’t have a lot of control over our destiny. But that is not true. At some level the forces we feel at work are all in the power of people like us, indeed some of them sat in the room I described earlier, on that damp February morning in 2013 with a view over Westminster Abbey. They were there at the invitation of a Government Minister and represented not only industry and education sectors, but policy, funding, media and other interests. The action I took as a member of the group was to take responsibility to empower those within my sphere of influence to meet the challenges Learning Technology poses head on, together and – importantly –  in the open. Sharing, collaborating and helping each other. As a professional body the Association I serve facilitates, represents and supports this growing community.


The future is always just beyond the horizon: This quote and the others I have used in this talk I came across while reading Audrey Watter’s excellent Hack Education blog. It’s full of thoughtful and thought-provoking thinking about the future. And it reminds me frequently that each time I read one of these predictions about the future of education(al technology) I am sad to think that people are going about their business, waiting for the FUTURE to arrive and never taking action to make their vision come to life in the here and now. I think for me FELTAG was about that. Coming together to make a stand. We wanted to draw a line in the sand beyond which the future was actually going to materialise, finally. Not just for some, but for everyone in Further Education.

It has been over a century since Thomas Edison predicted the demise of books in schools and his predication has failed to come true. It’s also been over three years since that first meeting of the FELTAG group. We are now beyond FELTAG, we are finally living the future that’s always been just beyond the horizon and that’s a lot of responsibility for each of us.

P.S. Take action. Join ALT.

An open course as a tool for change: reflecting on Blended Learning Essentials

One project I am currently involved in is a course on FutureLearn called Blended Learning Essentials.  In this short blog post I want to think about how this course, or others like it, can be used as tools for change.

A bit about the course
UntitledThis is an open course about using blended learning for vocational education and it runs for a total of 8 weeks in two parts. The first part covers the ‘essentials’ and the second focuses on ’embedding’ blended learning. Content and in particular the videos are created in collaboration with teachers/learners in vocational education contexts and shaped by current practice. If you’d like to see what it’s like for yourself, parts of the course are accessible without signing up: Going beyond reflection to data, collaborative learning to improve learner support, sharing and re-using teaching ideas and managing a culture change

Change for learners and teachers
One of the aims of the course is to provide an entry point to using learning technology effectively regardless of what participants already know or feel confident about. While that is a big ask it also highlights the fact that there is a big disparity in the relevant competencies across the sector. At one end there are enthusiastic individuals or institutions whose learners are benefiting from technology-enhanced innovation and at the other end of the spectrum are those who don’t know where to start. Learners may or may not have access to devices and networks, but once they do, they need to gain skills that will be useful for them in what they do next and teachers need to be able to support them in that. So one way in which a course like Blended Learning Essentials can become a tool for affecting change is to provide a path to building competencies and confidence for those who deliver learning. It could be incorporated into existing internal provision, to enhance what a provider or group can offer internally – or it can act as a way to start scaling up CPD.  Similar to another course I worked on in the past, the Open Course in Technology Enhanced Learning (ocTEL) it can provide flexible chunks of CPD depending on what the participant is most interested in.

Decision makers who manage change
While learners and those who deliver learning can make use of the course, I think that those in decision making roles also have something to gain. To begin with they can participate themselves, online and at their own pace, to refresh or supplement their own skills and knowledge. Particularly if you don’t get much time to have hands on experience with learning technology, the course can help bridge the gap. The case studies and discussion forums meanwhile can be used as a frame of reference for establishing where a particular organisation is in terms of making intelligent use of learning technology, what common barriers are or how to solve problems. Particularly the second part of the course (the last 3 weeks) are relevant in this context. Given that the course is free to attend and most of its resources openly licenced, it can be an efficient tool for up-skilling and provide paths to accreditation (accreditation is the part of the course that I have worked on most, so I am going to point to further information and in particular its mapping to CMALT for those who are interested).

Some limitations
I think this course can be a useful tool for affecting or managing change, from introducing blended learning, to scaling up provision or enhancing it. But there are also some limitations:
It’s online: this is a free ONLINE course about blended learning. It requires you to get online, supports you to develop the skills to engage with it and while you can certainly participate with a group of colleagues and support each other face to face, being able and willing to learn online is a key requirement. If this is a major barrier for you or your institution the course could be a useful way to build your capabilities in this area;
Accessibility: actually, in my experience the FutureLearn platform excels at making courses accessible and if you are in doubt it’s definitely worth exploring the “how to learn” resources they provide or make an enquiry;
It’s not advanced enough: as the course is aimed at those who don’t already have advanced skills it can seem too basic for some. The discussion forums and social media conversation may be more interesting to those who find some of the content too basic or it might be a useful tool for supporting colleagues;
So what?: One of the most interesting aspects of the course for me as to see how strong a driver learners’ future success is for getting individuals and providers do more or better blended learning. As everyday life and work require more skills for using technology it becomes more urgent that we use it effectively for learning, teaching and assessment. Other drivers for using blended learning might be providing more flexible provision, broadening access, scaling up or enhancing delivery, improving feedback & assessment…

Things I’m thinking about next
Working on this course has made me reflect on the conversation about open courses, what they can be used for, what they achieve in terms of creating communities, scaling up provision and supporting professional development.
This course is a first in more ways than one, it’s the first course on this particular platform for the vocational education sector, to my knowledge it’s the first open course in this context that has attracted over 20k participants and it’s the first time we have seem a large scale response to the policy agenda in UK that is supported by some many organisations.
It’s a tool we can make use of to affect change and we can probably use every bit of help we can get in achieving effective use of learning technology across the sectors.

Looking back at delivering an online conference

As part of finishing my #CMALT portfolio I have been working on completing a section on communication. The example I am using is leading a small team in delivering an online conference, in this case ALT’s first wholly online winter conference in December last year.

Some of the things I have been reflecting on re communication are:

  • delivering live events when you are not all in the same place and using online communication methods to help bridge the gaps;
  • how online events compare with face to face events when it comes to communication and leading the delivery team;
  • how to communicate when, yes, the network you and participants depend on goes down the day before the event…;
  • using group communication as a way to manage and problem solve.

I will share what I have come up with and my reflections as part of my CMALT portfolio in due course. Sharing one example already, you can watch Martin Hawksey and me welcoming participants to day 1 of the conference in the video below:


New term, new demand for upskilling staff across the board

There are a lot of competing priorities, not least of all the new area reviews of post-16 education and training that Bobbie McClelland, Deputy Director at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), spoke about at the recent ALT Annual Conference – you can watch the briefing here.

For many colleagues the start of the new term and a whole new cohort of students will likely have stretched the capacity to its limit, and new systems, tools and procedures put an added pressure on giving learners the best possible experience from day one.”…

Read the full article in FE News here. Published 15 October 2015.


Shaping the future of learning together #altc

JPEG back flyer_0 “August is usually the month where everyone is on holiday. For us, it’s the busiest time of year. So if you are keen to browse and think ahead of what this year’s Annual Conference of the Association for Learning Technology has in store, here is a personal preview. This year’s programme features an FE and skills track on Wednesday which I am really looking forward to (and if you cannot participate in person, you can follow much of it online)…”

Read my full FE News article here . Published 5 August 2015. Or visit the conference web site.

Learning Technology? Ideas for the new Government

“… Learning Technology is not generally in the headlines when it comes to politics. At least not explicitly. However, there are many reasons why learners, providers and employers would benefit from Learning Technology having a place in the early thinking of Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan and Nick Boles. Here’s why…”

Read my full FE News article here . Published 15 May 2015.

Professional literacies, leadership and learning technology

…”In a recent post by Stephen Downes, MOOC pioneer and a proponent of connectivist learning (see for example hiskeynote speech at the 2013 ALT Annual Conference), I came across a discussion of different skills and values, professional literacies, that have been shaped by digital technology and the internet.

These include not only the now more commonly known digital literacy (see Jisc’s guide for example), or web literacy (Mozilla’s recent work comes to mind here), but also critical literacy and data literacy. Different technologies and connectivity shape the way we learn and work – a shift that we all experience on a daily basis.”…

You can read my full article in FE News here. Published 17 April 2015.

Competition and collaboration

…”We face a lot of uncertainty at present. At times when funding cuts, reform, a General Election and other factors put additional pressure on all providers, the first instinct is often to focus inwards.

Intelligent use of Learning Technology has become a greater factor in many ways over the past year or two, with recommendations such as those proposed in the Government’s response to the FELTAG report highlighting the changing needs of employers and learners alike. Senior staff, teachers and trainers are doing much already to implement innovation, to develop the necessary skills and capacity to scale up their use of technology for learning, teaching and assessment.”…

You can read my full article in FE News here. Published 24 March 2015.