enough eLearning, time for Digital Capability instead

This map above, from the far-sighted Doug Belshaw, is an example of how the simple idea of Digital Literacy,  (its come a long way from ‘being able to use a computer’) unpacks into contexts and capabilities – it is hard to find an area of contemporary life for which it does not apply to a learner, a teacher, a worker, a manager, a citizen, a pensioner, a child, me and you.    It is about what you can do rather than what it is.

Every student should come to learning with a plan that includes a ‘line of sight’ to employment

Employers are vocal in wanting to employ students with the right match of personal-ability attributes and capabilities on top of the qualification, and students need to be able to demonstrate them.   Geoff Rebbeck and Pete Chatterton’s urgent 2015 study for Jisc makes a clear appeal for enabling students to Tweet employers, share Google Hangout sessions with live workplaces, build and curate their own ePortfolio as a beacon for who they are and what they can do and much more.

Less eLearning, more Vocational Technology and Structural Technology

So a student logs in to Moodle and finds their course handbook, that week’s assignment, notes from the last class, a video to watch, a discussion forum and a quiz.   OK, so that’s elearning done.   What about the rest?  They want to learn about the technology used in the field they want to work in – the drones used by horticulturalists, the micro cameras in a car’s engine and explore how they can use Faceswap app on their phone in Hair and Beauty.  Equally they need to communicate, do business, navigate processes, handle administration and behave just like they will in the future employment.
This shifting balance from technology for delivering learning to vocational and structural technology has to be reflected in school and college budgets.

Build and Manage a Digital Reputation

Just like it is important to learn joined-up writing and road-safety to ensure future success, for everyone their presence online – what comes up when they are Googled – is something they can curate, foster, manage, grow and celebrate – a competency which must be learned, and colleges must teach to all learners and staff. It is helpful to think of e-Safety more as a matter of education rather than exclusion  – effectively managing risk rather than institutional blocks and a long list of don’ts.

Digital Capability and Capacity

Capability of what students and staff can do, and the enabling role of managers that shapes their Capacity is the topic of a short survey of 13 assorted post16 learning providers, which offered a regional snapshot of where we are at, May 2016.

One provider has a principal 100% behind the idea that elearning is now defined as Digital Inclusion and is witnessing the flourishing of digital capabilities enabling learners and tutors to reach out, make connections, launch ideas, gather an audience, authentically engage and build relationships inside and outside their place of learning and on into their future direction.

Others however are behind.  The ability of learners to do all these things is subordinated too far under the main task of their learning goals, the restrictions of the infrastructure and classroom culture and the message that this is to do in their own time.

In the survey:

  • 2 out of 13 incorporated digital skills into quality processes and observation
  • 3 out of 13 had anything to say about using technology to build employability skills or as an opportunity to engage relevant employers.
  • 6 out of 13 encourage tutors to develop skills through putting routine processes online while offering 1 to 1 support and encouragement.
  • 12 out of 13 are disappointed that tutors do not engage – whether through time, seeing the purpose, confidence or management focus – and that learners are, as a result, missing out.


So what do we want to see?

  • change in curriculum to more enquiry based e-learning
  • capture and demonstration of new employability skills
  • managers as enablers
  • students as change agents
  • expectations amongst students in the purpose of technology in their relationship with FE and Skills

This list, based on an excellent ALT conference session by Geoff Rebbeck and Peter Kilcoyne, is picked up again in a free ETF/Jisc  Professional Development webinar for tutors, May 24th 2016




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