FE needs help to embrace digital

Tutors need better support and more funding as they get to grips with educational technology, finds City & Guilds

New research published by City & Guilds has revealed that 80% of FE tutors believe that technology has the power to positively impact teaching and learning and 66% think technology improves it. However, the research also finds that professionals are being held back from making the most of new resources due to a lack of investment, uncertainty about the technology and limited opportunities for access and experimentation. 

City & Guilds’ survey of more than 600 FE professionals – City & Guilds: Technology in FE Survey Report – revealed highly positive attitudes towards using technological resources in the classroom – regardless of their age or experience. Three quarters find technology useful for tracking student progress or conducting tests, while 72% see it as beneficial to sharing resources with students outside of lessons. 

And despite not being ‘digital natives’, experienced tutors are positive about the advantages new digital tools can bring – in some cases embracing them more readily than their younger colleagues. More than a third of tutors who qualified before 1999 say they use all the technology available to them in their organisation, compared to 17% of those who qualified three to four years ago, indicating age is no barrier to enthusiasm. 

This research also shows support from the top in colleges across the UK: 71% of tutors say their leadership team encourages the use of new technology. However enthusiasm for what the digital future can offer among tutors and managers is not yet being matched by uptake in the classroom. More than a third (38%) of those surveyed say they lack confidence in learning to use new technologies, and fewer than one in seven (29%) use all the technology available to them. Tutors are clear that in order to embrace the digital future they need better support and more investment in new resources.

FE tutors emphasise the need for more training, better support and time for experimentation:

  • 62% say they lack the time to properly explore all options.
  • Two thirds say more time to experiment would encourage them to use technology.
  • 59% emphasise the need for more specific training on how to use technology. 
  • Two thirds (66%) want access to resources that help organisations develop online materials internally.
  • 78% are unaware of any organisations aimed at encouraging better use of technology in teaching, learning and assessment.

Tutors also point to a lack of investment as a block to embracing technology.

  • 74% of tutors feel that a lack of finance is one of the biggest barriers to its use.
  • 44% don’t use technology because it is unavailable in their department.
  • Just 16% have access to virtual reality technology and only a quarter have access to the Cloud. 
  • 51% feel that changes to the funding system could help.

Kirstie Donnelly, UK Managing Director of City & Guilds said:“The research we are publishing today shows on the one hand a really positive step forward in the attitudes of FE practitioners to embrace learning technology and on the other a continued lack of support, training and time for tutors to make the best use of the technology available. Whenever a big change is needed in the system it is often the tutors who suffer as they struggle to learn new skills and ways of teaching without being given any extra support.

“Using technology in teaching and learning is no longer optional and tutors want and need to embrace the digital future and the onus is on the sector as a whole to ensure that they are not held back. It is crucial that we ensure tutors have access to the time and support they need to become confident practitioners, and for senior management to ensure that resources are forthcoming.”

The research shows there is real enthusiasm among individual tutors of all ages for using digital resources, and the Government has signalled its support for digital skills across FE in the response to the Feltag recommendations. This enthusiasm must be matched by concrete action by decision-makers and budget-holders. As a whole, the sector needs to catch up and make sure that training and investment is forthcoming.

City & Guilds is calling for FE leaders to prioritise support for their tutors, both in terms of experimentation time and provision of relevant tools, so that the sector can optimise the use of new technologies and step into the digital future.