How can the UK address the current skills crisis, whilst at the same time reducing the disastrously high level of GREETs (Getting Ready for Education, Employment or Training)? One thing is for sure – the role of the adult education sector will be of paramount importance. The sector should be leading the way by implementing innovative learning techniques, and using technology to engage individuals and introduce efficiencies. Sadly, I believe that is often not the case.
Over the last 12 months, I have chaired conventions and workshops and attended a variety of conferences with fellow practitioners in the sector and I am deeply worried about the responses that I often get to questions and suggestions in the educational technology arena. Here are just a few examples:
eLearning: “May work for some, but not for us. Our learners don’t have access to computers”
Flipped Classrooms: “Never heard of it”
e-Portfolios: “There’s nothing wrong with workbooks. We’ve always used them”
Social Learning: “Twitter is a load of rubbish”
I believe that many of these responses are emotional rather than rational and are based largely on Fear. People are afraid of change, afraid of technology and afraid of losing their jobs. So if the sector is going to move on and play what could be such a key role on the skills agenda, we have to find a way of addressing those genuinely-held concerns.
Fear of Change
Change is never an easy process to handle. It takes us out of our comfort zones and into areas which are unfamiliar and challenging. . Yet change is an essential feature of our working lives and a critical process for any successful organisation. Type in “Change Management” in Amazon, and you come up with nearly 75,000 books on the subject but from my experience, there is one simple process you need to follow.
Consider the following two statements to a team of adult education trainers
“We have decided to implement an e-Portfolio system, so we will no longer be using workbooks and we are arranging some familiarisation sessions for you”
“We know that you have had a lot of issues with workbooks so we want to look at some alternative solutions and would value your input in the process. We have therefore arranged for some team meetings during which you can help to evaluate the different options”
There are absolutely no brownie points for guessing which statement will be more likely to win hearts and minds. Involve people in the process rather than imposing solutions and suddenly the fears dissipate and people focus on the benefits. It’s not rocket science but sadly it still seems to be alien to the culture of many organisations.
Fear Of Technology
Fear of technology is a different issue. The term “Educational Technology” covers a huge range of areas from mobile platforms to social learning. A vital first step is therefore to understand exactly where the fear lies and the reasons behind it. I suspect that in many cases, that fear results from a fear of redundancy. In other words, a belief that technology will in some way reduce the need for bodies on the ground. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. Training providers who embrace technology will almost certainly be more successful than their compatriots who resist change and are therefore more likely to be recruiting rather than downsizing.
That said, we have to accept that the world of learning is changing rapidly as a result of the introduction of new technology and as such, the roles of the people within it will also change. The concept of the teacher or trainer as a “provider of knowledge” is no longer relevant when such knowledge is readily available via Google, The Khan Academy and thousands of YouTube videos. Instead, we are looking for people who can coach and mentor, people who can influence behaviour and people who can show learners how to functionalise and adapt the knowledge they have obtained to different situations they will face both in the workplace and in life.
That of course, requires a different set of skills, but they are skills which can be learnt and developed through experience and which potentially provide traditional trainers and teacher with a much more satisfying and fulfilling role.
So I think it is time to ditch the “Fear Factor” in vocational training and to embrace change and technology, not for their own sake, but because they can enhance the learner experience and improve the overall quality and perception of vocational training. That surely has to be an aim to which we would all aspire.
Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills