Is Technology A Lifeline For Functional Skills

Over the last few months I have been travelling the country chairing Functional Skills Special Interest Groups on behalf of the AELP. Surprisingly, with less than 90 days before Functional Skills becomes a mandatory component of the Apprenticeship framework, it has become clear that many providers are still undecided as to how they will deliver the programme.

I suspect that one of the reasons for this is concern about the costs involved in delivery. Providers are continually asking me “How can we possibly deliver a cost-effective Functional Skills programme when the funding levels are so low?” It’s a valid and very understandable concern and I have highlighted the funding issue in an earlier post. Let’s hope that over the coming weeks the government addresses it.

Notwithstanding any potential improvements in funding, I believe that technology may offer a genuine lifeline. Many traditional training providers remain very wary of technology. They see it as a potential threat to their livelihoods rather than a positive enhancement. But we have to accept that the way people learn has changed dramatically over the last five years.  A recent survey showed that schoolchildren prefer to use Google to find the answer to a question rather than ask their teacher.

Those changes are mirrored in the workplace where learners are far more likely to study using elearning or the internet than take time out to attend a face-to-face traditional training event. Informal or “social” learning is becoming the norm, not the exception, and young people now expect to take ownership of their own learning rather than being “taught”.

Functional Skills adapts very well to the use of technology. At MindLeaders, we use elearning to provide the underpinning knowledge and online ePortfolios to set projects for learners which deliver functionality and develop problem-solving skills.  So does this approach mean “teachers” are redundant? Not at all, but it does require a change in role and skill-set. Our learners are not “taught”; they are supported, coached and mentored by an online Learning Support Manager.

Rather than meeting the learner face-to-face with all the costs that are incurred, learners are supported online, by phone, or by Skype. In addition, learners will get rapid, detailed feedback on their work rather than waiting for the next formal “lesson”. As a result, it is not surprising that we have been getting 90% average pass rates, well above the national average.

Whilst there will always be some people who will yearn for the days of traditional classrooms and face-to face teaching, we have to accept that times have changed. Most of today’s learners will have some sort of mobile device and are comfortable with new and different forms of communication.  We need to respond to that positively and embrace the value that technology can bring to education. Not just because it allows us to deliver cost-efficient training solutions, but because it more effectively meets the needs of our learners.