The current, traditional model of education does not address the needs of a knowledge-based economy. It’s time to seize the opportunity to rethink education and redesign learning.
We live in a world where the largest taxi company doesn’t own cars (Uber), the largest movie provider doesn’t own cinemas (Netflix), and the largest social media network doesn’t create content (Facebook).
For today’s businesses, agility is everything - and only the bravest innovators flourish.
The pace of change presents education with a real challenge. In our efforts to try to close the attainment gap, are we widening the relevance gap? No country wants to offer skills and qualifications for jobs that may not be in demand in years to come. The focus in the UK needs to shift to ensure we equip learners with future-ready skills.
Unlearning and relearning
Working with teachers and educators, at South Eastern Regional College (SERC) we have started to reshape learning. In the past, education focused on logic and recall. Now, it’s about helping students thrive in an increasingly complex landscape where change is the one constant. Society shouldn’t simply reward people for knowledge, but for what they do with what they know.
Digital transformation is revolutionising industry and changing the ways we work as we move through the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0. The education sector needs to respond with an innovative approach where technology is central. Jisc calls this Education 4.0.
It’s increasingly difficult to imagine how students will succeed without digital skills, and a workforce that has such skills presents opportunities to boost economic growth. Our education system must be sufficiently agile to embrace this ethos, and our teachers must become active agents for change. As educators, we have to unlearn and relearn.
The push and pull
Traditional education has focused on ‘push’ not ‘pull’, relying on extrinsic factors, such as achieving a qualification (which may be several years away) to motivate learners. Learners have been told that if they work hard, they will get a good qualification, and then a job. Do students today believe that? At SERC, we have sought to create the ‘pull’ - engaging students by helping them see the relevance of what they are learning.
Starting the year with an enterprise fortnight, students work in groups on specific industry challenges, uploading their solutions in a web portal. Peers review these and vote on the most effective solutions. Groups present to both internal and external judges at enterprise fairs. They are tackling real challenges that are relevant to them. That means they start their course believing that what they do has impact.
Starting with industry-related challenges, rather than from knowledge to be imparted, highlights the skills and behaviours needed for the careers our learners want to enter and the community they are part of.
We want them to see that what they do in college counts and show them they have the potential to be entrepreneurial and innovative. Working collaboratively, showing initiative, dealing with conflict and persisting through challenges while meeting deadlines are essential attributes employers value.
This has required a cultural shift for staff. Recognising that teachers are active agents for change, SERC has encouraged innovation, assessing across modules, working on interdisciplinary industry challenges and harnessing digital technology.
Here, we could see performing arts and engineering students working with computing students on real-world projects, reflecting the experiences they might face in industry. This focus on enterprise and project-based learning has seen learners’ horizons expanding and an enhancement of transferable skills.
Staff recognise their role as facilitators rather than just imparters of knowledge. It’s bottom-up, top-down - and it’s not just theoretical; we support staff with peer mentors, development days, and opportunities to create and innovate. We encourage a growth mindset, providing scaffolding and ensuring a whole-college approach. We run weekly webinars: Moodle Mondays (sharing ideas around blended learning), Webinar Wednesdays (sharing good practice across the organisation) and one-minute CPD (microlearning hints and tips).
Assessment on the fly
Another key change is that we map assessment against learners’ experiences within the context of project-based learning. Awarding bodies are becoming more open to these ideas, such as harnessing mobile technology so we’re able to capture evidence of students’ skills in the workplace in real time. It is a quicker and more accessible way of authentically documenting skills.
Our approach has meant some adjustment, because any innovation can seem disruptive. However, feedback from students is positive and teachers value the opportunity to influence change.
Philosopher Eric Hoffer said, "In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists". At SERC, we’re equipping our staff and students for an ever-changing world. The questions we base ourselves on now are: what is worth knowing and what will we do with that knowledge? That’s our legacy. That’s our ‘why’.
Paula Philpott is head of the learning academy at South Eastern Regional College. Hear Paula discussing the future of teaching, learning and assessment in FE in a webinar, 11:00 on Wednesday 2 October 2019.