How the past and the future make the best present
The digitalisation of education in the UK faces a number of challenges and opportunities. On the one hand, the lack of a coordinated national policy means that funding for digital initiatives is not always readily available. However, on the other hand, this lack of national coordination also means that schools, teachers etc. are given a high level of freedom to develop truly innovative practices, suited to their own specific needs.
The Blended Learning Consortium offers an example of how education institutions are addressing this quandary. The consortium was founded in 2015 by the Heart of Worcestershire College. At the time the college was finding it hard to provide 100% classroom teaching on some courses (due to budget constraints, staff availability etc.) and so a blended learning approach (which mixes traditional classroom learning with online teaching) became more attractive. However, it proved difficult to find quality digital resources targeted to the needs of the further education sector, which meant that the college was forced to look to develop the resources themselves.
In order to make this development work more cost effective, the college decided to collaborate with other further education institutions by establishing a consortium. Colleges in the Blended Learning Consortium pay an annual membership fee of £5,000, which covers development and staff costs and provides each college with a say on the type of content produced.
Indeed, the development of content is driven by members’ needs; colleges submit ideas for content, which are then voted on by the consortium, who select the most popular ones to develop. A specialist at a member college is then appointed to write the content for the course. Initially it was planned that the digital development would also be shared across the consortium. However, in reality there was a shortage of technical expertise in colleges. Therefore, once the content is written, it is passed to the central team at the Heart of Worcestershire College, which has been expanded to provide capacity to turn specialist content into online modules. This central team also provides technical support and training to consortium members.
The completed modules can be downloaded from the central consortium team, with member colleges then rebranding them before making the courses available via their individual virtual learning environments. This means that students often do not realise that they are using content which has not been developed by their tutors. This maintains a consistent image for each college, which helps to boost their digital reputation and ensures that learners recognise resources as an integrated part of a college course, rather than an add-on produced by an external source.
The success of the consortium’s approach can be seen in the fact that, as of 2016, nearly 40% of further education colleges in the UK are now part of the Blended Learning Consortium.