Building capacity for blended learning in further education

An update from the team at Neath Port Talbot College who are developing educational resources that use technology and offer new ways of learning, supported by our Digital Innovation Accelerator as part of the Digital Innovation Fund for Wales.

Where are we now with the project?

We have decided to take on two different approaches to blended learning that we would like to pilot from September 2016 and the challenge will be to persuade staff to trial these models. The two models are, a timetabled approach, where groups are timetabled into a learning zone where they will complete the online content and a 24/7 approach, where students can complete the work at any time, anywhere. This is a different approach to all other FE colleges in the UK who have chosen to adopt just one model.

Both Governors and Senior Management have been introduced to blended learning and are supportive of developing the way we teach at NPTC. During the initial stages of the project we focused only on what's happening in the FE sector. However, it has become clear that we need to be aware of developments in the HE sector and work based sectors to understand what works and what doesn’t.

Is it where we thought we would be a few months ago?

This simple answer to this question is no.  The project has the same direction, the implementation of blended learning, but has taken a slight detour. We decided to run a series of focus group sessions with students to ask them what they think and more importantly, what they want. This was not in the original plan but following on from a Digital Innovators Network event on prototyping earlier this month, it seemed sensible to get their feedback and let this drive the project forward. These focus group sessions with students have been conducted over the last 2 weeks by staff in different curriculum areas and on different campuses.

What new questions have been raised?

From the focus group sessions with students and discussions with staff, we have discovered that there is not one solution that fits all. In fact, we need to encourage innovation within the project, and not restrict it. Therefore, it's not a matter of deciding which blended learning approach to adopt but which approaches will the organisation promote and support. This will be a major change in direction and increase the complexity of implementing blended learning but is key for the project to be successful. We may decide to support a range of blended learning models, rather than originally trying to choose just one to suit all students learning types.

What are some of the challenges ahead?

The challenge will be to develop a corporate strategy that allows for innovation in the use of technology in teaching and learning. Blended learning is not about the technology, it’s about good teaching and the management of learning both inside and outside the classroom. The questions we now have after workshops run by Y Lab are; ‘How will the organisation support staff using different models?’ and ‘How will the organisation provide the resources needed for these different models, both physical and additional staffing?’. Asking these questions at these early stages of the project will hopefully provide us with a more successful and innovative solution.

At this stage what do we think might happen post project?

We hope that blended learning will be piloted in a number of curriculum areas from September.  How many areas is not clear at this time, due to the developments and added complexity through feedback from our students. It would be useful if blended learning developments in the organisation could assist with Welsh Government priorities - numeracy, literacy and Welsh Baccalaureate. However, the issue is that these areas are currently managed by staff who are not innovative or early adopters of technology, in NPTC at least. Blended learning will be utilised in areas where there are innovative staff that are interested in changing the way learning is managed and are more open to the use of technology in teaching.

Image credit: CC by Sean MacEntee


Colin Bevan

Colin Bevan is the ILT Manager for Neath and Port Talbot College Group. Having worked in the FE sector for over 30 years, his current role involves managing IT Services for the Group a…