Well I’ve had a marathon of conferences this week, in lovely Birmingham on Tuesday for Becta’s Time to Innovate Next Generation Learning Conference and then the 5th National Digital Inclusion Conference in London for the last two days. Here are some of my thoughts:
Everyone wants a piece of the action now
The recession has really focused minds and now everyone is starting to see the benefits of digital engagement, if only at first from the point of view of saving money. Learning technology and digital inclusion were still almost ‘niche’ issues last year, now they are at the centre of people’s thinking. It’s not a coincidence that at the National Digital Inclusion Conference, all three of the main political parties were present and talked about the importance of Digital Inclusion.
It’s too complicated and we need to join things up
A recurrent theme was that of the need to simplify and de-clutter the system – I think this issue comes up at every conference I go to! This came up especially at Time to Innovate. I think the key now is that we are being forced to collaborate because of reduced resources – and I think that can only be a good thing. What people need to wake up to is that tools on the internet enable collaboration to happen in a way that has not been possible before.
If the government wants us to be innovative, then they need to loosen up the frameworks in which we operate
Innovation can only happen if people are allowed to take risks. Not all innovations are successful. The current structures in which we work do not encourage innovation, rather they prevent it. John Landeryou, the representative at Time to Innovate from BIS said that they could fund ‘innovation at the margins’. I thought this was kind of ironic given the title of the conference. But can you make innovative practice mainstream or will it always be a fringe activity? I don’t know.
Learning to use online services and other ICT skills is nearly always an informal process
Yet the way the government funds adult learning in England is still too tightly focused on skills and qualifications. The competencies needed by people today are more a set of behaviours than traditional skills: flexibility, resilience, entrepreneurship etc. In addition, the skills to use the internet and open source software cannot be taught in the traditional way. The best way I have found to learn things, especially online, is to be shown by a peer and also by playing. This doesn’t fit the traditional educational model and therefore doesn’t attract government funding.
And my final reflection:
Digital inclusion and lifelong learning should be the two sides of the same coin.
Ever since the pioneering days of adult education through organisations like the WEA or through the work of Paulo Freire in Brazil, learning has gone along with social justice and social mobility. Yet these two conferences this week didn’t really talk to one another. Why does the formal education system not engage well with the informal? I think it’s partly cultural but also partly to do with the artificial barriers put up by the way the government is structured (DCSF doesn’t talk to BIS who don’t talk to DCMS) and the funding regimes learning organisations have to work within. We have a great opportunity, because of the recession and reduced funding to collaborate far more. Why can’t we link up the fact that a mum learning English in a community centre in Bradford is then boosting her son’s attendance at school and in turn being helped by her library to get online and keep in touch with relatives in Pakistan? The agencies that support this would include: an adult education service funded by a local authority; the ‘homestart’ programme run by Becta and a UK Online Centre in a local library. Whatever happened to the concept of cradle to grave lifelong learning?
These issues are partly what I hope will be discussed at the #learning3 Symposium which will be held next week. I have brought together 30 people interested in learning and how it is changing from across these diverse areas FE, HE, Libraries, Business and I hope we might come up with some big ideas that will enable greater collaboration for the greater benefit of the person on the street.
Update September 2012: the Learning 3.0 project finished in 2010. The report can be read here.