College of 2020 - what the experts think

Posted by Peter Cochrane on March 9, 2010

9 Mar 2010, Kim Thomas, page 6, The Guardian, Becta Supplement

Usually when you see a bus full of students on their way to college, they're chatting, wolfing down their breakfast or doing some frantic last-minute revision out of a textbook. Not so the students making their morning journey on to South Devon College, many of whom are poring over their laptops to check on the day's timetable, look up their marks or read messages from their tutor.

An agreement between the college and bus operator Stagecoach means that students can have free wireless access to the college's virtual classroom on the bus journey to and from campus - students who don't own a laptop or smartphone can borrow a netbook for free from the college.

It's all part of the college's desire to offer "anytime, anyplace" learning: South Devon's Moodle-based virtual classroom gives students a means of accessing all the course information they need, wherever they are, says Rebecca Barrington, continual professional development and blended learning manager at South Devon: "For every physical class and course, there's a virtual space to support it, which includes resources for the lesson. Students upload their assignments to it, look up their grades and communicate with tutors."

Is this a foretaste of what the typical FE college might look like in 2020? FE, with its mix of vocational, academic and life-skills courses is, as Richard Halkett, director of strategy & research in Cisco's global education department, points out, an "incredibly diverse and fast-moving" sector. It is also a vitally important one. "If you look at whether it's productivity or social challenges that the UK faces in the future, FE colleges and lifelong learning are at the heart of it," he says.

New technologies such as social media are already changing the way students learn. Educational institutions now routinely use the web to distribute podcasts, videos and lecture notes to students outside the classroom, while instant messaging, video conferencing and email enable students and lecturers to keep in touch wherever they are - even if they are in another town or country. What this means, suggests Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group of college principals, is that the college of the future could be "boundary-less." As we get more confident in the use of technology, she argues, "the need for physical locations will be less and less."

But how do we get from here to there? Halkett believes that the future of FE needs to be underpinned by a strong base of core technologies and a commitment to flexibility. Becta's Fit for the Future programme, which aims to prepare schools and colleges for new technologies, is investigating the possibilities. One idea the programme will look at is that of learners having their own personal "cloud", enabling them to gain access to learning resources and personal data (such as grades and assessments) at any time or in any location. The programme will also investigate ways that technology can enable learning to take place in multiple settings (such as at work or at home), and at how continuing professional development can help lecturers make what Sedgmore calls a "big mindshift in the nature of teaching and learning." Eventually, says Vanessa Pittard, director of e-strategy at Becta, staff will be spending "less time standing up and telling students things and more time in workshop mode offering one-to-one support."

Derwen College, a residential college in Oswestry for students with learning disabilities, is already demonstrating the power that cheap and simple technologies have to give the learner more control over their own learning. A student can film himself buying some goods in a shop, for example, and that video can be shown to co-students on the interactive whiteboard as a way of teaching basic skills - purchasing an item, paying for it and counting the change. Students who can't speak can now communicate long-distance, says Russell Pentz, head of the learning resources centre at Derwen: "If we put them in front of a Skype camera, they're able to sign directly to their parents. It's completely opened up some of our students' ability to communicate outside the college."

If the idea of the individual college hasn't completely disappeared by 2020, we can certainly expect it to become less important. Boundaries are already beginning to blur - South Devon College, for example, is a member of the Torbay learning partnership, which has a shared Moodle site that can be used by 14-19 diploma students and teachers in nine local schools and colleges.

At the same time, further education will be more learner-centred than it is in 2010. At the beginning of their educational journey, students will hold an individual eportfolio that records their achievements, which they will take with them as they move between educational institutions and workplaces. Fixed-length courses will be a thing of the past. "Students will be able to work through a course at their own pace," says Barrington," choosing their own timing and location. "Choice," she says, "will be the biggest thing in the next 10 years."

College of 2020 - what the experts think

Steve Beswick, director of education, Microsoft UK
Technology today is very display-oriented - you're looking at a screen and doing work. In 2020, the technology will be used to enable students to interact both within the classroom, and across boundaries. There will be communities of students and communities of lecturers, potentially on a worldwide basis. You'll have people teaching physics in an FE college talking to thousands of physics lecturers around the world.

Donald Clark, independent elearning expert
The big mistake that educational institutions have made is trying to pump technology into classrooms. Technology is not a classroom-based thing. It's about the individual using it for their personal learning, one-to-one or collaboratively over a network. Colleges miss out on the ability of learners to research independently, and that's where all this technology comes into its own. What will happen is that the technology gives you such great productivity gains that resistance is futile.

Peter Cochrane, futurist
We can expect to see a wholesale move away from the "sage on the stage" past to a "guide at the side" future. Getting educated, getting up-to-speed, and grasping the essentials fast is going to be a must for a world that will get ever more complex and connected. The past was about using and retaining information and expertise in order to become powerful. A sustainable future demands that we share everything in the interest of being influential.

Professor Stephen Heppell, chair in new media environments, Bournemouth University
The ability for students to work together all around the world will be significant. All the big initiatives are happening at the global level. The thought that you might just go down the road to a local college with local folk and local employers is just not going to make it to 10 years. The other big trend over the next five years will be our ability to mash up data in interesting ways - that will be a much bigger change than people using mobile phones and laptops.

Tim Rudd, senior researcher, Futurelab
It is easier to gather, store, share, edit and publish more information that ever before. The increasingly ubiquitous nature of technologies and connectivity is likely to challenge our notions of what a learning space is, with learning becoming less bounded by geography or specific locations. Society is moving away from notions of a single institution or organisation holding all the relevant knowledge to a situation where there is far more interaction between different formal and informal settings.