If you want to get FELTAG right – forget the 10%

This may seem like an odd title to a post, and I expect that some readers will find this post uneasy – but I feel that there is a need for a reality check here, and urge people to read the entire post before judging.

Anyone working in FE in the UK should be aware of the term FELTAG (Further Education Learning Technology Action Group) – who submitted a series of recommendations to Government to improve the quality of FE. There were many recommendations submitted, most were accepted (some with ammends) in the Government response but the one that has got everyone’s attention is the idea that all funded FE courses have to have 10% online to get any funding, and here lies the problem.

Speed Limit 10
Over the years I have run many training sessions or presentations on the notion of blended learning – and always start with an activity to define what we mean by blended learning. My definition is “The optimum mix of online and face to face delivery” for a particular situation. The key word there is the word ‘optimum’ – for some situations it may be 5% online, another maybe 25%, another 50% etc. There is no magic percentage that is the optimum value as every situation is different, so in only a very small number of scenarios is 10% going to be the optimum. What most FE providers are doing at the moment is scrabbling around desperately trying to get all of their courses to this magical 10% number, and as resources are so tight, there is no incentive or reason to go beyond the 10% – and this is what worries me. The purpose of FELTAG was to raise standards of education, and the report included many recommendations and actions covering the whole gambit of use of technology in teaching and learning – the 10% element was only one small part of it – however the term FELTAG has accidentally become synonymous with 10% and rather than being a quality improvement exercise it appears to have turned into a tick box activity driven by the funding mechanism that itself doesn’t appear to understand what online learning is or isn’t.

Following discussions on Twitter and other blogs, working with FE providers and talking to key individuals in this area it is clear to me that this has become the reality. Looking at the titles of various webinars and training courses being offered by different bodies, they all seem to focus on the 10% issue, rather than the potential quality issues, or potential financial gains issues.

I appreciate that most providers have small learning tech teams and many have never had, and still don’t have full SMT support – so this is a huge and real problem. My prediction for September 2015 is we will have lots of courses that do have the mandatory 10% online provision – but most of these will be of poor quality, with over stressed teachers, stability issues with the systems, and the 10% being an expensive tokenistic gesture that isn’t integrated into the whole teaching and learning process and culture. The other problem is that we don’t even know what 10% means – so some will create something that they think is 10% only to find out it isn’t, or others will go over the top investing too much time and effort artificially doing things, when in fact they may have already been meeting the 10% criteria.

So – what do I propose?

This brings me back to the title of the post. The best way to get this right (in my opinion) is to stop thinking about and talking about 10% – but instead to focus on identifying what the best mix of online and face to face each course would benefit from (and don’t try putting percentages against this). If we focus on this we will in almost all cases easily cover and surpass the 10% requirement, without it being an issue in itself. This approach also negates the problem of not knowing how big or where the financial goalposts are (and that will also keep moving) – if we provide something that is genuinely good, it doesn’t matter where the goalposts move to the provision will either be on target or easy to adapt slightly to get on target. If we aim for the magic 10% there is a risk we could miss altogether, and having to re-engineer something later on could be very expensive, and time consuming.

Firslty we need to make sure the snior managers are clear about what they are doing and why – there are various different models that can be employed when developing blended learning courses – and we need to get the right ones for the right purposes. We also need to ensure that we get staff buy in. Senior managers simply asking teaching staff to put 10% online (without any financial gain)  isn’t going to get staff buy in. A model where staff see reward for their efforts and benefits to them and the learners need to be found. Then we need to invest heavily in the staff work force – that has been identified on numerous occassions. There are plenty of opportunities available from the various support organisations involved, as well as many people like myself that has extensive experience of creating blended learning provision in FE and HE.

Some FE providers are shouting out that it isn’t possible to achieve any of this with the resources that they have – yes it may be difficult, but anything is possible if there is a desire and a will from the teaching staff to make it happen, and clear strategic leadership from above.

I have written this post as a ‘food for thought’ article. I hope that people don’t perceive this as a negative post – I am genuinely passionate about this area of work, and believe that great things can come from it, but I fear that at the moment, too many people are heading in the wrong direction – and a bit of feather ruffling will be benefical.

If any providers are interested in how I could help them with this area of work, then please get in touch via http://www.a6training.co.uk/contact.php

Image source: https://flic.kr/p/aXLEc