The last meeting of the APPG for Digital Skills looked at the impact of COVID 19 on organisational practices, and the implications for digital skills. here is an extract from his input.

So what have we learned about schools, which may be helpful in developing a digital policy for learning?

There are three sorts of learning to think about, not just school and home.  Call these

  • Classroom learning
  • Online learning ie learning which uses a networked device, and takes place in class
  • Remote Learning, which uses a device and the internet and takes place elsewhere

We have found that most but not all schools are badly placed to deliver remote learning at all, let alone as a replacement or supplement for classroom learning.  Why is this?

Children do not all have a device and the internet! Of course we knew this already, and these are massive issues, but they are not the only ones and the situation won’t get fixed by fixing these, although we have to of course!

Even where many children do have these, teachers are not good at managing remote learning.  They do not know how to deploy online learning environments because they have no experience of them.

There is a minority of schools that do remote learning well.  In particular, several of our award schools have been successful in managing remote learning.  What do they have in common? They all do some form of online learning  already, ie using devices for learning in classrooms alongside traditional methods.  This means that both teachers and pupils get the point of online learning already and this makes the transition to remote learning easier.   

So why aren’t most schools doing this, if some do?  Well there are of course overheads.  You have to buy and manage the devices.  Teachers and pupils have to learn how to use an online learning environment, although there are plenty of these and they are mostly free.  Crucially for this meeting, working in these environments requires a wide range of digital skills.  Let me hark back to my first presentation to the APPG and remind you that digital skills are simply being able to do things with digital tools, which are themselves applications or apps.  The trouble is, the digital skills that schools are currently required to develop, programming skills, are not those which empower online learning.  So time has to be found.

To offset these costs, there are real benefits for both pupils and teachers when using online learning, which are not there otherwise.  These include 

  • Preparation for life after school; the digital skills acquired are permanently useful
  • Paper free
  • Efficiencies in the production of text, working with numbers and handling information
  • Easier personalisation of learning
  • For pupils, distinctive and motivating learning experiences
  • For some pupils, access to the curriculum and support for learning
  • For older pupils managing your own learning

Couple these with the fact that a small but significant minority of pupils actually prefer and perform better within online learning, some schools have decided that the benefits justify the costs, and they find themselves better placed to handle the current crisis.

Of course the benefits of classroom approaches are not diminished by the benefits of online learning.  For example there is literally nothing like an inspiring teacher!  Working with our schools has shown us that what seems to be best for both pupils and teachers is a judicious mix of classroom, online and remote learning, where the value of each is understood and cashed in.

What are the implications for a digital skills policy? Such a policy might well be embedded in an overarching digital policy which plans for online access for all and device access for all.  This by itself will not be enough for a digital skills policy.  From the point of view of formal education, we need a reconsideration of what is worth learning in schools, how that is done, and if there are to be changes, that schools are given the time, resource and support to make them.  Digital skills are skills for life and they have to be learned.  They make learning more effective.  Are we really doing the best we can for our children?  Right now we are not.  Things could have been very different. They should be.