How can digital technologies support skills for work in FE?

In this first episode of our new #VocTechFutures livestreamed podcast with FE News , Sarah Axon explores what VocTech is, how it is being used and the impact it is having on learning delivery. 

VocTech are digital technologies that support vocational training and help improve skills for work. VocTech describes the digital tools which are used to teach vocational skills to adults: skills which will be used by the workforce in the workplace. 

What’s the difference between EdTech and VocTech?

EdTech is a generic term which covers all types of educational technologies used in all sorts of settings - schools, colleges, universities - for all sorts of educational purposes. VocTech is the specific application of EdTech in a vocational context.

While the basic technologies are the same, when applied in a vocational context for adults, existing tools often need adjustment or redesign to ensure they work for adults in a work skills context. 

At Ufi, we believe in the power of digital technologies to change lives; only through the use of VocTech will we be able to scale up and give wide access to skills training and tackle the UK vocational skills shortage. Our aim is to catalyse change across the UK to achieve the change in scale that we need in vocational learning for adults.  

We do this by: 

  • Grant funding projects which demonstrate how innovation in digital learning has an impact 
  • Investing via our Ufi Ventures programme in order to help create a market in VocTech 
  • Working in partnership with organisations who have influence in the sector 
  • Helping to build the VocTech community and sharing knowledge  

We’ve funded all types of organisations to demonstrate VocTech in all types of innovative ways. In FE for example, there is some real innovation. Bracknell College is working with Century Tech to use AI to provide adaptive personalised learning pathways for students.  Hereford and Ludlow College used augmented reality for their animal care course. The National College for Nuclear and Bridgewater and Taunton college used VR to create a safe place to practice skills for the nuclear industry. Ufi’s VocTech Directory is a great resource for exploring other examples of how VocTech is being used. 

We understand the barriers to adoption of VocTech in colleges. Resources – time and money are a real issue. FE colleges are really stretched; Government spending on FE has dropped by a third since 2010 (Institute for Fiscal Studies). But the primary barrier has always been cultural – any change to how learning is delivered requires new skills and approaches, and that’s a challenge.  

The pandemic forced a shift. Necessity became the mother of invention. During the pandemic technology ensured that learning and teaching could still continue. Our VocTech Now funding call provided immediate help to 11 FE colleges to help them make the transition. Some great work and creative problem solving emerged. CPD for staff is an ongoing issue and we are working with ALT to create a network of FE VocTech professionals - Amplify FE.  

The future? AI will undoubtedly help unlock VocTech in colleges. When online, AI mediates almost everything – Google, Google Scholar, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Amazon, Netflix. And AI will play a great role in learning – which we are beginning to see.  AI can create content and powerful personalised learning at scale. Data-driven approaches can also deliver push techniques, such as nudge learning and spaced-practice. If AI is the rocket, data is the fuel.  

Future episodes of the #VocTechFutures FE livestream will be looking in more detail at practical applications of VocTech and how they can be applied to FE. Tune in to FE News at 9:30am this Wednesday 13 October to hear Patrick Dunn speak about the complex challenges of delivering education in prisons and how VocTech can help.