Digital Learning Resources in FE Teaching Toolkit

This Toolkit offers support and guidance on how FE teaching practitioners can use digital learning resources effectively to enhance learning and teaching.

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15 September 2020

Digital learning resources

What are digital learning resources?

Digital learning resources refer to multimedia materials that can be used to enhance learning and teaching. These sorts of resources can come in a variety of formats such as:

  • interactive activities
  • simulations
  • animations
  • infographics
  • audio clips
  • videos
  • games
  • quizzes

Why use digital learning resources?

Digital learning resources can be great tools for both face to face and online teaching. Using them can help save you time and money on developing resources yourself, meaning that more time can be spent on student contact.

Due to the wide range of resources available, digital learning resources can help create a varied learning experience. They can help keep learners engaged and motivated and they will appeal to learners with different learning styles.

Using digital resources in your teaching gives you greater flexibility: they can be used in blended learning, where digital resources are incorporated into the activities in class, or in a flipped classroom approach, where learners access the content before the class and work through it at their own pace.

Incorporating online learning resources can also help learners develop their digital capability and confidence in using new technologies and online content, a key skill that will benefit them in their personal and professional lives.

What to consider when choosing digital resources

With more and more organisations creating and distributing online educational resources, it can be difficult to decide which ones are high quality, appropriate and worth incorporating into your teaching. So what should you look out for when looking for digital resources to use?

  • Subject knowledge: has the content been created by a teacher or subject expert? Make sure you are choosing a resource that has been developed by someone with a real, in depth knowledge of the subject matter.
  • Up to date: is the content up to date? Are the resources regularly refreshed? Check to see that the content is still relevant and reflects recent developments in the subject area. Using out of date content can confuse learners and hinder you, rather than help you, get your teaching points across.
  • Curriculum mapped: you don’t necessarily have to use exclusively curriculum mapped resources. Non curriculum mapped content such as videos, audio clips and games can still provide real value, especially as an introduction to a topic. However, if you want to look at embedding digital resources throughout a course and use these to help learners prepare for exams, choosing resources that have been mapped to a relevant curriculum means that you don’t need to spend time checking the content against specifications.
  • User friendly: are the resources easy to navigate? Are there summaries for what each resource covers? Would all of your learners be able to use these resources confidently and effectively? If the resources are difficult or complicated to use, think twice about using them. Remember, digital resources are supposed to make learning and teaching easier!
  • Engaging: Make sure that the resources you’re using are interesting and motivational for learners. Content such as quizzes, games, interactive activities and videos can be particularly effective for keeping learners engaged.
  • Support: it’s a good idea to check what teacher support is available. There might be an FAQ page, top tips specifically for teaching staff or contact details for further guidance and help.


Here are some examples of various digital learning resources to help give you an overview of what is on offer:


Jisc’s Vocational Learning Resources are high quality, interactive digital learning resources that cover Construction, Digital and IT, Education and Childcare, Hairdressing and Health and Social Care.

The resources are a mix of multimedia content including videos, quizzes, guides and interactive activities and have been curriculum mapped to qualifications in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and latest National Occupational Standards.

The resources have been created by subject matter experts teaching these areas and the content is regularly updated and refreshed to reflect changes in curricula and to keep the content relevant.

There is also a support site available with guidance on how to use the resources effectively, unit list overview and curriculum mapping information and FAQs and top tips for teaching practitioners.

The Blended Learning Consortium

The Blended Learning Consortium has been set up to support consortium members in creating and sharing FE specific resources. They currently have a wide range of learning content covering various learning levels and subject areas such as English, Maths, Health and Care, ICT, Business, Hair and Beauty, Trade Professions and many more.

The content is created and developed by staff in member colleges and is created to agreed specifications and standards. Colleges have the ability to adapt and re-brand learning resources to suit their needs and can back pay for previous years content.

BBC Bitesize

This is a free online study support resource designed to help with learning, revision and homework. The content includes video guides, quizzes, slideshows and revision flashcards and covers Functional Skills subjects, English and Maths, and a range of GCSE and A Level topics.

The Bitesize guides are produced by teachers and subject experts and are mapped to curricula in the UK.

Open University OpenLearn

OpenLearn is the Open University’s bank of free open educational resources. There are nearly 1000 courses to choose from and access to videos, courses, interactive activities, audio, articles and links to relevant radio and television programmes. Each resource has an estimated completion time so this can be factored into planning and preparation and an associated level from Beginner to Advanced.

15 September 2020


What are e-books?

An e-book is an electronic version of a printed book which can be read on a digital device. E-books can cover a wide range of genres, from works of fiction to educational textbooks. In addition to the digital text, e-books can also have a variety of functions that can be very helpful in a teaching and learning context.

What types of features can e-books have?

E-books have many very helpful features. Unlike in print books borrowed from a library, e-books allow the user to:

  • Highlight sections of text
  • Add their own notes and drawings
  • Search for specific key terms in large bodies of content
  • Look up definitions from in-built dictionaries
  • Translate text into other languages
  • Share sections of text with other users, creating a more collaborative experience
  • Use text to speech function
  • Change the font size, particularly helpful for users with visual impairments
  • Range of features such as audio, video, hyperlinks

What are the other benefits of using e-books?

In addition to specific e-book functions, there are plenty of other advantages to using e-books in teaching and learning.

E-books can also be accessed on the go from mobile devices so learners can use them when it suits them, rather than having to access them on campus.

Selecting e-books that have been curriculum mapped to relevant qualifications helps you to integrate them seamlessly into your teaching practice and e-books can also be embedded your organisation’s VLE system so they are a key part of a student’s learning experience.

E-books can be a great tool for revision and supporting learners with resits: : each learner can add their own annotations and highlight sections that will benefit them when preparing for exams, as opposed to writing on a physical textbook that will then be used by another learner.

What to consider?

Making sure all learners have access to core textbooks can be difficult and costly and many e-book providers only allow a single user or a very small number of users to access an e-book at any one time. However, this is where Jisc’s e-books for FE service can help. Switching to our e-books for FE service instead of using print copies can save money and, as our e-book collection allows concurrent access, this guarantees that a learner can always access a copy of the book they need without waiting for another student to finish with it. The collection covers A-Level, BTEC, vocational courses as well as GCSE English and Maths and the e-books can be easily accessed by embedding links directly in your organisation’s VLE.

15 September 2020

Virtual Learning Environments

What is a Virtual Learning Environment?

A Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is an online space for teaching and learning and can act as a centralised digital space for assessment, further study, important information and updates and to catch up on webinars or pre-recorded videos.

From a teaching perspective, they can also be a great place to store and organise all the digital resources that you have sourced externally for your course and, if designed well, VLEs can help learners become more self-sufficient and independent in finding this educational content and information on their own.

However, in order to be effective, content and resources on a VLE need to be organised and presented in a coherent and easily accessible way. If your VLE is difficult to navigate and the resources are too hard to find, learners will be less likely to see the VLE as a beneficial component of their learning journey.

This is where a virtual library system could be a good solution to explore.

What is a virtual library?

A virtual library works like a real library – it’s a collection of resources and books that users can access. These can either be stand-alone websites or built into an organisation’s VLE.

What can you find in a virtual library?

Virtual libraries can host all types of content such as:

  • E-books
  • Digital learning resources you’ve curated from the Internet
  • Digital content created and shared by staff at your organisation
  • Sound and video files
  • Links to blogs, podcasts and articles

Virtual libraries can also provide users with support and guidance on how to use certain resources, important updates from teaching staff and technical assistance.

Benefits of a virtual library

Using a virtual library can help you store all your resources and content in one easily accessible place that staff and students can access on and off campus.

Content can be organised and curated by subject area, making it easier for learners to find everything they need for their course stored all together.

Having all your resources together in a virtual library helps free up time directing students to certain pieces of content, so you can focus on supporting students in other ways, but it also helps with learners’ motivation and engagement with the content itself. A central location that is easy to navigate will allow students to become more self-sufficient in sourcing the information they need and will help build their digital capabilities by interacting with new technologies.

What to consider?

If your organisation does decide to use a virtual library as part of your VLE, it is important to make sure that the space is maintained and that all content is accessible and up to date.

This is where a service like Jisc’s Virtual Library could help. This virtual library is a single plugin that integrates into your VLE and all content in updated centrally by Jisc’s FE Content team, bringing together e-books, Vocational Learning Resources and licensed collections.


15 September 2020

The digital learning experience

What do we mean by the ‘digital learning experience’?

Digital or online learning, once mostly associated with MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and distance learning provision, is now increasingly mainstream.

It can now include activities such as classes on video conferencing platforms, interactive multimedia resources and using Virtual Learning Environments. Online learning can even be extended to how learners research and access online information and the use of social media in an educational context. In basic terms, online learning can be broadly defined as a learning activity with online components.

With online learning becoming a key element of a student’s learning journey, it’s important to take the time to consider how we can create great digital learning experiences for all learners.

What are the benefits of a good digital learning experience?

Some of the benefits of a good digital learning experience include:

  • Improved digital literacy, ability to adapt to new technologies and tools and the opportunity to learn new skills that will be valuable in learners’ personal and professional lives.
  • Learners are able to work independently and in a flexible way. They can choose what type of tools and resources suit their learning style and further research the content covered in class in a more tailored, focused way.
  • Increased awareness of the variety of digital resources on offer and how these can be incorporated into learning.

What are some of the barriers to a good digital learning experience?

  • Students’ access to technology: do all learners have access to the hardware or software required by the course?
  • Lack of confidence in using technology
  • Difficulties in accessing high quality resources
  • Lack of time for digital content creation
  • Keeping up to date with new technologies and changes to the curricula

What to consider when developing the best digital learning experience

  • What do learners expect now? With more and more ‘digital native’ students entering education, learners will approach digital environments with their own set of expectations and needs. Is your VLE easy to use and navigate? Do your learners have access to high quality resources that clearly integrate into their course’s content?
  • Assess your current situation: Are your organisation’s tools and technologies being used to the fullest extent? Conduct an audit of the tools and technologies you have access to. Look how you can incorporate these into your teaching first, assessing what works and what doesn’t and then think about what else is needed to develop your online or blended provision.
  • Choose the right approach for your teaching: there is no ‘one size fits all’ way to develop your digital learning experience. With so many tools and resources on offer, the amount of choice can feel overwhelming. It’s important to take the time to find the right fit for you, your learners and the curriculum.

15 September 2020

Building digital capabilities

Students approach online learning with a broad spectrum of abilities, understanding, experience and confidence in using technology. Whilst they might be confident users of social media and digital media content, they may still need support using digital technologies effectively in a learning environment.

What is digital literacy?

At Jisc, the definition of digital literacy encompasses seven elements:

  1. Media literacy: the ability to critically read and creatively produce academic and professional communications in a range of media.
  2. Communications and collaboration: Participating in digital networks for learning and research
  3. Career and identity management: manage digital reputation and online identity
  4. ICT literacy: adopt, adapt and use digital devices, applications and services.
  5. Learning skills: study and learn effectively in technology-rich environments, formal and informal
  6. Digital scholarship: participate in emerging academic, professional and research practices that depend on digital systems.
  7. Information literacy: find, interpret, evaluate, manage and share information

These elements go beyond functional IT skills and look at how learners integrate and interact with technology in different areas of their lives and the capabilities they will need to engage in a technological world.

Developing students’ digital capabilities

Embedding technology throughout the learner experience will help learners develop the skills they need to incorporate technology not their personal and professional lives and will help them develop transferable skills.

Start by carrying out an audit of what digital capabilities are needed for a module or course. Identify the skills learners already have and the technologies they feel comfortable with and then look at how you can introduce new technologies into your lessons. Be clear what the digital literacy requirements are for the course and how learners will be developing in this area.

Developing learners’ information literacy will help them become more independent in directing their own learning and more discerning in terms of the content they use. With endless forms of content to choose from, learners need to understand how to seek out high quality, reliable information that will be beneficial to them and their education. You can show the differences between various types of content and tools and discuss the relevant advantages and disadvantages. You should clearly communicate where learners can find support accessing relevant and useful resources and reinforce this by incorporating examples of these in your lesson plans.

Building a collaborative environment and allowing learners the time and space to experiment with different technologies will allow students to discover what works for them. Factor in some time for learners to get to grips with new tools or technologies and look at encouraging peer mentorship between students so they can work together to learn from each other’s knowledge and experience.

Digital capabilities and student employability

Developing learners’ digital capability is a key priority for their future employability. Technological advances will continue to change our ways of working and learners need to be able to enter the workplace with the right skills and abilities. Threading digital technologies through the learning experience will help students become more familiar with common workplace practices and will help them feel more comfortable engaging with technology.

Think about what technologies employers are using in the first place. Not all students fully understand how and why digital technologies are so important in the workplace so contextualising the use of technology with clear rationales as to why students should be using them and how they play into longer term employability goals will help motivate and engage learners.

As a member of teaching staff, you should also be stressing the importance of a positive digital professional identity. A strong online presence shows a student’s competency and inspire confidence. Digital CVs and e-portfolios can be used to not only demonstrate a student’s knowledge of their subject area but also highlights their digital skills in creating their professional identity.

Developing your own digital literacy

As well as focusing on your learners’ digital capabilities, it’s also important to focus on your own. Being confident and proficient in using technology and designing appropriate digital activities has a positive influence on students.

Look at your own understanding of the seven elements of digital literacy, identify where the gaps are and consider how you can fill these with help from support staff and staff from other curriculum areas.

Know who, how and when to ask for help. Do you know who to contact in your IT department for hardware and software issues? Do you understand your library or LRC staff’s role in supporting the use of digital technology? Even consider using your learners as a resource and use issues that arise during a lesson as a teaching opportunity for you and your learners to work collaboratively to resolve the problem.

You can also look for support outside of your organisation. Identify relevant training and CPD courses that target gaps in your digital knowledge, research networks of staff from other organisations that you can collaborate with and share ideas on best practice.

15 September 2020

Accessibility and inclusion

What is ‘accessibility’?

When we talk about ‘accessibility’, we are referring to the design of digital content and products and how successfully individuals with a disability or sensory impairment can use them. Accessibility is about designing out any unnecessary barriers that make it harder to engage or take part in everyday activities.

Why is accessibility so important?

Many students with additional needs may find transitioning to an online learning environment stressful and difficult. Making digital content accessible is all about being as inclusive as possible and allows all learners to participate and thrive in an online learning environment.

What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology assists someone to do something that they would otherwise be unable or find difficult to do.

An example of this could be using screen readers to help users with visual impairments access online content or a dyslexic learner using the text to speech function to make it easier for them to read on-screen.

How to choose accessible content

It’s a good idea to adopt a ‘usability first’ mindset. Focus on how easy the content or resource is to navigate and consider if it is intuitive enough for all users, regardless of their digital capability, would be able to use.

Things to look out for:

  • Does the layout make sense?
  • Is it easy to use?
  • Is the information presented in a logical manner?
  • Are the interactions intuitive?
  • Is the content useful, relevant and clearly written?
  • Do any of the design elements detract from the functionality?

What to consider when creating your own accessible learning content


Make sure that all your content is presented in a logical and consistent structure. Is it easy for a learner to follow the flow of information or is the content presented in a disorganised or jarring way?

Consider looking at breaking up the information into smaller, more manageable sections so it’s easier for the learner to read through or think about editing longer recordings into bitesize videos which are easier to focus on.


Check what size and style font you are using. Is the text large enough for everyone to read? Can the size of the text be increased by the user if needed? Clear simple fonts are far easier to read and think about what kind of background colour or image you may be using so there’s a good contrast between the background and the text.

If you are using hyperlinks: make sure that these are unique and descriptive: the link text should clearly describe what is being linked to.


Do the images you’ve chosen clearly match the other information being communicated? If you are using images for a certain function (e.g. as an icon to click on or as a response to a correct or incorrect answer to a quiz), is your use of these ima

It’s advisable to avoid using flickering or fast-moving animation which may be distracting or cause difficulties for certain users.

For non-text content, it is also a good idea to include ‘alt-text’ (short descriptions of images), especially for learners who use screen readers or browsers that block images and learners who are visually impaired or otherwise unable to identify images.

Looking for some sites with quality, free-to-use images? Jisc have collated some of their favourites here.

Alternative formats

Think about how you could adapt your content to fulfil every learner’s needs. Consider including transcripts or captions for videos or using an audio commentary when dealing with long sections of text.

When using documents in PDF format, make sure that these are accessible (e.g. searchable text function and interactive form fields) and avoid using screenshots that are complicated and can’t be easily described.


Finally, the most important part of checking for accessibility: test it! Make sure you go through and test your resources or, better yet, get someone else who hasn’t seen the resource before to test it for you and give feedback on what it was like to use.


15 September 2020

Building your online classroom

Think about your platform

With so many to choose from, picking the right product to deliver your teaching online can feel overwhelming. It’s important to choose a platform that allows you to carry out the teaching and learning activities you had planned to the best of their ability.

Start by talking to your organisation’s IT department and see if you already have access to one of these platforms through an institutional account. Your organisation may already have a platform they would prefer for you to use and relevant guidance documents, support or training to use this platform effectively.

Make sure you look at what functions your platform has. Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts are great for more collaborative activities and webinars whereas platforms like Adobe Connect are more teaching and learning focused.

Plan for diversity

Consider how you will ensure that all your learners are able to engage with your online learning methods. What sort activities do they engage with the most and how can these be translated to an online environment?

Do you have any learners with particular disabilities? If so, make sure that both your content and your platform cater to their needs and proactively invite these learners to discuss their needs for the webinar and identify any particular areas of your lesson plan you may need to re-address. This could have a significant impact on the type of content you were going to use of the tools and apps you had in mind for a certain activity.

You should also consider the types of devices your learners might be using. Enabling learners to use their own devices can have many benefits: students find it easier to navigate their own devices and learners who require technologies such as screen readers will already have this set up.

However, with so many different devices potentially being used, it is very important to find the right software or app so that all learners can access the learning content and actively participate.

Plan ahead: sending out a survey so students can inform you how they intend to access to session and if they have any accessibility requirements that you need to consider will help you prepare and consider all of these factors beforehand so you don’t have to try and deal with them once the session has already started.

Setting up for success

Once you are ready to start the session, make your learners feel comfortable in their online classroom and clearly set out any ground rules. Using an online platform in an educational setting might be new for a lot of learners so it’s a good idea to be clear about how the session will run.

Good ground rules to establish are:

  • Should their video be on?
  • Should they mute their microphone? (it’s advisable to have large groups put their mics on mute to avoid excessive background noise)
  • What should they do if they want to speak? -
  • Where are all the interactions they will need?
  • Can everyone find the chat pane and all the functions needed for the class?
  • How long will the class be? Will there be any breaks that they should be aware of

In addition to these, make sure that learners have links to any external sites you may need them to go to or send through any documents they may need to refer to.

With everyone aware of what the rules and expectations are, your session is much more likely to go smoothly and participants will get more out of the session.

Finally make sure that you keep your online classroom safe. Check that only participants with a link can access your classroom and keep the session as private as possible. Check names of participants entering the classroom and quickly report and remove anyone unexpected from the session.

Look at your tools

Think about how you are going to use the built-in functions of your platform to make your session more interactive.

Learners can use the chat pane to discuss a topic, ask questions or post links if necessary and icons can be used to quickly react to questions without the need to type or speak.

Whiteboards can be great as a brainstorming activity to get learners to collaborate together and share ideas and break out rooms can be used to facilitate smaller group discussions which you can jump in and out of to check students’ progress with the task or resolve any technical issues.

You may choose to share your screen to show your learners a PowerPoint presentation or video or your learners themselves may use this function if they are doing group presentation to the rest of the class.

Polls can also be a good tool to get quick answers or feedback to questions and make the experience more interactive.

Wrapping up

Think about how you want to finish up your online session. This could mean running a Q&A at the end to address any learner concerns, making a copy of the text in the chat pane so participants have a chance to read through the text at their own pace or redirecting learners to the next activity, homework or assignment.

It’s a great idea to record your sessions and send the video to participants afterwards. This is useful for students who were unable to attend, those who may have had technical difficulties during the session and this can also be used for revision purposes later in the course.

A key advantage of an online classroom is that students are given the opportunity to work asynchronously so learning does not need to take place at the same place and at the same time. This gives them greater flexibility over their schedule and the ability to cover material at their own pace. Students can watch videos of recorded lessons at a time that suits them and they can pause the video to research a topic further or re-watch sections they might be struggling to follow.

However, asynchronous learning can also lead to learners missing out on the social interaction and collaboration that happens in a synchronous learning environment. Setting up a community group or forum on your VLE or on a platform like Microsoft Teams could give learners a designated place to go to discuss topics from the session with their peers or to ask questions on sections they were unsure about. Not only does this give you the opportunity to generate further discussion on a topic or offer feedback to specific concerns, but it could also be a great opportunity for peer to peer support. When a question or concern is posted, try encouraging learners to help and support each other while you take on the role as a moderator, intervening when necessary. This will test other learners’ understanding of the topic themselves and helps to build a collaborative learning experience.

15 September 2020

Using digital resources

Link digital learning resources and e-books into your lesson plan

Start by integrating digital content and e-books into your preparation. Look through resources related to the content you want to cover. What kind of content is available: videos, guides, interactive activities, and quizzes?

Think about how these can be incorporated during the lesson on learners’ own devices, how you can embed these in PowerPoint presentations or how these resources can be used as revision or further support.

Taking the time to go through any digital resources available to you and becoming familiar with how they work and how they can be used effectively will help you get the most of these resources. If you are not sure what digital resources are available at your organisation, make sure you get in touch with your library or LRC staff who will be able to give you further support with this.

Embed them with learners at the beginning of the year

The best way to encourage users to engage with digital resources is to embed them in teaching and learning early in the year and use them consistently. Consider including hyperlinks to relevant e-books and digital content in PowerPoint presentations and other resources and embed hyperlinks in your college’s VLE for students to access.

The more learners are made aware of resources on offer and are signposted to where they can easily find and access them, the more likely they are to benefit from and engage with them effectively as part of their learning programme.

Embedding content in your VLE

Embedding digital content in your VLE is a great way to keep all the content you want to use in one place, it can be organised easily and it will be easier to direct learners to find all the digital content you want to use in one place.

If your subject area has its own VLE, make sure you have links to not only the service site, but also to the specific resources you want your learners to use. E-books can be organised into reading lists and links to relevant e-books can be inserted so your learners can access them easily. Not sure how to do this? Make sure you ask your librarian or LRC manager for help.

Making access to the content as easy as possible will make learners far more likely to use and actively engage with the resources.

Blended learning and flipped learning

Digital content doesn’t just need to be for fully online learning: you can use blended or flipped learning approaches to maximise the use of resources inside and outside of a physical classroom.

Videos, podcasts and animations are excellent ways to introduce a topic or spark discussions and, in a flipped classroom setting, can be watched at the learner’s own pace, with the ability to pause and take notes or look up further information.

Guides, worksheets and interactive activities can be used as homework, a class activity or as a resource for group work. Quizzes and games can be used for reflecting on topics, revision and as a form of self-assessment.

By using digital content to reinforce classroom learning, this encourages learners to collaborate, comment and share ideas on the digital media content and allows teaching practitioners to engage with learners in a way that helps them reflect on the content they’ve learned and how this can be applied to the wider understanding of their subject area.

Revising with digital content

As well as being used in teaching, digital resources can also be promoted as a revision tool to help motivate learners to revise more effectively.

Try and incorporate a variety of content types to meet learners’ needs. Having varied resources will help learners become independent in choosing the right resources for their learning styles and reflect on what they’ve learned during a particular unit or course.

This also helps learners pinpoint what they need to learn more about and allows them to specifically target a resource or set of resources that will cover this topic.

Think about signposting learners to interactive and more fun resources like games, quizzes or activities which focus on testing the knowledge they’ve acquired and make learners become actively self-reflective on areas they need to improve on.

Finding revision content that can be used on the go, rather than a full course to work through, could be a great way of encouraging learners to have a more flexible approach to revision and show that it can fit around their schedules.

Keep track of the content you’re using

Once you’ve started setting up your VLE areas and linking to digital content, it’s a good idea to keep a log of the materials that you are using and where you have embedded the links to them.

As well as using this to keep track of content you may have used before in an earlier section of the course, it’s also advisable to monitor access to that content.

Is the content freely open and available to you? Do you need to sign up and log in to a particular service? Is the content you’re using a subscription service and if so, when does that subscription run out? If you’re not sure about your institution’s access to certain resources, ask your library or LRC staff for guidance.

Bearing all these factors in mind helps you plan how you are going to use these resources effectively and helps to avoid learners having issues accessing the content you wanted to use in your lesson.

It’s also worth using this list as a checklist of content to check each time a course or curricula are advised. Having a comprehensive list of which resources you’re using and the topics they cover help you see how content maps to any course changes and where you may need to look for more resources to fill the gaps.

15 September 2020

Keeping learners engaged

Keeping learners motivated and interested in online learning is a big concern. You’ve chosen your platform, you’ve researched all the different tools you can use and you’ve selected a variety of different resources you can embed in your lesson plans.

But what else should you consider in order to keep learners engaged?

Social element of learning

When teaching online, it’s essential to try and keep the social element of learning alive. Break out rooms on online conferencing platforms can be used for smaller group discussions, facilitating active participation from learners instead of passively listening to information. Group discussions can also help to include learners who might struggle with the interactive digital tools incorporated in online teaching or might feel less comfortable with typing in message boxes.

It’s also vital to think about different ways to keep learners engaged outside of the virtual or physical classroom, especially if learners are expected to work asynchronously at times.

Social media platforms can be an excellent tool for this. Instagram is a great choice for subjects with a heavy visual focus whereas Twitter is useful for key updates as well as class discussions, retweeting interesting content for learners’ to explore and polls to test learners’ knowledge or to get their opinion or feedback on an issue. Teaching practitioners can use YouTube to either pre-record sessions and upload videos with the comment section activated for learners to access and discuss in their own time or for learners to create and distribute their own video content which can then be reviewed and assessed as part of peer learning.

Learners as co-creators

Students are more motivated and engaged when they feel that they are part of the learning process. You can learners a sense of greater independence over their own learning journey by letting them focus on using the resources that they naturally gravitate to and reflect their learning style.

For some learners this could be reading through a bitesize guide, for others it could be using games and quizzes or watching videos. Let learners have an active role: consider asking for feedback on different online tools or resources. Find out what works for them and what doesn’t: do they prefer one delivery method over another? Are there certain resources that work particularly well? Giving learners the opportunity to voice their opinion on their learning experience will help you to continuously adapt and improve your lesson plans to maximise learner engagement as much as possible.

Another way to encourage learners to think of themselves as co-creators in their learning is to shift students away from consumers of content to becoming producers of content. Students can be encouraged to develop their research, design and editing skills by creating their own content or presentations to share with the group. Not only will this further their knowledge of the content covered but this will also improve their digital capabilities and encourage them to think about how they can use different tools and media to present information online.

Help students choose their own learning journey

Self-assessments and reflection provide another opportunity for students to take control over their learning journey.

Encouraging learners to identify their strengths and weakness allows them to tailor their learning to their individual needs. Instead of working on an area they believe that they already have a good grasp of, they can instead choose to focus their attention elsewhere.

This develops a student’s active participation in their own learning and individualises the experience to their needs. Try and build learning environments that reflect this: instead of working through a course from beginning to end, have a variety of resources that learners can dip in and out of and put them in control of the sort of content they use.

Assessment, feedback and reflection

15 September 2020

Designing online assessment

Assessment is crucial to the education process and when designed and delivered effectively, it can motivate learners, help them become more independent at regulating their own learning and helps them identify gaps in their knowledge. However, it can also be a source of anxiety and dissatisfaction.

How do you make sure that you are assessing the right things when looking at the course or programme’s learning outcomes? Where should we time these so they take place at the right time in the learning journey? Are we designing assessments that bring out the best in students?

Types of assessment

There are three main types of assessment to consider:

  1. Initial or diagnostic: this allows you, as a teaching practitioner, to determine a learner’s knowledge of subject beforehand and can be used to demonstrate how much a student has learnt during a course, from their initial introduction to their final assessment.
  2. Final or summative: this focuses on outcomes from a course or programme. It can be used to determine whether a student has passed or failed a course and can also be used to gain valuable insights into improvements needed on the design or delivery of teaching.
  3. Formative: this is mostly used to support teaching and learning. It helps students interpret feedback and incorporate this into their future learning journey. It can help identify areas where students may feel they need further support or as a practice attempt for a summative assessment. Examples of formative assessment as observations, tests and exams and the use of a portfolio.

A big change in recent years has been a shift from assessment of learning (which typically takes place at the end of a course or module) to assessment for learning (with a focus on high quality formative assessment and feedback). Assessment for learning encourages students to take responsibility for their own performance and creates a deeper understanding of how they are performing against assessment criteria and what they need to focus on to improve.

What to consider

Assessment can either be inbuilt, so a module contains assessment tools and instructions such as incorporated tests, assignments or exercises, or it can take a more community approach, where the emphasis is on peer-assessment, joint projects and participation in webinars.

When designing an assessment, it’s important to make sure if it is:

  • Authentic: have they been designed to prepare students for what they will be doing next and do they use the type of technology that they will be using in the workplace?
  • Accessible: can everyone complete your assessment successfully? Would anyone be unfairly disadvantaged during this assessment activity?
  • Appropriately automated: have you found the correct balance between automated and human marking?
  • Continuous: how does the assessment support a student’s ongoing educational journey?
  • Secure: how will you make sure that the submissions are really that of the learners? How have you protected against cheating and plagiarism?

Benefits of online assessment

There are many advantages of incorporating digital elements to your assessment and feedback approach.

Assessment can be made engaging by incorporating activities such as peer assessment, blogging and quizzes and assessments can be more varied as inclusive by providing learners with choice over topics, formats or timings of assignments.

An online approach can help learners visualise their upcoming assessments more effectively: they can see when all their assignments are due and how they will be assessed so they can plan their time and workload.

Digital assessment can also be a useful tool for building in reflective tasks for students to evaluate their progress and understanding and encourage them to reflect on their experiences, adding a level of personalisation to their assessment.

It can also cut down on the amount of time spent providing written feedback. Why not try giving audio or video feedback to a group and then ask them to show how they have adjusted their own performance in light of this feedback?

Why is online assessment design so important?

Good assessment should inspire and motivate learners and create a positive environment for reflection and analysis.

However, there are some common problems when it comes to designing and carrying out assessments.

Some assessment methods focus on the outcomes of short modules rather than a learner’s overall performance over a period of time. These don’t allow for formative approaches to be developed and students can fail to see the links between modules and their overall understanding of the course content so can see them as a tick box exercise.

Poorly planned out assessment activities can also have a detrimental effect: some learning outcomes can be assessed multiple times at various points whereas others aren’t addressed at all. If feedback is delayed, students may not get the full value out of this and feedback is sometimes treated as short term and corrective, rather than building a learner’s skills development long term.

Learners may not understand the relevance of a chosen form of assessment which can lead to them feeling disengaged by the process or they may not understand what is expected of them. Learners need to actively engage with the criteria and have the opportunity to practice different activities before a high-stakes summative assessment.

Online assessments can play a key role in addressing these issues. Curriculum management systems can give an overview of assessments in individual modules and how they fit in to an overall course or programme assessment. Online grading criteria can help students determine the learning outcomes being assessed and digital feedback is more usable by students and easier for them to store and refer to in future.

Technology can help design assessments in alternative formats, ensuring greater accessibility for all learners and digital assessments can come in a variety of formats to keep the assessment process interesting and engaging.

Designing assessments to be more inclusive

It is vital to ensure that learners are able to demonstrate their learning to the best of their ability and fair assessments must be as inclusive as possible.

Failure to consider inclusivity can lead to a number of modifications needed at a later stage, increased chances of complaint or appeal and frustrations and lack of motivation from learners.

It is important to try and create a single process to accommodate all learners, rather than setting up alternative arrangements that can feel like students are being singled out.

So what should be considered when designing an inclusive assessment?

Inclusive practice means considering:

  • When religious holiday and school holidays fall during the academic year.
  • Are assessments culturally sensitive?
  • What are the educational backgrounds of your learners? What sorts of assessment activities will they/won’t they have seen before?
  • Does your assessment strategy include a range of formats?
  • Are the needs of your students with disabilities being met?

Most people are aware of what to take into consideration for students with disabilities but don’t necessarily take into consideration the cultural, religious or personal backgrounds of their learners and how these can equally disadvantage them if assessment is not designed appropriately.

15 September 2020

Assessment for employability

Educational institutions are under increasing pressure to show how their courses and programmes have a direct, positive effect on a learner’s future career and performance in the workplace. It is important to consider how your chosen assessment methods help prepare learners to understand and engage with different forms of assessment in the workplace.

What are the main issues with employability and assessment?

A main concern is that traditional assessment and workplace development do not always seem to align with each other. Educational institutions tend to focus on summative assessments whereas workplaces focus on ongoing professional development based on formative feedback.

For learners who are undertaking part of their course in a work-based environment, it’s important to recognise that there might be different approaches to assessment: a workplace mentor may focus on a learner’s competencies or skills whereas a tutor may focus on a learner’s understanding of how theory relates to practice. It’s crucial to have a mutual understanding of the assessment criteria and standards and use a common vocabulary to help students fully understand their feedback.

Learners can also have trouble identifying and presenting what transferable skills they have learnt at the end of a course and how these relate to relevant professional standards or criteria. Assessment tends to focus on the learner’s knowledge of academic content but does not necessarily highlight the key skills they’ve developed which are required in the workshop. These key skills include: collaboration; organisation and time management; effective communication; critical thinking and research and analysis. Learners need a way to contextualise and present evidence of this skill development to both potential employers and to themselves. Teaching practitioners need to incorporate assessments that encourage learners to reflect, evaluate and articulate what they have learned and how this factors into their ongoing professional development. This is where digital products, such as e-portfolios, can help.

What are e-portfolios and how can they help?

An e-portfolio is a digital representation of a student’s achievements and experiences. E-portfolios can be very valuable: they can act as a record of a student’s learning journey, to celebrate their achievements and build their professional online identity.

E-portfolios are also increasing in popularity due to their role in improving learners’ digital capabilities and providing them with key employability skills.

Creating an e-portfolio develops a learner’s ability to:

  • Organise and plan material
  • Give and receive feedback
  • Reflection own progress
  • Select and arrange content to communicate with an audience effectively.

E-portfolios are very personalised and enable learners to reflect on different learning experiences. They can be used outside of a learner’s institution and can be used to interact with future employers, to demonstrate their ongoing skill development.

The content is created and owned by the learner: they use it to reflect on their experiences, consider how they want to present their achievements and use it to identify and remedy any gaps in their skills. Learners can also use e-portfolios to demonstrate how they interact with digital media and resources by incorporating links to video and audio recordings, files and websites. Learners can then help readers navigate their e-portfolio by reflecting on why they have selected these particular types of digital content and how they demonstrate their ongoing development.

The immediacy of feedback is another key advantage of e-portfolios. E-portfolios can be easily reviewed and assessed on a continuous basis and learners can receive and implement feedback much quicker, rather than waiting for a paper version to be marked and returned. This ongoing back and forth between learners and teaching practitioners can create a dialogic function to the assessment, encouraging a sense of collaboration throughout the project. It also emphasises the idea that their education is an ongoing process, developed further by their own self reflection and feedback from others, rather than a series of summative assessments. E-portfolios can help contextualise the learning they have done so far and how various activities, projects and assessments factor into their overall development and career progression. E-portfolios can help build a more reflective approach to learning, making connections between theory and practice.

Examples of e-portfolio tools include Smart Assessor, OneFile and PebblePad

15 September 2020

Feedback and reflection

Timely, relevant, consistent and high-quality feedback is vital to a student’s progress. Without this, learners may struggle to understand what is expected of them and how to develop and improve in future assignments or assessments.

Ensure you are providing information to learners about where they are in relation to their learning goals and encourage learners to use your feedback to actively evaluate their progress and identify gaps in their learning.

Keep the focus on how this information can be used to look ahead to their next assignment and what skills they may need to reflect and work on in order to improve. Make sure feedback is centralised and easy for both you and the learner to access. Learning Management Systems can be particularly useful for this purpose but make sure you check how this information is being stored. Is it broken down by module? Or is there a place to keep all feedback together covering the duration of the course?

Have you discussed how you give feedback to learners with other teaching practitioners? Consider collaborating with other teaching staff to see how feedback is presented to students and where any differences or inconsistencies may lie which could lead to confusion and lack of progress.

However, not all feedback needs to come from a teaching practitioner. Incorporating peer review and self-reflection exercises can be incredibly beneficial to learners.

Peer assessment and reviews

Peer reviews involve learners both producing feedback for their peers and receiving feedback from others, helping students critically assess and make judgements on a piece of work based on set criteria. This is a very proactive process and it requires learners to take a much more active role in evaluating how well the criteria has been met and the variety of approaches a learner can take to fulfil the requirements of an assignment.

Peer assessments, on the other hand, are when learners are asked to mark or grade the work of other students. This encourages learners to take a closer, more critical look at certain assessment criteria and puts them in the position of an assessor. What do you think an assessor would be looking for? How well has this learner demonstrated their knowledge of the necessary learning outcomes?

This approach can offer students the opportunity to receive feedback in a format written in a way that is more accessible to them, it helps learners transfer what they have learnt from looking at another’s student work to their own practice and gives learners valuable insights into what is required from them in a final summative assessment.

Although both peer reviews and peer assessments can be very beneficial, there are potential difficulties to consider. The act of giving feedback to a peer may be an uncomfortable or unfamiliar experience and, if not handled properly, could lead to tension or frustration in class rather than a safe and collaborative environment. A noticeable difference in tutor and peer marks which is not addressed, explained and corrected could lead to confusion and a lack of confidence in the activity. Concerns could also be raised by the potential to plagiarise based on the work they’ve assessed.

To help resolve these concerns, remind learners that this shouldn’t be negative experience: they should take the time to weigh up the strengths and weaknesses of the assignment and highlight areas to improve and parts that are missing.

Look at how you can anonymise and protect the privacy of the providers of feedback: look at the tools you are using. Do your VLE have the options to anonymise feedback to students so learners can upload their comments without it being associated with their account?

To avoid plagiarism, ask students to comment on their own work following a peer review but without being able to make any amendments to the original assignment.

The role of learner’s self-reflection

A key goal of formative assessment and feedback is developing students to become independent and capable of monitoring their own learning. Self-reflection activities can be an empowering experience for learners to take an active role in engaging with assessment criteria and evaluating their own progress and understanding, preventing learners from becoming passive recipients of feedback.

A learner’s self-reflection needs to be a dialogue, working in collaboration with the other feedback they have received, and it needs to be integrated into their everyday learning experience, rather than as a one-off activity.

Diagnostic quizzes with immediate feedback can be a great way for a learner to assess their knowledge on a topic and e-portfolios can also facilitate this private reflection on their learning journey. Learner can express their reflections and engage in a dialogue through blogging or can share and discuss their responses in a closed group on social media.

You’ve reached the end of your Toolkit journey!

You should now:

  • Be more aware of the range of digital learning resources available from Jisc and other providers
  • Feel more confident embedding these in your teaching practice
  • Know what to look for when selecting digital resources to use and how to make sure they are accessible for all learners
  • Be aware of what a good ‘digital learning experience’ is for your learners and design your digital pedagogy accordingly
  • Understand how technology can develop your learners’ capabilities in further education and beyond

Now you have the knowledge and confidence to use digital learning resources effectively, it’s time to put what you’ve learnt into practice! There are new digital learning resources being developed all the time so make sure you stay up to date with what’s available and use what you have learnt from this Toolkit to help you find and use effectively the right resources for you and your learners.