Wednesday 19 September 2018

Unlocking the stable door?

Preparing learners for digital learning before they enrol on their studies

The House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills reported in their 2014-15 paper that ‘universities should ensure that all graduates are digitally competent’. However, rather than being an issue primarily for graduates, gaps in digital skills create issues for students from day one of their academic careers. As learning technology practitioners (whether we are based in the library, IT services or course support), we are regularly presented with students who have arrived at our institutions with little or no understanding of what an online learning environment is. The fact is, they often lack the digital skills required to navigate through their studies before they even get anywhere near graduating. By focusing on our students’ digital competence as they near completion, to get them ready for life in the real world, are we doing a disservice to their learning and knowledge acquisition? 

image of a horse in a stableOver recent years, agencies such as Jisc and UCISA, have researched and written much about how to best prepare students for the digital workplace (UCISA 2014). In 2015, Jisc noted that ‘developing learners who can learn and thrive in a digital society is a key role for universities and colleges’. Where we cannot deny the importance that higher education institutions have on preparing learners for their careers, are we locking the stable door once the horse has already bolted? The BLE's Digital Awareness Course focuses specifically on equipping students with some key capabilities required to learn and successfully achieve their qualifications. Moreover, the instruction is intended to be delivered before the student arrives at the gates of the institution. The focus on graduates entering the workplace has lent itself to ‘bolt-on’ interventions, which are often too little, too late; our plan is to embed these skills from the outset.

The course comprises four short sections, which follow a brief introduction to what is meant by digital skills:
  • General technologies
  • Learning technologies
  • Access, Safety & Sharing
  • Getting Organised
Right now, we have internal pilots running at Birkbeck, LSHTM, RVC, SOAS and SAS to try out the course on the incoming students about to head through our doors. 

empty tableOn Tuesday 10th September 2018, I presented this collaborative project at the annual ALT Conference. I provided a little context and described the research we conducted to help us design the course. I then explained the structure of the course and demonstrated how it will look to students. The metaphorical suggestion that I proposed is that we can unlock the stable door and let our students to roam free, safe in the knowledge that they are digitally aware in terms of their learning.

You can watch the presentation below and access my slides here.


House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills Report of Session (2014–15). Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future. Availble at: [Accessed 26.03.18]

Jisc (2015) Developing students’ digital literacy. Available at: [Accessed 26.03.18]

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