7 Lessons on FE leadership

by | Sep 2, 2008 | Articles

The Centre for Excellence in Leadership has a task to transform the provision of learning through the Further Education and Skills sector.  One of their strategic projects is to help leaders in FE manage and lead the new technology agenda in learning.

The Centre for Excellence in Leadership

Within that strategic aim they have developed a resource pack of activities, presentations and tools that will assist colleges in their strategic thinking on the ILT agenda (Information and Learning Technologies).  The resource pack provides an e-learning quality improvement programme (eQulP) for colleges.  It is available to managers in college who attend a one-day familiarisation programme.  Over 34% of colleges in England have trained facilitators of the eQulP programme. These facilitators train senior management to manage ILT strategically. They organise and deliver a change process within their colleges; thus maximising the reach of the eQulP across the FE sector.  The experience to date provides valuable lessons for organisations in all sectors.  A recent report describes the experiences of five colleges.  Two points emerge from the programme as a whole.

  1. The major challenge faced across the sector is changing the leadership perception that learning technologies are a strategic issue requiring drive from the top echelons of management.
  2. Participants on the course leave with enthusiasm and determination to implement the programme but some have neither the status within their colleges nor the personal confidence to engage top management in the strategic issues.

Leadership matters

The report emphasises the importance of leadership.  Engaging senior leaders is a critical part of the eQulP programme. Amongst the eQulP tools is an e-learning position statement (eLPS) which allows individuals to assess for themselves the status of ILT within the college.  Getting top management to do their own self-assessment proved beneficial in engaging them in the ILT debate.  As one member of staff said “one of the biggest benefits was that staff were actually asked for their opinion on where they thought we were up to, where the school was up to and where they personally felt they were up to.”  The tools are available on-line. Some senior management teams found it more comfortable to use paper-based versions; compressed to make allowance for the busy schedules of top management. These tools raise the awareness of senior managers to the potential of ILT.  The key issues faced by all colleges were highlighted and then could be better managed by the top team.

Success depended largely on encouraging senior management teams to develop, for themselves, the innovative strategies for the development of ILT throughout the colleges.  One college described the process: “The e-learning position statements were used with each member of the senior management team and other key staff.  Analysis of the results provided a clear idea of the expectations of individual SMT members and highlighted a possible strategic direction and milestone.”

And a comment from another college: “Setting a vision was a priority for us.”

The Towards Maturity research goes further; in the last survey we found that the most significant difference in e-learning maturity comes when top managers themselves are users of e-learning.  The Centre for Excellence in Leadership within the FE sector provides an on-line library in collaboration with the Chartered Management Institute specifically aimed at senior management within the sector.  Top management therefore have the tools to set examples within their college on the use of ILT personally.

Engaging Middle Managers

The experiences reported in the case studies show the need for the change process to be universal.  As well as working with top management eQulP is used to increase the awareness, across the whole organisation, to the potential of learning technologies.  The purpose is to make middle management part of the process; as one college said: “Helping managers to realise that learning technologies are  not something provided for them, or done to them, but something they need to work at to make the most of.”

This engagement works best when the senior management team cascades the training themselves to all middle managers, stating their own aspirations for the future use of ILT within the organisation.  At the same time middle and top management can develop jointly action plans for implementing the top management vision.  Some colleges also used external consultants in this process because they carried greater authority and credibility than the internal team.

Benefits for the Institution

A benefit mentioned in many of the case studies was the ability to benchmark the current state of ILT: as a starting point for future change and a means of measuring progress.  The involvement of middle management also meant that there was a more efficient and effective use of ILT resources already present in the college; it proved easier for college staff to learn from each other.  In the case of Fareham College [check] this extended beyond the boundaries of the college and the eQulP facilitator delivered programmes to other colleges in the South East area.

The more open debate also encouraged those who needed help in implementing learning technologies to come forward and ask for it.  Case studies also cite improved recruitment and success rates and more accurate and easier monitoring of data.

Lessons learnt for learning leadership

1. It is essential to have someone in charge of learning technology initiatives who can make strategic, operational and budgetary decisions based on informed data.

2. At the early stages of a development it is a good idea to have a group of people with varied backgrounds who can specify their requirements and highlight future needs.  It is best to do this before any substantial budget is spent: particularly before buying systems.  Time spent at this early stage of development is never wasted.

3. Staff should be trained before the resources are delivered although the training programme should not raise unrealistic expectations.

4. Learning Technologies should not be seen as “add on” but as part of the normal way of managing the college.

5. At an early stage input to top and senior management should be relevant to their roles presented using their language.  The eLPS* tool is very useful in this respect in stimulating high level discussions.

6. It is also essential that the feedback from the eLPS is fed back to senior managers immediately in appropriate language, both to gain their respect and so that interest and motivation are maintained.

7. Engaging the academic middleman issues in the cascade process strengthens and broadens the future use of learning technologies within the institution.

But the senior team are key to this and the facilitator has to gain their attention. One case study said: “It may have been better for one of the senior managers to attend the eQulP programme.”

* whilst the eLPS tool is designed for FE colleges, the Towards Maturity Benchmark review provides similar points of reference and discussion for those in learning leadership in the world of work.

What do Learners think

All the case studies list many benefits for learners, accessibility, enjoyment, greater involvement in managing their learning, greater access to material, the ability to work from home, improved reliability of their IT support and teachers who are better trained and equipped to support them.  All the case studies report universally improved environments for learning; one last quote from the report “It was important to get the full backing of the principal and senior management team.”

The full report with the case studies is available here

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