Start from the beginning; a case for a digital ‘Learner Profile’ + a useful ‘Student Digital Experience Benchmarking’ tool for FE (and HE)

DSC_0154I was fortunate to be part of the FE Digital Student project , one of four in the larger Jisc study investigating students’ expectations of the digital environment.

One of the clear messages we heard during focus groups held for the FE study was that learners wanted access to help to improve their use of digital skills during their course of study and they also didn’t want anyone to make assumptions about what they knew or could do with technology when it came to studying.   They said, ‘Ask us.’

In the course of going to 6 FE colleges and talking to 220 learners around the UK, it became clear that often colleges who are keen to support their diverse range of students, and are excellent at it, were missing key information about students when they arrived on their course. This missing information was in two parts; 1 – an individual’s access to technology outside of the college and 2 – the level of digital competence the individual has on arrival to study. For example, as part of the FE Digital student project, each focus group was asked to fill out a learner profile form, devised by Oxford Brookes University. The anonymised information relating to technology contained in the form was of great interest to the focus group’s tutors and they frequently remarked that they wished they had known some of the information earlier.

During consultation events with sector staff and students, held around the UK from January to April 2015, when the learner profile was introduced and the question was asked, ‘How do you find out what skills and access to technology your students have?’ similar results occurred. Replies to this question included;

  • trial and error
  • discussion and observation but this can be timely
  • by asking them but the issue is translating that and incorporating into a teaching strategy
  • ask them to demonstrate their understanding through practical tasks
  • let them play – projects that relate to modern technology


It didn’t take long for participants to come to the conclusion that if they knew at the start of a course who didn’t have access to technology or who was in need of better digital skills for their course, it would be easier to provide better support from the start rather than pick up the knowledge anecdotally or through individual informal assessment and observation.

There are many examples of colleges which work with their students and provide an excellent digital experience. Available now is the updated Jisc ‘Enhancing the digital student experience online guide’ and it includes a number of FE case studies. For those colleges where senior managers might like access to a good digital benchmarking tool to identify where they are and what next steps might be possible in their journey to providing an excellent digital experience for all, the NUS Jisc Digital Student Digital Experience Benchmarking tool is now available .

Having adequate basic digital information on individual students and their ability to access technology and acquire digital skills will make the journey to embedding a wider range of good digital practices, simple and appropriate for an individual college. Discussions with students, senior team planning and easily accessed information for tutors will all be enhanced with the basics from a good learner digital profile, with learner analytics put to good use. Benchmarking then starts from the beginning and decisions of access and provision, use of appropriate teaching tools and improvement of systems and processes become less complicated and based on firm evidence.

What can you do?

  •  To keep in touch with the launch of tools, case studies and other information, follow @Jisc on Twitter. You can also use the #digitalstudent hashtag. Jisc is on Facebook as well.
  • Keep an eye out for news about Jisc’s exploration of a prototype service to support the collection and analysis of data on student expectations linked here – Jisc Digital Student data service

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