'Learning technologies: design for impact' - London briefing event

This article is submitted by Peter Connington, a graduate of Leeds Metropolitan, who is presently undertaking a work-shadowing position with the Design SIG.



The Technology Strategy Board is running a competition to design learning technologies for any educational purposes above KS1 (5 years) with funding of up to £80,000 available for successful entrants.

At the briefing event held on 12 May, at Royal Society of Arts, the room was packed, with more than double the amount that the event organisers had predicted! The main conference room was full of designers, educators, software and technology innovators and university representatives. Kris Baird and Jonathan Else from the Technology Strategy Board provided an overview of the competition.

The purpose of this competition is to explore new tech enabled innovations and services for an educational setting. Since BECTA (a government program for the use of technology throughout learning) there has been no dedicated program to help fund learning technology and there are huge opportunities to innovate in the learning environment. 

There are already many technologies available to schools but often they are not being exploited to their full potential, for a number of complex reasons. For example, schools have a limited IT budget, software is sometimes not user friendly in a learning environment and there isn’t a one size fits all solution to learning outcomes.

The competition aims to bridge this gap by offering companies funding of up to £80,000 to meet implementation challenges and improve learning outcomes. For further information visit Technology Strategy Board website

After the brief was explained there was a lively Q&A session with many questions regarding what the funding would cover, whether help outside the company could be used and if certain learning groups would be prioritised in terms of funding?

The funding may be used for iterative design prototyping it is not intended for development. Applicants were encouraged to seek outside help in the form of expertise from appropriate backgrounds and work could be subcontracted e.g. designers and educators. No learning group will be prioritised e.g. adult education will not be favoured over primary school education. 

After this session, inside the crowded Benjamin Franklin room there was just enough of the picnic style lunch of ham, cheeses and salad followed by a delicious Eton Mess.  Following lunch, a panel of speakers spoke about their experience and how it related to this competition. 

The speakers were;

Nick Appleyard, Technology Strategy Board -

Oliver Quinlan, Nesta -

Caroline Wright, British Education Suppliers Association -

Fiddian Warman, Soda -

Ian Fordham, Education Foundation -

Richard Noss, London Knowledge Lab -

Sean, McDougal Stakeholder design -

One university lecturer asked the speakers whether there was a problem in that the majority of those designing technology are male, wheras the majority of educators are women, leading to a lack of awareness on the side of the developer about the issues pertinent to the user needs.

Ian Fordham, Co-founder of The Education Foundation, said that contestants need to make the technology flexible and open so teachers can use it, and be able to build onto the product. Products have also failed because they have been based on engagement and fun, without taking learning outcomes into account. To avoid this, innovators need to start looking at next the level of evidence e.g. in depth teacher interviewing is required to understand their needs and the barriers they face. 

Oliver Quinlain a former teacher and now a Programme Manager at Digital Education gave this advice to competition hopefuls from a teachers’ perspective;

“Decide what it is that needs to be impacted on because assessment is hard.  Augment existing teaching practises. Fundamentally change the way teaching can happen.”

After the Q&A session Nick Appleyard, Head of Digital at the Technology Strategy Board, said;

“Technology is not the problem, people haven’t learnt how to use it well. We need technology to work well for people and educators. If you have to train people how to use it then you probably need to redesign it.”

As tea and coffee was served and the number of attendees dwindled, the remainder reflected that this competition is a chance to use design and collaboration to explore what needs to be developed to meet unpredictable challenges and learning requirements. The solution to this challenge lies with either stepping back and examining a current idea in a new way or looking for new approaches to the problem on the market.

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