The future of digital learning – our view

The digital landscape is changing the face of education. But that’s a good thing.

Over the years we – through our operation YMCA Awards – have earned a reputation for pushing boundaries. That’s hardly surprising when you consider that we’re part of a movement which has been at the forefront of social-policy reforms since 1844. The YMCA has often challenged conventional thinking and at times made controversial decisions. Decisions which, although unpopular in their day, now seem reliable and morally astute.

In the education sector too, YMCA Awards continues to explore new possibilities and be experimental. It’s simply part of our DNA.

The interaction between students and instructors will always be central to the learning process.

The interaction between students and instructors will always be central to the learning process. However there has been a trend towards digitally-enabled learning experiences in schools and this has had a significant impact on learners’ expectations when they choose further vocational studies. 

Multimedia learning is already being embedded into training across a diverse range of sectors, such as medicine (students at Imperial College London use e-Learning to master clinical skills), or engineering (learners at Mid Kent College use computer simulation to learn welding techniques).

The benefits of using technology

Some professionals may hold fears about technology replacing tutors. But we believe that learning is fundamentally a social process. Tutors may need to acquire new skills to blend technology-enhanced learning into their curriculum, but ultimately this will help them to engage students, track progress, monitor impact, create data trails and produce positive digital citizens, comfortable with workplace technology.

What we believe

Some might challenge that we are becoming obsessed with technology, at the expense of the learning and assessment process’ integrity. So let us be very clear about this: There are two things that YMCA Awards is obsessed with:

  1. widening participation in learning, so that more people can live happier, healthier, more fulfilled lives; and
  2. ensuring public confidence in our qualifications and learning resources.

It remains to be tested, just how much of a role technology can play in fitness industry education. Certainly, we are not proposing a wholesale shift to digital learning, and we will never impose digital delivery on the education providers we work with.

Right now, education technology is in its infancy, but the possibilities are large.

Maintaining standards

Our qualifications and assessments are regulated by OFQUAL, and any developments we make in assessment methods will need to fulfil the regulator’s conditions as well as meet our own high standards.

We work hard on monitoring the quality of delivery and assessment offered by our approved education providers. Some might say that we are over-rigorous, but we make no apologies for that.

Our new Platinum Partners initiative aims to recognise where the bar has been set high by colleges and training providers, and we encourage our centres to aspire to that level. We also welcome the efforts of organisations like CIMSPA and OFSTED to work with us in maintaining the highest standards of education in the active leisure sector.

Looking to the future

But the fact remains, we live in an ‘age of access.’ In a 2015 study by McGraw-Hill, 61% of students said that they used their smartphone regularly to aid study. And 95% of students who study at home say it would be impossible if wasn’t for technology.

That’s how young people experience the world. It’s a seismic shift in approaches and attitudes towards learning. As a skills-development organisation – and a charity which aims to help people progress their careers – we simply cannot ignore it.

There can be poor quality digital learning for sure, just as you can find poor quality face to face instruction. We need to focus not on the method of delivery but on the quality of the content, teaching and assessment provided. That’s why we’re working with certain online learning providers to make sure that low-quality distance learning does not creep into the market and that we set clear expectations over what is acceptable and what is not.

Embracing the opportunities

Emerging technologies, such as e-Proctoring, gamification, augmented reality, interactive textbooks and networks which connect students and teachers in real time offer distinct possibilities and there is a big opportunity to back potentially transformative companies in many of these areas.

The paradigm shift is coming, and if we ignore it, technology will find a route to market anyway. Unscrupulous training providers will offer poor quality distance learning that dilutes the reputation of the fitness profession and undermines the efforts of genuine providers.

If we embrace it and bend it to our will, we can harness technology constructively to enhance face-to-face learning.

Right now, education technology is in its infancy, but the possibilities are large. We’re on the brink of an explosion of innovation in this space, and it’s crucial that we work together as educators, to channel it responsibly.

YMCA Awards is one of Central YMCA's operations. Read more about Central YMCA and its four operations.