SEND Mindfulness Toolkit

Doing Action Research

A Guide for Post-16 Practitioners

Professional Learning

Professional Learning

We offer professional learning and development in a range of areas, including: train the trainers (in teaching, learning & assessment approaches); and personal/ pedagogical CPD in English, maths and digital literacies.

Train the Trainer courses

(in the context of screen industries) for ScreenSkills

If you’re interested in L3 accreditation in maths and English, please visit this page.


Dr Andy Convery

Action Research Lead

Andy holding a crow in his hand


Andy spent 26 happy years teaching at Redcar College before moving to Sunderland University to work in teacher training for ten years with college teachers and trainers across the North-East. Since 1986 he has been engaged in conducting and promoting action research with some wonderful colleagues in primary and secondary schools, secure units, hospitals, colleges, training agencies and universities. The highpoint of his career has been working with this team since 2016 to help teachers develop an enthusiasm for action research which leads to a real sense of professional fulfilment and well-being.

Something Personal

I regularly watch Newcastle United which provides a rich stimulus for my developing interest in stoical philosophy. I enjoy a two mile run most days (after I’ve completed it).  My most endearing characteristic is never having had an original idea in my life.  My most irritating feature is my permanent optimism about how action research can always make working in FE better.

Get in touch with Andy if:

You have an educational challenge that you feel can’t be improved by action research.

Recent Resources + Writing

Prevent Duty and British Values for Adult Learners

A guide to support the embedding of British Values and the Prevent Strategy

Digital and Blended Learning Project

A collaborative collective working together to share and develop digital and blended learning practices.

Barnsley MBC EDS Report

Delivering EDS to ESOL Learners

Barnsley MBC

This project developed visual resources and learning methods to support Entry 2 ESOL learners’ understanding of instructional language, with a focus on digital terminology. Once the language barriers were removed, the tutors found that learners were surpassing expectations and confidently able to take responsibility for their own learning.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway.


Adult Skills and Community Learning supports the delivery of Barnsley Council’s vision, addresses local priorities and supports the achievement of corporate outcomes by harnessing the transformational potential of learning. The Service maintains the key principles of supporting adults to develop skills, confidence and access to technology to be able to participate in a wider variety of learning experiences and transfer those skills to work and home-life and is committed to ensuring technology is fully embedded in the learner journey.

This project was designed to offer the Entry Level 2 ESOL learners a bespoke programme to develop their digital skills to enhance their life and work and also support the online delivery of their ESOL programme.

The learners were a small cohort of existing ESOL learners who had struggled to continue with their learning in the lockdown periods due to a lack of digital skills. The bespoke programme was developed to furnish the learners with the skills they needed to be more independent in the digital world.

The programme was designed and co-delivered by an ESOL Tutor and an ICT Tutor, who supported each other professionally and developed a rapport to be able to be each other’s “critical friend”. This collaboration has been the trigger in developing stronger working relationships amongst colleagues from different curriculum areas who now regularly draw on each other’s expertise when required. This has supported their own professional development.


During the COVID-19 lockdown, low level ESOL learners struggled to effectively continue with their learning due to their limited digital skills. The Service wanted to address this issue by developing a bespoke cross-curricula essential digital skills programme for low level ESOL learners to develop their independent digital skills for use at home and prepare them for work.

The project would develop strategies to support the development and understanding of digital terminology to learners where English is not their first language. It would also improve the digital skills of the ESOL tutors and give them the confidence to embed and deliver digital skills within the ESOL provision. In the initial teaching session, it was identified that the ESOL learners would need additional support with understanding digital terminology before undertaking their essential digital skills qualification.

Tutors within both teams had previously identified needing support when delivering to low level ESOL learners and requiring knowledge to ensure digital skills are embedded within the ESOL curriculum. The project aimed to enable both teams to work closely together to develop and share good practice and develop resources to be used in future delivery.


The Service wanted to explore and develop relevant and engaging resources to meet the needs of the ESOL learners and promote their development in understanding digital terminology as a starting point to further develop and embed their digital skills.

The approach was to develop the use of instructional language and visual resources for learners to support their understanding of basic IT terminology and how it underpins the development of the practical action.

The planned activities supported the learners to access their own Google Docs accounts and be able to document their own reflections/progress in relation to their journey of developing essential digital skills.

The proposed activities were designed to support a positive learner experience, to develop the curriculum offer that progresses the knowledge and skills that the ESOL learners will need in order to take advantage of the opportunities that prepare them for their next stage and develop their confidence in using digital technologies.

The activities would support learners to build on previous learning and develop the new digital knowledge and skills they need. It was important that the foundation building blocks of gaining the knowledge and understanding of using correct digital terminology is embedded in the learners’ long-term memory and they have the confidence to use them fluently and consistently. From these activities there is a clear progression to essential digital skills which all the learners will have the opportunity to develop those skills as their next steps in their digital skills learning. This initial course enabled the learners to gain the skills, knowledge and confidence to explore progressing onto the essential digital skills provision.

The tutors worked collaboratively in developing a glossary of terms with the ESOL Tutor being a “critical friend” and supporting the ICT Tutor to pitch the resource at a level suitable for the learners.

The tutors contributed to a Padlet on a weekly basis to document their reflections and achievements within each of the sessions.

Professional Learning: Evidence of changes in teaching, learning and assessment practices

This project aimed to increase staff confidence in working with low level ESOL learners and developing their digital skills to support them in their ESOL course. The tutor reflections on the Padlet provided evidence of a significant rise in confidence when working with low level ESOL learners and having the ability to prepare resources suitable for the level of the learner. Importantly, the ESOL tutor is also more confident in embedding digital technology within her provision.

A glossary of terms was produced with the tutors working collaboratively to agree a final product to meet the learning needs of the learners. The development of the glossary went through three amendments, the images are shown below. At each revision version, the ESOL Tutor gave constructive feedback on how the resource could be adapted to benefit and better support the learners. This supportive and collaborative approach ensured the resource developed the learners understanding of the digital terminology. The ESOL tutor commented how she supported the ICT Tutor to develop this learner resource to support the learners’ understanding of key terminology:

“The use of visual aids such as images, shared screen, demonstrations, videos, glossary are essential to support learners’ understanding of the spoken language. The course requests learners to take actions using many different verbs: click, double click, open, tab, scroll, etc. Knowledge and understanding of the terms is essential to be able to take the correct action.”

Figure 1: Version 1 of the Glossary

Figure 2: Version 2 of the Glossary

Figure 3: Final Version of the Glossary

Evidence of improved collaboration and changes in organisation practices

Use of a Collaborative Padlet

Image of the collaborative padlet

Figure 5: Screenshot of Collaborative Padlet

The Padlet became a working document and a community space where the tutors were able to reflect on the sessions, this was further enhanced by Lead Tutors being able to contribute and share their ideas and experiences which were used to develop the course week by week.

Developing tutor confidence in using the online meetings software

The use of breakout rooms became very efficient in meeting learners’ specific needs. Reflections from the ICT tutor early in the programme identified the language barriers with the learners and developed the sessions to use breakout rooms to ensure all learners can continue their learning at a suitable pace with the ESOL tutor supporting in one room and the ICT tutor in another.

Collaboration with teaching colleagues

Teaching using ICT can be stressful for ESOL tutors, but we found having an ICT tutor to support was very useful and the ICT tutor found that having an ESOL tutor present also helped communication. As one tutor stated:

“I have enjoyed working collaboratively very much … We agree on lots of good practice, and I’ve learnt lots about working with ESOL learners. I think my colleague has kept me grounded throughout the course and has supported me when I’ve struggled with the language barrier”.

Use of a wider range of digital platforms

The use of the Collaborative Padlet encouraged both tutors to reflect on the sessions and were positive and willing to develop their skills in using this in education. Staff involved in the project showed a positive attitude to using it to share and collaborate on.

Tutors developing as Reflective Practitioners

The digital action research project created frequent opportunities for the tutors to focus upon aspects of their established teaching strategies, and to collaboratively explore opportunities to develop and try new techniques and resources to improve learner participation both in and between the sessions. Teachers learn from each other and develop strategies and techniques that can be used in their future teaching.

Developing a supportive Community of Practice

Staff development sessions have previously been held in small curriculum teams, but through the project, this has resulted in the sharing of good practice, especially between the ESOL and ICT teams. The tutors have been encouraged to collaborate and share ideas in a relaxed and informal environment. The joint activities have become opened up to enable staff to reflectively evaluate what each team is trialling within their teaching, learning and assessment. This has improved working relationships between tutors from different curriculum areas.

Generated practical solutions

Collaboration between the tutors has helped to identify and find solutions to very practical barriers, such as how to ensure the learners can easily access their online session. Learners were struggling to find the link to the session, therefore as a Service we have decided to set a reminder email to be sent 15 minutes prior to the session, this will ensure the email containing the link is near the top of a learner’s inbox and therefore more easily achievable. This is crucial to support a prompt start to the session prior to a learner having confidence in using bookmarks.

Evidence of improvement in learners’ achievements, retention and progression

Learners have surpassed expectations and have confidently been able to meet their negotiated targets.

Learners have been exploring and developing the use of their loan laptop devices from the Service. They are becoming less dependent on the use of the mobile phones and developing long lasting understanding of the roles and features of different platforms accessible from their laptops, eg Google search, Google Drive, etc – this is supporting the move to be able to develop their digital skills which they are using in their home-life and preparing them for the world of work. In week 2 the learners had made a language connection with their ESOL class where words such as document, CV and forms were being used. Recognisable language was building learners’ confidence.

Three of the learners contributed to a student feedback and reflection discussion at the end of week 3, using the following questions as a prompt:

  •  What did you find useful?
  •  What can you do now?
  •  How will you use this?

Video extracts from the discussion are available on the Good Practice Padlet. The learners were very positive about their progress and their lessons; they are really enjoying their learning and making great progress against starting points. They could clearly explain how their learning will benefit them in their lives and work. The learners identified they were more confident in using their laptop and becoming more and more confident in using Google Drive to sort and work with documents and had an increased confidence to undertake online shopping in a safe and secure way.

The learners also expressed that the digital class had supported them to be able to access their online ESOL courses during lockdown and continue their ESOL learning. One learner commented how he was combining the learning from his ESOL class to his digital class and was both pleased and proud of the progress he had made and was grateful that he had had this opportunity to undertake this digital course.

The tutors commented that the learners are showing good skill development and the positive impact this is having on their confidence. The learners can navigate successfully between Google search, Google images and Google Drive. They can copy and paste images into a new Google Document and add text. They can take screenshots. They have completed extra work away from their formal sessions and have created their own comprehensive glossary for their own use. The learners are able to confidently send e-mails.

The learners have also been successful in attaining the Entry Level 1 Digital Skills for Work qualification accredited by Gateway Qualifications.

Learning from this project

The course for the action research project had to be delivered fully online due to being in a National Lockdown situation. At the end of the course and upon reflection by the tutors, it was decided moving the course to face to face delivery would support the learners to develop their digital skills in a conducive environment, where the tutor was easily accessible to give the learners the support they need. The learners would be supported to improve their digital skills and prepare them for progression onto an online course. The initial face to face course would help to mitigate learners’ anxiety around getting online whilst developing their confidence in using IT equipment.

The skills gained by the ICT Tutor to prepare resources suitable for low level ESOL learners will also be able to be used when preparing and teaching Entry Level 1 and 2 learners to develop their digital skills. The tutor developed her knowledge on the need to grade language and extend the use of visual images to support learning, rather than the resources being too text heavy. The tutor flipped the resource, as can be seen in Figure 3 above, so that the learners were providing the language in a way that supported their own learning.

The tutors worked with learners who had spikey profiles in ESOL and also spikey profiles in digital, but the assumption should never be made that someone who is low level ESOL has low level digital skills, as once the language was no longer a barrier, the learners excelled in their digital skills.

Working collaboratively across specialisms has helped both tutors to develop their teaching practices, when preparing resources and developing digital content for learners. Providing the opportunities for both open and honest discussions between the tutors has been beneficial and resulted in a better learning experience for the learners. The honesty and openness of both tutors supported the success of the collaborative teaching, which was key to its success.

Islington ACL EDS Report

Developing Essential Digital Skills amongst elementary level learners of ESOL

Islington Adult Community Learning

This project developed a short discrete Digital Skills course to bridge the digital skills gap for ESOL learners and to enable the learners who have the greatest need to improve their Essential Digital Skills. The aim of the course was to enable the learners to confidently access email and Zoom sessions across a range of devices. Feedback from learners has been positive and the project team believe that the key to its success was the way in which it was delivered by ESOL teachers rather than IT teachers.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway.


Islington Adult Community Learning (ACL) is situated in the London Borough of Islington, which borders on the London Boroughs of Hackney, Haringey and Camden. The department offers further education and health and well-being courses for Islington residents over the age of nineteen, with learning centres located in libraries, children’s centres, community centres and other locations across the borough.

Islington is a borough of sharp contrasts, with areas of high deprivation as well as pockets of wealth. Within this setting, ACL operates under the wider council priority to create a fairer Islington.

Islington ACL’s mission is –

  • To create the opportunity for residents from whatever their background, to reach their potential and enjoy a good quality of life.
  • By delivering outstanding teaching and learning, to meet the needs of residents, employers and the local community.
  • To inspire learners to develop the digital skills, knowledge and aptitudes they need to be successful, happy in their future lives and realise their next steps in education and employment.
  • To remove digital skills exclusion, to enable residents who need to access basic digital skills course to increase employment opportunities, access online resources and information.

At a local level, the need for developing valuable skills in this area was exemplified during the 2020 pandemic when the delivery of our programmes in ACL Islington were largely carried out online. It quickly became apparent that there were many learners who were not secure in their digital skills which prevented them from participating and benefiting from our new online mode of learning.

This was a responsive, short term project to support adult ESOL learners to build their confidence and skills with the devices they had to enable the learner to engage in learning. The project revolved around a set of co-created interactive PowerPoint resources, which moved PowerPoint from a linear process to being learner led. Tutors would be able to apply theoretical understanding of effective practice in teaching, learning and assessment while drawing on the research and learner feedback.


It is important that learners are able to make meaning from their online learning. The team were focused on developing responsive resources that helped to address specific needs that learners were bringing. Many of the learners involved in the project had been excluded from other opportunities due to not having the appropriate digital skills or access to devices; reaching them and supporting their digital development was especially important.


ESOL tutors identified 26 learners from ESOL spring term 2021 programmes (see appendix 1) who required urgent support with digital skills (Beard & Wilson, 2006:16). The learners were split into two groups Group 1 (ESOL Pre-Entry and Entry 1) and Group 2 (ESOL Entry 2 and Entry 3).

The following were identified as the greatest areas for skills development within the ESOL Pre-Entry – Entry 1 cohort. They are as follows:

  • devices
  • Zoom
  • pictures
  • WhatsApp
  • Internet

ESOL Entry 2/3 cohort required developing skills in the following areas:

  • Zoom controls
  • Device & internet vocabulary
  • Zoom chat & reactions
  • Online search
  • Moodle
  • Email
  • Attachments

Before the course went live the tutors developed resources that were able to be used with different devices.

Image of slide showing how to use chat on your computer/ laptop

How to use chat on your computer/ laptop

The course delivery was via Zoom and the tutor used interactive PowerPoint presentations (See Appendix 6). As our learners used a range of different devices to access online courses, we did not want to restrict the project to just one device. Although this could have been easier to deliver the project it would not have reflected our learners who use different devices to access courses. It would have been another barrier and further digital exclusion. The project was to develop resources and teaching methodology that could be used not only for ESOL learners on this project but also wider use across the service. Before the course started, the tutor contacted the learners to find out the type of device they would be using to access the sessions. The tutors were then aware of the different types of devices that learners were using and this in turn informed the resources that were developed to support them.

Each session was designed to take into account scope for free practice. Learners were given time away from the lesson to enable them to practice the skills being taught in the online lessons under the tutor’s guidance. This was a logical approach to support the development of the learners’ digital skills from the start of the course through to completion. Reviewing each session at the start of the next and giving the learners the opportunity to practice using their own devices, what had been covered in each session. The tutor started each session with a review of what had been covered in the first session and asked if the learners had had the opportunity to use the digital skills they had learnt from the previous session.

Professional Learning: Evidence of changes in teaching, learning and assessment practices

The action research project enabled the tutors involved to reflect on what worked in their own delivery of the material, to meet the individual needs of our learners. Tutors developed their research skills and evidence-based practice. They also gained opportunities to network, collaborate and form professional relationships with other colleagues from different ACLs during research sharing events. The project gave the tutors more freedom and encouraged the tutors to be more creative in developing new resources and using different teaching and learning strategies. This had a positive impact on our learners and encouraged them to be more confident to try new skills and improve existing skills. Tutors are now more confident to try new teaching strategies and also support other tutors, who were not involved in the project to develop their own resources, developing a culture of self-evaluation through Teaching Learning Reviews and removing the fear of trying something new.

Evidence of improved collaboration and changes in organisation practices

The project was a collaboration with tutors from two curriculum areas, ESOL and digital specialists. The combination of tutors from each specialist area was important to help address language barriers and to meet learners’ needs effectively. Teachers worked together to develop resources, with another member of the project team meeting learners after their sessions to collect and collate learner accounts.

The project encouraged and provided opportunities for staff to work together on a research project. Staff have an opportunity to lead in gathering the information, conducting the research, interviewing learners and tutors and presenting findings. The project also provided the opportunity for staff to work together to evaluate each other’s practice, including how the strategies implemented during the project impacted on learning and outcomes for learners.

Tutors on the project have shared resources developed with other areas not just ESOL and Digital Skills. The resources can be used across all curriculum areas for learners with low digital skills to enable the learners to access courses. Tutors are contributing to quality improvements within the organisation, delivering CPD sessions to tutors firstly about the project and then three training sessions to help tutors improve their own digital skills and develop specific resources’ that could be used in their sessions and shared across the service. This has been an important part of the Quality Assurance for the service, enabling staff to utilise their skills and share good practice across the service.

Evidence of improvement in learners’ achievements, retention and progression

Essential Digital Skills course published on the ACL learner brochure (ACL Islington 2021)

Essential Digital Skills course published on the ACL learner brochure (ACL Islington 2021)

The project team arranged an initial introduction and a brief survey to find out what level learners were working towards, and which devices they would be using to access their course. However, the resources for the Week 1 sessions were prepared in advance of meeting the learners and having a clear picture of their needs. As a result of this, the materials focused on giving learners a basic understanding of the technologies/ devices they have in-hand and improving their confidence to engage and navigate their learning environment using Zoom.

Tasks were successfully evaluated and tracked through tutor observation of the Zoom participant panel, as well as learner feedback (yes/no). Learners used Zoom chat to send messages to their tutor and other learners in the class. They were also shown how to use WhatsApp to send messages and pictures. This helped provide feedback in sessions and for the tutor to evaluate their learning.

The original course outline was initially considered ambitious for this level of ESOL learner. However, tutors adapted the resources after each session. Using the revised resources, that were easier for the learners to understand and linked to different devices being used, there were an adequate number of practical opportunities for the learners and time to complete them. To check learning, the learners used their own examples of topics and keywords and considered how it could be used outside the classroom. At the end of the course, all objectives were met, and attendees demonstrated and fed back their understanding sufficiently to consider all aims as completed satisfactorily.

Though starting from a basic level, learners were now able to use their own devices to begin accessing courses:

“I learnt how to send message in Zoom chat, how to listen. Which phone is latest, which phone is an old phone, I didn’t know before. I know how to send pictures message, how to search and find everything online.”

Using the ACL Moodle VLE, learners and staff were able to share their experiences of the project. This provided a safe environment for learners to provide feedback and tutors to develop the resources for learners to access. Tutors were able to manage and encourage positive learner behaviour and learner experience. Removing the barriers of digital exclusion, similar to when learners’ opportunities are improved as their literacy and language skills improve and open up a world of opportunity, not only further learning but also able to access both social and employment opportunities.

The project gave learners from different social and cultural backgrounds (including those with limited or no access to digital technologies) opportunity to access and participate in learning. Teaching strategies and the resources developed by the tutors motivated learners to use technology, making the learners more confident in accessing learning. Learners were also no longer afraid to practise or make mistakes when using Moodle or attending sessions using Zoom. The project became more learner-led as it progressed, and as learners’ digital skills improved, tutors responded by developing resources that would further stretch and challenge them.

The project focus was on improving ESOL learners Digital Skills and accessing online course EDS and ESOL, the soft skill was learner confidence and this can be seen in the case studies.

“I learn how to find anything how to search, how to write my name in Zoom. I comfortable, I try by myself and I’m happy to teach computer because I want to do learn by myself and I didn’t want to ask my friend all day, what can I do what is this. It is hard sometimes to ask all day, ‘what is this?’. I’m happy now”.
Learner H (appendix 4)

“Nobody can come to you and teach you…struggle, very struggle. Now a little bit better than before because you can go to talk with them, you can talk with them, you can help you in office but because of corona, nobody helped you. Now I know three or four things, I know how you use it…zoom, email. I use it by myself. That one is important, if you learn more, you can do.”
Learner A (appendix 5)

Learning from this project

What Went Well

  • This project will help shape the landscape for developing the skills our learners need to navigate around the web safely and will greatly enhance their lives in the U.K. Following this discrete programme, learners now have the skills to conduct everyday things such as online browsing, shopping online, and accessing learning materials. Also, importantly, preventing further social exclusion by enabling learners to stay connected through online platforms. Both courses had a positive impact on the learners who attended and they were able to link the gaps in their knowledge to the newly acquired digital skills. They now have an understanding of the technical language needed to recognise and identify skills needed for future development.
  • Learners were able use the skills learnt to access online services that previously they were unable to, providing a new outlook for the learners. This was really important, and in a way, a light bulb moment for the learners; Bridging the gap between what they wanted to do and what they were instructed to do by others. This gave them a deeper contextual understanding.
  • Learners had particular areas of EDS that were especially aspirational such as transacting online. The project enabled an exploratory approach that was able to tap into learners’ interests and motivations.
  • The interactive and non-linear design of the resources enabled learners to ‘take their own route’, which was surprisingly successful.

Even Better If

  • The learners made huge steps to improve their digital skills. If we had more information about their level prior to starting the course, it may have helped designing and developing the resources.
  • Through the course of learner sampling, it became evident the skills to be taught on the course had to be scaled back to the bare basic. It quickly became evident after the first session that the starting point for the course is vocabulary used in digital skills delivery.
  • Learners and teachers would appreciate more time to work on digital skills.
  • Learners stressed that ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ and it is important for teachers to remember this.

Manchester AES EDS Report

“Beginner EDS? There’s an app for that!”

Manchester Adult Education Service

This project explored to what extent our Learning Community app could support low level English learners to develop their Foundation Essential Digital Skills (EDS) in a blended learning environment. Learners have responded positively to the app content and the project has inspired more of our colleagues to use it too.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway.


Manchester Adult Education provides Entry Level to Level 2 courses/activities to improve the lives and skills of adults in Manchester. Our learners are from diverse backgrounds with varying motives for developing their Essential Digital Skills.

This project looked at our Learning Community app, which had originally been designed for the delivery of Pre-Entry ESOL content to low level learners enrolled on the ‘Talk English’ Project programme. This app, which is actually a website, has useful features for beginner learners of digital. For example, clear and easy to navigate colour coded sections for ‘classroom’ and ‘targets’, and settings to prevent learners from leaving the app when clicking, so reducing the number of browsers open at any one time.

Teachers can direct learners to the app to complete modules and set targets. Learners can complete activities in the app and evidence completion through ‘ticking,’ adding photographs and using voice recordings. Teachers can give feedback to learners on their progress within the app.

We wanted to know to what extent this app could be used to develop EDS with foundation level learners with low English and Entry Level 1 to Entry Level 3 ESOL learners, and if it could prepare learners for developing their EDS in a blended learning environment. The app wasn’t used on an accredited EDS course; it was used on non-accredited courses with the aim to better prepare learners for an eventual EDS qualification (EDSQ).


Image showing the learner view on the app

Figure 1: Learner view on the app

Our Digital Skills for Beginners courses attract significant numbers of low-level English and ESOL learners. Digital Inclusion and progression into positive destinations is a priority for MAES.

We noticed that many learners progressing through the Digital Skills for Beginners courses either did not want to progress to the next level course or they were not yet ready to progress. There were anxieties and confidence issues around moving to a blended learning environment (our Entry Level 3 EDSQ is a blended model delivery). It was also evident that, for some learners with low level language/basic skills, the acquisition of foundation skills could take longer.

We wanted to increase accessibility and progression amongst this particular group of learners and felt that the app could be used to facilitate these areas by providing a safe and supportive space for learners to develop their digital skills. The app can be thought of as a simplified Google Classroom, and it was hoped that use of the app would develop learners’ essential digital skills through a blended learning model.

Learners who had already completed a 6-week face-to-face Beginner course (or had slightly higher skills) would be invited to a 6-week blended course: “Beginner Plus”. The plan was that learners would have one session in the classroom and complete one task asynchronously at home, via the app.

The app tracks learner progress and helps provide an evidence base, so it is clear to see any progression through activities attempted and/or completed, recordings, feedback and to get a sense of the development of softer skills, e.g. digital confidence and resilience.


Image shows the digital skills clock created with learners.

Figure 2: Digital Skills Clock

In terms of app content, we wanted to prepare learners for potential future EDSQs and so we identified areas which we felt Beginner Digital Skills learners would need to practise (namely email and video conferencing). However, we did not want to impose the curriculum from the top down and so we worked with the learners to create a digital skills clock. This approach helped both them and us to see how and when they used digital skills.

From this approach, it became clear in all our classes that learners wanted to develop email and video conferencing skills. It was great that the areas of the EDS standards which we felt they needed to practise actually aligned with the skills the “Beginner EDS? There’s an app for that!” (Manchester Adult Education Service)
learners themselves identified as being most relevant to their lives. The EDSQs definitely seem much more reflective of how people use tech nowadays (than previous IT qualifications).

We decided to introduce the app in the face-to-face Beginner classes that were running at 3 centres during Lockdown 3 (Jan-Mar 2021). We had envisaged it as a simple blended learning approach that we could use with our Beginner Plus classes but we asked all the Beginner classes if they would be interested in using it too.

Different teachers had different approaches: some left it to individual students to decide if they wanted to use the app and some made it integral to their lessons. Modules on topics such as, email, video calling, copy and pasting were added to virtual classrooms and individual work was sent in the private chat as a link.

All teachers involved recorded their reflections on a shared Padlet (see Appendix 2). Here is a reflection from one teacher from the session where she first introduced the app to the group:

“I like how they are very vocal about what they need and would find useful. A lot of discussion on ‘IT frustrations’ and I wonder if we could have something on the app around ‘reframing feelings’ when something goes wrong e.g – “it’s another opportunity to practise those steps” instead of “oh now what have I done” – I heard a lot of that today and I think they put too much pressure on themselves.”

Professional Learning: Evidence of changes in teaching, learning and assessment practices

Although some learners were really excited about it and seemed keen to use it; others were less enthused by it. This appeared to be for several reasons: some learners had come on the course to learn PC skills and did not want to practise on a phone app; some did not want to study at home; ESOL learners found it quite hard to get on the app on their phone, as well as trying to learn how to use a PC.

We felt that with more time to explore and practise the app (for both teachers and learners), more of us would come to see the value of it; that is, it is a relatively easy-to-use, self-contained VLE (virtual learning environment) and communication system. Instead of learners and teachers having to familiarise themselves with several different platforms, the app has lots of features and is self-contained. One teacher commented:

“I am looking forward to using the stream to communicate with my learners. It seems more efficient that emails and less invasive than texting them on their personal phones.”

Following discussions with the Talk English team (who have used the app extensively), we developed an approach to introducing the app that included breaking down the stages of using the app into microsteps, so as not to rush into getting learners on it and completing the lessons.

As a result of this useful feedback, a teacher on the Pre-Entry “Digital for ESOL” course (which we launched just recently) spent much longer on the lead-in to the app with these Pre-Entry learners than when she introduced it to the (mainly) native speakers on the Beginner Plus bridging course. She spent time pre-teaching lots of useful vocabulary before even mentioning the app; terms such as homescreen, click/tap, add, homework, app, PIN/password helped the learners to understand how and why they were using it. She also used lots of visuals to depict each step of searching for and logging on to the app website. This was a crucial stage that had been overlooked by some teachers when we used the app initially.

For learners in our pilot “Beginner Plus” classes, using the app seemed to help them achieve their stated aims. After watching tutorial videos on Google Meet and Zoom, and then testing their knowledge with Wordwall games, learners were able to access both Zoom and Meet and use some of the key features in these apps. By allowing them to see the interface in videos first and then reinforcing the video content by completing quizzes, it could be suggested that learners had a reduced cognitive load (Shibli and West, 2018) when coming to try the apps for the first time. They already knew what to expect and understood what each icon was for.

One learner noted that she and her classmates were making ‘small steps and big changes’. Learning how to cut and paste, for instance, made a big difference to their digital work. By studying tutorial videos on the app and then practising on their phones, they felt better able to cut and paste data to complete their Universal Credit journals.

In terms of teaching practice, we will continue to use tutorial videos, vocabulary pre-teaching, games and quizzes to introduce new software before learners access it for themselves.

Evidence of improved collaboration and changes in organisation practices

The courses took place in different locations across the city and this resulted in different demographics according the localities. One group consisted of predominantly white British job seekers, another group was mostly learners with an ESOL background, and a further group was much more mixed. Teachers adapted their approach based on the needs of the group and it was revealed (perhaps unsurprisingly) that the groups with an ESOL profile needed more induction time on the app than those who had English as a first language. It is easy to tailor content on the app to each learner, by sending links as direct messages.

Increasing motivation and maintaining engagement to use the app was key. Through initial assessment, teachers came together to discuss key course targets and how this blended course would differ from our purely face-to-face beginner course. We decided to focus on email and video calling (the communication aspect of the EDS framework).

Tutors who were using the app shared ideas and activities to support learners in achieving the KCTs (key course targets). The project lead and deputy developed these into modules on the app for all teachers to use in their classrooms (with the flexibility of using the app in different ways that suited learners’ contexts).

Image showing reflections from the teachers google sheet

Figure 3: Reflections from Teachers Google Sheet

Teachers from different curriculum areas came together to discuss their experiences of the app and to direct our next steps with it. We learned from each other’s experiences (see Figure 3: Reflections from Teachers Google Sheet, also on the Wakelet from Appendix 2) and now use a shared Google Drive of resources to better introduce the app to learners.

Tutors added reflections to the collaborative Padlet (see Appendix 2) and caught up with each other in meetings, telephone calls and ad hoc conversations. Tutors could comment on reflections and concerns, and support with any trouble shooting. Participants in the project ranged from a student teacher to a curriculum manager; it was good to see collaboration happening amongst professionals of all levels and experiences.

We are now using the app as part of our “Digital for ESOL” short course, which is being co-created by teachers from Digital Skills and Talk English teams, and hope to use it as part of a new “Digital Nature” course, which will be informed by the work of a Family Learning tutor who delivered an “Outdoor Adventurers” course. There is great potential to roll-out the use of this app across all curriculum areas at MAES, both to capture learning on non-accredited courses and also to support the development of learners’ foundation digital skills, and we can share our learnings of what works (and what doesn’t) with our wider team colleagues.

Evidence of improvement in learners’ achievements, retention and progression

Learners had differing motivations for joining the course. These different motivations were targeted through the app content. Learners looking to secure work and referred by local DWP centres wanted to develop specific skills relating to job search etc as well as develop confidence in relation to specific aspects of digital technology. Other learners wanted to develop their laptop skills, and some wanted to better develop their essential digital skills for learning on other courses.

During the first session, learners reported feelings of ‘confusion’ ‘being overwhelmed’ ‘being lost’ and ‘lacking in confidence.’ We wanted learners to experiment, take risks, make mistakes, use multiple digital skills and have fun. It seemed that the app would provide this safe ‘self-contained’ space for learners to have a positive experience and build their skills. It would also be a space where learning was manageable, and motivations could be met and/or extended.

Some learners returned to the app, others didn’t engage with the app outside of the classroom and some didn’t engage at all. This perhaps reflects the different motivations learners have or could be indicative of how much app “buy-in” the individual teachers developed with their classes.

As outlined earlier, learners in the “Beginner Plus” classes were able to achieve their targets by watching tutorial videos, playing games and then testing out the various platforms (e.g. Zoom, Meet, Gmail) for themselves.

Some learners really enjoyed getting the tailored work in the private chat and two “Beginner Plus” learners have just progressed onto a blended Entry Level 3 Essential Digital Skills course (see Appendix 2 for more positive feedback.)

Learning from this project

Despite being a short project, many learners got value from taking part in it. Feedback included “really useful”, “good for practice” and “excited” [to use it]. The fact that the app is simple and self-contained was really effective for lower-level learners and felt more effective than Google Classroom; we are now using it as the main learning management system for our Pre-Entry “Digital for ESOL” course. However, it was not wholly successful.

Image of the wordwall activity

Figure 4: Wordwall activity

For some learners the size of the screen was too small on their phones. Most of the app’s features were readable but when it came to doing Wordwall activities (see Figure 4), for example, the font size was just too small. Teachers must always check any content they add to the app on their own phones to ensure readability, ideally on different makes of phone where possible.

To make it easier to use (and to practise their PC skills), some learners added the website as a bookmark to their browser bar and they found that to be much more accessible.

We learned that if you want learners to start using the app regularly, you need to add content that is meaningful, relevant and useful to them and to provide timely feedback on any tasks you set. We needed to get into the habit of regularly checking the app from home to see who had been on it and responding to their input. We allocated time in our calendars for this task.

We also needed to use the app at set times in the face-to-face classroom so that learners could get used to accessing it with teacher support, where necessary. Setting warm-up activities on the app worked well for this and soon learners in some classes were used to logging straight onto the app to find the activity.

We all agreed that the app needed to be introduced early on in the course and at the start of a lesson. It was hard to take learners off a task that they were really engage in order to get them using the app. It worked much better in the classes where teachers used the app for starter activities.

We also agreed that the app needed to be an integral part of the course teaching method, at least initially. If it was not wholly integrated, it risked being just another onerous bit of tech to learn.

A common reflection was that getting learners on the app initially was quite hard work and generally required one-to-one support. Where it was easy for learners, this tended to be in classes where English was a first language.

Perhaps learners needed much longer learning the skills of how to enter their username (i.e. phone number) and pin. I wonder if, in some cases, the teachers could be so invested in the content of the app, that the stage of actually getting on it in the first place gets a little rushed. The skill of accurately entering a username and password could easily be practised over an entire lesson or more.

Also, once on the app, many learners would forget their pin between sessions and found re-setting it hard work. A screencast showing learners exactly how to re-set their pin, would be really useful.

We need to be mindful of the potential frustrations some learners may face when having difficulties logging in. Teachers reminded them that it wasn’t their problem; it is something we all struggle with at times.

We feel that a lot of pre-teaching of entering usernames and pins would be beneficial before introducing the app. This skill is essential for so many online services that it cannot be rushed or overlooked.

Now we have started using the app with Pre-Entry ESOL learners (who are learning Digital Skills), we have adapted our approach to spend much longer on the lead-in and pre-teaching important vocabulary. Getting learner “buy-in” to the app before trying to get them on it is so important too. If they know why they are doing it, and can see the value of the app, any potential frustrations during logging on may be mitigated by this desire to use it.


Shibli, D. and West, R. (2018) Cognitive Load Theory and It’s Application in the Classroom. Impact: Journal of the Chartered College of Teaching (2). Available at: (accessed 4 May 2021).


Since writing this initial report, we have used the app as the main learning platform for several 4-week Digital for ESOL courses. Learners have used the app to complete their ILPs (individual learning plans), complete online lessons and communicate with teachers and classmates.

These courses were taught entirely via learners’ smartphones and so the skills needed to use the app were relevant to the course content (namely, using phones to access online ESOL classes). Teachers spent time pre-teaching relevant vocabulary (e.g. app, log-in, PIN, add to homescreen) and focused on the micro-steps of getting on and using the app effectively.

Because the app was introduced as the main learning platform and all learners were eager to use it, there was no reluctance to it. Learners on these courses were not there to improve their desktop skills and so using the app on their phone didn’t feel like a distraction to the main lesson, as it did in some of the earlier classes. Several Beginner Plus learners said they were competent with smartphones and what they really wanted was the chance to develop their keyboard skills.

The absence of PCs in the Digital for ESOL classrooms also helped with learner buy-in. Whereas in the Beginner Plus courses learners were seated at and invested in using the PCs, in these Digital for ESOL classes the focus was on using the learner’s own device and so it became a habit for learners to engage with the app both during and outside of lessons.

Newcastle CL EDS Report

Assumptions and anxieties: Learners’ feelings about applying digital skills in workplace contexts

Newcastle City Learning

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” Isaac Asimov

This project investigated learners’ feelings about digital notetaking in the health and social care workplace. The key discovery was that learners’ anxieties were based around the content of the notes themselves rather than the digital skills required to undertake the task. In response, supportive time-limited tasks were developed that modelled real-life scenarios whilst developing learners’ digital literacies.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway.

Screenshot of NCLs Padlet. See appendices to access


Newcastle City Learning is an institution which provides a variety of courses to Post-16 learners developing knowledge and practical skills for work in the UK. This project focused on a group of trainee caregivers enrolled on the Care Academy course. The group were a mix of ESOL and native English learners.

The main area of exploration was in relation to a work-based Care Academy and how to support potential carers to develop their digital skills for the workplace. The team supported learners to work on specific skills most pertinent to their area of work, including notetaking. The team found that building in time for talking and reflection with learners was especially important to help learners grow in confidence but also to reflect important values for working in care.


Assumptions are often made about what learners can or cannot do, particularly in relation to digital skills and capabilities. Note taking is a particularly important skill that learners need to develop when preparing to work in health and social care and increasingly these need to be written and sent digitally. Digital skills are often taught discretely and not applied in work situations until after learners have finished their course. This research aimed to gain a fuller understanding of how learners feel about applying digital skills competently by simulating a workplace situation, within a given time frame. Additionally, this research aimed to introduce the learners to, and improve, digital note taking skills.



At the start of this project the tutors discussed the content and context of potential activities, the logistics and the delivery of this topic within the short 4-week window of the course. All tutors involved have contributed to the planning and delivery of the Care Academy curriculum, therefore they had a good understanding of the care standards required from the learners.

Tutors devised 4 open questions about aspects of digital notetaking skills competencies. In order to discuss in depth and to get ideas from all the learners, the class was arranged into breakout groups with an allocated tutor. They were then encouraged to discuss their feelings about digital notetaking skills. This allowed tutors to identify where their anxieties come from, rather than simply accepting that their anxieties were present.

The project team shared the responses and information collected from the learners and agreed on the next activities and strategies. Therefore, activities were planned around learners’ expressed anxieties rather than what we assumed were their anxieties.


Most of the learners had neither seen nor written care notes before so scaffolded notetaking activities were developed, including exemplars, practice work and top tips for digital notetaking.

To start, example care plan cards were discussed in small groups and ranked from best to worst based upon learners’ educated guesses. Following this activity, students were encouraged to give feedback on the cards and their reasoning behind the rankings. This was intended to make learners think about appropriate and inappropriate notetaking practice.

Top tips for writing notes were discussed and examples were created as a group that listed the information they thought should be included when writing a care note. For example, physical changes such as: deteriorating health, pain, injuries or a change in hair colour.

A comparison of good and bad exemplar notes describing the same scenario was the final activity which prepared learners to produce their own digital care notes. Using a detailed scenario and some previous notes about the patient, learners digitally wrote and sent care notes with realistic time pressures. Tutor and peer feedback followed to discuss what learners felt confident or less confident about.


Learners completed a questionnaire about the notetaking activities and shared their feelings about it. They were given 8 sentence starters to encourage discussion about their perceived confidence and ability when making digital care notes. This proved very useful to distinguish the various skills used and areas for improvement in teaching.

In depth discussions with two learners with contrasting English language abilities gave more in depth student feedback.

Professional Learning: Evidence of changes in teaching, learning and assessment practices

This project impacted on our professional practice in numerous ways. Firstly, it led us to question our initial digital skills assessments and ask if they are too skills based and to a certain extent superficial. How can we get a clear image of students’ digital skills without witnessing them in a relevant context? This led to us changing our initial assessments by making them more discussion- and activity-focused to ascertain learner starting points.

Learner perceptions of their digital skills were different to our assumptions, and this made us question how much of our other teaching is based on assumptions. Learner perceptions were more focused on the desire to get it right with notetaking and their anxieties were directed here. Pullinger and Franklin (2010, p.111) discovered similar anxieties among pharmacists when writing healthcare notes. One pharmacist stated, “You wouldn’t want to be wrong in the notes… you’ve got to be pretty sure of your facts”, a sentiment shared by our learners. Recognising this has reminded us to be fully prepared to work digitally to alleviate these concerns through blending the unfamiliar skills of notetaking with more familiar digital skills.

We now appreciate that learners need opportunities to overcome these anxieties. Our planning has taken on a new focus on integrated tasks that can achieve this, rather than singling out desired skills to improve and expecting learners to know how and when to use them appropriately.

Evidence of improved collaboration and changes in organisation practices

The project enabled a space for staff to connect and talk about teaching and learning. This is something that is not always prioritised but was really appreciated. With ever increasing time taken up with administration and developing the technical knowledge needed to teach online, it was a powerful reminder of the importance of tutors taking the time to ‘talk’ about teaching and learning. 

There is now a greater focus on talking, listening and Socratic questioning, which is filtering into other aspects of teaching and learning. Development in this area has been highlighted as key to developing critical problem-solving skills. 

Existing teaching and activities for this course are being reassessed, including pace and timings, to create time for these changes. 

The benefits of the action research approach have been disseminated within the wider organisation and an action research sharing CPD programme is being developed to demonstrate the success of our adapted approach. 

Evidence of improvement in learners’ achievements, retention and progression

In applying their digital skills to a real situation, the majority of learners changed from thinking that hand-written notes would be faster and easier, to agreeing that digital notes were their preferred option (See appendix 3).

Learners commented that they made fewer mistakes working digitally. When discussing benefits of digital notes one learner commented “When I write it down [on paper] I’ll probably make 2 or 3 mistakes”. Some learners felt more comfortable moving towards digital notetaking practices if they were able to write a draft in their phone first before adding their notes into the official document. This highlighted the importance of familiarity with technological devices and showed that the basic skills were present, learners just needed that extra step to demonstrate their digital notetaking competence.

Learners felt that they got through their digital skills activities more quickly, because they were using them meaningfully. Helsper and Deursen (2015, p.129) support these findings by stating “… [digital] training is more attractive for individuals when it’s built around contents and assignments that are appealing to those concerned.” This clearly made an impact on students as the course recorded 100% achievement and retention.

On completion of the course every learner had the opportunity to attend an interview and 60 – 80% secured employment. One employer commented that “the learners recruited from the course had much more awareness and confidence than our usual recruits”.

Learning from this project

Learning from this project has been wide ranging. Despite tutors’ assumptions, learner concerns were less about whether they had the required skills and knowledge, but whether they could apply the skills and knowledge in the role, and within a certain time frame, with many asking themselves ‘Am I going to get it right?’ 

Work in health and social care is perceived as low skilled and needing few qualifications. We wrongly assumed this meant learners would have limited digital skills or lack confidence, “Those most likely to have low levels of digital literacy tend to be simultaneously economically, socially and personally disadvantaged.” (Helsper and Deursen, 2015, p.129). However, our findings showed many learners are confident using technology and opportunities to apply them in the workplace is a key area for development. 

It is easy to assume that technology is the issue and that learners’ digital skills are limiting their ability to take care notes. How often are we guilty of making assumptions because we are unaware of our biases? How often should we ‘scrub off’ these assumptions and let the light in? 

More time needs to be made to talk to students about their concerns and starting points rather than developing token checklists to file. If we stick to the latter, we risk making activities less meaningful and relevant to future practice in employment. 

Integrated and context specific activities prepare learners for the workplace and build confidence. Increased opportunities to feedback and communicate their feelings led to increased engagement and feeling ‘valued’. 

If we were to do this again, a suggestion to improve the digital note taking task would be to simulate a more realistic digital system for submitting the care notes. This would give learners a more accurate experience. 

ESOL learners in particular could benefit from some help to understand the skills they are developing so they don’t remain overly focused on the knowledge they are learning. 


Brophy, J. (2004). Motivating Students to Learn. 2nd ed. pp.4-9. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 

Helsper, E. and Deursen, A. J.A.M. (2015). Digital Skills in Europe: Research and Policy. In K. Andreasson, Digital Divides, pp.125-146. New York: Taylor & Francis. 

Pullinger, W. and Franklin, B.D. (2010). Pharmacists’ documentation in patients’ hospital health records: issues and educational implications. International Journal of Pharmacy Practice, 18(2), pp.108-115.