14b. City Lit

Task-Based Learning

Centre for Universal Skills – City Lit

This project asked how task-based learning (TBL) might effect an immersive, productive and motivating experience for learners and promote the most in-demand common work skills such as problem-solving, collaborating and analysing. What is task-based learning and how does it differ across hearing and Deaf learning, ESOL and English, higher and lower levels? Would task-based targets prove meaningful for learners and tutors alike and improve their involvement in recording and recognising progress and achievement in non-accredited courses (RARPA)?

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


The Centre for Universal Skills (US) aims to enable adults to develop the capabilities needed to participate, make progress and express themselves in a 21st century democracy. Our challenge is to develop a pedagogy aligned to this intent. We contended that a situated orientation meets this challenge, so that the task at hand draws learners in, demands they adopt a stance and frames the learning. Our focus on task-based learning was informed by a range of thinking and research, particularly Willis (1996) and Willis and Willis (2007). What does such an approach involve and how does it contrast with the presentation-practice-production (PPP) model? How would learning-targets, configured in a task-focused way, create a motivating experience for learners in contrast to more instrumentalised target-setting? Would such targets encourage learners to invest in and complete the tasks and enable them to relate their learning to wider purposes than solely linguistic ones?

Other Contextual Information

We investigated task-based learning (TBL) in two English classes for Deaf learners, Entry Level 3 and Level 2, and in Hearing classes for Pre-entry English and maths, Level 1 English, Entry Level 3, Level 1 and Level 2 ESOL and Cambridge Advanced. The classes were a mixture of online and face-to-face. Over 50 learners and eight tutors were involved.


Our approach mirrored a task-based learning experience: pre-task, task, evaluation and focus.

A) Pre-task. We discussed the principles of TBL, in particular performance before competence and meaning before form: what do these mean and how could they be materialised? However, in accordance with a TBL approach, discovering these answers was an aim of the project, to be achieved through the doing.

Tutors then decided whether they would focus on a task-based approach within the classroom or on task-based learning targets.

Some tutors also met with a more experienced tutor to discuss their ideas. This mentor was on-hand throughout the research to aid with reflections.

A Google Classroom was created for tutors to add their thoughts, film their reflections and add learners’ work.

B) The following tasks were worked on:

a) Entry Level 3 and Level 2 Deaf English classes:
• writing and sending a letter to an actual person, including visiting the post-office and engaging with a hearing non-BSL using employee
• creating live social media posts and commenting on each other’s posts
• fundraising for Children in Need including creating a YouTube video, setting up a crowdfunding page, redesigning the Pudsey Bear logo
• creating a chat show to evaluate task-based learning.

b) Pre-entry English and maths (hearing)
• taking photos of prices in shops and of receipts to use as a basis for maths work
• sending different messages to former teaching assistants, family members, friends and each other such as Christmas card messages, good luck messages, condolences
• independently writing and sending an email to a friend.

c) English for Life Level 1 (hearing)
• researching and writing a music review.

d) English Dialogue course (ESOL Level1- Level 2 hearing)
• writing and performing a play.

e) ESOL Entry Level 3, Level 1 and Level 2 (hearing)
• giving a presentation as part of their individual targets.

f) Cambridge English (hearing)
• individual tasks.

C) Final evaluation and focus on what has been learned
There was ongoing reflection by the tutors and, to a lesser extent, the learners. These were recorded in writing or video on the Google Classroom. Final surveys were also sent out to all participants and focus meetings held. The Deaf Level 2 learners created a chat show in which they reflected on their projects.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The most striking effect of the approach was the engagement and involvement of the learners. They became caught up and directed by the tasks: it was the tasks themselves that motivated and made demands of the learners calling them into being as learners and creators of the class. The most immediate jolting aspect of this approach took place in the Deaf English classes through the seemingly simple task of writing and posting a letter to someone. As the tutor said:

They all struggled to grasp that I was asking them to do something real and actually wanted them to write and post the letter.

a new Pudsey Bear logo to reflect deaf people

The learners would normally have had someone else do this for them. They were also struck by their need to role play communicating with a non-BSL using post-office worker. However, once thrown into the task, the learners found a way to communicate, particularly those who had struggled with the more abstract tasks of non-TBL classes. They began to develop strategies for communicating with hearing people. (See Appendix 2)

This strategy-building was also manifest in the Children in Need project. Within the fundraising, some learners set themselves the challenge of communicating with hearing strangers asking for directions without the aid of phones or writing, and of creating and editing a video of the process. The demands of the task overall effected a generative creativity – setting up a Just Giving webpage, creating a new Pudsey Bear logo to reflect deaf people, printing the logo on t-shirts to wear during the challenge, baking a Pudsey Bear cake, writing to the BBC and raising £395. Learners even extended the task to outside class time. One group spent a whole Sunday working with a videographer friend on their video, while another learner, usually reticent about homework, made a video of himself at work doing story-time with some hearing children whilst he used signs and no voice. He was amazed how well they could understand each other.

Similarly striking, if less dramatic, were the effects of task-oriented learning on the hearing

Our learner led bake sale.

Level 1 English learners, in particular how they engaged with each other’s work on music reviews on an extremely intimate level, open to each other’s comments and exchanging views.

The task-based targets were in many ways more challenging. Learners found it particularly difficult to move away from a solely linguistic focus such as “I need to improve my phrasal verbs.” However, when learners did contextualise, their tasks became enriched and purposeful such as researching and presenting ‘how to improve my English in four months’, ‘what I need to do in order to apply for an NHS apprenticeship’, and ‘how to become a stand-up comedian’. One learner translated her own poems into English, another sang a song in English, another joined a cycling club and another researched how to become a teaching assistant and found such a job. Learners needed to determine the steps they had to take to complete their tasks. (See Appendices 3.2, 3.3, 3.4)

Organisational Development

This project enabled us to explore in concrete detail what task-based learning entails. We have been working on this approach for three years. The pedagogical intent has become clear. However, this research was very much tutor-led, thrived on exchange and has effected a practical comprehension of how TBL is not the ‘production’ part of presentation-practice-production (PPP). The discourse of TBL is now much better instituted, allowing debate and discussion cross-centre.

Tutors have led a dissemination session and are well-placed to work with other tutors on how to develop this approach across the provision. A key aspect of the project has been how tutors in the hearing and Deaf area have collaborated and how enthusiastically most Deaf learners responded to tasks. Although TBL has been practised in the hearing classes for a while, this practice was far less prevalent in Deaf English and maths. Now, this provision can be seen to be leading the way.

Finally, an outcome of the project is likely to be a different way in which we carry out Individual Learning Plans (ILPs) at least on some courses, to enable a more organic approach. Tutors developed plans to reflect more readily a TBL pedagogy and we will move forward with these in 2022-23.

Learning from this project

The most important learning from the project is that task-based learning and target-setting are effective in enabling learners to develop the key life and work skills they need to participate and make progress in a democratic society. We learned that, when the task is right, learners will create and run with the activity, will learn, and will support each other through the task accomplishment. In so doing, learners will achieve well beyond the constraints of more traditional classroom ambitions and that it is not necessary to separate off linguistic elements from the context which demands their use.

In addition, we learned that a move away from the fixation on the ‘SMARTness’ of targets and a focus on the purposes of learners’ learning – the types of activities they need to do not as vehicles for language improvement but as ends in themselves – produced work that was interesting and engaging for learners and gave them a sense of achievement.

Most significantly, we discovered what the idea of TBL is and how it can work.

However, we also learned that we have a lot more to discover, investigate and discuss. Questions which have emerged from the research include:

  • How exactly are TBL classes set up so that the task is not solely a practice of, or a vehicle for, a language form but something that occasions discovery and learning? What is the balance between meaning and form? What is the role of staging?
  • Why might the same task produce a lot of work and creativity with one group but not with another?
  • How to set up classes so that learners can decide more readily on their task-based targets. What pre-task activities facilitate this and obviate the teacher’s telling or explaining what these types of tasks are?
  • How can learners more readily articulate their aims in terms of social practices rather than linguistic forms and how can they better join means to ends? (See Appendix 3.5)
  • How well does TBL work for pre-entry groups? What form if any should it take? (See Appendix 3.6).

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 1. Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of learners.

    The project reminded us to dig deeper to find out more about learners’ lives and what they want to achieve outside of the classroom. Rather than focusing on isolated language points, this project emphasised the need to think about the bigger picture and the purpose of the class. We discovered the value of frequent reference to the tasks and constant encouragement. Providing space for learners to discuss their aims openly raised their aspirations as they took encouragement from each other. Fostering peer support and developing common work-skills through TBL enabled different learners to respond in their own ways and participate accordingly.

  • 10. Evaluate your practice with others and assess its impact on learning.

    One of the key aspects of the project was how tutors shared their understandings, discoveries, surprises, plus points and negative points – such as how learners responded to being asked to do something outside the classroom, how learners could be motivated to complete their task-targets, how the original ILP did or did not lend itself to the task-based targets, etc. Just as learners took on responsibilities related to the tasks, so did tutors who went beyond what they might normally have done regarding evaluation of learning and recording learners’ progress.

  • 17. Enable learners to share responsibility for their own learning and assessment, setting goals that stretch and challenge.

    The project responded to this standard in two ways. Firstly, through learners’ setting of task-oriented goals and the steps needed to achieve them, they invested in their own learning to achieve meaningful goals. With certain learners there was far more investment in their targets than previously. However, the project also showed that responsibility for learning emerges best when the responsibility is shouldered and directed by the task itself so learners are not placed in a position of being (solely) responsible for their learning but are responding to the needs of the task. The key challenge is to establish a task which suitably involves the learner.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Project Resources and Reflections


Edwards, C., and J. Willis. (eds.)., (2005). Teachers Exploring Tasks in ELT. Oxford: Palgrave Macmillan.
Prabhu N.S., (1987). Second Language Pedagogy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Nunan D., (2004). Task-based language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Willis D., (2003). Rules, Patterns and Words: Grammar and Lexis in English Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Willis D., and Willis, J., (1987). ‘Varied activities for variable language.’ ELT Journal 41/1: 12-18.
Willis D. and Willis, J., (2007). Doing Task-based Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Willis J., (1996). A Framework for Task-based Learning. Harlow: Longman Pearson Education.

12b. Haringey ALS

Peer to Peer Fusion Skills Project

Haringey Adult Learning Service

This project investigated how a range of foundational skills can be supported and embedded in the development of essential digital skills through an informal learning approach.

The aim of the project was to develop peer-to-peer support relationships via collaboration, with low-level learners receiving digital support from higher-level learners. By triangulating the arrangement with tutors, we aimed to use peer-to-peer support to improve learners’ confidence and ability in class and to help them participate in our ever-increasing digital society.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Haringey Adult Learning Service (HALS) identified a support need for ESOL and literacy learners who have low-level digital skills. This project explored how peer-to-peer support could benefit both high-level (mentors) and low-level learners (mentees) through a peer-to-peer fusion model, with learners developing foundational and digital skills.

HALS embed the 5 Cs model of fusion skills into the curriculum, and these skills underpinned the project. For more information about the 5 Cs, please visit our 5Cs model Padlet.

These fusion skills form part of 56 foundational skills identified by McKinsey & Company, the Distinct Elements of Talent (DELTAs), that will help citizens thrive in the future of work (June 2021). McKinsey & Company (2021).

There were two strands to the project:

  1. Mentors to improve their fusion skills
  2. Mentees to improve confidence with Essential Digital Skills.

The intention of this project is to act as the foundation for the creation of a peer-to-peer support culture across HALS, with a dual focus on both mentors and mentees.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme. The peer mentors were Level 1 and 2 learners (Digital TLC volunteers) who had good digital skills and the mentees were lower-level English learners.

We began with 12 volunteer peer mentors who we matched with one learner (mentee) each. The context is adult learning and the mentoring sessions that were carried out in the learning lounge area were curated and monitored by staff.


Stage 1:
Facilitate Digital TLC Workshop to design the marketing and promotional activities in order to set up the Open Learning Lounge. The Tender Love and Care (TLC) group consists of learners and volunteers who want to make a difference and promote a more inclusive and a better place to thrive at HALS. The group has different subgroups, and the Digital TLC subgroup that took part in this project is made up from Level 1 and Level 2 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) learners with improved digital skills.

Stage 2:
Train up a group of HALS learner volunteers to support lower-level learners in developing digital skills and crucial transferable skills based on using our own 5 C’s Model. Tutors refer nominated learners from their classes to the group. Learners are paired up with Digital TLC volunteers for support.

Stage 3:
Hold tutorials with the participating learners to track the development of their foundational and Essential Digital Skills (EDS) and encourage this learning to be disseminated in the classroom.

Co-design tasks to enable the TLC to run drop-in sessions collaboratively, share skills and knowledge amongst themselves and provide support to lower-level learners with their EDS and foundational skills.

Stage 4:
Run presentation of outcomes across the service in dissemination events including class visits, team huddles and lunchtime talks by both learner groups and practitioners.

Stage 5:
Encourage the creation of video diaries by the participants.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment


Mentors involved in the project were motivated to take part to improve employability skills such as communication, problem-solving, and creative thinking.

By participating in this project of peer supporters, I hope to improve my ability to encourage other peers to work together in a positive way. I would like to be able to generate ideas on how to better improve the skills of learners I support by knowledge sharing. I hope to be able to communicate more effectively to gain skills to support others with digital skills.
– HB, mentor

I am taking many courses to improve myself, also to have better job opportunities. The reason why I wanted to join TLC peer-to-peer fusion was, first of all, to test my teaching skills and have an opportunity to improve my communication, observation and creativity skills, which will be required during this process. I am sure that the outcome from this will be a win-win situation, as I believe that you learn while you teach.
– GD, mentor

The impact of providing support to peers was beneficial to mentors, as the experience of adapting to meet the support needs of their mentees provided skill-development opportunities outside of those initially identified (such as listening in addition to communication). The experience of being able to support others through sharing knowledge and skills supported mentors to develop skills with building relationships and teamworking.

I am very happy from this experience because it helped me to develop my listening, also my communicative skills. The person, E, that I had to help, he trust (sic) me his email account and together we achieve to recover his password. The experience was very nice and helpful for developing new skills.
– OL, mentor

I am delighted to be part of this great project. My skills improved in teamworking, collaboration, communication skills throughout while communicating with my mentors, colleagues and mentees.
– JB, mentor


Mentees gained essential digital skills that will allow them to access resources and participate in their courses on digital platforms. Some mentees benefited from learning targeting individualised skills to deal with a particular problem, like recovering and changing a password for an email account.
Skills acquired during the project included:

  •  logging on and off MS Teams
  •  downloading and uploading files
  •  opening and viewing files
  •  cut and paste
  •  inserting a digital signature
  •  recovering and changing the password for an email account.

Mentees benefited from receiving support to learn digital skills, and also had the opportunity to develop communication skills, which is of additional benefit to ESOL and literacy learners. Feedback from mentees included:

Checklists were also created to help track each mentee’s progress.

At a peer-to-peer celebration event, one of the mentees had the opportunity to hear their mentor speak about the project and their own experiences. The mentee and mentor discussed their experiences together at the event, with the mentor sharing that she had been a total beginner when she started, which the mentee commented was a huge inspiration to her. They talked together about how they had both benefited from the experience and learned from each other, and how their digital skills and wider skills improved throughout the project.


Feedback from tutors on the support learners brought back to the classroom is noted below.

E needed support with changing the password on his email account as the account had been set up by someone else and he was unhappy that they had access to it. The peer-to-peer support provided an opportunity for him to work with a mentor to identify the steps to change his password. The impact this had in the classroom was E was able to feel confident accessing his emails to receive links to activities he was required to complete as part of the course. It had a positive impact on his confidence and feeling safe in the knowledge his information was secure.

– Caitríona, ICT Beginners Tutor

RC was able to enrol via ‘web enrol’ for the first time independently after getting peer-to-peer support. Previously he had to complete a paper enrolment form. The impact to RC was that he was able to have more agency over his learning and also to give him greater confidence when he is choosing further learning, as he knows he will be able to enrol online independently.

– Tutor

Some valuable feedback was also provided by Pre/Entry English tutor, S:

These learners are extremely low level and despite my 15 years of teaching experience I often find it really difficult to get them to understand concepts. Concepts and tasks have to repeated again and again

Our initial approach was to teach the mentees the skills that they wanted to learn. Tutor S requested that specific aspects of learning could be individualised by the tutor to meet the learning needs of a specific group. This approach was adapted. S indicated to the mentors the specific skills the learners from her low-level English group needed to improve on. Mentees received support on those specific tasks. A checklist of mentees learning illustrated in Figure 2 was produced for each learner and returned to the tutor. This method was then adopted across all of the support sessions.

Tutor S feedback following the session:
In terms of what was really useful: discrete activities supporting learners to get logged on to Teams, access classroom and upload files.


The over 50s group participated in a peer support session. Quotes from the group representative included:

“Several of these people have really next to no digital skills.”

“Glad there was such a good turnout.”

“I am really looking forward to seeing this programme and relationship progress!”

Mentee Support Log

The Mentee Support Log, completed by mentors, also documented the skills required, shared and the impact for the ment


The screenshot below shares some of the data captured during the project via the Mentee Support Log. The first column includes skills required by the mentee, the second column skills shared by mentors with the mentee and the third column records the impact on the mentee.

Videos and pictures illustrating our project in action

You can access a variety of videos from our mentors and mentees on our Peer to Peer Fusion Skills Padlet board, as well as in Appendix 2, learner case studies. Below are some images of our mentors and mentees in action.

Figure 5: Peer to Peer mentoring sessions

Peer Mentoring Showcases Mentor and Mentees Experiences

Further examples of the impact of our peer-peer fusion skills project on mentors and mentees are evidenced on our Padlet board, under the column mentee and mentor experience. An example is shared below:

Further Quotes from our Peer Mentors:

The quotes below further illustrate the impact of our action research project in relation to teaching, learning and assessment:

I supported my Peer Mentee to improve his learning by how to get onto Microsoft Teams and navigate around the screen, to get to his class. Then he could access the work his teacher put on his Channel.

– J, Peer mentor

The meeting with Peers was successful. Improved IT skills for Mentee.

– P, Peer mentor

My mentoring relationship with my mentee was very positive, he was very eager to learn and always contacts me for help.

– F, Peer mentor

The relationship with my mentee is providing me with key skills that I will need in Team Management.

– H, Peer mentor

My mentoring relationship with Mentee was very supported and we worked well in a team. The Mentee appreciated the help he learned.

– B, Peer mentor

Organisational Development

As an organisation, we are looking to continue to use this approach, nurturing a culture of peer-to-peer support, and supporting documenting the impact of this culture with video diaries capturing progress and joy in the project. Our plans going forward include:

  •  establishing a regular culture of peer-to-peer support within the classroom;
  •  continued use of the Open Learning Lounge as a space for developing the foundational and digital skills of HALS learners, and as a centre for resources which will continue to grow as the peer-to-peer support continues;
  •  continuous staff support to adopt the peer-to-peer support model.

Promotion events took place across the service where learners, staff and stakeholders were getting familiar with the project.

Figure 8: Peer to Peer Fusion Skills Project promotion events

The peer-to-peer support practice became popular with our learners, staff and stakeholders. Our lovely Digital TLC volunteers recently provided peer-to-peer support for the Over 50s community group. This group were very delighted about the digital support they received and wished to further participate in this project. Below are some photos of our eager peer mentors’ and mentees’ experiences with our stakeholders.

Figure 9: Peer to Peer and individual mentoring session for stakeholders

The peer-to-peer support model enabled our staff, learners and stakeholders to have access to an informal learner-centred method that improved digital access to all of the participants as well as TLA by enabling learners to bring the learning back into the classroom. This method also fostered improved employability skills across the spectrum. Peer mentors/mentees became better at collaboration, communication, planning and digital skills.

Learning from this project

Mentor feedback shows how much the mentors enjoyed taking part in the project and how it increased their employability skills. As part of the project, they received training in how to provide support, which provided them with a variety of tools to support their peers. They also increased their own digital skills by creating and uploading videos to document their experience, and creative thinking by reflecting on the impact of the training they provided.

Mentees improved their digital skills, being able to access digital resources that will support their learning, and they, in turn, can support other learners in the classrooms. Having access to targeted, one-to-one support, provided an opportunity to upskill in areas that directly addressed their areas of need in relation to digital literacy, with an added benefit of improving communication skills.

Tutors benefited by extra support, which meant they could concentrate on their lessons and spend less time providing support for essential digital skills in the classroom.

During the project, feedback from a tutor identified that the peer-to-peer support for her learners would be even better if it was more structured for her learners. She identified key skills that would specifically benefit their learning experience that should be provided during the peer-to-peer support. We adapted the mentoring model with the tutor providing support topics that were shared with the mentors.

Mentors mentioned that they would have benefited from role play in their training. We implemented this as role play is a very useful activity for building confidence and communication skills.

Following the programme some peer mentors are considering progressing to teaching assistant roles.

The peer-to-peer support enabled me to gain experience in sharing the digital skills that I learnt with lower-level learners and improve my skills in planning and working collaboratively with others. It gave me confidence and now I am thinking of progressing towards a teaching assistant role.
– G, Peer mentor

The project team’s research findings in relation to other similar research projects shows similar positive impact.

For example, previous research demonstrated that peers learning from other peers is the path to follow (De Boer et al, 2013; Koster et al, 2010). These positive results align with our findings where all students can feel accepted, make new friends and enhance their employability skills.

The participants’ growth and progress as the session increased was noticeable. It was transparent that the mentees looked up the mentors and that they were forming strong bonds.

– Owusu, 2020

We hope our project research outcomes will assist others who would like to implement a peer program at their institution.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners.

    Our project provided time and space for us to come together as a teaching team to challenge our assumptions and build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners. There were discussions with colleagues about should we provide learners topics on what digital skills they need to improve on or give them the freedom to choose what they want to learn. These depended on learners’ individual needs and what worked for one learner did not work for the other. In conclusion, the peer-to-peer support was a great aid in the classroom as more learners gained digital skills and were able to better participate and support peers as well as a continuous interaction within staff themes from different departments.

  • 11. Manage and promote positive learner behaviour.

    During the programme we managed and promoted positive learner behaviour. A culture of mutual support and learning. Mentors interacted and supported each other sharing skills, knowledge and behaviour. Mentees brought back the knowledge they gained to their classrooms and further shared with their peers. The project enthused learners to develop a positive supportive behaviour across HALS.

  • 17. Enable learners to share responsibility for their own learning and assessment, setting goals that stretch and challenge.

    This learner-centred peer-to-peer approach enabled learners to share responsibility for their own learning and assessment, setting goals that stretch and challenge by supporting each other individually and in their classroom. They were continuously learning new digital skills and experiencing fusion skills throughout.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Support Log

Appendix 4: Video Diaries

Appendix 5: Mentor Training Resources

Appendix 6: Project Padlet

Appendix 7: Project Short Film


De Boer, A., Pijl, S. J., Post, W., and Minnaert, A., (2013). Peer acceptance and friendships of students with disabilities in general education: The role of child, peer, and classroom variables. Social Development, 22(4), 831-844.

Koster, M., Pijl, S. J., Nakken, H., & Van Houten, E., (2010). Social participation of students with special needs in regular primary education in the Netherlands. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 57(1), 59-75.

McKinsey and Company (2021). Defining the skills citizens will need in the future world of work. [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 11 February 2022].

Owusu, P., (2020). ‘Peer to Peer Mentoring: A Multiple-Case Study Evaluating the LINKS Peer Support Program’. Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository, pp.44 – 7062. [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 11 February 2022].

10c. Islington ACL

Supporting the Essential Digital Skills of ESOL and low-level English students

Islington Adult Community Learning (ACL)

This project road-tested a powerful, in-house PowerPoint resource aimed at supporting ESOL and lower-level English learners to develop their knowledge and confidence in the application of Essential Digital Skills (EDS). Students reportedly enjoyed being able to use these new skills in their learning, their everyday lives and even to submit better quality homework. A rewarding by-product of the project was that colleagues developed new approaches in their teaching and acquired and shared new digital skills of their own into the bargain.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Islington Adult Community Learning (ACL) sought to address the Essential Digital Skills deficit of learners in the Borough by utilising a multi-layered, bespoke PowerPoint resource to introduce a step-by-step guide to a range of highly relevant digital skills in an accessible, visual and practical way. This resource was the product of ACL engaging in a previous OTLA project with the Education and Training Foundation (ETF). This latest project responded to feedback about using the resource, developing it further and refining its use in the classroom and for independent use by students. This term saw a return to face-to-face teaching. A return to the classroom has enabled adults who are digitally excluded at home to benefit from this project by using a variety of handheld devices.

Other Contextual Information

Islington ACL is a Local Authority Adult and Community Learning provider that operates out of dedicated spaces in libraries, children’s centres, community spaces and partner venues. Three experienced ESOL and English tutors participated in the project together with up to forty of their students. They included a Pre-entry Level/Entry Level 1 English class, an Entry Level 2/Entry Level 3 ESOL class, an English Grammar class and two dyslexic students who engaged in one-to-one support with their tutor.


Among the challenges experienced early on in the project, tutors initially battled with a resource so substantial in size that the digital resources available in classrooms and learners’ personal devices could not cope with downloading and viewing it. The resource covers a series of separate but connected topics and individual slides have multiple animations which make it a large file. Unfortunately, the colleagues originally involved in creating the resource were unavailable for this stage of the project. However, this afforded the new project team the opportunity to explore ways of reducing the size of the resource, eventually scaling it down into themed slide sets, for example, ‘presenting work’, ‘meeting apps (Zoom)’ and – as demonstrated below – ‘keyboard and keyboard skills’.

Screenshot of EDS keyboard skills PowerPoint.

Another issue that presented itself was that this versatile and well-produced resource was created on modern computers with the latest software. This highlighted the limitations of the technology and outdated software available to tutors in some of the learning spaces. Fortunately for this project, the service has invested significantly in upgrading computers and software since the start of the year, which will contribute greatly to the EDS development of both learners and tutors.

Having cleared these hurdles, and in order to establish a baseline of digital skills, tutors conducted an initial skills audit (Appendix 6) to determine extent of digital literacy, access to and use of digital devices and level of digital skills confidence of their learner cohorts. This helped identify those aspects of the resource that would be of most usefulness and relevance to each learner.

Tutors were also encouraged to keep a diary of the activities undertaken whilst utilising the resource and to reflect on its application and impact on learners. An important aspect of the project were the bi-weekly meetings of the whole project team. These provided an opportunity to feedback on progress, share successes, discuss and overcome challenges and to contribute development suggestions.

The project deputy also made mid-term and end of term visits to classrooms to engage with learner participants and to hear first-hand the impact of what they had learnt through using this resource in the classroom. The detailed notes taken during these meetings and classroom visits have helped inform the findings in this report.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Tutors involved in this project commented positively on the impact this research has had on their teaching, learning and assessment activities (see Appendices 2 and 3). Collec tively, they had appreciated the benefits of being part of a community of practice (Wenger, 1998), being able to share experiences, learn from each other and explore insights. As one tutor commented:

After seeing [my colleague’s] marking of homework in PDF format, I reached out to her as I wanted to improve my marking technique, too.

Individually, tutors were able to express how incorporating EDS into their teaching had A learner practising their digital skills.
enhanced the learning experience of their students and opened up new possibilities for
assessment activities. One tutor, who had focussed on incorporating the Zoom chat
facility in classes, described feeling personally ‘more confident’ about introducing digital skills into lessons. They had now started to plan for it and found using Zoom chat, for example, ‘very useful for writing activities, brainstorming and other tasks’.

Another tutor felt the project had ‘encouraged me to investigate alternative ways to set homework’ including, as the example below demonstrates, supporting students to use Padlet, which was enthusiastically embraced.

While teaching an online grammar class at Level 1/Level 2, this tutor also devised a homework activity using MS Forms. At the first attempt twelve learners completed the task, including three learners who hadn’t submitted their homework before. Buoyed by the success of this activity, the tutor has gone on to present a workshop on using MS Forms for assessment available to all tutors in ACL.

It has been inspiring to see how each of the tutors involved in the project have felt compelled to adapt or create another feature or theme for the EDS resource to meet the specific needs of their learners.

A good example is reflected in the comment of one learner whose tutor told us:

He would now be able to read his emails on being shown how to use the Speak accessibility function on his iPhone. He was amazed to have his texts read aloud too.

Another student with dyslexia put it even more succinctly:

You literally changed my life.

Organisational Development

Islington ACL has implemented considerable change in supporting learners developing their digital skills. This is most evident in the swift migration to online teaching and learning in response to classrooms closing because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This EDS project has highlighted a raft of new opportunities for promoting the use of technology in teaching and learning and in supporting learners in its use. Moreover, learners have been encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning through stretch and challenge activities whereby, for example, they created and presented coursework using digital technology (see Appendix 5 for further details).

It has been pleasing to report on the positive collaborations among tutor colleagues, sharing information, problem solving and inspiring further experimentation. In turn, this has fostered even greater positive relationships with learners who have had their lives transformed by their tutor introducing them to digital technology, as one learner put it:

Thank goodness I have learnt about this now!

The project team have shared the resource with other institutions nearby, but have not had any feedback from them as yet. Internally, project participants from three curriculum areas have already begun sharing their insights with staff from other curriculum areas, including devising new resources in online workshops. We look forward to them presenting further their creativity and innovation in forthcoming Inset days.

Learning from this project

In reviewing the reflections of tutors involved in this project, several key themes emerged (see Appendices 2 and 3 for a comprehensive exploration of these themes). Firstly, tutors said they felt encouraged to investigate and innovate. Secondly, they could see more clearly now the barriers experienced by their learners’ digital exclusion or lack of confidence in their digital skills (see also Appendix 4). There was a universal appreciation of the benefits to be had from working collaboratively with colleagues and timetabling for that to happen. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the project heightened awareness of the transformative impact of embedding EDS in these ESOL/English classes and the ripple effect it had on other areas of learners’ lives.

There were some challenges early on, but the project team readily adapted to modifying the resource themselves when it became necessary to do so. Linked to this was the importance of having up to date software and technology available to allow quality teaching and learning of EDS to occur.

While not a particular concern for this project, conversations were had about possible ‘institutional resistance’ to introducing a ‘digital skills experiment’ into non-digital skills curriculum areas. One of the welcome impacts of engaging in a recognised evidence-based research project like this one is that it validates the activity and places it firmly in the domain of maintaining and developing professional standards. It also underlines the importance of disseminating and discussing the findings widely with teaching colleagues and across all tiers of management.

Looking ahead, participants in this project are already working on their own innovations to add to the resource. A next step would be to invite teaching staff from other curriculum areas – vocational and employability, maths and family learning, for example – to incorporate the EDS resource into their activities. It is anticipated that participants in this latest project will act as mentors to those who respond to this invitation.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 9. Critically review and apply your knowledge of educational research, pedagogy, and assessment to develop evidence-informed practice.

    Within our own organisation the project supported cross curriculum collaboration and an extension of this project is to encourage other curriculum colleagues to develop and share their own EDS resources. Action research and evidenced-based research within ACL is increasingly being seen as having a role to play in meeting objectives like closing the digital skills gap among local residents, raising standards of teaching and learning and promoting professional collaboration to the benefit of the service.

  • 10. Share and update knowledge of effective practice with colleagues, networks and/or research communities to support improvement.

    Tutors took part in bi-weekly meetings with the whole project team to discuss their own practice and share how it had impacted on their learners. Tutors were encouraged to engage learners to speak openly about participating in the research and the impact it had on their learning. This provided a useful triangulation for assessing the overall impact of the project.

  • 16. Select and use digital technologies safely and effectively to promote learning.

    The project focused on developing online resources that would give learners the underpinning knowledge and skills to support their own online learning. It was encouraging to see how quickly the digital skills acquired fed into their personal online activities with social media as well as enhanced confidence in accessing online resources for independent learning.


Appendix 2: Tutor Reflections 1

Appendix 3: Tutor Reflections 2

Appendix 4: Case Studies

Appendix 5: Learner Work Demonstrating Before & After Intervention

Appendix 6: Pro forma Templates


Wenger, E (1998) Communities of Practice Learning, Meaning and Identity. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Read the team’s previous action research project.