12a. Barnsley MBC

Supporting learners to develop their knowledge of digital terminology

Barnsley MBC – Adult Skills and Community Learning

This project developed teaching and learning strategies and resources to support Entry Level 3 digital learners to develop their knowledge and understanding of digital terminology, as this was proving to be a barrier in embedding this knowledge into their long-term memory.

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


Learners on dedicated digital skills courses wanted to become more self-sufficient and were willing to continue to develop their skills independently. It was identified that these learners were struggling to embed digital terminology into their long-term memory and, when undertaking independent study away from their sessions, were unable to develop their skills due to not being able to remember the meaning of terminology.

The project aimed to develop strategies to support the development and understanding of digital terminology and ensure this knowledge was embedded into the learners’ long-term memories. Digital tutors would undertake research to identify which teaching and learning strategies would support this development.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme and we worked with adult learners with low level digital skills. We worked with two different groups of learners, one a Level 1 Essential Digital Skills (EDS) group and the other an Entry Level 2 EDS group. We aimed to identify the most successful strategies to support learners’ understanding of key terminology and ensure it is embedded into their long-term memory. In Barnsley, 24% of adults don’t have all 5 basic digital skills (as outlined in the EDS Framework,, 2019), and only 44% of adults indicate they have used all 5 of these skills recently, therefore this provision meets the needs of the local community (Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, 2019).


Our ICT and Digital Skills team wanted to explore and develop relevant and engaging assessment strategies and resources to support the development and understanding of digital terminology with adult learners who have low level digital skills.

We initially worked alongside a Level 1 Essential Digital Skills class and, for the purposes of the action research, we split the learners into two groups giving them two different tasks, but with the same expected outcome. One group was given a set of tasks with direct instructions, e.g. ‘change the title text to bold’; the second group had the same task but their instructions included an explanation of why they were applying the task, e.g. ‘Make the title text stand out by applying bold’.

The learners were assessed by completing an exercise which required them to explain their understanding of the terminology so that the answers could be compared. We wanted to identify if the instruction document with more information was more effective in the learner gaining a greater understanding of the terminology.

It was identified that it was not the learners’ comprehension skills that were preventing them from progressing; it was their lack of understanding of the key terminology used.

Online content was created to support the learners with their development of interactive bite-sized quizzes using Wordwall. These quizzes reinforced the same terminology with the intention of encouraging learners to be able to independently apply these terms. The quizzes ranged from matching-up exercises to cloze activities and wordsearches to help with correct spellings, as well as timed exercises that ran randomly.

Mini assessments were used to check understanding of the terminology and the results were more positive with learners being able to easily articulate the meanings of digital terms.
The new bite-size online quizzes we created are now being used with an Entry Level 2 group of Essential Digital Skills learners and have been adapted for the terms required at this level. Feedback from the learners has been collected with the results of their assessments informing future practice. One learner indicated that:

The matching exercise helped me to focus on one definition at a time and I was not overwhelmed with lots of words all at once.

with another learner stating,

I preferred the matching game so I could eliminate the incorrect answers and be able to identify the correct answer.

The tutors contributed to a Padlet on a weekly basis to document their reflections and achievements within each of the sessions and this was the place where results from the research were stored (See Barnsley ASCL OTLA 8 Padlet).

The first project activity aimed to address how to improve the comprehension skills of learners to support them to interpret internet searches independently.

Initially, different sets of instructions were given to the learners with one set containing short and direct instructions and the second set containing additional text and further explanations of the word processing functions.

After completion of the set task, it was identified that neither set of instructions supported the learners to achieve the expected end goal and it was a lack of understanding of key terminology that prevented the learners from achieving the expected outcome.

There was then a focus shift where strategies to embed key terminology were now the priority and a variety of mini bite-sized online interactive quizzes were created.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The use of the interactive quizzes resulted in the majority of the learners increasing their working knowledge and understanding of digital key terminology. The learners fully engaged with using this style of resource which promoted their enthusiasm for wanting to do more such activities. This was especially true away from the session as the instant feedback motivated them to continue doing the tasks independently to improve their skills.

Assessment by the tutor identified that the interactive resources had supported learners’ understanding of key terminology and the learners’ engagement with the resources; due to this, they are now being used with Entry Level 2 learners to develop their terminology understanding. These resources will be used with all levels of learners to support the embedding of key terminology and they have the opportunity to be used with learners across the whole of the service.

As the action research project gathered pace, the learning was shared with the whole Digital Skills Team. Collaboratively it was decided to use the mini interactive assessments more widely within the digital skills learning programmes (Appendix 3). Tutors created a wider knowledge base of assessment to prevent learners from being able to guess the correct answer and the use of more images to support ESOL learners. This was using learning from the OTLA 7 project (ETF, 2021).

This has now been developed to be used with Wordwall where the learner identifies themselves when undertaking the assessment and the tutors is able to use the assessment results to inform their next steps with learners (Appendix 4). The action research will continue after the end of this project to identify the impact of using these newly adapted assessment resources, but early indications show that learners are eagerly engaging with the resources.

The instant feedback that learners gain from using the online assessment tools has promoted them to access them away from the sessions, supporting self-directed learning. For learners who do not have access to an internet enabled device, the activities are also available in print format to encourage further study at home (Appendix 5).

Organisational Development

Use of a Collaborative Padlet
The Padlet became a working document and a shared space where the tutors reflected on the development and impact of the resources. It was also used as a discussion platform with the tutors and their line manager. It was an excellent source of reference when a new tutor joined the project.

Developing tutors’ confidence in their current practice
Tutors reflected on their current practice and developed varying resources to meet the diverse needs of learners and support them to work more independently. Tutors wanted to create innovative resources and adapt their strategies to help learners to learn. The interactive resources were well received by the learners and resulted in developing their understanding of key terminology.

Tutors developing as Reflective Practitioners
The action research project created frequent opportunities for tutors to focus on aspects of their established teaching strategies and to collaboratively, with their line manager, explore opportunities to develop and try newly-designed interactive resources to improve learners’ confidence in their understanding of key digital terminology. One tutor used Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory to support the development of their own learning: ‘through the transformation of experience’ (Kolb, 1984). This tutor is now supporting a newly qualified tutor to develop their reflective skills.

Building collaborative relationships with colleagues
Throughout the project, there have been good opportunities to share effective practice and develop the mentoring skills of one particular tutor, as she is currently working alongside the newly qualified tutor. The tutor has been encouraged to lead on the sharing of her ideas within team meetings and staff development sessions. The sessions she has led on have been opened up for all staff to attend and this has supported the tutor’s confidence in delivering to her peers.

Learning from this project

Learner feedback shows how the change to using the varying online interactive resources promoted their understanding of key terminology and how they were able to independently identify them. The user-friendliness of the resources motivated the learners to use them away from the session and the instant feedback from the resources encouraged the learners to continue to use them. The resources were used initially with a very small group and for the project it would have been more beneficial to have been able to use these with a wider audience of learners. The resources are now being used with more learners, working at a range of levels, but a larger range of feedback would have better supported the results of the action research.

The cohort of learners that were identified for the initial research project were on a short course with the service, and as there was a shift in focus from the original brief, this left a very limited amount of time to develop the resources and gain feedback from the learners. We therefore had to utilise two cohorts of learners, with the research from the second cohort only focusing on the amended project objectives rather than the original.

The action research has allowed the lead tutor to develop as a practitioner as she has embraced the project. As a practitioner she has reflected on what was working well within her current practice and also how she could adapt the resources to become more creative and innovative to meet the diverse needs of her learners and support them in developing their independent learning skills.

Professional Development

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

  • 2. Evaluate and challenge your practice, values and beliefs

    Being part of the action research project gave us the time and space to be able to question our current practices and work on an area that had previously been difficult for learners. Being able to conduct our own research was beneficial as we were able to apply it directly to our own practice and cohort of learners. The improvement in the learners’ understanding of the terminology was evident from their comments and the assessments that were undertaken.

  • 3. Inspire, motivate and raise aspirations of learners through your enthusiasm and knowledge.

    Our project enabled us to raise aspirations of the learners by the development of the different styles of assessment methods and giving them the satisfaction that their knowledge of terminology was engaged in their long-term memory. They also felt confident in using these key terms away from the safety of the classroom. Instant feedback from the online resources and being able to access the resources away from the session motivated the learners to develop their knowledge and skills outside taught sessions.

  • 15. Promote the benefits of technology and support learners in its use.

    The project supported learners to have the confidence to use online resources away from the session and continue to develop their independent digital skills.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Collection of interactive resources

Appendix 4: Examples of Wordwall Result Options


Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council (2019), Barnsley Our Borough Profile [online] Available at: [accessed 18.5.22].

Education and Training Foundation (2021). [online]. Anthology of practitioner research reports (2020 – 2021). Available at: [accessed 18.5.22]. (2019). Essential Digital Skills Frameowrk. [online] Available at: [accessed 6.6.22].

Kolb, D A., (1984). Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

7c. Reaseheath College

Developing High Level Vocabulary

Reaseheath College

The project intended to extend learners’ vocabulary enabling them to achieve in both English and their main subject area. Learners were introduced to high-value vocabulary with a range of strategies being used to aid their understanding and confidence in using the new vocabulary. English and vocational teachers worked together to reinforce and embed learning.

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


Our project extends our previous research from OTLA 7 (ETF, 2021), which found we underestimated how ‘word poor’ our learners were; conversely, learners overestimate their knowledge of words and meanings. This issue continues to exist as in English lessons learners are introduced to often indecipherable vocabulary frequently leading to disengagement and inappropriate behaviour. We worked with learners to improve and enrich their vocabularies, enabling them to achieve a grade 4 in GCSE English Language. Our further aim was to ensure learners recognise the value of good English skills in supporting them to achieve in their subject specialism. To enable this, we worked with vocational lecturers encouraging them to embed vocabulary-based activities into their lessons.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme. Our college is situated in Nantwich, Cheshire East. Some learners originate from relatively disadvantaged areas and lack access to books, learning materials and technologies. Our Case Studies were specifically selected from a Foundation group; however, we also worked with other groups of learners, from Animal Management and Mathematics, in which there is a variety of academic abilities.

The Foundation group includes a wide variety of capabilities, with a significant proportion of learners hindered by barriers to learning. Since our objective was to encourage active use of new vocabulary, rather than receiving it passively, we were curious about what impact our research project would have on the group in which there is an explicit dichotomy.


We conducted our research cyclically, reflecting on the impact of activities and gaining feedback from team members and learners (see Appendix 4 and Appendix 6). This enabled us to evaluate the impact of our work and make any amendments necessary.
We created ‘initial assessments’ (Appendix 5.1) to establish which words learners knew. Maths and Vocational staff (Animal Management) were involved in distributing the ‘Words of the Week’, so learners could understand language is applicable across all spectra of learning, not just English.

  • Activity 1 (Two Tasks): Word Search and Synonyms: In Task 1, learners were given a word search, in which there were twenty words: ten high-register, low-frequency words; and ten synonyms for each of the high-register words. For Task 2, learners were asked to match the words (see Appendix 5.2).
  • Activity 2: (Three Tasks): Learners were asked to rate how confident they felt using each of the ten words in a sentence. Next, they wrote down what they thought was the correct definition of the words, integrating each of the ten words into a sentence, so we could evaluate if they were being used correctly.
one of the oracy posters developed for the project

An example of one of our posters, developed after speaking with learners.

Afterwards, we integrated each of the keywords into our lessons as starter tasks. PowerPoint slides were specifically designed to suit the course areas we shared the keywords with; we wanted to ensure each of the keywords was relatable to the course areas and address any potential resistance or hesitancy to the teaching and learning of each key word.

As a result of learner interviews (Appendix 4), our approach altered slightly as we decided to focus more on oracy. We discovered some learners preferred to read out their work to see whether they used keywords correctly rather than writing them down. Some learners preferred to hear the new keywords spoken in context rather than seeing them in sentences on a PowerPoint presentation. We, therefore, produced an audio recording for each word in which it was spoken aloud, followed by its definition with an example of its use in a sentence (Appendix 5.3). Learners could then scan the QR code and listen to it at their leisure.

Below is an extract from one of our learner interviews, evidencing how we were able to adapt our approaches in response to learner need as the project progressed:

Learner A: “I think it would be nice if we could read out our work at the end of a lesson.
Interviewer: “So, do you think it’s a better idea then to hear the keywords spoken instead of writing them?”
Learner A: “Yeah, pretty much.”
Interviewer: “And – why is that?”
Learner A: “It’s just easier to see if we have used it right in our work.”

Learners were also given bookmarks with the keywords. (Appendix 5.4, for example).

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

One significant impact is learners’ autonomous reaction to the words of the week. Originally, a significant proportion of learners indicated their attitude towards vocabulary development by expressions of boredom, lethargy and disinterest; however, as we introduced the final few words, learners displayed no negative reaction, beginning to integrate some of the words into their work more frequently than others (Appendix 3). What was a very positive thing to see was that some learners even used a small variety of keywords in answers to their mock exam papers. (See, in the example below, how a learner attempted to use curious and immense in the correct context).

photo of learners work (and teacher markings) where they are experimening with new vocabulary

After interviewing learners again towards the end of the project, it was interesting to note the impact that the oracy posters had.

Interviewer: “So, we spoke about the bookmarks last time, and one of you mentioned how it would be more effective to listen to the keywords instead of writing them down from off the board. Have you both found this to be the case?”
Learner B: “Not particularly. I sometimes feel if you tried to scan the QR code in a lesson and it took ages to load, you might get distracted by your phone.”
Interviewer: “Ok, that’s interesting. What about you, [Learner A]?
Learner A: “Yeah, because talking will obviously mean you can use the word more, so there’s more chance you will use it right.”
Interviewer: “So, do you mean more chance of using it in the correct context?”
Learner A: “Yeah, so you’ll understand it more.”

Additionally, we have seen a positive change in vocational and maths staff’s attitudes. Some members of staff were initially a little reluctant to integrate these words into their lessons, either because they thought English was not a priority, failed to recognise the relevance of English in their lessons, or lacked the confidence to introduce literacy activities. However, after becoming involved in the project and realising the value of supporting vocabulary development their attitude has changed to a more welcoming one.

One thing we were significantly pleased with was the progress demonstrated in our Case Studies learners’ “initial assessment” activities when completed the second time around. (Appendix 2). At the beginning of the project Learner A firmly believed they had no confidence in using 40% of the keywords and complete confidence in using 60% of the keywords. However, some of the definitions of the keywords were quite vague, and some were incorrect, for example, the words curious and defiant despite the learner saying they had full confidence in using the words. In the “initial assessment” completed by Learner A at the end of the project, there was a clear, significant difference in the learner’s confidence rating in comparison with the first time around: the learner felt 100% confidence in their ability to use the keywords in a sentence. As one can also see, all words had their definitions filled in by Learner A, and the meanings were far more accurate than the first time Learner A attempted the assessment.

In the “initial assessment” completed by Learner B they had 40% high confidence in using the keywords, 50% a little confidence and 10% minor confidence. Some of the definitions written were a little vague, such as the one for “majestic”; however, the majority of what is written is relatively accurate. In the “initial assessment” completed by Learner B at the end of the project, the difference between their confidence in using each keyword in a sentence is quite substantial. The learner now feels very confident using 70% of the keywords, mostly confident using 20% of the keywords and moderately confident using 10% of the keywords. Notice how some definitions the learner had written had become more accurate and precise. “Majestic” has a far more crystalline definition than the one thought of for the “Initial Assessment” at the beginning of the project.

Organisational Development

As stated earlier in the report, in addition to the maths department, with whom we were already in close contact, we linked with Animal Management, the biggest vocational area on campus. Our collaborative relationship is evident through their willing participation in the project, distributing the keywords (or Words of the Week) to their learners, and the Cross College English meetings the English team delivered for them. Organisational development has also arisen throughout the English department with learning that Animal Management have a Word of the Week activity, too; however, the learners’ interaction with it is different: it is predicated on them finding the definition of the word before putting it into a sentence and using it in their theoretical work for that session. (See evidence below from Animal Management SoW).

Extract from animal management scheme of work

Learning from this project

vocabulary bookmark entitled 'word up' with a list of words and the Reaseheath College logo at the bottom

Our vocabulary bookmark

What went well:

  • Learners thought that the bookmark has been incredibly useful.
  • The oracy posters were used later in the project’s timeline, and learners found them a very effective tool to quickly access the keywords. In addition, the novelty of the keyword posters also made a positive, even comedic, impact as it piqued learners’ curiosity: “Wait, is that [name anonymised] from English? That’s actually a really good idea having those as sound recordings!”
  • It is evident learners started to use the keywords in their work without prompting from the project bookmark. In the Case Studies examples the learners used a few of the keywords from the bookmark in the correct context: extraordinary, curious and vulnerable.
  • Other examples of how learners, outside of the Case Studies, also integrated some of the OTLA keywords into their own writings are shown in Appendix 6.
  • As demonstrated by the Animal Management department other curriculum areas started introducing Words of the Week into their Schemes of Work, too – something these practitioners spoke openly about in one of the CPD sessions hosted by the English team as part of our college’s “Cross College CPD”.

Even better if:

  • In future, ensuring there is consistency throughout the department: all lecturers using the same Words of the Week, even in maths and vocational areas.
  • Lecturers endeavouring to use each word of the week verbally, so learners can hear, on numerous occasions, the keywords in context which would aid them to transfer new words into “active” vocabulary instead of “passive”.
  • Officially document moments of Learner Voice more precisely, so the evolution of the project can be far smoother and tailored to the most recent feelings of the learners.
  • Ensuring that a far greater volume of learners are actively listening to the recordings from the QR codes and, perhaps, officially formalising a sophisticated method of recording participation data which we can use to inform us of the most effective way to deliver new “high-register, low-frequency” vocabulary to future years’ learners.

Professional Development

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

  • 2. Evaluate and challenge your practice, values and beliefs.

    The project has certainly reinforced the need for us to reflect and meditate on our preconceptions about learners’ levels of vocabulary despite their age, and the necessity of constantly exposing learners to new vocabulary because a wide vocabulary is so important when it comes to attaining marks indicative of Grade 4 or above in GCSE examinations. It has certainly thrown into sharp relief how learners engage with new vocabulary, too, in addition to how effective oracy can be when it comes to rendering new, high-register, low-frequency vocabulary as ‘active’ as opposed to ‘passive’.

  • 13. Motivate and inspire learners to promote achievement and develop their skills to enable progression.

    In addition to developing the vocabulary of our learners, which will certainly contribute to their progression in question 5 on Paper 1, we have changed some of our learners’ perspectives on the importance of English and language itself. Learners feel a sense of empowerment and satisfaction from the utilisation of the keywords we have delivered to them throughout the course of the project. For example, one Learner said the following:

    Using these keywords feels cool as it makes me sound intelligent.

  • 15. Promote the benefits of technology and support learners in its use.

    Since working closely with colleagues from Animal Management, we have learned a significant amount about how their course is constructed, what areas of study the learners undertake at the three levels, what is evaluated when learners compose their responses and how Animal Management also integrate their own Words of the Week in lessons, too.