Activate Learning is an educational group of colleges, secondary schools and UTCs, headquartered in Oxford, with sites across throughout the Thames Valley and Surrey.
Our principle colleges are: Banbury and Bicester College; Bracknell and Wokingham College; Farnham College, Guildford College; City of Oxford College; Merrist Wood College; Reading College.
Activate Learning has a unique learning philosophy at its heart, which permeates the entire organisation. Drawing on evidence-based and robust research our Learning Philosophy shows how hard work, persistence, the right incentives and a supportive and safe environment can change the way a person learns. It’s built around three pillars: neuroscience, emotional intelligence and being motivated.
Our journey as a research organisation began over four years ago with the creation of the Applied Learning Foundation, known as ALF for short. Bringing all the colleges under a single faculty structure enabled us to create a small centralised team to support teachers in their qualifications, their professional development and to promote the undertaking of research.
Our first step was to identify where research was already taking place, as a result of staff, from both our faculty and business support teams, undertaking higher level qualifications, such as Master’s degrees. ALF was well-placed to encourage engagement with qualification-led research through the allocation of bursaries. Over time, we have developed a small but dedicated community of researchers, most of whom are either taking Master’s or doctoral level degrees.
We have published our own in-house research journal for the past two years, drawing on a range of inputs including from our PGCE trainees. We made it accessible with short summaries of research undertaken, linking to longer articles where appropriate. The third issue of the Journal of Applied Learning will be published in summer 2021.
We have built on the success of our regular Teach-Meets, by introducing well-attended Research-Meets as well. Our Directors of Delivery are working in cross-faculty action learning sets this year to delve deeper into areas of interest in teaching, learning and assessment. They are leading the way, encouraging their own teams to find their research voices and see what value they too can bring to the organisation and to the student experience.
Our first Research Conference is planned for this summer. It will be held online, as so many conferences are at the moment, giving access without the need for travel, to our many colleagues who are participating in or interested in research.
Our next steps include commissioning specific research around the implementation and application of our Learning Philosophy. We are growing our training programme for ethical approaches to research, through mentoring those staff who make applications to undertake research in-house. We also welcome external researchers who wish to gain access to either our staff or students to conduct their research.
All in all, we are committed to becoming a deeply research-informed organisation, basing our internal decision-making on our own research and that of our peers within the sector, rather than relying on external and, at times, not directly relevant studies.