Ascentis National Conference Round-up – Supporting learners in the digital landscape

The Ascentis National Conference: Learners in the Digital Evolution explored the importance of mindfulness in the digital landscape, how new digital trends can support learning and ways to encourage positive behaviours online.

A lot of interesting points were raised, so we thought we would share with you the key things covered by our speakers.

Gyles Brandreth

The first keynote speaker was Gyles Brandreth, a well-known writer, actor and star of Celebrity Gogglebox. Gyles emphasised the importance of being happy and in particular making a conscious effort to ensure happiness in today’s digital age. Key to this is living in a shared community, having a common purpose, and being challenged and engaged in society – which he includes in his 7 secrets of happiness.

Gyles Brandreth

Gyles’ 7 secrets of happiness

  1. Conduct an audit of your happiness – make a list of what makes you happy as well as what makes you unhappy. You can then focus on doing more of the things that bring you happiness.
  2. Live in the moment – ‘Carpe Diem!’ Have a positive attitude and it will bring happiness to you and those around you.
  3. Be a leaf on a tree – in order to thrive you have to be both an individual with a sense that you are unique, as well as being connected to a bigger organism. A leaf off a tree may float freely but will eventually wither. A leaf that is part of a tree can keep growing. Be attached to something bigger and thrive with it; whether that be a college, a family, a club, a community…
  4. Cultivate a passion – To be happy you must have something that you enjoy doing. Find a hobby or an activity that you are passionate about to give you a sense of fulfilment.
  5. Break the mirror – it won’t bring you 7 years bad luck, it will bring you years of longer life. We have all become obsessed with selfies, we need to stop thinking about ourselves. When you ‘break the mirror’ you’ll be a nicer, happier person.
  6. Don’t resist change - People who are fearful of change are rarely happy. We need to embrace it.
  7. Be happy – if you want to be happy…be happy. Choose to be optimistic, you’ll feel better.

Richard Burnett

Richard Burnett, Co-founder of the Mindfulness In Schools Project, explored the importance of teaching mindfulness practices in the classroom. He stated that mindfulness isn’t a quick exercise that can be picked up instantly.

Richard explained “Mindfulness involves paying attention…

on purpose

to the present moment

with curiosity and kindness

…to things as they are.”

Richard discussed some meditation techniques and activities, including breathing and relaxation exercises, which can be done to introduce learners to mindfulness in classroom. There are also apps available for download which can be used to incorporate mindfulness into daily life. Examples of apps include Headspace, .b and InsightTimer.

Richard Burnett concluded by saying that bringing mindfulness to the classroom starts with you and recommended that tutors need to learn to practice mindfulness before they can effectively teach it. 

Beej Kaczmarczyk

Beej Kaczmarczyk, Director at e-Memoir, gave an update on Funding and Devolution.

The main points on funding for 2020 to 2021 were:

  • New investment for 16-19 learners of £400m
  • Funding rates increased for 16-19 year old students - £190 million
  • Additional funding available for English and maths
  • Colleges/Sixth Forms will also get £120m for crucial and high value subjects such as Engineering
  • Funding for retention of teachers and leaders
  • Advanced maths premium funding of £600 for level 3 maths qualifications

 Beej discussed Devolution and the opportunities it provides devolved areas. He stated it could provide for a better match with the needs of local economy, increase the focus on local responsiveness and flexibility, and will allow provision to be shaped by the economic and educational needs of residents and employers. 

Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon

Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon, Co-founder of the STEMettes, explored tech trends and how they can be used in teaching & training.

Firstly, she discussed how virtual reality can be used to allow learners to experience job related scenarios. Trainee firefighters are now using virtual reality to simulate fires for training before entering live fires – ultimately allowing them to build up the skills for their job and reducing the risks to the trainee in the process.

Other key trends that are changing our behaviour and job roles include the use of internet in our daily lives and artificial intelligence. We are in a world where technology talks to technology – an everyday example can be seen in online ordering when we receive automated delivery updates for our parcels.

Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon

As tech becomes more prominent, it’s important to change how it is developed – by having a wide range of people involved in building technology and considering the diversity of people who will be using it. This is vital to futureproofing technology and it’s important that tutors teaching STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects get this message across to learners.

Anne-Marie stated that it’s the small things we can do and tweaks we can make to curriculums to ensure learners are fully equipped for digital life – understanding who uses technology and why it is created, the problems technology can solve and who it can help. This can be done by involving altruism and creativity arts in study programmes – turning STEM into STEAM. Another element vital to this is ensuring all tutors are upskilled on digital and technology to ensure young people are learning the right habits and aren’t learning from people who are fearful of technology. 

Grace Barrett

Grace Barrett of the Self Esteem Team talked about the brains of young people and the powers that social media has on addiction.

Young people are conditioned to receive dopamine hits which motivate reckless behaviours and can make them more susceptible to addiction. Social media is designed to tap into young people’s dopamine driven desire for social validation. Grace explained how social media works in the form of the hook model (see right). 

Grace Barrett

A trigger could be a notification which leads to scrolling through news feeds, then the user is rewarded through feeling connected with friends and family. Notifications then act as external triggers to drive the user back to the service.

Despite social media being highly addictive, there are many ways in which you can encourage young people to break the hook model, including:

  • E-safety lessons – educate parents and children on dangers
  • Encourage learners not to check notifications straight away – creates discipline
  • Talk about what they might find and how it might make them feel
  • Pause the action – don’t respond to comments straight away
  • Create a culture of acceptance – encouraging use in the classroom, for example doing online quizzes in lessons
  • Turn off notifications – a relief to young people, who are increasingly becoming overwhelmed and constantly surrounded by notifications and digital noise. Research has found that 58% of 18-14 year olds believe technology is destroying the art of conversation (Source: Nominet)
  • Develop creativity – showing other places with less risk where they can get their dopamine hit
  • Encourage learners to find hobbies and other passions outside of the digital environment

Thank you to all our delegates and speakers who made it a fantastic day. Keep an eye out on our events and news pages for announcements on the next Ascentis National Conference taking place on Friday 4th December 2020. To watch the highlights of the 2019 National Conference click here.

To find out more about us and the qualifications we offer click here or alternatively email

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