Digital innovation catalyses learning – even amid Covid-19 restrictions

Home > Digital innovation catalyses learning – even amid Covid-19 restrictions

09 March 2021

In-cell learning

A collaboration between Learning Together, Coracle Inside and HMPPS is yielding new and exciting developments in the provision of digital technologies to transform learning.

Pilot Phase One

For the last four years, Learning Together and Coracle Inside have partnered to develop the use of a secure digital learning platform accessed through non-networked chromebooks to support students in their learning. Working closely with colleagues at HMPPS and the MoJ, Initial piloting took place at HMPs Grendon, Warren Hill and Whitemoor. Students learning together took part in courses in criminal justice, philosophy and ethics, and law across the three sites. Prison-based students accessed video, audio and text materials and tasks through the digital learning platform on their chromebooks in-cell, and university-based students accessing the same work through the same platform through a secure online portal on their own devices.

Feedback from the initial pilot showed clear benefits to all students. The technology enabled students to develop or build upon their digital skills. It enhanced the range of learning resources available to them, supporting independent further study to broaden and deepen knowledge. Students reported that the inclusion of video and audio content as part of course materials built confidence and interest and increased accessibility, including especially for students with specific learning needs.

The technology also enabled students to evaluate their learning using the ‘EPIC scale’ – Evaluating the Personal, Interpersonal and Contextual dimensions of growth through Learning Together. The EPIC scale has been developed by the Learning Together team in their five year evaluation of the initiative. Giving learners real time access to their self-evaluation results equipped them with insight about areas for self-development throughout the course. Repeating the process of self-evaluation at the end of the course increased students’ understanding of the areas in which they had grown throughout their period of study – insight that many students shared within their support networks, including, for prison-based students, with Key Workers and Offender Managers.

Prison-based students in particular shared how the technology communicated hope and the placing of trust in them, affording new opportunities for building positive relationships with prison staff, and providing meaningful opportunities for positive personal development activity in-cell.

Pilot Phase Two

Building on the successful pilot, and in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Coracle received Innovate UK funding to run further extended pilot trials.  The Innovate UK grant has enabled Coracle to supply chromebooks and printers to a further 16 prisons in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  These include high security, training and open prisons as well as private sector establishments and prisons in the female estate.

Coracle has developed a Digital In-Cell Education (‘DICE’) toolkit to accommodate an increasingly broad range of digital content including video, audio, text, word-processing and interactive materials. The chromebooks are being trialed by numerous different users including Shannon Trust learners, higher education and vocational students.  As well as specific educational courses, the Toolkit also includes selected films such as Timpson’s ‘A Second Chance’, the Hardman Directory and distraction tools.

Innovative resources

In response to the pandemic, the Learning Together community has developed a range of digital resources that can be made accessible through chromebooks to support learning in ways that are deliverable within Covid restrictions. These include ThinkLets, short introductions (of around 2 guided learning hours each) to topics that to topics that support independent, in-cell learning or ad hoc small group learning. Digitised short courses are also available, which are taken alongside university-based students and include opportunities for interactive learning through correspondence and assessment.

Dr Jo Metcalf, Senior Lecturer in American History and Culture at the University of Hull is part of the Learning Together Network.

She recently delivered a new connected short course on ‘US & UK Prison Culture: Redemption and Resistance’ at HMP Hull, digitally supported by chromebooks through Learning Together’s partnership with Coracle Inside. Read her case study here.


The Learning Together Network is a consortium of universities working together to offer world leading higher education that includes students in our criminal justice system. Through partnerships between universities and prisons we offer students ongoing learning, progression and collaboration opportunities and build and empower a community of change makers.

For Learning Together enquiries please contact Isobel Rowbotham, Programme Manager. For further details about partnership work led by the University of Hull with HMP Hull please contact Dr Jo Metcalf or Graham Sainty, Learning & Skills Manager, HMP Hull.

For further details about Coracle Inside please contact James Tweed, Managing Director or visit

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