These days, apprentices are first and foremost employees, and employers are expecting a slick business-to-business relationship with providers that can demonstrate professionalism, efficiency, results and flexibility. This represents a huge culture shift for many colleges, some of which need help to adapt.
Apprenticeships must include 20% off-the-job learning. In the past, this meant spending a day a week, or a block of weeks during each year, at college. While this does still happen, including at Jisc, it doesn’t suit all employers.
Jisc has 590 employees and our apprentices go to college on a day-release system. Their work is carefully structured, so they are not delivering on key projects and can be released from the workplace on a regular basis. But if a small employer with two or three apprentices encounters a problem which requires all hands on deck, there’s no time to spare them for college.
It follows that apprentices want and need to study flexibly, without too much constraint around when and where. A flexible approach needs to be built into the system from the off, which is where technology can play a crucial role.
Anytime, anywhere connectivity to a provider’s systems is particularly important. For example, an apprentice who has missed one or more college sessions because of an emergency at work, illness, injury, or a significant life event, ought to be able to catch up on their learning at a time to suit. Similarly, their commute on public transport could be used productively to research, study or review using a laptop, tablet or smartphone.
Flexible learning means having support in place, so apprentices can move between the two fields of work and study and deliver what they need to for both.
It’s essential they are connected to the virtual learning environment (VLE), for example. It’s also vital that communication travels in three directions, not simply between the college and the apprentice, or the employer and the apprentice.
I had an apprentice in my previous job and his assessor would come into the workplace to see him from time to time, but I was very rarely brought into their conversations. That must change, which is why Jisc is in the middle of building a data management platform which will help solve that problem.
Colleges may find that increasing technology in apprenticeship delivery has efficiency benefits.
For example, using Skype is a much quicker way of assessing and keeping in touch with apprentices than physical face-to-face meetings. It leaves teachers and assessors with more time to offer personalised, ongoing coaching to more apprentices.
On the other hand, moving to a flexible digital learning model can be a challenge for some apprentices used to a far more structured approach to education, as is the case in many schools.
While technology can facilitate more independent learning, a lack of personal interaction could leave some apprentices feeling unsupported.
Once learners adapt though, they will realise they can still interact well online with teachers, assessors, their employer and other apprentices. They’re also far more likely to feel satisfied with how they learn.
Our 2017 student digital experience tracker report showed that 64% of FE students agreed that they were more independent in their learning when digital technology was used. A further 57% of FE learners agreed that digital approaches help them to fit learning into their life.
More importantly, digital skills are now a part of everyday life and are important in virtually every workplace, so embedding digital technology into the learning process will give students the chance to develop skills they need to thrive in today’s ever-more connected world.
Who does it well?
Our advice is that colleges need to be serious and strategic about making changes.
They must find a way to integrate flexibility in apprenticeship provision, to build a digital-first, adaptable system that can shift to meet apprentice and employer needs, and to make it efficient by offering learning, reviewing and assessment online, using tools including apps, quizzes and social media.
There are some excellent examples of this approach in action from: