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Learners at North Lindsey College
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Learners at North Lindsey College
©Jisc and Matt Lincoln

Fresh digital thinking on apprenticeships

Growing numbers of apprenticeship providers are embracing digital technologies to help them reshape their offer following last year’s radical shake-up of vocational training.

It saw the introduction of a new standards-based approach and a new funding model for apprenticeships, and brought fresh challenges for a sector that already has a lot on its plate.

Many apprenticeship providers are exploring blended learning approaches to enhance and personalise learning. We take a look at how some of our members are using digital technology to create apprenticeships that enhance learning and improve employability.

A pioneering approach to apprenticeship delivery

Carmarthen-based Cymru Care Training (CCT) is a member of the B-wbl consortium of learning providers, which is responsible for around 2,500 apprentices widely dispersed across south east and west Wales. The consortium is managed by Pembrokeshire College.

Over the last few years CCT has used digital technologies to transform learning and learning delivery for apprentices, and managing director Edward Jones says that learners have welcomed the change.

“At registration we give them the option to use our online resources and, to start with, reactions were mixed, but now about 90% choose the digital route.”

CCT makes sure that all its learners are ready to start making progress from the day they register. The organisation uses G Suite for Education and at registration each candidate gets an account that gives them access to all the relevant Google education resources.

They are introduced to Google Classroom and they can borrow a Chromebook laptop (or use their own device) to ensure that they have constant, seamless access to CCT’s services. CCT’s learner resources site is set as the Chromebook’s landing page, with links to everything they’re likely to need, from course notes and review exercises to information about their own health and wellbeing.

Edward says:

“We use e-track e-portfolios to ensure learning outcomes are recorded effectively and these can be accessed by learners, tutor/assessors, internal quality assurers (IQAs) and employers.

“We’ve revised all the course modules to fit with blended learning approaches and, over the last year, we’ve used Google Forms to break down exercises into manageable chunks so that people can spend 20 minutes here and there getting on with their course.

“This approach works because it provides snapshots of each unit and makes it more manageable. It’s also a great benefit to learners who would typically struggle with an essay-style, traditional approach.

“With these digital systems and resources in place it’s easier for people to take control of their learning and make progress even if they’re based remotely, which many of our learners are. We’re finding that our apprentices are zipping through their courses far more quickly with blended learning approaches, and retaining what they have learnt, too.

“And it’s very easy for us to spot slowdowns in progress, which might indicate that people are having problems of some kind.

“In cases like this, that’s when the personal approach is needed and we have training advisors who step in and make contact to help learners get back on track. And, of course, that personal element remains really important – technology frees up our staff to add value in other ways, for example, holding online discussions with learners via Google Hangouts and leading group workshops to ensure that people can learn and practice core skills.”

Simulations

At Prospects College of Advanced Technology (PROCAT) in Basildon and Canvey Island, Essex, simulators are being used in a variety of training programmes, including those in electrical and aerospace engineering.

In aerospace engineering, apprentices are using Aerosim simulators to create virtual maintenance environments and practice their technical skills safely. It means they can work any time and anywhere and revisit their coursework as often as they need to.

In electrical engineering, PROCAT apprentices use NI Multisim, an electronic schematic capture and simulation software that enables them to create virtual circuits and to collaborate and improve on circuit design more easily.

“When we’re in our electrical principles class you can recreate a circuit in the computer. It’s easier to change it.”
(PROCAT apprentice)

E-portfolios

PROCAT uses OneFile e-portfolios so that teachers can set work for apprentices to carry out on site or wherever they choose to, and to submit their work on deadline even if they’re working remotely.

“The tutor can set you work and then add stuff in that helps you while you’re at work or anywhere else."
(PROCAT apprentice)

City of Glasgow College has also adopted e-portfolios and is having great success in using them to enhance learning and improve employability.

Simply by encouraging stonemasonry apprentices to focus on creating their new portfolio and to include photos and videos of their work, the college found learners more ready to reflect on their work and employers more willing to engage with apprentices’ progress. Meanwhile the college’s teaching staff are using the same imagery to inform their own continuing professional development (CPD).

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