By Alex Ball, commercial director, Capita Apprenticeships
With apprenticeships currently dominating the national conversation, it is easy to lose sight of one crucial aspect: the learner experience. Now, however, it is more important than ever to focus on the person on the receiving end of the apprenticeship programme, and to make this experience as effective as possible. Technology is at the heart of this. Often endorsed as a means of saving time and money, the true value of technology in fact lies in its ability to significantly enhance the learning process.
Technology allows employers and apprenticeship providers to incorporate more relevant learning methods into their programmes, which can generate greater levels of engagement amongst modern learners. Now that digital platforms are such an integral part of everyday life, innovative providers should seek to reflect this within their programmes. Through blended learning, the more traditional elements of apprenticeships can be supplemented digitally. Some employers are already embracing technology wholeheartedly - notably financial services, professional services, and central government. This is a trend that needs to be replicated across the whole spectrum of sectors.
Peer-to-peer learning is one element of apprenticeships that is enriched by technology. For example, installing a Facebook-style wall on your digital platform facilitates collaboration, by enabling apprentices to easily initiate online conversations with their peers, discuss elements of the course, or upload useful videos. In having a tool that people are already familiar with and applying it to the learning context, the whole learning process is made less intimidating and isolationist.
Simulation technology can also tailor a programme to more closely represent the working environment, which in turn can generate confidence in a job role from the offset. There is currently a disconnect between the way we are taught and the way we operate in the real world. Connected devices can help the employer to bring the two together, perhaps by setting the apprentice real-time tasks, or through using computer simulation as a training model. Utilising technology in this way creates a workforce that is genuinely better prepared for the transition from apprentice to employee, and thereby contributes to closing the skills gap.
The relationship between the learner and the manager is an important factor in determining success, and technology can strengthen that relationship by improving accessibility to the manager
In addition to the individual apprentice, employers should also think about the direct line manager when designing apprenticeship programmes. The relationship between the learner and the manager is an important factor in determining success, and technology can strengthen that relationship by improving accessibility to the manager. Having an online portal, for example, where direct line managers can log in and frequently answer questions, or provide online learning resources, is an excellent way of ensuring a good level of communication. It means that the learner has access to their manager anytime, anywhere, and is not inhibited by physical proximity or formal contact hours.
This continual point of contact provides the manager with a better understanding of how an individual is progressing throughout the course, and can flag up issues such as if additional support is required. The entire assessment process has been thrown open to revision through the transition from apprenticeship frameworks to standards, as monthly visits from an assessor will become a thing of the past. One potential pitfall of this is that employers will not have as much monitoring data on apprentices showing what level of understanding they are at. Technology can provide a solution to this, by enabling employers to embed data checkpoints throughout the programme that can clearly demonstrate knowledge or engagement.
This means that employers can place less emphasis on end point assessment, and instead, utilise this data to assess their apprentices throughout the duration of the course. Formative and diagnostic assessment, as opposed to summative, can provide a much more accurate reflection of understanding. Ultimately, this benefits the employer too, because they will gain assurance that this understanding is embedded at a deeper level, and that positive results are not simply a fluke or a result of short term ‘swotting up’.
Technology plays an integral part in the successful delivery of an apprenticeship programme. A blended learning approach provides a better learning experience for the apprentice, prepares them more for employment, creates a stronger relationship with the direct line manager, and produces a more reliable set of performance analytics. Therefore, not only does it secure greater course engagement from the apprentice, but at every level, the learning process is better.
Alex Ball is the Commercial Director at Capita Apprenticeships, one of the UK’s largest apprenticeship providers.