‘Technology gives the quietest student a voice’ and few would argue with Jerry Blumengarten, the American writer and education consultant who said this. But is it time for adult and community learning providers to use technology not just in class, but in the same way that businesses do to predict trends and respond accordingly?
At East Riding of Yorkshire Council, there has been a push in recent years to explore how the methods adopted by successful businesses might help enhance our adult and community learning offering.
The council provides learners aged 16 and above with individual support to help build confidence, promote wellbeing and develop skills to ultimately boost their career prospects. But with four sites dotted across the region, it was previously a challenge to deliver the right courses in the right areas, while making sure learners were getting maximum benefit from their studies.
By adopting three strategies from the corporate world, we have transformed the way we support learners and lifted the burden of administration from our staff.
1. Make life easy for the customer
Key to the success of the initiative has been to make it easier for learners to engage with us, achieved partly by moving our largely paper-based enrolment process online.
Before, it was expensive to produce and distribute paper course information and impossible to update or change anything without incurring further costs.
Now, potential learners simply log on and they are directed to the East Riding of Yorkshire website, where they can see details of the courses they are interested in alongside any additional, relevant information. They may also be shown similar courses that could interest them, a common approach taken by online retail outlets.
The process can be compared to buying a new computer online where potential customers might be directed to other relevant information such as details of compatible software, printers or support options, for example.
With more information available, and the option to contact the authority directly if necessary, learners get the help they need to choose the course which is right for them and the instant payment option increases the chances of them signing up straight away.
2. Use data well
In the corporate arena, data is scrutinised and used to make informed decisions. Moving from a paper-based to an electronic registration system has allowed us to analyse attendance data from each of our sites, which was not easily achievable before.
Falling attendance can be a sign that a learner might withdraw from a course, so to help identify and address issues they might be experiencing, staff use the tools available in our UNIT-e management information system to look at course attendance levels regularly for both individual learners, and across subject areas. It’s then possible to quickly spot gaps and intervene early to reduce the risk of withdrawal.
The ability to create a set of customisable reports to provide live data on everything from the number of enrolments to the latest qualification achievement rate allows managers to make informed and timely decisions.
3. Measure the impact
Drop-out rates have been reduced as a result of this initiative – during the 2016-17 academic year, retention was boosted by 4% points on the previous academic year and a 6%-point rise was achieved over a three-year period. Overall achievement rates also rose by 4% points in the same three-year period.
Being able to view the latest attendance figures, alongside learners’ achievement data, has helped us to focus on ensuring quality education is being delivered across the region.
Our key aim is to provide learners with the best possible experience, whilst helping them to gain new skills, confidence and achieve their goals – whether this is to find work or become more familiar with digital technology.
To succeed in business, there needs to be a tangible benefit to any action and a positive impact in the marketplace. It’s no different when you’re in the business of delivering learning opportunities.
Jayne Wilcock is Curriculum and Data Manager at East Riding of Yorkshire Council, which uses the UNIT-e management information system.
First published in Computer Weekly