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Archive for February, 2013

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 …….then, you’ll always get what you always got”. That was the favourite mantra of a consultant called Bernard Wright with whom I used to run leadership courses in the 1990’s.  Our aim was to try to get leaders to understand that the only way they could bring about effective change within their organisations , was to first of all look inwards and change their own behaviour.

It’s an expression I have often used since then, particularly when people are resisting change and respond to any proposed new initiative with those dreaded words “But we’ve always done it this way”. It’s something I also  think we all need to bear in mind when developing new programmes to upskill young adults (I hate the negative term “NEETs” so instead I am going to talk about GREETs (Getting ready for employment, education or training).

Many GREETs sadly have a very negative view about learning. Rightly or wrongly, they feel that the education system has failed them and they have lost the confidence in their own ability which is always an important first step on the learning path. So if we simply put these young people back into exactly the same environment as they experienced at school and “teach” them in the same way, we should hardly be surprised if we get exactly the same response and same result as occurred before – ie., non-engagement and failure.

Over the last few years, we have adopted a very different approach to skill development with the expectation that we will get a different outcome and have not been surprised by the very positive results we have obtained. We have shunned the traditional classroom in favour of technology – using eLearning to provide underpinning knowledge and a team of mentors and coaches who can provide 1:1 support. This team of “Learning Support Partners” can match the level and type of support to the individual learner rather than simply trying to provide a “one size fits all” solution for a class of students. What we find most satisfying is that we don’t just simply get great results – learners genuinely respond to this different approach and are far more motivated to succeed.

I am not for one minute suggesting that this is the only way to motivate GREETs, nor do I believe we get it absolutely right every time – we are always looking to improve and further enhance our approach and our methods. However, I am sure that by refusing to accept the norm and by looking to approach the issue of skill development in a different way, then we are not going to get what we always got. Bernard, I am sure, would have been proud of us!

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills

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1mountain

With those 5 words, Steve Jobs defined his vision for the iPod.  It is easy to see how such a vivid yet ultimately simple picture would have inspired his workforce. What I don’t know is to what extent Apple employees were involved in creating that vision or were simply told what it was.

I raise the question because recent research is showing that levels of employee engagement are falling, not just in the UK but in the whole of Western Europe and the USA. At MindLeaders, my previous company, we consistently obtained scores above 90% in surveys where we tested employee engagement. I believe that was partly because like Steve Jobs, we had a very clear vision of where we wanted to take the company. But more importantly,  that vision had not simply been articulated to our people, they had had the opportunity to help create it and to contribute significantly to the culture and values which underpinned that vision. It’s a philosophy and a strategy which we will duplicate within our new company, Creative Learning Partners, as it builds and develops over the coming months.

So in the light of the current heated arguments about reforms to the UK education system and the U-turn over the EBacc, the first thing I wondered was whether Michael Gove had a genuine vision for the system and more importantly, could he articulate it to all the stakeholders in a few inspiring words and had he involved them in its creation? I suspect that the answers to those 3 questions are “Maybe”, “No” and “No”. Mr Gove has set out a radical agenda which depending on your viewpoint is either the kick-start that a broken system requires, or a return to the class-based system of the 1950’s. What concerns me isn’t so much as to whether he is right or wrong but the fact that he would appear to have made no genuine attempt to involve practitioners in defining his vision for education. Whilst a Conservative Education Minister and the teaching unions are hardly likely to be bosom pals, there surely should be greater efforts to find some common ground.

Take for example, what to my mind are two  of the biggest problems we face in the UK – the deficiencies in basic maths and English skills in young adults and the huge disconnect between the needs of employers  and the skill base of potential employees.  Few people would argue about the depth of this crisis so is not possible to seek a common vision as to how we address this issue and then agree a comprehensive strategy to implement it? I would argue that currently all we are seeing is a series of piecemeal initiatives without a common thread and with only grudging support from those whose job it is to make them work.

So I worry about the proposed Traineeship programme due for implementation in September this year.  Potentially I think it is a hugely exciting development but where does it fit in to the overall plan (assuming that there is one!). Whilst I welcome the inclusion of a discussion period currently underway, the danger is that that this discussion will take place in isolation since few of us are party to where this initiative sits within the wider context of our education and skills system.

Sadly our Education system, like our other great institutions, will always to some extent be a political football, subject to the philosophies of the party in power. But that shouldn’t prevent us from being given the chance (if we wish) to buy into a shared vision. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t do that at the moment because I have no idea what that vision is. We can’t all be a Steve Jobs but we can all paint pictures and share them and our political masters should be doing so far more frequently.

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills

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k3902568

No, I’m not asking whether you have finally lost it, but whether you are participating in perhaps the most revolutionary innovation in education over the last 50 years.  “Flipping the Classroom” is a concept which arose from the incredible success of the Khan Academy.  Essentially, the concept is based on the fact that teachers are no longer the fountain of knowledge ( in fact recent surveys have shown that learners are much more likely to Google for information than to ask their teachers or their families).  If that is the case, then the traditional role of a teacher to impart knowledge, becomes  outdated and inefficient.  Again, traditionally, students have been expected to embed and apply their learning by doing “homework”.  But what happens if they get stuck and need additional support? With another recent survey showing that 9 out of 10 parents were unable to successfully complete a short primary school maths test,  that support is unlikely to come from the home.

So in “The Flipped Classroom” model, knowledge is delivered at home (via online eLearning, Khan Academy videos etc) and the classroom is used to provide additional support. The role of the teacher therefore changes from instructor to coach and mentor.

It all sounds great in theory, but does it work in practice? Well, in our experience the answer is an emphatic yes. Whilst The Flipped Classroom as a concept may only have hit the headlines in the last 12 months, at Creative Learning Partners, we have been pursuing an identical approach for the last 8 years, and doing so with great success. We specialise in delivering maths and English qualifications, previously as part of a Skills for Life Programme and more recently as Functional Skills. We use eLearning material to “teach” the underpinning knowledge and a nationwide network of Learning Support Partners  who provide additional support and mentoring, either face-to-face or online. All the interactions are recorded on an e-Portfolio so that we can monitor and track individual learner progress.

The results have been spectacular – pass rates over 90% and completion times significantly above the average.  Moreover, learners love the process. They can gain their knowledge in their own time and when they want to rather than having to attend a weekly class at the local college, and they know that support and advice is constantly available to them.

Improving the levels of literacy and numeracy in the UK has understandably become a very high priority for the government and we believe that our delivery solution is an important part of that process. Many of the learners with whom we work have had a negative experience of learning in their schools. But they find our approach, and particularly the use of interactive technology, more relevant and stimulating. We want to bring the fun back into learning and in doing so make it a fundamental part of people’s lives.

So we’ve flipped and we hope you will join us.

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012.

 

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