Over the last few years, there have been many column inches, conference platforms and much academic brain matter devoted to the use of technology to drive forward performance in just about every commercial sector, not least work-based learning.
However, there remains a degree of uncertainty in our industry - and in some cases, I'd go as far as saying an aversion - to taking the advice on board. I still sometimes get the impression that not enough learning providers have fully got to grips with the challenge of harnessing the technology available to them to improve the efficiency of their delivery of qualifications.
To my mind, there are three key ways in which technology can have a positive impact:
1) Engage learners
The new generation of apprentices is not afraid of technology – quite the opposite as it is used extensively and plays an ever-increasing role in their day-to-day lives. It is our job to provide them with an innovative, interesting and stimulating learning environment in the work place; one that enables personalisation and flexibility.
Technology can help you enhance learner engagement. In the field, good e-learning resources allow for a higher level of self-directed learning, both in and out of the workplace, and also enable fast tracking of learning/verification. They reflect the shift away from class-based delivery and can significantly reduce the need for face-to-face delivery.
Effective use of forums, communities and social media will also instill into students a greater confidence to learn. They will be more engaged through communication with peers and sharing information, which improves the likelihood of retaining their interest to the end of their course.
2) Reduce duplication and error
The average error rate using traditional methods for seeking approval, registering apprentices and then tracking them through their programme was around 5%. The huge amount of information that the Skills Funding Agency and awarding organisations required made for a laborious back office data entry exercise for learning providers, which anyone with experience of such a job will tell you, could be very repetitive, time consuming and open to human error.
Technology now gives us the ability to electronically integrate the various aspects of Apprenticeship delivery. Single-click solutions are rapidly replacing the multiple transactions of the past, which greatly simplifies the task, removes the need for time-consuming duplication and increases your confidence in the accuracy and relevance of the information in your database. In particular, the ability to transfer data electronically between systems rather than duplicating entry is an important step forward.
3) Simplify assessment
An Apprenticeship can all too easily fall down if the assessment process fails to meet the needs of the learner. Gone are the days when anyone is prepared to wait weeks or months for results – the resources now available to learning providers make just about anything possible.
Continuous, timely assessment of each and every learner is vital for many reasons – from maintaining momentum and motivation through to highlighting and addressing problem areas. For the learning provider, employing technology correctly also gives you a transparent, instantaneous and easily understandable view of every learner's progress.
The ability to pinpoint on any given day the status of all of your learners, as well as collate data and statistics that underline your overall performance means you can speed up your decision-making processes to put you in the right place at the right time when funding comes on stream.
Technology really can drive us all to deliver innovative services that propel us towards our eventual goals. Organisations adopting an end-to-end approach to technological advancement, with a holistic business-wide focus rather than a narrow and disjointed development vision will win the day.
If you are in the latter rather than the former camp, this is the time to look again at your business model and to establish stronger links with partners who will be there for the long term.