From education to employment

Helping all learners survive, revive and thrive as a college student

Professor Amanda Kirby, CEO, Do-IT Solutions

Ahead of #WorldMentalHealthDay tomorrow (10 Oct), @ProfAmandaKirby looks at how to move away from categorisation or over-simplistic labeling, to provide a person-centered approach for each learner:

The ever-changing landscape of Covid-19 has brought new challenges in the way education is delivered and how students are coping at this time.

Each student comes with their strengths, motivation, and interests when starting at college or in an apprenticeship. Some learners may also need adjustments put in place to access the curriculum such as individuals with Dyslexia or Dyspraxia.

However, Covid-19 provides an extra dimension of complexity. For some, new challenges may have arisen such as for those recovering from Covid-19, needing to receive the training from home but lacking digital skills or access, or being concerned to attend face to face when a learner still need to shield because of underlying medical problems; or being a lone carer and needing to be around to ‘home-schooling’ if school shuts again.

Whereas some people may have coped in the past with some variability in their lives, the accumulation of demands may result in a tipping point and increase the risk also of mental ill-health. 

In these times of unpredictable ebb and flow, there is certainly a need to be resilient in order to cope and adapt to change. The challenge for all providers is in planning and targeting provision and delivering this in a timely manner. 

Thriving and not just surviving! 

Nelson Mandela said:

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Survival in educational terms requires students to be able to participate and maintain minimal educational standards and hopefully to do more than just ‘get by’.

Mark Twain said:

“I never let schooling interfere with my education.”

Do you think he meant that ‘schooling’ referred to the need for in-person attendance?

What do we miss when we don’t have social interactions and connectivity with our fellow students and with staff?

Social interaction and micro-chatter can allow for informal learning opportunities outside the classroom. Is this important to truly thrive?

Online courses have been growing rapidly over the past 20 years or so. Open University, Udemy and Khan Academy are all good examples of different delivery approaches.

The benefits of flipped classroom approaches can allow learners to seek out answers from their surroundings as well as from online sources and present their findings back to the teacher or tutors in a number of formats. This is essentially where apprenticeships or work placements can have real value. 

Some students have gained a lot from remote working with some clear advantages to flexible studying and working. It can offer accessibility and flexibility to develop personalised ways of learning and presenting their skills.

One example of this is a student with Dyspraxia (also known as Developmental Coordination Disorder) and additional health-related challenges. They were now able to present their first paper at an international conference.

They would not have been able to attend the conference if it had been face-to-face as it would have been a challenge to travel with their reduced mobility, and the need to set up emergency response instructions (because of other medical problems) and to have a carer going with them.

Presenting from their home office meant they did not have the added stress of trying to ensure everything was accessible and they were able to take part in the same way as all other junior researchers.  

The playing field is certainly not flat as some learners’ have no support networks, digital skills, or tools and the lack of these may result in isolation and disenfranchisement further leading to lowered confidence. The picture is complex and there is an unequal impact of the virus.

For those who are individuals whose mental health was already poorer and more precarious, this is a really difficult time.

Another group potentially at great risk of drop out are young people starting apprenticeships or courses and within this group those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups. In addition are those who are also at risk of homelessness. 

In order for the new intake of apprentices and students to thrive there is a real need to build resilience and maintain their wellbeing. Resilience exists when the person uses “mental processes and behaviours in promoting personal assets and protecting self from the potential negative effects of stressors”.[1]

American psychologist, Martin Seligman, and is one of the fathers of positive psychology, developed the PERMA model as a framework to build resilience.

PERMA stands for:

  • Positive Emotion
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning, and
  • Accomplishments

The key to this approach is capitalising on strengths and building social support during adversity and interpersonal problem-solving. Wellbeing is never unidimensional but is a multifaceted construct composed of different elements relating to both physical and mental health, as well as other social determinants of health.

Understanding the patterns of cumulative adversity is important but also doing so has presented a challenge in how this is undertaken in a robust, accessible and consistent manner. 

How can colleges and apprenticeships support all learners? 

There is a real need now to provide a person-centered approach for each learner and move away from categorisation or over-simplistic labeling. The challenge has also been providing a means of doing this in an accessible manner especially when hundreds of students can start a course all on the same day. 

While there is good evidence for an example that one in six learners may be neurodivergent, and neurodiverse learners may have a higher prevalence of anxiety and depression, not all will be anxious or depressed. Group conclusions can never provide an individual picture.  

By colleges and apprenticeship providers having a rapid understanding of each learner’s needs this can result in better engagement and more targeted support and aid retention. Successful outcomes are also more likely in those who can develop resilience and manage in times of change. 

Do-IT Profiler is a web-based modular screening and assessment system that has been used by 10s of 1000s of students and apprentices. It not only screens for neurodiversity(capturing strengths and challenges) but also considers the learners’ study skills and wellbeing. It provides a person-centred framework and delivers instant personalised support.  

The following are two examples of forward-thinking organisations that have been using Profiler tools and their experiences of doing so:

aspiration logo   impact futures logo

Aspiration Training Ltd has been using the Profiler for nearly three years to identify the strengths and challenges of their learners and target individual support where challenges have been identified.   

Aspiration Training Ltd’s data illustrates the need for an individualised, person-centred approach screening to understand support needs that may otherwise be missed. 

  • 26% of learners were excluded from school 
  • 20% had been homeless 
  • 40% reported at least one Neurodevelopmental Disorder, with 33% reporting dyslexia 
  • 26% reported at least one mental health condition. 

Impact Futures, The Child Care company can see the value of using Do-IT Profiler. 

Apprentices can immediately provide personalised guidance remotely which has been so useful especially in these difficult times.

They know on day 1 who are the 18% of learners that have additional learning needs and what helps each one of them. 

Elizabeth Beauchamp, Head of Operations for Aspiration Training Ltd says: 

“Aspiration Training has worked with Do-IT Profiler for nearly 3 years and can clearly see the benefits of using the system for our learners, in particular those with diverse learning needs.

“We specifically find that Do-IT Profiler supports individuals in finding strategies that directly support their learning and achievements in their apprenticeships, as well as more widely helping to build confidence in dealing with life’s challenges. “


Guy Helman, the CEO, Impact Futures, says: 

“We have found the tool invaluable for our teams so they get to know each learner from Day 1, and we can deliver training to meet the individual needs, remotely and directly.

“It has helped us to particularly get to know those with communication, wellbeing, or neurodivergent profiles and work to maximise their strengths.” 

If we are to support all learners in the next year or so we will have to understand that each person comes with a unique profile and we cannot assume there is a hierarchy of needs.

One person’s challenge may be the tipping point for them. As educators, we can offer to understand and support each learner and help them to become more resilient.

As Leo Buscaglia said: “Change is the end result of all true learning.”This will require each person to learn to manage inevitable change.

Only when we have done this we can say we have successful outcomes for each and every learner. 

Professor Amanda Kirby, CEO, Do-IT Solutions

1. Robertson, Ivan T.; Cooper, Cary L.; Sarkar, Mustafa; Curran, Thomas (2015-04-25). “Resilience training in the workplace from 2003 to 2014: A systematic review” (PDF). Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. 88 (3): 533–562. doi:10.1111/joop.12120ISSN 0963-1798

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