There is a difference between learner support and learning support. Learner support relates to help the learner might need with any personal issues, and/or general advice and guidance such as financial support, transport or childcare. Learning support relates to the subject or qualification being taken, or help with English, maths, ICT and/or study skills. Think of learner support as anything that supports the learner, and learning support as anything that supports the learning process.

If you are a trainer or assessor, at some point you might have a learner requiring support for something. Some learners will have needs, barriers or challenges that may affect their attendance, progress and/or achievement. If you can ascertain these prior to your learners commencing, you should be able to refer them to someone that can help. However, other issues may occur during their time with you which you would need to manage. You would therefore need to plan a suitable course of action to help your learners, or refer them to an appropriate specialist or agency, to alleviate any impact upon their progress and learning.

When your learners commence, you should take the opportunity to explain the range of services and agencies that are available to assist with any specific learner or learning needs. Never feel you have to solve any learner problems yourself, and don't get personally involved, always remain professional. You will need to find out what is available internally within your organisation or where you could refer your learners externally. You may encounter learners with varying degrees of needs; therefore you should remain impartial, but sensitive.
Some learners may have specific learning difficulties relating to language and skill development, for example:
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – a disorder where learners have difficulty controlling their behaviour without medication or behavioural therapy.

  • autistic spectrum disorder/Asperger's syndrome – difficulty with social interaction and with abstract concepts
  • dyscalculia – difficulty with calculations or maths
  • dysgraphia – difficulty with handwriting
  • dyslexia – difficulty with processing written language
  • dyspraxia – poor motor co-ordination or clumsiness.

You will need to consider any particular requirements of your learners, to ensure they can all participate during sessions. Initial assessment would ensure your learners are able to take the subject; however, you (or the organisation) may need to make reasonable adjustments to adapt resources, delivery and assessment materials, equipment, or the environment to support them (as stated in the Equality Act 2010). If anything is adapted, make sure both you and your learners are familiar with the changes prior to use. You might need to check with your awarding organisation if your learners are working towards an accredited qualification.

It's important that you are aware of any situations in order to support your learners fully, both at the planning stage and throughout their programme of learning Sometimes, your learners may talk to you in confidence about their concerns. If you are unsure how to help, just ask your learners what you can do; they are best able to explain how you can help make their learning experience a positive one.

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Examples of potential needs and possible points of referral

Potential need resulting from:

Possible point of referral:

access to, or fear of using technology

learning resource centre, local library or internet café, specialist colleagues and/or other training programmes

alcohol or substance misuse

telephone helplines

relevant support agencies

childcare concerns

childcare agencies

death in the family

bereavement support agencies

emotional or psychological problems

health centres, general practitioners

Samaritans or other relevant professionals

English as a second or other language

interpreters, bilingual staff or other specialist colleagues

financial issues

banks, building societies

Citizens Advice Bureau

specialist colleagues with knowledge of funding, grants and loans

health concerns

health centres, general practitioners, hospitals

NHS Choices website

limited basic skills such as English and maths

specialist colleagues

online programmes

training centres

transport problems

public transport websites

Uncertainty as to which career path to take

specialist colleagues 

National Careers Service


Technological advances have made an enormous difference to learners who have particular needs, enabling them to access suitable learning opportunities. This is true for learners who have physical or sensory impairments, and also for those who have dyslexia or other learning difficulties. Technology can provide a means of access to learning for those who:

  • are blind or partially sighted
  • are deaf or have partial hearing
  • have a degenerative condition which is physically tiring
  • have difficulty in speaking
  • have difficulty with manipulation and fine motor control.

How effective the use of technology will be depends on the results of effective initial assessment. This should be followed up by regular reviews of learners' progress. Using technology also requires technicians and competent support staff to train both teachers and learners how to use it.

This text has been adapted from Gravells A The Award in Education and Training (2014) London Learning Matters SAGE Publications Ltd http://www.anngravells.co.uk/books/award.html

This article is copyright Ann Gravells.

The next article from Ann Gravells will be: Agreeing ground rules with learners

Ann Gravells is an author, creator of teacher training resources and an education consultant - she can be contacted via her website: www.anngravells.co.uk

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