Ben Sweetman, Business Development Director at QA

With the Conservatives using their recent election manifesto to reaffirm their pledge to create three million more apprenticeships for young people by 2020, the role of the education sector in helping to bridge the skills gap remains a talking point.

It's a challenging figure, and in order to reach it, providers must reconsider how they are delivering courses.

For many students, face-to-face contact makes up the vast majority of training  - and of course, time with teachers is a vital component of success.

Their expertise and guidance creates well-rounded and well-informed apprentices who are inspired and enthused.

But face-to-face teaching is limited. Students can end up losing valuable classroom time to the teaching of underpinning concepts, rather than practical elements that can't be done elsewhere. And the all-important application of knowledge, supported by independent and self-directed learning, is often best conducted away from the classroom.

So, the need for a blended learning experience, which provides a seamless learning experience, online and offline, is crucial. But how do we deliver it?

From our experience at QA - two issues are paramount:

1. Choose the right provider

When we began offering degree apprenticeships at QA, we found ourselves in this position - our delivery model had to change. We needed the best of both worlds - continuing the face-to-face training which has served us so well, but combining it with a digital learning experience. We designed a new model to enable self-directed study and actively encourage the application of practical skills in the workplace.

Underpinning concepts and independently driven tasks are now delivered online, freeing up class time for activities that allow deeper exploration of content. We knew that the key to ensuring success in our degree apprenticeships is to facilitate active learning, and in this model, we enjoy a greater focus on students' application of conceptual knowledge rather than factual recall.

But making this change isn’t easy - and it’s crucial that if you’re undertaking a similar process, that you have full confidence in the provider of your digital technology. We needed our tech - in this case a VLE from Canvas - to deliver content on any device, at any time. We needed to ask those tricky questions about uptime, reliability and user experience before we signed on the dotted line.

Ultimately, choosing the right provider is make or break in ensuring you’re meeting the needs of tech-savvy students - who demands a great user experience across platforms and the complete flexibility to access materials whenever and however suits.

2. Measure the right things

Moving to a blended learning environment means that your assessment possibilities expand exponentially. Used in the correct way, the data gathered in online learning can help educators understand students’ learning behaviours, which courses are being consumed - and where students are excelling or struggling.

Harnessing data allows teachers to personalise learning journeys and demonstrate added value. They can take a more indepth look at progress; assessing learning gain - rather than static end of course measurement - and intervene much more quickly.

But, it is also necessary to fundamentally reevaluate the way that we measure progress. Instead of standardised tests, which measure the ability to absorb and regurgitate rote materials, ongoing assessment must appraise research skills, applied knowledge and practical ability - vital in paving the way for employment and beyond.

So really, tech success is reliant on getting the basics right on your journey to delivering better teaching, to more people. But crucially - we’d tell any apprenticeship provider to have confidence in making this change.

Rather than a race to catch up with a mandate, or to address funding levels, this is a positive opportunity - to better fuel the workforce with more skilled employees, bolstering industry and helping boost economic gain.

Ben Sweetman, Business Development Director at QA

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