Jayne Wilcock, curriculum and data manager at East Riding of Yorkshire Council, explains why adult and community learning providers need to think like businesses to ensure their provision enhances the opportunities available to learners.
Organisations in the private sector often turn to technology to help boost efficiency and gain business-critical information on which to base decisions being made. In my opinion, this approach is equally valuable when applied to the world of adult and community learning.
At East Riding of Yorkshire Council, we deliver an extensive range of teaching, learning and assessment opportunities to residents from the age of 16 onwards. Courses include individual support to help build confidence, promote wellbeing and improve learners’ career prospects.
Welcoming up to 1,000 individuals at any one time from four dedicated sites, we wanted to find a way for our learners to interact with the council in a seamless and straightforward way. So, we have taken inspiration from the commercial sector in changing the way we do things.
The first move was to shift our largely paper-based enrolments process online, a key advantage when potential learners are spread over a large geographical area. Learners can now browse course options, make enquiries, book and pay through the East Riding of Yorkshire Council website. What this also means is that we can now often engage with learners before they have even enrolled on their course, something which didn’t happen previously.
The technology links learners through to the website and our UNIT-e management information system (MIS) from Capita sits behind this. Alongside course information, they can find details such as financial support options and learning assistance available in the classroom. They could also check what qualifications and skills would help ensure they get the most from a Level 2 counselling course or read guidance on which computing course level would be most appropriate for them, to help them make their choice.
As an adult and community learning provider our aim is to be responsive to local need and so our course offerings can be updated frequently. It’s the same for a business responding to changing customers’ needs. Having an online portal offers the flexibility to make adjustments to your offering quickly and efficiently.
Moving from paper-based to electronic processes has enabled us to scrutinise attendance levels and spot high levels of absence and put measures in place earlier to support learners in completing their studies. This has helped us significantly reduce the number of learners who previously withdrew from their courses – we achieved a 6%-point rise in retention over a three-year period and our overall achievement rates also rose by 4% points in the same timescale.
By taking a commercial outlook, we have injected a fresh mind-set into the way we do things to fine-tune our provision, transform the way we support learners and reduce the burden of administration on our staff. The result is a better experience for our learners and more time for staff to do what they do best, teach.
Jayne Wilcock is curriculum and data manager at East Riding of Yorkshire Council.
The management information system used by the authority is UNIT-e from Capita’s further and higher education business.