From education to employment

Learners love you then leave you? 
Retention is critical and understanding your Learner Journey may be the answer

We work with private training providers and colleges across the UK and see the same issues everywhere we go. Organisations invest in learner attraction as they fight for the mainstream and non-mainstream students for their programmes and frameworks. Learners join the College or provider and then anywhere from 5-35% of learners leave and don’t complete. Showing that retention of the learners isn’t working like it should be and something is wrong.

As a marketer by trade, I fully appreciate and support the need for high impact, attention grabbing engagement campaigns fit to the learner demographic you’re reaching – this is part of what we do. But, if you’re going all out to create something fantastic for attraction, make sure that the brand promise you’re making to learners is then delivered upon when they start programme. There is no point having a fancy marketing campaign that doesn’t reflect what happens for the duration of the qualification. When this happens learners, as is with customers if you’re mis-sold something in the supermarket, feel lied too, betrayed even and this ‘mis-alignment’ of expectation vs experience is often one of the primary reasons learners leave.

Our solution? Taking a closer look at the real learner journey the learners have on programme. Before you start creating your attraction campaigns you need to know the product and experience that you’re selling. Now, we know this may feel uncomfortable, the thought of selling to a learner or selling to an employer when we’re so used to calling it ‘engagement’ but knowing the product is more than just the framework structures and programmes you offer. It’s about the level of support, how it feels to be part of your organisation, what the relationship is like with the learner and Assessor/Tutor and in reality, how does this feel and come to life ‘on the ground’?

So what do we mean when we say Learner Journey? Well, everything from the moment a learner applies for a qualification to the day they complete their qualification and start or stay in employment. Every interaction they have with your admin team, Tutors, Assessors, Course Leaders or Learner Engagement Team represents part of their journey. We’re not trying to be idealistic, our love for the Learner Journey is driven by the want to give an excellent experience to the learner and support retention and progressions – so it’s commercial!

We want to know where the commercial pinch points are for your organisation when it comes to the Learner Journey. When do they leave? What stages or levels do they need to get past in order to hit the next funding stage, because after all we’re talking about income and if they learner is 16-18 and they leave you, they’re going somewhere else. The College down the road or larger provider are taking the funding you worked hard for. But if the learner has left you and had their eye turned, obviously you didn’t work hard enough!

But how do you look closer? We film, we survey, we interview and we get to know what it’s like to be a learner with you. The reality is often not what you expected or hoped for, but it probably is what you feared. You see, hear and feel the intangible aspects of being a learner and how they run alongside your processes. We look at how the learner goes through the processes you’ve created and then work with you to address if these processes, people and passions are all aligned to deliver a ‘positive, memorable, kick-ass’ learner experience – to use our language!

I challenge you to take some time to sit with your learners – ask them about themselves, they’ve lives and loves and get to know them. Often we find the relationships between learners and the provider are frayed and inconsistent and it takes more than processes and procedures to address this. Learners and Assessors/Tutors need to share stories and experiences so going back to basics, ditching the paperwork and having a chat and a cuppa is one small step in the right direction and could make all the difference to retention. Who knows what you might learn!

Kate Carney is managing director of Stitch Learning, specialists in learner and employee attraction, engagement and retention

Related Articles