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Adult learners are returning to classrooms – but will further education ever be the same again?

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The education industry has changed dramatically over the past year; where adult learners previously enjoyed the structure of regular courses in a set location, they now have the opportunity to work from anywhere in the world, and pair their learning with work and life commitments.

While this shift comes with enormous benefits in the way of diversity and accessibility into further learning, changes to the course delivery model raise the new challenge of sustaining student engagement.

Those who would have previously benefitted from the environment of classroom, surrounded by tutors and fellow students, now have the isolation of working from home, and in many cases the ability to pick and choose when and how they consume course materials. This can prove difficult for many.

Previously there was more of a transactional relationship between provider and consumer in regard to education, but now the onus must fall upon the student to be self-driven, motivated and independent, and of course, for tutors and training providers this brings a distinct challenge. 

As educators, we all have a responsibility to adapt to the needs of our students; overall the pandemic has brought with it a huge opportunity for the digital learning sector, but this needs to be handled with care to ensure engagement and outcomes remain optimal.  

It’s undoubtedly cause for celebration for the industry that more adults are investing in their learning at Further Learning Group we’ve seen an 40% increase in student numbers over the past 18 months.  This rise has been prompted by redundancies, deferred university start dates and increased free time during lockdown.  The pandemic has been the catalyst for many to embark on dream careers or top up on their learning. But it has also required a marked change in how we on board, assess and communicate with our learners.

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To begin with, more needs to be done in the enrolment process to communicate with students the expected time commitment of learner-driven study. We’ve made significant changes to our application processes to ensure students are aware up front of exactly what will be required from them in order to succeed. Just as you won’t get any fitter by having a gym membership you don’t use, without proper dedication, students will find that they won’t progress, or achieve what they’d like to without dedication and commitment to their individual learning.   

And in terms of evaluation too, considerations must be made for those who have been disrupted by the conversion to home-learning, without undermining the quality and academic integrity of the course that they have undertaken. As a nation, the UK is famed for its high-quality education system, and this should be upheld in the new digital-first delivery model.

Working with accredited providers, such as Pearson, we’ve looked to create an evaluation standard that is reflective of the new ways of working, whilst maintaining the quality of the certification our students receive at the end of their studies. This is particularly important for vocational studies at British Academy of Photography and British Academy of Interior Design, to ensure our learners are prepared for the world of work.

Putting student needs front of mind, and ensuring they feel supported along their learning journey must be the cornerstone of everything the sector does as we adapt to hybrid learning, to continue to deliver world-leading education.  

David Willett is the CEO of Further Learning Group which includes British Academy of Interior Design, British Academy of Garden Design, British Academy of Photography, British Academy of Fashion Design and British Academy of Digital Marketing.  

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