Thursday, 22 May 2008

My presentation at BILD event – using technologies to meet learners needs (health warning!)

Last week I presented at a British Institute for Learning & Development (BILD) event in London on harnessing technology (

My presentation was on the Ufi learndirect story. It discussed how learndirect’s learning and technology offer has changed and innovated since 1998. The changing offer depended on two main factors – how our learners use technology and the UK Government’s skills agenda.

Now rest assured that I could think of nothing worse than writing a propaganda blog about my own company (I always try to give an objective view based on the evidence).

HOWEVER, the feedback from delegates was that they (genuinely!) found the presentation informative and thought provoking. Delegates said that the majority of best practice on elearning and technology came from universities, colleges and small providers so it was refreshing to hear about what has worked (or not worked) from the world’s largest elearning company (….outside China). So he’s my take of the 5 stages of learndirect (I used the above timeline as the basis of the presentation).

Background: The concept of learndirect was the result of a Policy think tank (the IPPR) paper into skills. Ufi learndirect was formed in 1998 (started operating in 2000) with a mission to improve the skills and employability of the UK workforce via technology (particularly focused on lower skilled learners). learndirect has 250,000 learners a year, 770 learning centres, 600 online courses and 85% brand recognition. Our learners undertake 10 million hours worth of online learning a year.

2000 – short courses launched
The offer: Around 1000 short courses were launched via a Learner Management System (LMS), alongside mass marketing.

What was innovative? The mass scale in terms of courses, numbers and LMS! (the LMS has 99.8% uptime). To the thousands of people that had a bad experience of a formal classroom, elearning gave them back their confidence. They could learn in an informal atmosphere at their own pace and at any time.

Learndirect was ahead of the game via online learning. Remember that in 1999 only 1 in 10 of the population was online, only 7% of Board directors saw the web as strategically important and the web was the preserve of young, rich and male.

2003 – Skills for Life offer (there are millions of adults in the UK without the literacy and numeracy skills expected of a 16 year old).
The offer: Everyone said that Skills for Life could not be delivered online (plus that eAssessment would not work). Learndirect now delivers 58,000 Skills for Life Tests a year and is the largest provider in the UK with high quality ratings.

What was innovative? The learner journey was innovative from:
Engagement: mass engagement of hard to reach learners via innovative campaigns for the first time in the UK
Initial Assessment: sophisticated diagnostic tools that identifies exactly what the learner needs to learn (the learner would not have to sit through a whole College term, but would just learn the areas he/she needs). This is real personalised learning.
Elearning content: learndirect hires the best experts to write the content (much like Harvard or Oxford compete to hire the best academics, learndirect can tap the best of breed experts out there). The courses uses the best instructional design.
Esupport: tutors are available for 1-2-1 support (it is essentially like having your own tutor)
Test: robust online testing on a mass scale

All this was via a Learner Management System that coped with 250,000 to 500,000 learners a year, that very very rarely broke and could collect a massive amount of data per learner to fulfil the UK Government’s audit requirements.

2006 – Employer offer around Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and short courses
The offer: Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and short courses. NVQs would require a new skill from learndirect as they require assessment of work based competence. More businesses were online by 2006, but many did (and do) not know about elearning (more about that in a future blog!).

What was innovative: The standard areas of the learner journey are similar to Skills for Life, but the Initial Assessment is a “smarter” profiler and course builder and the assessment is a mix of ePortfolio’s and real people (Assessors!)

The benefit of this innovation is that Ufi learndirect has busted the myth that NVQs could not be delivered online (learndirect now delivers 6000/7000 NVQs a year). However, there is much more work to be done on improving the ePortfolio and on the interaction between the web and the Assessor.

2008 – Employability (the skills required to help you get a job or to get a better job)
I won’t go through the whole story here, but just to say that learndirect has added mobile learning and games based learning to the employability offer. The world is so different to that of 1999 – this has made the innovation possible. Now 64% of the population are online (90% are online via broadband), and many lower skilled learners are online.

The future – web 2.0
During my presentation, I spoke about how people were learning via the web. Now many learners are now creating, owning and sharing their own content. They want to network and collaborate and want personalised learning. A one size fits all model no longer works (does the teacher always know best now?). We discussed my iGoogle Homepage - see blog
- and how this sort of behaviour would change learners expectations now and in the future. I also discussed some of the areas that Ufi learndirect were working on – the flavour of things to come.
This includes more online, virtual learning, resources (not just courses), vibrant communities, expert content mixed with self generated content. All exciting stuff for the future. Though I can write the words, these things only come alive when you hear me speak with passion and excitement about web 2.0 and uses for learning!

Anyway, I’ve now written the blog I never wanted to write!! I found it boring to write (as it’s all second nature), but I know many of you wanted to know the learndirect story and how we have continually strived to use new technologies to help learners learn. If you would like more info or demo’s, please email me.

After the presentation, there was a really good question and answer session. One of the questions was “what research evidence do you have that learners want web 2.0 to help them learn”. That’s for my next blog!

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