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Case Study: The learndirect ‘IT for Life’ Programme


Information TechnologySet up in 1998 with the remit to win over new and excluded learners and to inspire existing learners to further develop their skills, Ufi (the organisation responsible for learndirect) has now provided four million courses to over two million learners; Mike Ditchburn, Managing Director for bespoke e-Learning producers Bourne Training explains the challenges and achievements.

The challenge:
In recent months it became clear that the existing IT courses were not meeting the needs of Level one learners; learners who may lack confidence and have no basic IT skills. Courses often assumed a familiarity with computers and a literacy level higher than learners had attained and evidence illustrated high rates of non-completion.

learndirect needed to offer a blended portfolio of IT courses which gave learners the knowledge and skills they needed and, at the same time, gave them the opportunity to achieve a qualification. This was the starting point for developing the ‘IT for Life’ suite of courses which include:

  • Using a computer

  • Word processing

  • Electronic communication

  • Spreadsheets

An extensive training need analysis helped to establish the tutorial structure and fundamentally shaped the blended delivery approach, and targeted learners were employed to test the course during the development process. What became obvious was that learners needed to gain skills that were relevant to their situation. They had no desire to learn ICT for the sake of it. Equally, it became clear that they typically had no concept of how IT could relate to them and invariably lacked confidence in using a computer.

The action:
The ‘IT for Life’ courses are set in a familiar environment. Learners are engaged and guided by the Green family – characters who also want to improve their IT skills for everyday challenges. They provide an empathy with the learner to reassure them without interfering with the learning process.

Essentially, the courses follow an output-orientated structure. They focus on what the learner can do with the software, not on an arbitrary requirement to deliver the functionality of the application to satisfy the requirements of a qualifications syllabus.

Delivery of the content is task-based through a specifically designed methodology. The unique four stage process provides a logical, stepped approach:

1. Demonstration: Introduces functional application elements through output-based tasks. Each task consists of an animated demonstration and an interactive simulation to allow the learner to practice.
2. Reinforcement: Following a demonstration the learner is presented with a simulated task. Whilst the demonstration illustrates one method of achieving a task, reinforcement simulations allow the learner to practice through a range of different methods.
3. Assessment: Summative assessments delivered through multiple-choice, hotspot selection and simulations to assess the key skills and knowledge.
4. Consolidation: Exercises which enable the learner to apply their skills in the live application. Using a series of tutorial instructions with context-sensitive help, they are required to produce an output that is meaningful to them using the actual application.

The consolidation exercises provide the platform to assess the learner’s ability to translate the skills gained in a simulated environment into an output that is of real value to them. This is unique for courses at this level. Using the learndirect Learner Support Environment, assessment scores and learner progress is monitored by designated tutors. Additionally, the consolidation exercises are uploaded for tutor review which precedes discussions with the learners to review how they approached the exercises. This enables tutors to focus on whether learners are able to apply the skills rather than solely assessing whether they have learned the skills.

The result:
Although still in discussion with OCR, the awarding body for the New CLAiT qualifications, it is hoped that, as a result of completing a course and delivering the required outputs through the consolidation exercises, learners will automatically gain the relevant New CLAiT qualification units without the need to sit a separate examination.

An additional dimension to ‘IT for Life’ courses is the built-in accessibility features, making them available to learners with disabilities. These include an audio equivalent for all course elements, optional keyboard navigation and the facility for learners to change the text font size and the text and background colours from a selection of options.

The success of the ‘IT for Life’ courses has exceeded expectations. Since the launch of the first courses in January 2005 there have been 39,668 enrolments by 29,343 learners.

There has been a marked turnaround in perceived IT skills for those who have completed the courses. Independent research in May 2005, has confirmed that 83% of learners had no IT ability or only basic ability prior to taking a course, and 82% rated their IT ability as at least sufficient for most situations after completion.

Whilst the challenges for learndirect continue, the ‘IT for Life’ programme is testament to the essential role e-Learning can play in developing IT skills. It also clearly shows the importance of understanding the learner and developing materials to meet their specific needs – an exemplar of a measurable and effective blended learning.


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