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Online interview report: Helen Milner, University for Industry


Stephanie Phillips Hi Helen. Glad you could make it!

Helen Milner Helen Milner.

Joel Hammond-Turner Hello.

Stephanie Phillips Hi Helen. Did you see my previous message?

Helen Milner Hello - yes thanks.

David Booth Southwark College.

Stephanie Phillips Hi David. Helen and I are just discussing the format of today's interview. We'll be getting going in about 10 minute's time.

Helen Milner Hi David - we are just warming up here - checking the microphone is on etc.

Stephanie Phillips Helen - by the way, if you want to ask me something in private, you can double-click on my name and another window will appear for you to type in.

Helen Milner Thanks for that.

David Booth Hi, I'm a learndirect trainer/ assessor (or maybe learning support!) for Southwark College Training Zone who will be going live from January 3rd, 2001.

Tim Pickles Hello Helen - welcome to TrainingZone's workshop! I think we should wait until 1.00 before getting going seriously to allow others time to join in at the announced time.

Tim Pickles To anyone joining in - we're just waiting for the starting gun at 1.00 to get going!

Stephanie Phillips Okay, I make it about 1pm, so let's get going. Can I first of all welcome Helen Milner from the Ufi to TrainingZONE today for this online interview.

Helen Milner Hello everyone. Helen here and ready to get going.

Stephanie Phillips Thanks Helen for agreeing to do this interview in a slightly unusual way!

Helen Milner For me it is very unusual - in so much as I've never done an interview online before. I have been onto chat rooms and online conferences - so I guess it is similar.

Stephanie Phillips Could I start by asking you to briefly describe your role to us?

Helen Milner Yes, I'm the Director of Distributed Learning at Ufi. I am based in Sheffield and my team works in two broad areas - in the 9 English regions, and in Northern Ireland and Wales, working with hubs and learning centres. I also look after a range of support for those hubs and learning centres such as customer services, training, contracts, distribution, and learner support.

Tim Pickles Whilst Helen is composing her reply, perhaps everyone else could give a short synopsis of their role/interest in Ufi. My own interest has been as a freelance trainer for over 12 years - wondering how this new structure will impact on my work.

David Booth I am will be providing learning support at Southwark College when we go online from January, 2001. I am interested in the delivery of this wonderful new learning environment. But critical of the new learning materials.

Christine Noble I'm working towards grad membership of the CIPD - the syllabus in my diploma in HR development covers Ufi amongst many other things.

Chris Blunkell I work as a media relations advisor to the Civil Service College, now part of the Government's Centre for Management and Policy Studies. I'm interested in Ufi generally, and this forum specifically.

Stephanie Phillips Thanks David - I'm sure Helen will have something to add on that subject, which we'll be looking at later.

Tim Pickles Helen, what have been the main developments from the training providers point of view since Ufi "went live"?

Helen Milner Well Tim, Ufi began the roll out of development phase one in November 1999, phase two in May 2000, and since 30 October we have been operational with our partner deliverers or hubs paying for our element of the learndirect learning offer. A key question is whether or not training providers are involved with those hubs - as say learning centres, or indeed they may actually be running a hub.

Tim Pickles There has been some discussion about how easy/difficult it is for training providers to participate - what do you see as the main criteria for their involvement?

Helen Milner Ufi is organised for delivery around "hubs". These hubs are formed by a group of partners who represent learners from either a geographical or sectoral sphere/area. Training providers need to work out how they would like to be involved - most commonly as learning centres - and then approach either the hub directly, or for information about who and how to contact a local hub, contact the Ufi regional office for their area. The list of Ufi regional offices and contact numbers are on the Ufi website at (not to be confused with which is our learning products and services website and is learner facing).

Stephanie Phillips Thanks Helen. My next question relates to the audience for courses delivered through the learndirect brand - it seems to have a very wide remit, how can it manage to reach across the population as a whole?

Helen Milner Our target audience basically comprises all adult learners including those with basic numeracy and literacy needs, as well as small businesses. We have products designed to meet their specific needs and we are currently putting together marketing campaigns for next year to target these groups. Much of this work will be executed through partners or champions, for example the Basic Skills Agency and trade unions, as well as the Small Business Service and large accountancy firms. Those partners are very important as they will help target our reach to those different audiences.

Stephanie Phillips So are the key groups to target at this stage those with basic skills needs?

Tim Pickles Do you see the Ufi audience as primarily individual learners, or companies 'buying in' on behalf of their workforce? It strikes me that these two audiences require rather different approaches. I'm wondering if there are priorities between these audiences?

Helen Milner We have those three different groups: all adult learners - we often refer to these as "new learners" to indicate the additionality of learndirect; both companies and individuals from small and medium sized companies; as well as adults who need to improve their basic skills.

Stephanie Phillips Thanks.

Helen Milner Tim - on your question - our first thrust and our priority is for individuals. We also work with employers - and you are correct we do this in a different way to targeting individuals. However, the learndirect offer is an individualised one - that is, it is designed to work for the individual, whether their employer has encouraged (or even paid for the learning) or the individual is taking it themselves. Key elements of the offer - start when you're ready, take a break in the middle (due to child illness or work pressure), take small bites or larger chunks - this is all designed for the individual. Many employers are very interested in the personal development of their staff and in the learndirect way of learning for their staff.

Stephanie Phillips Helen, can you give us a brief idea of the content of courses that are available? I understand it's quite a range of topics?

Helen Milner The most popular area at the moment is in beginner ICT courses and internet courses (i.e. about the internet or world wide web). Also available in our portfolio are very short "bites", even as small as 15 minutes, on topics such as customer care, presentation skills, and "handling angry customers" - these all fit into the business and management part of the catalogue. In addition we have what we call technical sectors - Automotive, Multimedia (including a popular course in online tutoring), Retail and Distributive, and Environmental Services and Technology. We will also be expanding our range of ICT courses to those aimed at advanced skills and ICT Professionals.

Tim Pickles Let's open the discussion to other participants in this workshop to add comments or ask questions on points raised so far. (David beat me to it!!)

David Booth Helen - will the on-line tracking be in place in January - this is an important part of the service from the point of view of providers?

Helen Milner Online tracking is a two-pronged approach to enable the learning materials to "talk" to the learndirect system (the Managed Learning Environment). It is beginning to be in place now - the system software (on the learndirect system) was released on Monday (11th December). In the New Year the network will see materials being rolled out that have been commissioned, enhanced or adapted to integrate with this new software. Ufi is committed to continual improvement and this will be no exception. We have a number of advisory groups established with stakeholders and the Hub Consultative Group will form a major part of the feedback.

Tim Pickles A key element of learndirect's success will be its ability to interface with Individual Learning Accounts. What proportion of courses are "eligible" for ILA financial support - and are learners informed of this when they 'sign up' for a course?

Peter Trethewey I look after a mailing list of about 500 individuals with an interest in Ufi.

Stephanie Phillips Thanks Peter. Do you have any questions for Helen?

Peter Trethewey Will learndirect system 3 allow learning centres to dispense with the need for paper based enrolment forms?

Helen Milner ILAs will become increasingly important to learners to allow them to access additional funding to help pay for their learning. Since this is essentially a funding route for providers to apply on behalf of the eligible learners - the learners will be provided with information at the local level when they go for enrolling onto the course. For the 20% discount all learndirect courses are eligible, for the 80% all ICT courses are eligible.

Stephanie Phillips Can I quickly add that I have an ILA and it's been very useful in funding a journalism course for me so far!

Peter Trethewey Perhaps I'm being a little dense but was that an answer to my question about enrolment forms?

Tim Pickles Peter - there was an earlier question on ILAs - see link lower down the page to follow earlier transcript.

Stephanie Phillips Peter - do bear with us, as the responses can be a bit out-of-sync.

Helen Milner Peter - I think your question is around the link between the online enrolment which learners do on the learndirect system and the ISR (FEFC's Individual Learner Record needed for audit and funding draw down). Version 3 - just released yesterday - has the first part of the link between the learndirect system and the ISR available. This element is the output of data from the learndirect system which will interface with some MIS systems and therefore ISR. Version 4 will have the next element which is the input to ISR - V4 will be available in the Spring/Summer 2001. Paper forms are to be recommended for all recipient colleges, hubs and their centres until all of their hub partners know how to integrate the two systems for themselves locally. Colleges have many different types of MIS interfaces with the ISR.

Brenda Thomson Are there any plans to make the Hub management screens more user friendly by incorporating the facility to search by course codes when inputting prices etc?

Helen Milner Brenda - that is a detailed question which would come into our suite of general improvements to tools and navigation. I will need to feed that back into my colleagues and if it is not being addressed ensure that it is logged into our process for general suggestions for improvements.

Stephanie Phillips Thanks Brenda for your question. Helen, can you tell us briefly what the response has been like for the learndirect centres so far?

Mike Duggan Can I ask when well we have a final version? one that matches Ufi's promise to learning centres.

Stephanie Phillips Mike - that seems quite a specific question - it might be better to put this to Helen afterwards.

Christine Noble Also Helen, who tends to use learndirect centres - have you been successful in reaching your target audience (i.e. individuals as said earlier)?

Peter Trethewey Thank you Helen - a very helpful response on version 3. Why can't we have a sensible response like this live to the mailing list Ufi-lifelonglearning? This would avoid an enormous amount of confusion and mis-communication. Why have you and Ufi staff in general not been able to do this?

Stephanie Phillips Peter - if there are general issues on communication we're not going to be able to deal with them now, I'm afraid.

Helen Milner Stephanie - On evaluation and learning centres. Towards the end of our pilot phase we conducted evaluation with learners. Key findings included the fact that nine out of ten learners would recommend learndirect to a friend, the experience that learners were getting was found to be of a very high quality, and the flexibility of the offer (being able to start, stop and carry on when ever its suits you) was particularly popular. Between September and mid-October had received 750,000 web hits. The free helpline has now taken over 2 million calls and during the pilot phase (1 April to 15 October) course registrations reached 77,494. I think the experiences of the learndirect learning centres spoke for themselves over the pilot phase. For example a learndirect centre at Northallerton is helping local farmers to pick up ICT skills...a sheep farmer came in recently straight from lambing and learnt how to do spreadsheets so that he could track his sheep.

Stephanie Phillips Helen, thanks for that. Can you tell us a bit about the relationship between learndirect courses and the qualifications structure?

Helen Milner I wanted to add many other types of centres - I think this will also help answer Brenda's question too. Many, many individuals are dropping in and logging onto learndirect. The Harlow Online Learning Initiative (HOLI) has opened 9 learndirect centres across the town. These include the Harlow Sports and Leisure centre, Pitney Bowes, ITEC, an IT company, a co-op development agency, and the Rainbow Centre a family counseling organisation. Football fans in Bournemouth and Sunderland are getting into e-learning and IT skills by dropping into their local football club, where learndirect has on-line learning centres. At St Helen's, players from the famous Saints rugby club have signed up for some of the IT and business skills courses on offer at the club's learndirect centre and the list goes on...

Tim Pickles It seems that the Ufi systems are being refined all the time (as are TrainingZONE's !!) - are there particular places online where interested parties can visit to both communicate their questions and concerns and stay as informed as possible - the URL would be useful for the transcript of this workshop.

Mike Duggan Have you had any problems with faulty courses since you started?

Helen Milner Stephanie - On qualifications - we are working closely with the QCA and other major awarding bodies to ensure that learndirect courses can where possible help learners to get qualifications if they chose to. We are in the process of mapping learndirect courses to units (there may be more than one course per unit). Each unit will then be mapped onto as many qualifications as possible. The learner then will be able to chose which award suits them and the learning they want to undertake. If learners want their learning to result in a qualification, the learning centre will be able to guide them and help them to work this out. The learning centre will also conduct the formal assessment that may be required. A good example of this is a number of IT learndirect courses can result in the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) and many learners are choosing this route.

Peter Trethewey [email protected] - unfortunately unofficial but in support of the Ufi vision.

Stephanie Phillips Helen, we're getting to the end of the time slot we had for this session. Is there anything you'd like to add before we close?

Tim Pickles We're approaching the end of this workshop time and I would like to thank Helen for offering her time. The workshop transcripts are read by several hundred members after each event.

Helen Milner For those involved with Ufi - for example hubs and learning centres - we run a site called Partners' Page, which is passworded so that the thousands of partners see this as their site to help them to access weekly and up to date information. I will make sure you have the right URL for the transcript. Thanks for inviting me - this has been fun.

David Booth Helen - thanks very much, it has been 'interesting' and 'informative'.

Stephanie Phillips Helen - many thanks. If you don't have this with you we can add it to the transcript later.
Tim Pickles For everyone else, we're in discussion with various people to have speakers from Ufi, the new Learning and Skills Council, and government ministers at the Hands on Training event next June, which will be a further opportunity to ask questions in person.

Tim Pickles Thanks everyone. The full transcript should be published later today.

Stephanie Phillips Okay, let's finish the session. Many thanks again to Helen for coming along today.

Helen Milner Goodbye from me. I found this a very interesting session and thanks to all who contributed.

Stephanie Phillips Goodbye all.

Moderator To leave the workshop area, close this window.

Helen Milner For all those who want to access Partners' Page and are partners in a hub or are a learning centre then go to you need a password then please email [email protected].

Helen Milner I will really go now - bye.


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