I came across the book 'The Best Vocational Trainer's Guide' by Hilary Read and Ann Gravells before Christmas which couldn't have come at a better time! I was feeling that our internal and external Level 3 and 4 Digital Learning Design apprenticeship programmes needed to be improved dramatically in the way learning is delivered and assessed. I've talked about some improvements previously, but little had been done to change these. I was drawn to this book as it appeared to answer some frustrations I had been asking my self over and over. I have the complex role of being a line manager, trainer and assessor, so I am both employer and provider. Below are some findings from the book I have picked out at this current time and adapted to my context to get started on improving some problematic and frustrating areas I am experiencing.
Re-design of learning
On the job - learners learn in their job role and can directly achieve qualification criteria. This is what needs to be increased as some elements are run as a traditional course.
Off the job - where the trainer trains aspects to learners to learn outside of their job and then apply it. Work Based Learning should be about naturally occurring evidence so qualification units should be assessed holistically to reflect the diversity of the job. I could make some activities online through a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment), delegate research tasks in the organisation or get the learner to include in their professional development plan.
Near the job - the trainer trains aspects to learners through a one to one situation alongside their job. This could be improved by the Level 4's mentoring the Level 3's through better coaching and progress updates in their meetings.
Reflecting back, these three aspects are highly important at the beginning of an apprenticeship so that I can identify what a learner can do on the job and off the job and more importantly extend their learning, not just achieve criteria but learn and develop new skills in their industry.
In one to ones I need to write better and more SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound) objectives but more emphasis on knowledge first then agreeing on performance based ones after knowledge has been achieved; knowledge > understanding > skills. I need to be more precise with coaching our Level 4's too. I meet with them every two weeks for updates but writing better SMART objectives and giving actions in meetings and recording via minutes should make this a better process. For example, our Level 4's need to mentor the Level 3’s more effectively by giving advice, guidance, support and helping tem reflect on their tasks. I could plan coaching sessions in advance and using challenging objectives at each stage using Bloom's taxonomy; what they can do (in terms of their job role), provide feedback on progress and performance to make SMART objectives. They also need to reflect on their own performance in terms of the job role and how well they are carrying it out. The GROW model is particularly useful for this activity which I can take into meetings with me as a guide.
Re-planning of assessing
Currently I feel we are assessing too rigidly with what looks like a course on the side where learners create more evidence rather than naturally occurring from their duties, then submitting via their ePortfolio. Through group and one to one meetings I am now going to issue structured projects and research assignments by clearly stating what should be known first then building up to what they should be able to do. Through better SMART objectives I can enable learners to acquire knowledge, understanding and skills but with adequate space to practise over time. This will then give room for learners to gain the expertise and competence they need to fulfil their duties effectively. Externally, I can work with the employer (line manager) to devise workplace projects where needed and I can draw criteria towards them and construct SMART objectives for them to achieve.
The major thing I have realised internally is that the curriculum is the job description not the qualification. The job is what needs to be learned and done effectively – the business/organisation objectives. So I plan to review our internal Level 3 and 4 job descriptions, then arranging a workshop with them and myself present to identify in a colour coded scheme of what units and criteria are covered in their job role as they know their job best, then I can add appropriate assessment methods to check competence of them. This then maps their assessment holistically then I can carry out one to ones in accordance to their job knowledge and skills and using SMART objectives to increase their performance and development. Any criteria that are not identified during this exercise will be declared as off the job learning. This exercise is equally effective with our external apprentices in which I intend conduct with them.
I'll be referring back to this book in the near future to read further on improving my planning and practice for our apprenticeship programmes, but for now this is a great start! I'll continue to update on my progress in implementing these changes.