Friday, 15 June 2018

Digital apprenticeships - a brief Q&A

A little CPD was in order to acquire some current insights about the changes made in UK apprenticeships.  The Blended Learning Essentials suite of courses has once again come handy for this through their fourth instalment; Digitally-Enriched Apprenticeships.

I've focused on some parts that interested me, however slightly different this time.  The content prompted me to construct this post as a brief Q&A where I answer my own questions which helped me to reaffirm some particular aspects of the course.

How can apprenticeship programmes make use of digital methods that have a natural fit of what apprentices are expected to do?

This prompted me to recall a chat I had with James Clay when asked about my experiences of when I delivered a digital apprenticeship:

James Clay - "What are the issues you have identified in embedding technology in supporting apprenticeships?"

Me - "An issue I have identified is trying to use appropriate tech that minimises learner interruption in their work."

Me - "Yes, but WBL is about doing real work and acquiring industry knowledge, skills and experience."

James Clay - "Can we provide a total digital experience for all apprentices to enhance and support them? Should we?"

Me - "Yes we can/should use a wide range of blended and flipped approaches, to give more time to get work experience."

James Clay - "What are the opportunities to exploit technology to deliver high-quality apprenticeships more effectively?"

Me - "Identifying on, off and near the job learning first then deciding suitable tech. More -"

The message I was getting across here was enabling more time for apprentices to get more work experience and evidence.  Yes they will need to have off-the-job training on various things, but ultimately apprentices have have pursued an apprenticeship to get that industry experience.  Tangible evidence should then derive from all of the work activities, not making the process more complicated.  Digital technology should be used intelligently to wrap around this process to make it more effective.  As a result, digital technology should help motivate learning, prepare apprentices for a digital workplace and improve the learning, assessment and quality assurance processes for apprentice, employer and training provider.

That said, it is still highly important that the practitioner puts in a lot of effort in analysing what their apprentice's need and how they will respond to this that satisfies the End Point Assessment (EPA) and other related processes.

The 'Future Apprenticeships Toolkit, section 10: Curriculum Design’ suggests the following three issues for consideration;

  • Making sure that the early stages of a programme are sufficiently engaging to retain apprentices through into end point assessment
  • Finding innovative, effective and contextualised ways of meeting minimum Maths and English requirements
  • Integrating technology, or using distance learning to support achievement.

How can these be addressed through creative use of digital technology?

As mentioned above, I feel all of this comes down to putting quite a lot of effort into knowing who your apprentices are and what they need and understanding the work industry and the programme.  Yes some apprentices will have more needs than others, however, if you can tailor the apprenticeship programme to what their needs are, whilst including industry needs (workplace context), you will have a better idea on how and where the above can be integrated.

To sum up, the apprentice wants to get work experience and knowledge of that particular job role or within that industry area.  If you can emphasise this as the forefront of the apprenticeship programme, that will gain attention/appeal.  Then it requires the apprentice to be committed and motivated to be successful, with facilitated support.  I feel it's also about scaffolding an apprentices development throughout the programme and helping them to achieve and exploit their potential.  That should be enough to retain engagement to completion, unless the apprentice has an opportunity to obtain a job at the end of the programme, then that should be a great anchor.

It's been a while since I line managed, trained and assessed the Digital Learning Design apprentices, which became my brainchild when I worked at an FE college.  When I was assessing Digital Learning Design apprentices, I used an holistic approach to structure the programmes more effectively - which I talked about here.  You can see parts of the assessment plan in this video of my presentation slides.

What is an EPA and how can digital technology help make the process easier for all stakeholders?

The EPA is a the final assessment (summative) in the apprenticeship programme.  This is delivered by an independent registered apprentice organisation.  The EPA aims to demonstrate an apprentice's job and work readiness in terms of their knowledge, skills and behaviour.  Ensuring readiness and preparing for submission for the EPA is a key issue of the apprenticeship programme.  The employer and training provider decide whether an apprentice is ready to submit their EPA.  As part of that readiness, an apprentice must achieved all required qualifications and gained all required competencies of their apprenticeship standard.  An ePortfolio containing on-programme assessments (formative) evidence of work practices and reflections etc can show readiness for EPA.  The ePortfolio does not form part of the EPA, it is only to be used to demonstrate that the apprentice is ready to submit an EPA.  The EPA can include the following assessment methods, all of which can be made digital: MCQs; interviews; observations; presentations; journal; ePortfolio.  However, these assessment methods should relate to the type of work the apprentice is doing in the workplace.

Digital technology can be used seamlessly here, if all stakeholders involved are clear on the process and know how to access and use it.  For example, a good Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) or ePortfolio system that has the capability to upload evidence, create/support learning activities and allows collaboration and tracking of documentation and being made visible.

As part of the new Apprenticeship Standard, apprentices need to be competent across specified knowledge, skills and behaviours.  How can assessors clarify the difference between knowledge, skills and behaviours?

In the context of workplace learning, they mean:

  • Knowledge - workplace/industry information and technical know-how
  • Skills - applying workplace/industry knowledge and doing it effectively
  • Behaviours - mind sets and approaches required for competence, including interpersonal skills and professionalism

Like when assessing you could approach this in a similar way.  Within the Apprenticeship Standards, you could look for the following to help you set them apart:

  • Knowledge - look for facts/information verbs; understand, explain, describe
  • Skills - look for doing/performance verbs; create, plan, prepare, produce
  • Behaviour - look for act/responsibilities verbs; conduct, respond, demonstrate, take lead

Other than a standard eILP, how can apprentices demonstrate where they are to where they will be once completing an apprenticeship?

An eILP is an electronic Individual Learning Plan that details a learner's starting point and where they are heading to, including milestones and support needs.  I encouraged my apprentices to create a blog and document their learning and thoughts throughout their programme.  This ranged from good practices they found, models and how they could be applied and techniques they had learned for using software and so forth.  Alongside this I used appraisals and a professional development plan to align their professional goals and training.  Having seen their blogs, it also gave me an insight into what they were thinking, obstacles they are experiencing and how they viewed their job roles.  I was able to tactfully bring these up in one to ones which scaffolded their development and allowed me to introduce resources and strategies for them to be more employable once they had completed.

What other creative ways can training providers deliver the 20% off-the-job training?
Typically, an apprentice may spend 80% of their time in the workplace and 20% of their time doing off-the-job training.  This can be in the form of day release with the training provider or training provided by the employer, via face-to-face, blended or online.  Blended learning is encouraged as it is not permitted for all off-the-job training to be delivered via distance learning.
However, I strongly advise using what is already out there and contextualise it to the apprentices needs and role.  We need to inspire and motivate apprentices to be independent and keep up to date and continuously improve themselves.  This comes back to being a modern professional learner/worker that I mentioned at the bottom of this post.  So why not set them tasks or signpost them to some online resources where they can use their time wisely on developing additional skills or improving existing ones in relation to their programme and role.  This will build their independence and develop their digital capabilities in the process.
How can you build a community of practice with apprentices and maintain it's momentum?
Discussions will start and die naturally.  So try not to force them too much.  Apprentices will most likely know when and who to ask for help, whether that be in the workplace or not.  Encourage apprentices to create an online community or one you have set up, or even ask them to cultivate their own Personal Learning Network - this could even form evidence somewhere.

Not only does it support building a network, but in a creative industry it allows people to share and build on others work through peer feedback.  Not everyone gets to see each others work in meetings or one to ones, so it helps make their work more visible - I used Yammer with my apprentices to do just this and I also used discussion forums as etivities.  Jisc did a case study on my practices 'Rethinking assessment of work-based learning'.