Heather Frankham, co-founder, Bud

Learning the lessons of lockdown 

Results of a research study looking at how the work-related training industry shifted to remote learning en masse during lockdown are being released by the @AELPUK and Bud Systems (@wearebud).  

The study, "Learning the lessons of lockdown" looked at the issues that quickly needed to be addressed and how it has brought about a speed of change towards digital transformation - something that could have easily taken some years more to implement. Furthermore, the research found that 95% of Independent Training Providers are now better prepared to respond and maintain delivery in the event of a second wave of lockdown. 

The study also finds that despite the challenging circumstances, the work-based training industry shifted to remote learning en masse, with many now seeing this as an important part of future business strategies  

Research by the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) amongst their membership base, commissioned by Bud Systems, creators of the Bud learning management platform, reveals how the industry has fared over the last six months - during and post lockdown[1]. It found that Independent Training Providers (ITPs) only achieved 27 per cent of their usual apprenticeship start volume in June and that 22 per cent of learners had a break in learning between March and June.  

As well as the educational and economic impact, the research looked into how well equipped the industry was to provide mass remote learning at speed. It found that Excel (16 per cent) and paper-based methods (13 per cent) were two of the most used tools for managing apprenticeships but they are prone to administrative errors and point to a worrying lack of data security and the ability to collaborate, share data and check KPIs. 21 per cent of providers also commented that they are uncertain they will have suitable compliance evidence from the lockdown period, which could further impact funding. 

With face to face communication eliminated from programme delivery during March – June, training providers had to quickly adapt to the remote delivery of learning resources. Under these challenging circumstances, some of the main problems encountered included adjusting the curriculum content (45 per cent), learners not having the correct equipment (37 per cent) and maintaining relations with learners (34 per cent). 

Hardware and network connectivity were two issues that arose from the research. Providers reported that a lack of equipment such as laptops was an issue for many of their learners. Although front line staff were given laptops and other equipment, many didn’t have access to a collaborative area highlighting the need for a cloud-based IT domain to be able to share information with other support staff and managers more easily.

Providers also came across some issues when making content accessible through smartphones. Delivering content through mobile first technology is something that will need to be addressed moving forward as Gen Z learners are true digital natives and expect to consume products and services at any time and in any place. 

Heather Frankham, co-founder, Bud comments:

“The economic impact of lockdown has hit providers in different ways depending on the sectors they provide training for and their capability to deliver remotely.  Most have seen drops in new and existing business impacting income, but our research also highlights the resilience and adaptability of the sector.  

"Changes that would normally take years were implemented in weeks and it’s encouraging that many are seeing positive impacts on their business as a result of these changes that they will integrate into routine practice in a new normal post Covid.” 

With the initial hurdles overcome and providers largely up and running remotely, the research also revealed some positive outcomes. A huge 79 per cent of providers said thatthe changes they made may improve their overall offer in the long term. 38 per cent reported that the quality of delivery has improved, 28 per cent reported that data capture is improved and 73 per cent say cost effectiveness of delivery is improved. 

“An overwhelming majority of providers responded positively about the changes and we are hearing that many are re-engineering their approach to embrace a long-term digital future. Another positive aspect of the research is that provider’s whose apprenticeship delivery was managed by Bud only saw a break in learning rate of 7 per cent. This highlights the positive impact our technology has on learner progress,” concludes Frankham. 

“AELP’s main purpose is to lobby for government funded skills and employment programmes that increase work force productivity and improve social mobility. Research like this is important because it provides a snapshot of sentiment and industry challenges and allows ITPs to compare and contrast their own experience with that of their peers. In general, the research shows that lockdown has increased the speed of change, increased receptivity to digital transformation and brought about developments that could have easily taken some years more to implement.” Paul Warner, Director of Research and Development, AELP  

Will Silverwood, a digital transformation director, comments:

“The training and development industry has slowly been moving toward a digital future for some time. However, when lockdown made digital learning a necessity, Bud’s research with the AELP tells us that providers were perhaps not as prepared for going digital as some may have thought. However, since then many have been pleasantly surprised at how it has allowed their business processes to run.

"The remote nature of both staff and learners needn’t mean a lack of control; a good learning management platform can help you to visualise the workflow and engage effectively with both learners and managers. The key to moving towards a long-term digital future is to keep agile, listen, learn, test, look at the data and build roadmaps. This will be the core of the change that will continue. And with a good management platform, staff can focus on the less engaged cohort.”  

[1] Research conducted by Bud and the AELP involving 72 learning providers during July and August 2020.

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