Apprenticeships, employers, providers…

…what is the connection with technology and why should we care?

Well according to those enforcing government policy, not much and going by the services being meted out by high level consultations, such as with area reviews, even less. But for the learning providers on the ground it ought to be essential although there appears to be a severe shortage of impartial and up to date advice should they need it and unfortunately, many still do. For whilst there is much talk about FELTAG and online or blended learning there is precious little about ‘managing’ apprenticeships using technology which also addresses  teaching, learning and assessment, for the workplace.

So what’s new? Well nothing really except that as if delivering apprenticeships efficiently and to the highest possible standard wasn’t challenging enough, along comes an employer levy. Guess what? the employer will soon get to choose who will provide the training and if the learning providers that don’t already have a learner management system which provides effective control such that informs the employer of their employee progress in real time  and on a mobile device. I would suggest they are on a hiding to nothing.

When reviewing an organisations capacity to ‘manage’ apprenticeships using technology, I always begin with an eAssessment portfolio at the core. ‘Oh not that old chestnut again‘ I can hear it from here, ‘everybody knows what one of those is’. Well I don’t think so and even the more ambiguous  surveys demonstrate that whatever providers have purchased, many are not used and therefore a waste of time and lost opportunity.

When it comes to managing apprentices in particular and for that matter, assessors and verifiers, the right ePortfolio is pivotal to the rest of the technology on site definitely not the other way around. Most MIS will integrate with the best of ePorfolios, if it doesn’t or in some instances won’t, then reconsider the MIS. Because I have long held the view that there are less than a handful of ePortfolios that are ‘fit for purpose’ anyway so why compromise on something so important? Just ask the hundreds of learning providers that have already  chosen wisely and now benefit from enhanced quality and cost savings.

But researcher beware who you ask because everybody and their granny claims to know which ones will do the job but not everyone would suggest which do not. Oh and if you are a learning provider that still uses paper based learner portfolios, you might as well pack up now.

Why today’s rant? Well unlike the past decade of guiding learning providers through the minefield of offers and barriers. Time to change is now very short and as a fully functioning  LMS with training and support built in that has been proven by hundreds of colleges and learning providers will cost no more than an add-on to the MIS or an adaptation of a Moodle that the company techie, is still perfecting. Why stay as you are when your actually going backwards. Talking of which:

Back in 2007 when Jisc Regional Support Centres were in their infancy, The Learning & Skills Council, funding agency of the day, advocated the need that RSCs employ advisers for Work Based Learning, in fact such was the need that the LSC had to fund the appointment of specialist WBL advisers to add to the eLearning advisers that made up the RSC teams across the country. And during the next seven years myself and counterparts in the dozen or so RSC’s across the UK, raised awareness of, demonstrated, discussed and advised on digital change in the WBL sector, including the all important ePortfolio. The emphasis being on identifying the best from others, staff development and strategy and I believe that the RSC/WBL specialists undoubtedly contributed to the several hundred learning providers that now use ePortfolios effectively, albeit less than half that number have them embedded across it’s organisation. a curiosity in itself.

So when I read the ‘e-Assessment survey’ commissioned by Jisc and published in January 2016, my first thought was that it’s as though none of that wealth of information had happened as it doesn’t say anything that other institutions and agencies didn’t already know several years ago and Jisc really should know better. In fact although Jisc states that it is specifically supporting colleges in implementing the plans of governments across the UK to transform the FE and skills landscape.  Well sadly not when it comes to those delivering apprenticeships which I believe is also pretty high in the government’s plans. Clearly demonstrated when looking up the technical resources that colleges undergoing area reviews are being directed to. For example:

Jisc guide to ePortfolios, published 1st September 2008, supposedly updated November 2012. Which would be bad enough were it not for using research from 1998, 2003, 2005, 2007. This is a guide to technology in 2016,  several thousand words which include the benefits of utilising e-portfolios in work based learning and potential issues. The ‘guide also anticipates the ‘future landscape of e-portfolios’.

One would be forgive for thinking that the benefits, issues and the ‘future landscape referred to in this so called ‘guide’ were already not fit for the work based learning sector some considerable time ago and certainly of little use to the college or learning provider, seeking help in making decisions today or even last year. Meanwhile, where does the learning provider go to for information to be better informed and prepare for further change?

Well why not ask the dozens of providers that have successfully embedded ePortfolio and more into their systems, most of whom are happy to share their experience. Why not look at the front page of a few of the LMS suppliers that have a current, proven track record and able to put into less than a hundred words or a three minute video precisely what an ePortfolio in 2016 can offer. Using terminology that every learning provider engaged in delivering apprenticeship and more, will recognise but none of which features in the aforementioned guide, perhaps because they didn’t exist in 2008, such as apps, the cloud, electronic signatures, online forms etc.  So how can it possibly be ‘a guide’ ?

For example, in no particular order and using BBC parlance ‘other ePortfolio suppliers are available


One File:



learning-assistant-banner jpg.ashxLearning Assistant:



SA_logoSmart Assessor:




Quals Direct


Further impartial, informed and up to date guidance may also be found in these pages of course, but we don’t just talk about it we advise on the essential strategy, staff development and support crucial to implement technology for work based learning and in particular show how to overcome the barriers that undoubtedly come with the territory based on our experience from 2005 and our knowledge up to 2016, not the other way around.

Is this a rant? yes it is. Is this an attack on certain institutions? Among others, of course. But as the subject may affect the effectiveness of colleges and providers and therefore the achievements of learners and the livelihood of staff, it’s too damned important to mince words. It would be hard enough for a provider looking to update their practices to turn things around with some of the very good advice out there, but almost impossible with the bad advice that is on offer.

So go ahead and challenge or drop us a line, at the very least we can put you in touch with people that know what they are actually talking about.

Colin Gallacher
Learning Technology Consultant


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