What we did:
WEA Scotland delivers adult learning to some of the most disadvantaged individuals and communities in Scotland. Prior to lockdown the vast majority of this learning was delivered face to face in community settings. Although the WEA did have a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), learning delivered via this mode was limited.
Within three months of lockdown, WEA Scotland transformed its service provision to become a virtual learning organisation with almost all of its provision accessible via ZOOM [a virtual classroom] or its virtual learning environment: CANVAS. Learning is also delivered via Facebook and other social media outlets and some programme areas established their own YouTube Channel. WEA Scotland has also been an advocate for digital access and successfully secured devices for a number of its learners who were suffering from digital poverty.
The degree and pace of change and the level of organisation adaptation has been incredible and ensured continuity of service and support for learners. New online learning material and assessments have been created, films and videos produced, online networking events organised with large amounts of this content being translated into different languages to enable access by New Scots.
Who we involved:
WEA Scotland works with numerous community partners and employers across Scotland, many of whom commission the WEA to deliver adult learning services to their clients. All partners have been consulted and involved in the changes to the delivery of learning to ensure the adapted provision would meet their learners needs.
The difference it made:
Vulnerable learners with multiple barriers to employment in local job centres across Scotland have been supplied with devices and data to continue to develop their employability skills.
Online language assessments have been developed in several languages that enable every new ESOL learner to be placed in the correct level of class.
Learners with significant physical and mental health issues have continued to maintain contact with their class groups through online art classes, walking groups, gardening and gaming.
Older adults and those in rural communities at risk of loneliness and isolation continue to be active and engaged with their learning peers through a programme of creative writing, art and history.
Personal assistants who provide care in peoples’ homes have been enabled to access Continued Professional Development (CPD) and support through an online events network.
Trade unions have been enabled to continue their staff training through online learning more cost effectively and flexibly than pre-lockdown.
Without the constraints of delivering in a set location, individuals and communities have access to a wider range of learning opportunities that can be delivered more flexibly.
What we will do differently in the future:
Prior to lockdown, there was a generally accepted view that virtual learning was not appropriate for many of the WEA's service users and that face to face learning was the optimal mode of delivery. This is clearly not the case. While face to face learning will rightly remain a significant part of the WEA's delivery portfolio, it is likely it will be part of a blended learning solution.
Far from being challenged and resistant to virtual delivery, many learners after some initial trepidation have indicated they prefer virtual learning. They enjoy the flexibility of choosing when and where to learn instead of a fixed class at a set time. They welcome the range of resources and materials that are available. In addition to the subject they are learning, they are also acquiring new digital skills that are enhancing their work and life opportunities.
For partners and those who commission the WEA's services, virtual learning provides a more flexible and cost effective means of achieving their objectives. This may enable them to extend their reach support more people and achieve better value for money.
From the WEA's perspective, we have achieved our five year virtual learning target in six months. This is a lesson for us in change management organisation ambition This will lead to a sustained transformational change in our education practice.