How VLE technology can help realise the full potential of degree apprenticeships

D2L explains how VLEs can help support relationships between students, tutors and employers

First introduced in 2015, degree apprenticeships were hailed as a panacea for social mobility. A way of opening higher education up to students who were disengaged from the traditional academic system, their goal was to increase diversity among young people choosing to continue with their studies. As degree apprentices do not pay tuition fees and also receive a basic salary, in theory they are open to all.

At the same time, businesses were crying out for ‘workplace ready’ skills, complaining that graduates are often ill-equipped for a professional environment. With two equally compelling arguments it’s easy to see why the government sees degree apprenticeship schemes as a win-win for all. There are approximately 45 degree apprenticeships offered by UK universities currently, and that figure continues to rise.

But the rollout of degree apprenticeships hasn’t been without its critics. An article in The Independent claims that a huge proportion of people applying for degree apprenticeships are from white, advantaged backgrounds. Quoting research from the Office for Students (OfS) for the academic year 2016/17, it suggests that only 13% of those taking up degree apprenticeship places were from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, and that 87% of apprentices supported by the Degree Apprenticeship Development Fund (DADF) were white. This is clearly at odds with the original thinking behind their introduction.

While degree apprenticeships are seen as a route to securing a career path while gaining life skills – but without incurring huge debts – they can also be a daunting prospect as students are essentially juggling an academic and a professional life.

And while degree apprenticeships are seen as a route to securing a career path while gaining life skills – but without incurring huge debts – they can also be a daunting prospect as students are essentially juggling an academic and a professional life.

For some, there’s a perception that degree apprenticeships are harder than studying for a degree in isolation, as students split their time between the place of learning and the workplace. Understanding how and what students need to learn, how their progress is monitored and how they can benefit from a seamless learning and working experience can be a challenge.

This is where technology is helping to bridge the gap between the learning institution, the workplace and the student, ensuring that all parties feel connected and supported throughout the process.

Supporting the learner

As digital natives, today’s students expect a platform that completely supports their personal learning journey – from providing the materials and resources they need to complete assignments, to receiving ongoing feedback and having the facility to build a digital portfolio of work that will help them secure a job. With degree apprenticeships this also means being able to track progress both academically and professionally.

As digital natives, today’s students expect a platform that completely supports their personal learning journey.

Next-generation virtual learning environments (VLEs) provide a space for collaboration as well as supporting learning and ensuring that students feel part of university life. For students who split their time between university and their place of employment, these platforms enable them to feel as secure in their remote learning as they would in a classroom. They also provide vital and open lines of communication between the learner, the tutor and the employer.

Engaging the employer

Employers have, for some time, complained that students are leaving university without the right skills for the workplace. The 2018 Job Outlook Survey produced by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, for example, claims that 89.4% of students believe they are proficient enough in their professionalism and work ethic to enter the workplace, whereas only 42.5% of employers agree.

Skills are not just limited to the highly vocational careers of nursing, accountancy or software engineering either, but also those looking to pursue careers in digital, business and finance. Companies ranging from Warburtons to the BBC and BAE Systems have all launched degree apprenticeship programmes, prompted by the Apprenticeship Levy which requires all companies with a payroll of more than £3m to pledge 0.5% of their payroll costs to apprenticeship training. Mainly, they have been well received by employers.

Until degree apprenticeships become part of the DNA of an organisation’s training and recruitment strategy, work needs to be done to build relationships between the employer and the learning institution.

Until degree apprenticeships become part of the DNA of an organisation’s training and recruitment strategy however, work needs to be done to build relationships between the employer and the learning institution. The two have different ways of communicating, learning and reporting, but consistency is vital in order to benefit the apprentice.

VLE platforms that have been built with both educational institutions and corporates in mind can enable this consistency. They make it easy for employers to be hands-on in monitoring the progress of their apprentices both on their courses and in the workplace. All tasks and assignments are captured within the platform and employers can see how much apprentices are engaging with their academic studies.

They can also provide feedback on workplace progress directly to the apprentice and to tutors, flagging issues so they can be dealt with quickly by all three parties. Lastly, capturing this information means apprentices are automatically provided with evidence of learning and progress.

Empowering the learning institution

For teaching staff, the dual aspect of a degree apprenticeship also brings challenges. Many have used technology to deliver courses to students opting for distance or part-time learning. But with degree apprenticeships, there is also the added dimension of reporting back on progress to an employer. In many ways, the success of degree apprenticeship courses hinge on the quality of the relationship between tutor and employer. Their ability to communicate effectively has a huge impact on the apprentice.

In many ways, the success of degree apprenticeship courses hinge on the quality of the relationship between tutor and employer.

Technology can make this easy. By using a VLE, personal tutors can manage the tripartite relationship between themselves, their student and the employer via one platform. This can be done through assessments, continuous engagement, including video feedback, and monitoring and reporting on engagement levels – and by developing an understanding of the needs of the employer from the outset. All three parties can collaborate via the VLE to help the apprentice build the best possible e-portfolio of evidence-based work which can be used as they enter the workplace full-time.

In return, tutors have visibility over what is happening outside of the learning environment, receiving direct feedback from the employer and using that to inform and adapt how they support each student’s journey.

Having one VLE platform that can accommodate every type of learner journey, from traditional degrees to part-time, distance learning or graduate apprenticeships, is hugely efficient for the institution in terms of procurement and for the course leaders for usability.

For more information, visit https://www.d2l.com/en-eu/

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