E-learning to deliver safeguarding training
In this article, Sara Rawnsley, explores how adults learn, the advantages and potential challenges of e-⁠learning as an effective method for delivering safeguarding training to staff and how the SSS Learning teaching model enables senior leaders to be confident of their staff skills and knowledge development.
As a headteacher, I was often worried about how to ensure that all my staff had up-to-date knowledge and skills that matched our statutory requirements. As information gradually ceased to regularly come into schools by mail or email, this worry intensified. It became increasingly the responsibility of school leaders to seek out the latest guidance from the DfE (Department for Education) and other sources.
Our number one priority in schools is to keep children safe even before we even consider education, teaching and learning! Therefore, ensuring that your school has this information within an effective CPD programme for safeguarding is absolutely essential.
Safeguarding is everyone's responsibility within a school, and e-learning enables all staff to access the most relevant topics for each role. This then ensures there is a rolling programme of development and knowledge refreshers for all staff, all containing the latest guidance, which is tracked and documented centrally.
How do adults learn?
In order to select the most effective way of delivering safeguarding training it's important to understand how adults learn. Andragogy is the theory of adult learning. The word comes from the Greek andr, meaning man, and agogus, meaning leader. While pedagogy refers to the teaching of children, where the teacher is the focal point, andragogy shifts the focus from the teacher to the learner. Adults learn best when the focus is on them, and they have control over their learning.
Malcolm Shepherd Knowles (1913 - 1997) was an American educator well-known for the use of the term Andragogy. He is accredited with developing the following five principles of andragogy, which are assumptions that enable and lead adult learners to succeed.
- The learning is self-directed – Adult learners are usually mature and self-confident enough to know how they learn best, what their areas of strength and weakness are, and how to go about learning.
- The learning is experiential and utilises background knowledge – Adults gain experience as they grow that, in turn, becomes a valuable tool in learning.
- The learning is relevant to current roles – the learning enhances their skill and knowledge sets and will have a direct impact on their job.
- The instruction is problem-centred – Adults change their perspectives on learning as they grow, moving from procrastination to immediate application and from subject interest to problem-solving.
- The learners are motivated to learn – Adults move from extrinsic towards intrinsic motivation as they grow and mature.
Knowles offered six suggestions on how educators can put these assumptions into practice:
- Promote a positive classroom climate centred around cooperative learning. (Note: this is equally applicable to e-learning as it is to face-to-face environments);
- Research the interests and the needs of each adult learner;
- Create learning goals based on the interests and needs outlined above;
- Build on each subsequent activity to achieve the learning objectives;
- Co-create strategies, resources, and methods for instruction;
- Review each activity and make modifications where necessary, while continually evaluating the next steps for learning.
What is e-learning?
Over recent years, e-learning has grown to become a popular method of learning. Digital learning has become one of the most important ways people in the UK teach and learn new skills in the 2020s. While the social distancing measures brought about by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic certainly accelerated the growth of digital learning, recent technological advances and increasing connectivity were already making digital education more widespread. Between 2007 and 2019, for example, the percentage of people who said that they had taken an online course grew from 4% to 17%. The share of people using online learning material outside of a main course was even higher, with 21% of people in the UK advising that they had participated in this type of learning activity.
What are the advantages of e-learning?
E-learning can be done in short chunks of time that can fit around daily schedules. Unlike scheduled and in-house training, there is not a need to dedicate an entire day to the training that has been organised. Instead, there is a set amount of learning, normally divided into modules, so focus can be placed on the topics most appropriate to the learner's needs.
As e-learning can be accessed on laptops, tablets and phones it is a very mobile method. Learning can take place on the train, on a bus or any other time that could normally be wasted. Whilst it used to be confined to the classroom, our entire world can now be a classroom.
Due to the mobile nature of e-learning, it can be completed wherever a device can access it. Therefore, it can save money on the costs of travel, whereas external courses can sometimes only be sourced in locations far away from your school, which may incur the costs of travel as well as potential accommodation. E-Learning removes these costs completely.
Due to not using a trainer's time or any room /equipment, e-learning is invariably a much cheaper option. If you already have a device capable of carrying out the training on, then the savings can be considerable. With the ever-increasing budgetary pressures schools are facing, this mode of training can be the ideal option. Equally for schools which have a large number of staff, then it can reduce the training cost per head, making it much better value for money.
Tailored to you
E-learning courses are not confined to be fixed and to suit just the needs of the majority. They can be accessed in a bespoke way. If you feel you already know a particular area well and do not need to spend an hour on it again, then you can skim over it and concentrate that time on something you feel you need to work more at. Everyone can learn at their own pace, enhancing inclusivity with options for training to be accessed and delivered individually, in small groups or, if needed, as a whole group - a massive factor that only e-learning can provide.
E-learning is fast becoming the most popular method and with it, so has the investment into how to improve it further. The computer-based nature of training means new technology is being introduced all the time to help with learning. The ability to create stimulating and visually engaging training is helping to further reinforce learning whilst forums can be used to increase the amount of interaction and engagement between learners. This is only going to improve as time goes on as well.
Does an e-learning solution present any challenges and how can they be avoided?
Avoid the Lack of Control
Learners with low motivation may fall behind when using e-learning if they are not set time frames to complete it. It's essential to use an e-learning provider which offers a central tracking system to allocate and where the administrator can monitor training progress.
A varied Learning Approach
It is a challenge to make e-learning an enjoyable experience for all learning styles. Some learners prefer images; some prefer just reading words and some prefer to talk about or do a task to learn. Therefore, a good e-learning provider has to recognise this and incorporate a variety of visually stimulating and engaging learning activities, best supported with practical examples and case studies the learner can relate to.
Avoid the feeling of Isolation
A feeling of isolation may demotivate individuals if they feel they do not have access to support and reassurance. Having access to an online support system is an essential element of good e-learning - if a provider doesn't offer this then don't use them!
Avoid Technology Issues
With the heavy reliance on computers that e-learning brings, comes potential issues. Firstly, it's important to ensure that all learners have a device that can fully support the technical specification required to access the training modules. All accessibility requirements need to be in place at the beginning e.g., ensuring firewalls don't block access or poor internet connection. There's no way of predicting unavoidable random internet faults however, if you know internet access is poor, this needs to be planned around.
Supporting IT literacy
Some staff might not be as competent using computers, especially if their jobs do not require them to. Therefore, even if the software is user-friendly, the very idea of using the software may be daunting and demotivating for some. So, differentiate, identify those that may need more support and put measures in place to address needs. A good e-learning provider should offer the option to not only complete training individually but in presenter mode, where a group can work together. This means that they will still complete the training but have the advantage of group support.
How can e-learning emulate Knowles' andragogy principles and ensure that new skills and knowledge are learnt effectively?
In 2005, Professors Anderson and McCormick wrote A Common Framework for E-learning Quality and Ten Pedagogic Principles of E-Learning, describing an approach to the development of effective e-learning programs.
- Match to the curriculum – be matched with and aligned to the appropriate topic through clear objectives; the relevance of content covered; the appropriateness of the activities; and the nature of the assessment.
- Inclusion – support inclusive practice in terms of diverse types and ranges of achievement; physical disabilities that can be particularly supported by e-learning; different social and ethnic groups; and gender.
- Learner engagement – engage and motivate learners, evident in being both educational and motivating.
- Innovative approaches – be evident why learning technologies are being used. E-learning should be fit for purpose.
- Effective learning – demonstrate in a variety of ways; for example, by using a range of different approaches in the learning platform that will allow the learner to choose one that suits them.
- Formative assessment – provide opportunities to recap and summarise newly acquired knowledge whilst undergoing training.
- Summative assessment – must be valid and reliable requiring the member of staff to demonstrate what they have learnt.
- Coherence, consistency & transparency – the objectives, content, activities and assessment match to each other.
- Ease of use – technical difficulties should not detract away from the learning content.
- Cost-effectiveness – need to be justifiable and affordable and the costs sustainable.
What should you look for when choosing an e-learning provider?
Importantly, high quality e-learning should offer more than course content, it should also provide a fully supported service which should work well for course participants, the administrators who control service access and senior leaders who need to be able to track and monitor evidence of CPD progress.
Let's look at how e-learning through the SSS Learning service considers Knowles' six principles with the above principles in mind, to enable school leaders to be confident of their statutory compliance requirements:
- Promote a positive classroom climate centred around cooperative learning – This is equally applicable to e-learning as it is to face-to-face environments. The learning interface features 3D animation which brings to life the content created by safeguarding specialists producing a visually engaging training experience;
- Research the interests and the needs of each adult learner – All courses are in line with the latest statutory and non-statutory guidance, updated throughout the academic year, and can be allocated easily to specific staff tailored to their specific role, enabling the right training to be accessed flexibly by the staff it is most applicable and useful for.
- Create learning goals based on the interests and needs outlined above – each course is created and designed with clear learning goals to enhance skills and knowledge, making them both useful and informative for each staff member and their specific roles.
- Build on each subsequent activity to achieve the learning objectives – Courses are sequentially structured to scaffold learning, then further backed up by refresher courses and practical studies to enable staff to remind themselves of key learning objectives without having to undergo a full course again.
- Co-create strategies, resources, and methods for instruction – The online support structure enables SSS Learning to be fully reactive to the needs of customers and their suggestions or requests for specific content. This enables a proactive approach to new products.
- Review each activity and make modifications where necessary, while continually evaluating the next steps for learning – The provision of a visual presentation alongside course notes enables staff to check their learning against the learning objectives throughout each training course, which is then assessed at the end in an online summative assessment. Pass rate requirements are set at 100%. Why? Well simply, if questions are not answered correctly the knowledge is not sound. Ask yourself – what aspect of safeguarding is it okay not to know or understand?
Likewise, SSS learning e-learning courses meet all of the Ten Pedagogic Principles of E-Learning as its e-learning training courses are:
- matched to current statutory legislation and guidance;
- designed for inclusivity of access;
- engaging, stimulating and motivating;
- created using innovative 3D graphics;
- creating effective learning by addressing a variety of learning styles;
- assessing newly acquired knowledge both formatively and summatively;
- coherent, consistent and transparent in their structure and format;
- Easy to access and use;
- tracked and audited, providing automatic alerts when update refresher training should be undertaken for each individual member of staff;
- Cost effective.
In conclusion – the benefits of e-learning
Using an e-learning methodology, devised in line with the aforementioned principles, gives flexibility to training school staff both individually and collectively, if so required, with the presenter function.
There can be no compromise with fulfilling our statutory requirements so having a comprehensive e-learning safeguarding training package which is easily accessible, engaging to learners at the interface, compliant and fully up-to-date, that effectively assesses new knowledge and is cost-effective, is in my opinion a must.
SSS Author & Former Headteacher