Thursday, 31 October 2013

Have a SPOOC-y Halloween with NEC!

Massive Open Online Courses and Small Private Online Courses, otherwise known by their acronyms ‘MOOCs’ and ‘SPOCs’, have been making a lot of news in the field of education recently. MOOCs, such as the UK initiative FutureLearn, are designed to be accessed by thousands of people across the globe at once, while SPOCs are a similar idea focussing on a small scale rather than a large one.

While MOOCs and SPOCs do not lead to recognised qualifications, they nevertheless have the potential for a positive impact by providing opportunities to learn, as well as encouraging learning for life. Importantly, such experimentation in different ways of delivering learning highlights how education can be extended beyond the classroom, giving more people who want to learn the chance to do so.

Here at NEC we’ve been aspiring to the principles set out by our founder, Michael Young, to deliver learning outside the classroom for 50 years. Lord Young believed in breaking down the barriers to education, giving as many people as possible the chance to participate through the use of distance learning.

Distance learning is a method of learning that doesn’t require a student to attend classes, stick to timetables, or start their course at the beginning of the academic year. Its flexibility has allowed us to extend learning opportunities to students ranging from busy parents with young children at home, to servicemen living on submarines out at sea.

Since this week’s blog day falls on 31st October, we thought we’d have a bit of Halloween fun and try to summarise what NEC offers with an acronym of our own. We’ve managed to come up with one that fits nicely into the spirit of Halloween – SPOOCs!

  • Small
  • Personalised
  • Open and
  • Online
  • Course
  • Supported all the way

At NEC, all of our courses have the following characteristics:

NEC provides personal, one-to-one support from the moment you first get in touch. Our course advice team ensures that learners enrol on the course that is right for them, and at a level that is most suitable for their needs. Learners will benefit from the guidance and feedback they receive from their assigned personal tutor, as well as a course coordinator who will support them throughout their studies.

One of our key aims is to help break down barriers to learning, so we try to make our courses as accessible as we can. Our courses do not have fixed start dates and are available to enrol 365 days a year. Learners who may otherwise be unable to attend timetabled classes at a physical campus can can study wherever and whenever best meets their needs. We also recognise that not all learners have access to or confidence in using the internet, so alternative options are available, such as receiving course materials and submitting assignments by post. Learners such as prisoners and seafarers for example find this particularly useful.

You can enrol on an NEC course through our website, and access to digital materials for most of our courses will be immediately available through a student workspace after enrolment. There will also be online discussion forums where you can meet and get to know fellow students. We can also be found on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, giving our students, tutors, and other members of the NEC community more opportunities to connect with us and each other online. Updates on news and events are provided by our email newsletter, and of course we post regularly on our blog!

NEC offers a wide range of around 100 different courses, covering everything from GCSEs and A Levels to professional qualifications and the creative arts. Our full range of courses can be viewed at our website or in our Guide to Courses (PDF), along with lots of useful related information. Our advice team can answer any questions you might have, or if you want some help narrowing down your choices. You could also take a look at our special range of 50 Hours For Free short course topics if you’re looking for some inspiration on what to study – there are 12 topics on offer as a part of our 50th anniversary celebrations, and the best part is they’re absolutely free! But they’ll only be around until the Family Learning Festival ends this week, so make the most of them while you can!

NEC is committed to helping learners to study successfully and achieve their goals. There are downloadable course materials to try before enrolment, pre-course advice is available online and by phone, and on-course support is provided by a personal tutor, course coordinator and fellow students. NEC works with six partnership exam centres in the UK, where NEC students can go to sit their exams.

So there you have it. SPOOCs!

From everyone at NEC, we hope you all have a very enjoyable and fun Halloween this year. Happy trick-or-treating!

Roger Merritt
Senior Consultant

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Celebrating Family Learning

Between this year’s Family Learning Festival and NIACE’s Family Learning Inquiry, the spotlight this week is firmly on family learning.

Everyone is likely to agree that family learning is a positive thing, but many of us would have to think a bit more about how family learning works in practice and what needs to be done to support it.

Education in the UK is defined by age - we have playgroups, pre-schools, primary schools, secondary schools, sixth form colleges, further and higher education colleges all catering for a specific age range. We even have special provision for older people in the University of the Third Age.

Family learning needs to cut across the age specific provision and is often part of community learning programmes. Fortunately there are wonderful organisations like the Campaign for Learning and NIACE, who support and promote family learning and encourage partnerships between schools and parents.

I was at a conference a couple of weeks ago organised by the WEA on ‘Building Communities in Challenging Times’. Baroness Joan Bakewell, the broadcaster, gave a keynote speech in which she talked very movingly about her own childhood growing up in a working class family in Lancashire.

Both Joan’s parents left school at 13 and went straight to work, but she said that both of them went out twice a week to WEA classes. This meant that she grew up in a family where learning was respected and valued, and when she went to university herself she was able to discuss what she was learning with her parents. Joan Bakewell’s story illustrates the importance of family learning in transmitting the value of learning between generations.

At the National Extension College we often have parents enrolling on a course so they can understand what their children are learning at school. Maths GCSE is a popular choice, because the Maths curriculum has changed so much over the last few years.

Family learning can embrace lots of other activities, like grandparents contributing to school history lessons with first-hand accounts of their lives and experiences, or passing on language, cooking or other skills.

You can read more about family learning and NIACE’s Inquiry at their website. The Family Learning Festival runs until the beginning of November - click here to see what events might be happening close to you. Our own 50 Hours For Free campaign will also continue to run until the end of this year’s Festival. Learn something new for free and share the experience with your family!

Ros Morpeth

Chief Executive, National Extension College

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Understanding Biology A Level

The Society of Biology is celebrating Biology Week this week, with a range of educational events to encourage people to learn more about the life sciences. It’s the perfect opportunity to find out why this subject continues to fascinate so many people.

Biology helps us to understand everything from how our own bodies work to how we as a species fit into our world’s hugely complex ecosystem. Studying Biology, particularly at A level, is also a gateway to a wide range of career fields including the sciences and the healthcare professions.

You might think that studying a hands-on, core science like Biology at A level would require access to a laboratory or attending regular classes at a local college. However, it’s still entirely possible to enjoy the flexibility offered by distance learning when you study with NEC. If you enrol with our Fast Track service soon and get started quickly, you can even complete all your work in time for next summer’s exams.

Units on the NEC course investigate areas including genetics, plants, energy and exercise, the natural environment and research skills. The course is delivered through high-quality materials and supported by the expertise of hand-picked tutors, who provide guidance and feedback throughout the course.

Biology tutors Josie and Janet at NEC's 50th anniversary picnic
NEC Biology tutor Janet highlights some of the things you can learn from studying Biology: how an entire body can be built from DNA, what our distant evolutionary ancestors were like (think bacteria), why we don’t end up with fingernails growing out of our noses, why there is a chance of brown-eyed parents having blue-eyed children, why we can see a faint star more clearly when we look to one side of it, how leaves are responsible for ‘sucking’ water up tall trees, why mitochondria are known as the powerhouses of a cell, and why viruses are not considered to be living.

Fellow Biology tutor Josie explains how NEC handles the practical element of the course: ‘Of all the science courses, Biology is the easiest in which to carry out practicals, which in the NEC course have been modified so that you can carry them out at home with equipment and materials that can be obtained fairly easily online or at a pharmacist and other shops. For example, small glasses can be used instead of test-tubes and beakers.’

‘There are certain core practicals that you need to carry out if at all possible, because questions on these come up in the exams. A few core practicals, especially at A2 level, need specialist equipment so the NEC course gives specimen results for these that you can use when writing them up.’

NEC works with the awarding body Edexcel to make sure you can study this without needing to find a laboratory for the practical work, which can often be difficult. The practical work will form your coursework, which your NEC tutor will mark and authenticate and will then be submitted through NEC directly.

Minimising barriers to learning is at the core of NEC’s work, which is why this course has been specially designed to make the subject accessible to those who may be unable to find a laboratory or have limited time to complete the course.

Josie has seen first-hand how the increased flexibility of the NEC course has been invaluable to many learners. ‘One of my past students was crew in a submarine that was submerged for long periods, so he would surface at intervals with a pile of assignments to send off. His coursework involved getting some mates to exercise in the sub gym and measuring their vital signs! This just shows how flexible distance learning is.’

If you would like to learn more about the life sciences and believe our Biology A level course could help you to do so, get in touch and let us know. For more information about this and other courses, or to find out more about the work NEC does, visit our website or contact us. You can also sign up to our newsletter, subscribe to this blog by entering your email in the box to the right, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Childcare and change - an interview with the new CEO of CACHE, Rob Wye

NEC offers childcare qualifications by distance learning, and has a great relationship with the leading awarding organisation CACHE going back many years. When Chief Executive Rob Wye came in to see us recently, we took the opportunity to interview him and discuss what he thinks the future has in store for CACHE and the childcare and early years workforce.

Rob Wye visiting NEC

Rob has been the Chief Executive since July this year, and has previously held positions in Government Departments, the Manpower Services Commission (MSC), the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and most recently the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS). His move to CACHE follows the retirement of Richard Dorrance, former Chief Executive of CACHE.

The main challenges ahead for CACHE are to maintain market leading qualification in its traditional sector of childcare, and to grow in newly introduced sectors of education, health and social care, Rob explained. They are also looking at ways to grow in the international market, great news for overseas childcare and related settings. He also revealed that there are some new qualifications coming up for the health and social care sector, including for dental assistants and in due course pharmacy assistants. CACHE also plan on introducing a new level 2 qualification in food preparation and nutrition. This will no doubt be good news to childcare practitioners not least with the introduction of free school meals for reception, year 1 and year 2 students from next September.

It not just within CACHE that changes are happening, the children and young peoples workforce is seeing a lot of changes coming in, and others being discussed.

‘The big change on the horizon is around training for early years educators. The criteria for a full and valid level 3 qualification is changing, meaning that a new qualification is being developed,’ Rob told us.

What would he say to people unsure whether to wait for the new qualification, or to qualify now? ‘The government have made it very clear that existing qualifications will still be valid. Although the new Early Years Educator qualification is due next September, there has been no cut off date announced for the Diploma for the Children and Young People’s Workforce yet.’

Another change is that English and maths at grade C GCSE level is now required by level 3 practitioners. ‘I think that it’s right that level 3 qualified practitioners should have level 2 standard of maths and English,’ Rob said. ‘But I don’t agree that it should have to be a GCSE because this might block people that would otherwise make excellent practitioners.’

This year has also seen the introduction of the Adult Learning loans for anyone over the age of 24. ‘This has had little impact on registrations for childcare qualifications yet, although that is not what we expected,’ confirms Rob.

During his career spanning over 30 years in Education, Rob has done a lot of work to put vocational qualifications on the map. ‘It has been and continues to be a long haul to achieve equality of treatment between academic and vocational qualifications,’ he said. ‘One of the issues has been that ministers all come up through academic routes and often see vocational routes as “for other people’s children”. I think though, that this attitude is beginning to shift and we are beginning to see more and more work-based routes into professions.’

Rob formerly held a position at the Manpower Service Commission where one of his responsibilities was open learning. ‘The challenges with open learning are much different today than they were 20 years ago,’ he says. ‘Technology was basic then and has really come a long way, net-based in particular. It is easy for schools to be seduced by technology, for example some schools now give their learners iPads. The pedagogy now needs to catch up.  There is huge potential for massive delivery and making use of the best advances in the world.’

‘Assessment methods are also sure to change with the technology, I expect we will see things like video capturing evidence, online simulations and other techniques used at a distance.’

The relationship between NEC and CACHE continues to thrive, and both organisations look forward continuing to work together in order to offer excellent quality childcare qualifications by distance learning. You can see the current CACHE qualifications offered by NEC here.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Guest blog: Preparing for PTLLS - online!

This week’s update is a guest blog from Aniela Kaczmarczyk of the Tinder Foundation.

Preparing for PTLLS - online!

From this month, a brand new course from Tinder Foundation and The National Extension College (NEC)  is set to help even more people prepare for teaching in the lifelong learning sector.
Tinder Foundation is the organisation behind the national network of UK online centres.  As  Training Manager, I’ve seen hundreds of learners inspired by their UK online centre experience go on to become peer-to-peer mentors, volunteers, and eventually tutors.  It’s such an established journey it’s become part of what makes the UK online centres network tick, and we wanted to facilitate that process and make the transition from learner to tutor as easy as possible.

Ex-learners are in a unique position as tutors.  They can tell new learners ‘if I can do it, so can you’, and that’s pretty powerful stuff.  The trouble is, many have been out of formal education for years - or even decades - and can be extremely nervous about taking on a new qualification. A traditional Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector (PTLLS) course can look pretty daunting.
That’s why I’m very proud that - in partnership with NEC - we’re launching An Introduction to Adult Learning.  It’s a new one hour, online course that’s ideal for anyone considering (or about to start) a PTLLS course.
It’s been designed especially to help those who may not have any formal qualifications in teaching practice and because it’s delivered online, via webinar (a sort of online, interactive seminar for those who’ve never heard of one), anyone can take part from the comfort of their own computer.  And it’s not just for UK online centres learners and volunteers!
Designed by NEC - which has more than 50 years experience in training those who might not be comfortable in a school or college - I couldn’t be more confident that it’s the perfect tool for absolutely anyone who wants to start helping other adults gain new skills and qualifications.
We’d love to have you on board!

Aniela Kaczmarczyk
Training Manager
Tinder Foundation