Last week, Novus colleagues Emma Ireland and Esther Kelly attended the Prisoner Learning Alliance conference, where they took part in an interview session entitled, 'We Need to Talk About Blended Learning' on research that they conducted at HMP Liverpool, which led to the implementation of their hybrid delivery model as we emerged from covid lockdown.
The sudden shift in guidance due to the covid lockdowns meant that we had to look for alternative methods to deliver our education in prisons. Thanks to our team of educators and subject area specialists, we were able to make a smooth transition to a blended-learning model that continued to put the learner at the centre of the decision-making process.
Our history of over 30 years in the prison education industry, and our focus on digital learning to enhance and empower learners upon release, meant that we were positioned to tackle this challenge head on.
The research provided by Emma and Esther at the PLA conference showed there was an appetite amongst their learners for something other than full-time face-to-face classes and motivation levels that we were not tapping into effectively.
They explained how HMP Liverpool's delivery model caters for a greater range of learners by providing education through options of outreach, full-time and blended learning which are selected depending on learners' needs.
As the concept of blended learning is a hot topic at the moment due to its inclusion in the Prison Strategy White Paper, their presentation provoked a great deal of interest and discussion which showed that issues affecting attitudes to learning and learner motivations among prisoners are reflected in the wider population.
Below is a summary of the key findings from Esther and Emma’s feedback.
What challenges did you face? How did you overcome them?
Schemes of Learning had to be completely rewritten to reflect the model which was more work for teachers. However, because we could show that this model would help us benefit more learners and staff would be given time to take on the extra adjustments, they were happy to give it a go.
Learners were understandably apprehensive to the independent model at first, but once the learning benefits and process had been explained, they quickly came on board with the new system, and it’s added flexibility.
What are the benefits of the blended learning model?
The blended learning model has led to increased engagement from learners as we are able to quickly respond to their needs. Attendance has vastly improved so far.
Due to the more autonomous nature of the method, learners are able to learn about a wider range of subjects in self-guided study and tutors are better suited to providing specific resources and support to learners who need or want this. If there is another lockdown, learners will not be interrupted in their learning as we already have the facilities and resources available.
Learners are arriving in class having done pre-learning and ready to be engaged. They have less chance to focus in class and ask for help from a tutor and they have been quick to maximise on the time that they do have with the education team.
How do you cater for learners who want to attend face to face education full time? What about those who don’t want to attend classroom sessions at all?
Research showed that there was a requirement for blended learning for most, but not all learners. Also, practical and vocational courses do not lend themselves well to in-cell study which is more theory based. We have continued to offer classes like joinery and plastering on a full-time face-to-face basis for learners who prefer this.
Thanks to our new guidance, we have been able to offer entirely in-cell courses for learners; something that was never possible before. After offering this option throughout covid, we have seen a strong interest and have kept the option available, meaning learners are able to do basic study in-cell and move on into the education facilities once they are confident in their knowledge.
What’s next for blended learning at Liverpool?
We are in the process of monitoring its effectiveness. Questions are understandably asked about the effectiveness of in-cell work as the tutor is not there to see the learner do it. We will continue to ensure tight controls over the quality and assessment of independent work and make improvements where necessary. We will also develop the drop-in sessions so that learners can experience the full benefit of them.
Working as part of the LTE Group, we are able to take lessons learned in our sister businesses to develop our own resources and materials. In doing this, we have been able to maximise the efficacy of our own talent and people, producing a more cohesive and progressive outcome for the learner.
Digital innovation is at the heart of our work in preparing our learners for release. Alongside our digital education programmes, and through the efforts of colleagues like Esther and Emma, we have been able to lead progressive techniques for learning in prison that seeks to include digital technology in other subject areas. This enables us to double down on our own digital upskilling agenda and maximising every opportunity for cross-curriculum learning in our establishments.
As you can see, we’re at the cutting edge of this field, thanks to new projects constantly being undertaken across our education facilities in England and Wales. Why not read more about our work on what we're doing to lead the charge on digital evolution in prisons.