While Lockdown would provide a number of professional hurdles for Social Enterprise Manager Debbie Douglas it would also provide one major opportunity for her organisation to revamp its intern training programme and bring it into the digital age.
Debbie started All Together Edinburgh in 2011 to provide a training resource for adults with learning difficulties.
Situated near the bottom of leith walk in Edinburgh All Together consists of a charity shop and training centre for up to 6 trainees who work in the shop 1 day per week for a year to gain the retail skills required to help them find paid employment.
While gaining these practical skills the trainees will undertake a number of assessed Border College modules which make up their Ready for Retail Award. These practical skills and associated college modules gained by the trainees include Customer Service, using the till, using the credit card machine and cleaning.
Debbie had used this training model successfully for 10 years but then March 2020 arrived and brought a new way of life which would to a lesser or greater extent affect all of our lives in ways which we could not have imagined. Offices emptied, shops closed, factories shut down and the streets cleared not only in the U.K. but across the world as governments fought to control a health crisis which seemed to have come from nowhere and landed in their laps.
Meanwhile back at 86 Leith Walk Edinburgh Debbie had, in line with government instructions, sent the trainees home, closed the shop and took to the sofa awaiting the all clear that would not come for many months.
Lockdown had unfortunately come right at the end of the trainees year at All Together. Having started the previous year in July the trainees were due to finish up in the following couple of months and take their training into what would hopefully be paid employment or voluntary work. The restrictions of lockdown would stop them finishing their training in that calendar year and highlighted a need for the organisation to review its training programme with the hope that measures could be put in place to both compliment the face to face training delivery and provide a backup if there were any issues with trainees or staff not being able to attend in future.
This is when Debbie and a colleague came up with the idea of producing an online training package which could mirror the face to face training they received in the shop and could be accessed from home. Debbie had already provided laptops or tablets for the trainees through The Remakery and People Know How so they were prepared to access information and Debbie’s colleague had experience of producing training videos prior to lockdown.
The plan was to film the face to face training that was delivered in the shop and then edit into short individual modules. These would then be put on the Moodle online learning platform which some schools and colleges had been using to deliver education during lockdown.
Initially a number of formats this training could be delivered in were discussed including using animation, stock footage or finding an environment in which people could be filmed individually carrying out tasks in a ‘pretend shop’. It was, however, decided that the best way enable the trainees to learn effectively was to actually make training videos featuring staff in the shop where they worked and would instantly connect with. The only problem was the very restricted access that the shop allowed during the first break in lockdown prevented any more than skeleton staff and a few customers at a time being allowed into the confined shop space. With this to contend with it would not be until the second break in lockdown in 2021 that restrictions would be lifted enough to allow the trainees back into the shop and enough staff became available for training to be filmed in the shop.
The eventual filming and production of the videos went smoothly with each individual lesson being acted out by staff and trainees at a pace which allowed for an added narration to provide clear descriptions and instructions. The finished videos were then uploaded to Moodle as part of a training package which would also include short multiple choice tests based on each video.
The trainees were introduced to the training at this point and feedback was positive with comments from trainees and an assessment by staff suggesting that the adoption of training which can be delivered at any time and anywhere there is an internet connection can have many benefits for the trainees.
As Debbie states
“Learning online/digital skills, especially Moodle has benefitted our trainees as they have gained confidence by adapting to a new method of learning. They were able to learn how to navigate on a laptop, iPad or phone and much of the learning could be self paced and flexible.
As well as being able to learn the specific skills we had set it also gave the trainees new general IT skills in using the internet as a tool for learning. This will hopefully give them the confidence to seek information from the internet when they require it in the future. It is also paperless which meets our environmental standards and there is less time travelling so more time to study saving time and costs for all involved. Online learning, as seen during the last two years, has really shown its strengths and we will definitely look to maintain and develop it as a big part of our training going forward”