Our transition to virtual learning


By Alison Sweeting, CIPFA Training Delivery Manager

The COVID-19 crisis has created drastic change across all sectors, with some of the biggest changes being felt in education. Schools have had to radically shift from traditional in-person teaching methods to using technology that in some cases may be completely new to them, all while maintaining the same quality of instruction to students.

Fortunately, CIPFA’s Education and Training Centre made the decision to focus on virtual learning some time ago. In autumn 2017, we shifted a large portion of our courses online to make them more accessible to students around the globe. Since that date, all of our UK and international students have been able to study for every module online.  The decision to provide online tuition across all our modules was made because we have always strived to be at the forefront of technological change. We saw the benefits of making our courses readily available to those who don’t live or work near one of our training locations.

The transition to this new way of teaching and learning took some time. Trainers had to master new software and develop innovative teaching methods that made use of online tools. When changing to online courses, there is also a significant shift in classroom management needed to keep unseen students focused and ensure they are actively learning. But with practice and time, we’ve been successful in keeping students engaged in the remote learning process. 

In addition to getting accustomed to new teaching methods, students also had to become accustomed to a different way of learning. Some found it challenging to remain active and participate fully in their online classes. For others, a collaborative learning environment was essential – something that is often difficult to simulate in an online classroom.

But we made it through, and have continued to improve with each term. We’ve worked hard over the years to overcome the perception that online learning is somehow less effective or less enjoyable than face-to-face instruction. We now have a substantial number of students who choose to study wholly online, or through a blend of online and face-to-face.

Because we made the transition back in 2017, converting all of our scheduled face-to-face courses to live web classes amidst the coronavirus crisis has been relatively simple. In fact, the move has been remarkably smooth considering the scale of the operation. Nearly three years of experience delivering online has equipped our trainers to make the full transition. We’ve also upskilled our associates to ensure they have the tools they need to deliver high quality instruction virtually. For CETC, it really has been business as usual.

The administrative process of setting up the online sessions was swift and smooth, so our students have had an almost seamless transition from face-to-face to online. So far, it seems that our students appreciate that have moved quickly to ensure no break in teaching and no diminution of quality.

Students still have the same resources available as they did when they attended face-to-face courses. We continue to provide support to our students through their discussion forum on their CIPFA Learning account, where they can raise questions with their trainer between their live classes. Work Based Learning Coaches have also been hosting coaching sessions online with apprentices to ensure they are continually supported.

Over the next few weeks, we expect to see more students engaging and contributing to discussions during the sessions as they become more used to online learning. We will also gather useful information about student experience and perception to help us develop our online delivery in the future. We’ll also see more and more of our other training and events joining us in digital delivery giving a really wide range of choice for people whatever stage of their career they’re at.

By the end of May, we will have delivered an additional 186 classes online, over and above our existing scheduled web classes. We’re constantly working to improve the experience for our students and are looking into new methods of making e-learning even more convenient and accessible. We’re pleased to say that, despite the present difficulties, the future for our students is looking as bright as ever.

This article first appeared in PQ Magazine.

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