Work-Based Learning within an Extended Learning Environment (ELE) – promoting Higher Education opportunity with communications technologies

Author/Producer Steve Rose
Published in Autumn 2008 newsletter
Date Published 24 November 2008
Pages 2


Steve Rose writes about how mobile computing devices are supporting learning on a new work-based Foundation Degree programme.


Somerset College is a partner college of the University of Plymouth Colleges Faculty. The College is committed to utilising learning technologies to support and enhance teaching and learning on its Higher Education programmes and promote access to Higher Education opportunity.

The Leitch Review of Skills (2006) anticipated that growth in Higher Education would in future rely heavily on the development of work-based learning opportunities and provision for mature learners already in employment. The review recommended “a rebalancing of the priorities of HE Institutions to make available relevant, flexible and responsive provision that meets the high skills needs of employers and their staff”.

Foundation Degree Forward (fdf) acknowledges that HEIs must adopt a more flexible business-facing approach to extending higher education opportunity and be more responsive to the demand-led skills needs of employers. The focus on the adult workforce and development of increasingly flexible provision is extending the mission of HE beyond its responsiveness to traditional full-time student demand to the education and skills need of employers in their respective sectors. In increasingly demanding time-scarce working environments, opportunities for engaging in HE study and skills development are limited. Employers are often reluctant to support their employees’ engagement in traditional day-release programmes such as HNCs and quite possibly fail to acknowledge and utilise the expertise and skills base that exist within their own organisations and which might be used as a resource to provide their employees with a Higher Education progression option.

Learning technologies can provide solutions to off-campus programme delivery scenarios, supporting students within a virtual teaching and learning environment which can be accessed through a variety of work-based and mobile computing and communications platforms.

In 2006 Somerset College was approached by Somerset County Council, a major local employer, with a view to developing a bespoke Higher Education programme which would meet the developing skills needs of their employees working within Transport Planning. The programme would need to be delivered predominantly in the workplace.

The College working in partnership with the County Council have designed a new programme, a Foundation Degree (FdSc) in Transport Planning and Engineering, which will be delivered by academic staff from the College and in the main by vocationally-qualified staff within Somerset County Council. Eighty per cent of the programme, validated by the University of Plymouth, will be delivered in the workplace utilising the employer’s own expert knowledge base. These subject specialists working within the County Council will be supported and mentored by experienced teaching staff at the College.

The new programme starting in January 2009 will make use of an ‘Extended Learning Environment’ created from the College's Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), the University of Plymouth’s Student Portal and a variety of mobile learning (‘mLearning’) options which aim to promote and support a collaborative approach to teaching and learning on the programme. Teaching staff based at the College will work with and support their work-based colleagues in a largely ‘virtual’ community of practice that will make use of a variety of communication tools and information systems provided by the extended learning environment and mobile devices. Chris Kelly, a lecturer in Computing at Somerset College, has devised a course ‘road map’ and tracking system which allows students on the new programme to follow their progress and engage in a variety of learning activities via mobile devices including mobile phones in association with the VLE.

The design and approach to delivery of the new programme represents a response to demand-led HE provision and the challenge of learning in time-scarce working environments by providing off-campus learners with ‘always on’, anytime/anywhere access to learning resources and a collaborative, supportive learning community of their peers, tutors and employers.

This initiative has been informed by and gratefully acknowledges the support of externally-funded Research and Development projects and activities including the University of Plymouth HELP-CETL, and particularly the HEA – ESCalate who provided initial research monies to investigate and evaluate the use of learning technologies (including mobile learning options) to enhance and widen participation in Higher Education opportunity ensuring that Somerset College is now better-placed to meet local employer needs through effective and relevant ways of delivering work-based HE programmes.


Foundation Degree Forward (fdf) (2007) ‘Developing higher skills in the UK workforce: A guide to collaboration between higher education and employers’, [online] (21/10/08)

Leitch, S.(2006) ‘Leitch Review of Skills: prosperity for all in the global economy – world class skills’ [online] (21/10/08)