Opening up the ways we learn

By Vicky Mariner, breastfeeding counsellor and member of ourNCTeducation practitioner reference group

A little over ten years ago, I completed my level 5 training as a breastfeeding counsellor. I loved the cosy tutorial groups and formed close friendships with my fellow trainees. Karen (our lovely tutor) had a box of books we could borrow in the corner. We had stimulating discussions, shared mini-presentations and were given plenty of paper handouts. 

Last year I completed a level 5 in Learning and Development with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). The revolution which has taken place over the last ten years in learning and training is astonishing. E-learning, m-learning, digital learning platforms, social learning, blended learning, LMS, CMS, MOOCS and a whole host of other confusing acronyms – it’s a brand new language! 

Foundations of human learning have not changed – our brains don’t actually work differently just because we are in the digital age. E-learning is not automatically more effective just because it is delivered by computer. I must admit my personal experience of e-learning through my day job as a corporate HR Manager has not been positive. When executed poorly it can be boring and ineffective. Many see it as simply a tick box exercise.

But the possibilities… are exciting!

Algorithms taking into account everything, from existing prior experience to how confidently or hesitantly you clicked on an answer, means that programmes can be tailored to each learner’s needs.

There are now so many options available for reading more on a particular topic which grabs your attention. A pop-up links you to the most up–to-date NICE guidelines. Or your own local statistics, an audio podcast, a YouTube video or TEDtalk, a webinar invite, or a discussion on a related forum. And that is before we get to the possibilities of virtual reality or augmented reality. Practice in front of a virtual “live” group of parents anyone? Or instead of a 2D picture of a pregnant woman’s body in a text, you hover your mobile over the page and you can see inside a womb projected right in front of you?

It’s a far cry from the “click > click > next” of the boring clunky e-learning.

Social learning is another huge shift. We know that often the most enjoyable part of a study day is the informal learning which goes on when we swap stories, tips and techniques. When done well this can work effectively digitally as well. Students can set up their own Moodles, Wiki’s and forums and even attend “virtual” coffee mornings. We know that nothing will ever beat the personal, face-to-face touch of really being with other people. We also know that the time and cost of travelling for training sometimes makes the whole endeavour prohibitively expensive. We don’t all live near London or Bristol after all!

As our training of practitioners evolves it is exciting to think how we can harness this new technology. Even via a computer, people learn from people.

It’s great to see how the project team are genuinely looking at how we can utilise these new tools while protecting what is good about the old style of training.

Stay up to date with the latest project news from ourNCTeducation on the project babble page here.

ourNCTeducation – a work in co-production

Rachael Bickley, practitioner and member of ourNCTeducation reference group
Rachael Bickley, ANT

My name is Rachael Bickley and I am an antenatal practitioner and have been working on the ourNCTeducation review as part of the reference group. This blog is just a bit of an overview about how we have been working together to develop the new education model for NCT practitioners. It isn’t ready yet and there is still work to be done but through this blog I wanted to share some of the emerging themes so far.

So… What is the goal?  What does success look like?

Well, the model will have been successful if it…

  • Increases the number of practitioners by 2023
  • Diversifies the practitioner profile
  • Improves parent feedback surrounding bias and reality vs expectations
  • Maintains NCT’s good reputation for high quality practitioner training and professional standards.

Putting our Heads Together

Bring any group of people together and ask them how to do something. It is probably guaranteed that you will get many different solutions to one problem, but this project has many challenges (not one) and the goal is to co-produce. So as many voices as possible are needed to make this work well. The review group has consulted with practitioners from all specialities through social media surveys, small focus groups and practitioner forums. The result was many different ideas of what practitioner education should look like, but listen just a little (and we have been listening a lot) and common themes start to float to the surface.

Our practitioners bring the skills through their training… but more support is needed

There has been agreement that the listening, facilitation and knowledge that practitioners offer parents through their training is hugely beneficial,  but more support is needed as practitioners move from study to practice.  This itself has sparked further conversations about how practitioners are trained and there has been agreement that a greater practical element to the training would benefit practitioners in their early practice.

We don’t use technology effectively enough

From our first initial contact on a Zoom conference call it became clear that we don’t use technology as well as we could in educating practitioners. In comparison to my phone tutorials on Level 6 this call was amazing. I could see everyone (even if it is online and not face-to-face) and the technology on Zoom works well. Throughout the co-production process it has become clear that some of the content we have as practitioners could be offered online – this would be very helpful for more remote students. But face-to-face contact in “real life” is valued too and so far everyone I have spoken to has felt a combination of these methods would be best.

All together now?

The discussions that developed about what practitioners needed for their role highlighted that some would benefit from greater counselling skills.  For example, antenatal practitioners in their role at postnatal sessions. A shared knowledge base and understanding of common themes was also highlighted and in turn developed the concept that perhaps the new model could have some elements that everyone studies and others that are added to it to develop specialities. There were acknowledged differences though, and it seems that a completely uniformed training for everyone isn’t at all desirable. That said, there could be some aspects that specialities could train together with.

Accreditation and cost

This has been a difficult one to discuss with views on both sides and probably the most polarising of aspects in the development of a new programme. My training was completed half with Bedfordshire and half with Worcester and I have just completed my BA (Hons) degree. I value the accreditation of my own learning very highly, but then I would, I have just completed it. But I think the Level 6 learning has given me a more critical view on evidence and allowed me to be more balanced in my approach to facilitating than I previously had. I have also found that other birth professionals have valued the qualification when they have learnt about it, but accreditation brings cost, and some have found the training too expensive. On the other hand, without accreditation national student loans and bursaries may not be available, which could increase the cost rather than lower it for some students. This is one area we are all still reviewing, but through the developing discussions there seems to be a bit of a shift towards an accreditation of some sort and the project team are looking into all the possibilities.

Onwards and upwards

Working on this project has been really interesting so far and certainly challenged some of my core ideas about our education. The discussion has been wide ranging, passionate and sometimes a bit difficult, but overall has strengthened my view that NCT practitioners love what they do, are proud of their training and give their best to the parents they support.

ourNCTeducation – open and collaborative

Helen Allmark, staff member and practitioner
Helen Allmark

It’s days like this, I love my roles in NCT. Today I have taken part in a Zoom call for our ourNCTeducation project. As a staff member, I am part of the project team, and as I am also a practitioner I am the link to the practitioner reference group. These two teams are working together to guide the project to identify a new education model, able to train high quality practitioners, in the right places (to meet current and potential demand), who are motivated to work with NCT, committed to their own CPD and are flexible to the changing needs of our organisation.

A big ask… but one that we are addressing head on, question by question. We have already recommended that there is more of a focus on practical experience working with parents during the training and that the training paths for facilitating groups and for working with parents could be different, whilst recognising the common elements too. Current questions being considered are ‘should the training be accredited or not?’ and  ‘what is the minimum time it could take to train a practitioner?’

The process is open and collaborative. We are spending time unpicking our assumptions (for example, would a non-accredited training package really be cheaper for students?) and looking for evidence to guide our decisions.

Both groups are made up of staff, practitioners and tutors with different backgrounds, experiences and views, leading to robust discussions. There’s lots of sharing, challenging and re-framing of conversations. Part of my role is to be the link between the two groups, so sharing where each group is up to, and looking at where similarities and differences are emerging.

It feels like lots of voices are being heard and it’s exciting to be part of this journey. Please keep up to date with the project at  https://babble.nct.org.uk/about-nct/our-work/research/ourncteducation and if you would like to offer your views please do so by emailing ourncteducation@nct.org.uk.