Within the UK, a record number of teachers are leaving the profession. In 2016, schools recorded a loss of 9.5 percent of staff, the highest level for more than a decade. In addition, the number of people choosing the teaching profession is in decline, with fewer people applying for teacher training schemes. The impact of this has been an increased need for temporary staffing solutions; schools now spend over £1.3 billion ($1.6 billion) annually with education staffing agencies.

Many of these substitute or “supply” teachers are unqualified, requiring only simple compliance procedures—such as background checks—to be able to work in a classroom setting.

The staff working in the 25,000 schools across the UK, many of whom are now from overseas, require continuous professional development (CPD) to maintain standards outlined by OFSTED, the Office for Standards and Education, the school regulation and inspection body. The high turnover of staff has increased the pressure on schools and education staffing agencies to ensure individuals have opportunities to access personalized CPD when it is needed most.

Schools do offer CPD, and education supply agencies do endeavor to train supply teachers before they are placed. However, the challenge has been attracting sufficient attendance to face-to-face sessions, with feedback being that the location and duration of classes can make them difficult to commit to, particularly when they are not mandatory.

The skill gap/need

Having no teaching experience and being placed in a school to cover a teacher’s class can be very daunting. A wet and windy Friday afternoon combined with a group of 35 14-year-olds and a word search to deliver can prove difficult, even for the most experienced teacher.

Knowledge of how students learn, strategies to engage a class, and techniques to build effective professional relationships are essential. Without this, behavior will deteriorate, which has a direct impact on the progress and achievement of children and young people, which in turn drives down educational standards.

The solution

What has been lacking is “on-demand” access to training courses so that staff can have their development needs met when they need it most, on any device—at any time.

TeachingCPD is an eLearning portal developed to provide regularly updated, on-demand CPD in the form of bite-sized modules. Each course takes between 30 and 90 minutes to complete and is self-paced and fully interactive, with a virtual tutor taking learners through important course content (Figure 1).

Figure 1: A virtual tutor takes learners through important course content

The online catalog (Figure 2) was developed to allow even the most inexperienced “teacher” the opportunity to develop essential skills in the areas of:

  • Safeguarding, child protection and prevent
  • British values
  • Equality and diversity
  • How to be an effective supply teacher
  • Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)
  • The UK curriculum
  • Behavior management

Figure 2: The online catalog provided even inexperienced teachers the opportunity to develop essential skills in important areas

A leading CPD accreditation provider, the CPD Standards Office, was used to ensure content and course design were both of a suitably high standard.

The development

When selecting authoring software to begin course design, price was initially a major factor. Storyline and Lectora had features that were very attractive, particularly Storyline with its intuitive user interface. However, price became a barrier to entry, as this entrepreneurial business idea was thus far unproven; so the idea of spending over £1,000 on software wasn’t really a viable option at this stage.

The incompatibility between Storyline and Mac was another consideration. Although Parallels was an option, there would then have been the additional expense of Windows—costs were quickly adding up. Adobe Captivate provided the flexible monthly subscription option and quick access to an industry-standard authoring package with additional animation, video, and graphic design functionality as part of the Creative Cloud.

Further research also highlighted that Captivate could publish in HTML5 and develop content that is responsive, allowing users to access courses on any device, which was a key differentiator for TeachingCPD.

Video was another important element of course design; the ability to have a virtual tutor direct users through the material was an important factor. TeachingCPD used a high-quality DSLR camera, with the intention of capturing high-quality footage that would be integrated into the SCORM content. However, it became apparent very quickly that having an expensive camera is one thing, but having the correct lighting, background, and audio is another thing altogether.

Various retakes took place in a variety of environments ranging from unused offices to an actual school setting. The idea of using a real-life school environment was great in principle; however, in practice, it proved difficult due to distracting background noise and inconsistent lighting.

Eventually, green-screen technology was utilized with high-quality microphone and rented sound space to ensure the quality remained consistent and allowed various school backgrounds to be used, depending on the subject being discussed.

Abode Premiere was utilized to edit the raw footage, and Audacity to ensure the audio was of the very highest quality.

Course development certainly had its challenges. Although Captivate had its advantages, the interface was far less intuitive than other authoring software on the market. Also, do not underestimate the importance of a high-quality camera, microphone, editing software, and suitable recording studio. Looking back at some of the original draft recordings was quite embarrassing.

However, in the end, the result was a catalog of eight high-quality, immersive courses that were each dissected into bite-sized modules ensuring courses could be completed in one go, or over a longer period.

To host the courses, TeachingCPD required a robust learning management system (LMS) with many specific requirements, including:

  • Branching—allow schools and education staffing agencies the opportunity to brand their own “learning community”
  • White label—enable clients to customize the appearance, adding necessary branding
  • Low initial investment—to keep costs low, there was a need to “try before you buy” to create a vision of how the portal would look without investing money unnecessarily
  • SCORM—ability to upload engaging, interactive content
  • Video—option to add video of a virtual instructor to support learners through the course
  • Reporting and tracking—monitor progress, particularly for mandatory modules, and report on competency and completion
  • Gamification—engage learners with rewards, badges, and leaderboards
  • eCommerce—integrated payment solutions so education staffing agencies could sell courses should they choose to
  • Administration—clean interface and easy process to add and remove users
  • Mobile—responsive design to fit any device
  • Certifications—add customized branding to certificates for successful learners

After reviewing several portals, we selected Talent LMS, as it not only met the initial identified needs but also provided options that would allow TeachingCPD to offer additional features to clients in the future. For example, “live” instructional CPD sessions were not a part of the initial portal offer, but had been identified as a development area that would appeal to schools and education staffing agencies later.

The progress

Within five weeks, two education supply agencies had signed up to the subscription-based learning portal, with an additional three agencies subscribing in the seven weeks that followed.

Each course had the ability for users to set personal objectives and submit a survey that evaluated the course quality and learning experience. Overall, feedback was very good—not only from learners, but from the school leaders and agency consultants who had trialed the portal as part of the testing stage.

However, as with any new product to market, further changes are still taking place as part of an ongoing evaluation period. Government policy regularly evolves in the UK, which has meant some footage has needed to be retaken to keep up with current legislation. In addition, one piece of feedback that has influenced future course development has been with the test modules that were originally set to be retaken until a user passes. Comments from clients indicated they wanted an actual test score, as opposed to simply 100 percent completion; that way they could ascertain the quality of response from the “teacher” as opposed to just finishing the course.

The next steps

The developments in eLearning software and related technology have allowed TeachingCPD to create a learning portal that provides a solution to a long-standing problem. For too long, unqualified staff with no formal training have been placed in schools to perform the vitally important job of ensuring the progress and well-being of young people.

“Pushing” people to learn these essential skills simply does not have the right effect—it is inconsistent and has little impact. More than most, people who work in schools want to develop, they want to get better, but often can’t “pull” on the learning they need, where they need it, and when it is needed most.

Talent LMS and Adobe Captivate have played an integral role in both the hosting and production of course material, resulting in a significant number of people being better equipped to tackle the challenges that exist in UK classrooms.

So where next? TeachingCPD hasn’t finished yet. Exciting plans are in motion for the evolution of a learning platform that can influence educational standards the world over. Watch this space.