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Work Based & Vocational Learning

More than half of MoLeNET projects had work based learning as their main or a secondary focus whilst most projects involved groups of vocational learners, including apprentices, developing a diverse range of skills. Vocational subjects studied included:

dental nursing, business administration, customer service, warehouse and distribution, health and social care, construction, catering, child care, engineering, hair and beauty, motor vehicle, agriculture, horticulture, equestrian studies and electronics

The advantages of mobile technologies for work based learning

Advantages include:

The advantages of mobile technologies for work based learning are summarised at the bottom of the page.


Engineering students explain why they prefer mobile technology:

The convenient size of mobile devices, and improvements in their processing power, storage capacity and battery life, has enabled the provision of technology to support learners in places where this would not have previously been possible due to space and power supply limitations e.g. riding and horticultural centres (Bolton) as well as in a variety of workplaces where paperwork can be impractical e.g. factories, workshops, salons.  Mobile technologies meant that work based learners “dispensed with their folders” and “used the devices in a multitude of places” where they were able to continue their coursework and collect material for inclusion in their assignments (Chichester).

A New College Swindon student explains the benefits of mobile devices over books at work

“I trained as a chef when I was 15 years old and if I had taken a book into the kitchen somebody would have hit me with something quite heavy probably and there would be a degree of ridicule... there are times nowadays when guys are doing complex stuff with boilers, highly dangerous stuff with gas and you’ve got to know what you’re doing.  If you’re not sure … something like this has to be a good thing. I don’t think you would be laughed off site... I work with guys who have been in the plumbing trade for years and years … and they can’t remember everything … on site you might get ribbed a bit but if they think he’s got that on his iPod, that certain boiler, they might say can I have a look.”

Improved Communication

Mobile technologies can improve communication with work based learners.  This can include immediate communication via voice calls and text messages were devices with phone/SMS contracts are used, or where Skype is used with Internet enabled devices (the Skype approach was used by South Thames to enable calls whilst controlling costs), and/or email communication.

 “one assessor’s feedback revealed that previously, when tasks had been set for between meetings, they were sometimes not completed because learners were uncertain of what they were being asked to do – with MoleNET regular and instant communication ensured all learners understood, which increased the work undertaken by learners between meetings with their assessors.” Bournville.

Internet access

For work based learners or those on work placements access to a computer and/or the Internet is often limited, if available at all. Therefore a significant advantage of mobile devices is that they can enable learners to access learning resources and support, to continue to work on their coursework and assignments and to keep in touch with staff and peers whilst on placement.

However there were sometimes problems due to lack of Internet access in some locations.  Learners tried to get around this “they had tried McDonalds (with varying degrees of success) and Starbucks” (Chichester) and when they were unsuccessful learners said they felt “disadvantaged” (Chichester) indicating that an expectation of anytime, anywhere access had quickly become established. 

Just in time, any location, access to video and video recording

Gloucestershire college learners working in industrial services have been able to access health and safety videos loaded on their mobile devices, thus providing them with prompts and support for their own work. Learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities at the Gloucestershire consortium partner NatStar have also used their mobile devices off site to provide video instructions for tasks on an allotment, so that they can be completed without mentor support. This was so successful that a range of further video sequences are being made to cover a variety of activities on the allotment. 

Chichester and their partners Sussex College created How-To guides and videos for Care students who “rarely, if ever, attend the College. So their sole contact is via their assessors” and report “Learners like the video concept and the consortium has received feedback they are being viewed in a variety of settings such as the bus to and from work. Including questions on the film clips helps focus attention and also encourages the learner to reflect on the learning content.”

14-16 year olds at Chichester and their tutors found head cams to be a very effective way of recording outdoor activities such as sailing, kayaking.  Whilst “Motor vehicle / construction used their devices to project images at the learners’ work place as well as in the college’s work shops. Tutors report that learners like the instant feedback provided by using film as they can see their immediately and rectify them straight away. Replaying film also stimulates discussion and on a less serious side injects humour into the lesson.” 

Hair and Beauty students at Norwich, have used their Smartphones to record their work placements and/or Saturday job achievements, to “enhance learning in professional practice”.  A tutor at Accrington and Rossendale describes the convenience of mobile devices for evidence collection, as it enabled their student to record themselves for evidence purposes rather than having to wait for the tutor to arrive. Accrington and Rossendale explain that the Bluetooth tool has been used effectively to send work, materials and evidence, therefore promoting a streamlined process of managing portfolios.  Another member of staff also adds that by having access to the VLE using a mobile device, the learners are able to feel a part of the wider college community and have access to the facilities that learners based onsite have.

Evidence gathering, portfolios and assessment

Three quarters of the projects involved in MoLeNET reported on the impact that mobile devices have had on the assessment process in their college/consortium for both college based and work based learners. This process involves collection and collation of evidence for coursework, assignments and portfolios, assessment of coursework, assignments and portfolio evidence, formative assessment, peer and self assessment and reflection, and feedback .  Many learners have used the video, voice and camera recording facilities on their mobile devices to capture their work as an alternative or supplementary way to provide evidence of progress or achievement.   Some examples of positive feedback from teachers and assessors are:

“All students have valued the assessment processes that have accurately and fairly measured their capabilities and provided effective feedback as a basis for reflection. The project has enabled the students to collect a wide range of mini-assessments, both formative and non-formative, comprising professional assessor, self and peer assessments.” (Care, Bournville)

“The students uploaded their portfolio of work onto the iPods and then took them out to demonstrate to potential customers in London - the BBC, Quench Design and Mainframe. The iPod solved what has always been a massive problem - demonstrating your work out in the field.” (Performing Arts, Matthew Boulton)

Asked whether use of mobile devices has improved the assessment process, tutors from Accrington and Rossendale responded:

“Definitely, the process is much smoother and faster. The students seem more engaged and willing to collect evidence. As for referencing, it is much easier to claim for video footage than marking an observation sheet”

“…the students have been able to demonstrate their competence in finding the information they need. All work has come back completed and to a high standard.”

“…the students have been more confident in accessing the online site from home and it has given them more confidence.  I can also access my emails so I have the most up to date information to hand and assessment documents”

Tutors at Chichester College reported that hairdressing learners, using Asus EEE mini notebooks, who only attended college once a fortnight were able to produce coursework of a higher standard, including photographs as evidence, and that coursework was submitted earlier than then by previous learners without mobile devices.   Whilst at Norwich, hair and beauty students used their Smartphones to record their work placement or Saturday job achievements.  Hairdressing students at Lowestoft used their mobile devices to record the step by step progress of their hair designs, to create PowerPoint presentations to explain what they had done, and to photograph their cutting and styling techniques for inclusion in their portfolios. Lowestoft highlight the benefit of being able to capture less common occurrences within the workplace without having to plan ahead or ensure the presence of the assessor/tutor.

Trainee teachers at Lowestoft used their mobile devices to support their own learners, by allowing them to capture photographic and video evidence for their portfolios, and to Bluetooth evidence from the learner’s phone to the trainee teacher’s PDA for downloading. One trainee teacher has also used their device to record interviews to validate work based evidence.   Huddersfield consortium learners have been collecting video, audio and photographic evidence of their work for their portfolios, with 95% of the learners asked commenting that the mobile device/learning environment has allowed them to collect evidence quicker than with paper-based methods.  


Together with the introduction of mobile technologies for work based learners a number of projects have been trialing the use of e-portfolios to collate evidence and record individual progress and achievement online.   For example Lowestoft apprentices uploaded photographic evidence of completed tasks directly to their e-portfolio and provided a written explanation of the task to complement and expand on the photographs.   70% of Huddersfield tutors recommended this method over the traditional paper-based system.  More than three quarters of these tutors reported that candidates found the e-portfolio system easier than the traditional paper-based system and of these, 86% felt that candidates had uploaded more evidence because the system is easy to use.  Other advantages of the system were identified as “keeps all candidates evidence in one accessible place”, with less risk of losing the different types of evidence; enables candidates to check their progress “at a time that is convenient to them”; allows the candidate to contact the tutor at anytime and access feedback online; allows evidence to be uploaded from anywhere; and is more inspiring for the learner.   Apprentices at Boston reported that their mobile devices made collection of evidence for portfolios easier, that the evidence was of better quality and also that the process helped them to develop a wide range of additional skills: “video, photo storage, email, file management, word, excel, database”.

In Summary

In many cases MoLeNET projects involved the use of mobile technologies to gather evidence of learning and skills development with some projects uploading evidence to e-portfolios.  Bolton, Boston and Stockport colleges were pleased to be able to provide more convenient and flexible access to e-learning resources and college support services for learners in remote settings and work based learners.  Brockenhurst College issued mobile devices to staff supporting and assessing the learners in the workplace. This technology also facilitated visit planning and communication with learners and colleagues. Lowestoft College reported very positive employer reactions to their use of mobile devices for work based learning.  Having witnessed the benefits, two employers plan to purchase mobile devices for other employees.  Accrington and Rossendale College introduced mobile technologies in an attempt to attract more learners to level 2 and 3 courses via Train to Gain and to increase access to learning and assessment for work based learners. Similarly Stockport College wanted to attract more learners to their work based learning programmes.  Aylesbury College focussed on embeddiing e-learning into work place and work based learning and providing real workplace opportunities for learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities including providing mobile technologies to enable recording of activities. Chichester College learners, tutors and assessors in hairdressing and motor vehicle reported that mobile technologies made learning more engaging and more convenient.  Hairdressing tutors found that coursework was completed more quickly and to a higher standard.  Bournville College introduced mobile technologies to help to improve employer engagement in the care sector and to provide work based learners in this sector with better access to learning opportunities.  Cornwall, East Berkshire, Matthew Boulton, New College Swindon and Rotherham used mobile technologies to improve access to learning for engineering students and with the aim of improving success, completion and performance rates of work based learners.  Swindon consortium, including New College Swindon with Wiltshire, Salisbury and Cirencester Colleges, also involved learners in construction, science and sport.  Gloucestershire College focused on using mobile technologies to create innovative ways to deliver the curriculum for both vocational and academic learners.  For the Huddersfield consortium introducing mobile learning into the workplace was about improving the learning experience.