ePortfolios – Revolutions Training

“We had worked with lots of learners who at the end of their conventional NVQ felt deskilled – which undermined all the confidence they should have felt. Most of our learners completed – we are quite tenacious – but it was not a positive experience, for anyone involved. So when we had the chance to be part of a national pilot on alternative assessment, we jumped at it. Our approach was always different though – others wanted their system to be ‘learner-led’, whereas ours was ‘learner-centred.’ Learners don’t need to have their energy and enthusiasm for learning diverted into portfolio-building. We put the onus for that on the assessor. Learners really value this approach, and so do our assessors now – although we had one who could not adapt to this new way of working. And our employers are thrilled not only at how quickly learners gain their qualification, but also at how articulate they become about their practice, and how much better they understand why things need to be done in a certain way.”

“Advice for others? – Make sure you choose a system which will work for you – and think of tomorrow’s needs as well as today’s. You can go down the route of thinking it solves everything – but you have to make the system work for you. It’s not an automatic thing. We have had to change from our original supplier who was too inflexible. The system we have now has the capacity to grow with us – and the supplier is really excited about our approach and what we need the system to do. We’ve been able to work together to make sure it meets our needs – in the same way that we work with our employers to meet their training needs.”

Eleanor Langridge, Managing Director

For years learners have been overwhelmed by the complexity of paper-based portfolios. Assessors have risked back problems heaving boxes of portfolios in and out of car boots and employers’ premises. Cynics adopted a view that if it’s not heavy enough it’s not good enough. But the NVQ in care was never meant to be like this. The excitement when it was first introduced was because for the first time a skilled, but undervalued and unqualified workforce was to be given some recognition. They were to have their existing work practices accredited and their underpinning knowledge extended. Instead, the more mature, but very experienced, care workers saw their younger colleagues surrounded by reams of paperwork. There were enough tales of poor NVQ experience to put off the very workers for whom it was intended. Many older care workers had poor school experiences and lacked confidence in their writing skills. Yet their employers were putting pressure on them to gain their NVQs.

The e-portfolio solves many of these problems. Yes, it requires considerable initial outlay in hardware, software and assessor training. But learners love it. They can see their progress at a glance, and improvements in practice and understanding can be easily heard in the recorded interviews. The portfolio building process is immeasurably speeded up with none of those desperate last-minute portfolio building workshops required. Assessors like it too – using digital voice recorders to capture learners’ commentary and answers to questions means they can be sure of getting sufficient evidence from each visit to the learner. Internal verifiers can also access the portfolios and this speeds up the IV process.

The success of the e-portfolios is reflected in the high success rates and the level of employer support at Revolutions – both of which were seen as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted inspectors in the report of their recent visit.

Advantages for learners

The most obvious advantage for learners is that it is quicker and easier for them to achieve their NVQ. But what Revolutions Training has found, is that learners are able to focus more on what they are learning through their programme, rather than on understanding the language of NVQs. Learners with previous experience of NVQs particularly appreciate the contrast. One told inspectors: “It’s not in NVQ language – it’s much more interesting.” The assessors do the complex work of matching the NVQ to the learner’s work – which means learners focus on their work, and why they do things in a certain way rather than the mechanics of assessment. But this does not mean assessment is something which is ‘done to’ the learner – rather the assessment planning focuses on the learner’s job role in their workplace, instead of the language and structure of the NVQ. One learner, who had failed to complete an NVQ with a previous employer, summed up the difference this approach made to her. “I was terrified before I started. I thought it would be lots of paperwork like before. It’s great that we can do it like this.”

The training programme which precedes the assessment will have reinforced their knowledge of theory, and how that translates into their practice. In the words of one learner, “When we study the legislation, it helps us understand our own employer’s policies and procedures, and how that relates to what we do in the workplace.”

The system allows learners to see at a glance how they are progressing with their NVQ, and both they and their assessors find that really motivating. With a traditional approach, it can be hard to see how much has been done and how much there still is to do, but the electronic system presents what has been done as a percentage of the whole. Learners appreciate the fact that the assessment process concentrates completely on what they are doing in the workplace – and that makes them think more carefully about what they are doing as well. The system makes few demands on learners’ and employers’ time outside the assessment visits – although learners do have to carry out some research, and it is critical that they prepare well for each assessment visit.

Learners talk about how the system has made them think more carefully about what they are doing and why, and how it has boosted their confidence as well as their knowledge. Employers also note the improved confidence in their staff and managers. One said “The Revolutions assessors have helped to inspire confidence in our staff, particularly those who didn’t think they had the ability to train and pass assessments.” Eleanor says, “Having to talk about what they are doing makes the learners more articulate. This is a real benefit compared with the paper-based approach. We use voice recordings much more than video partly because the file sizes are more manageable, but also because it forces the learner to put into words what they are doing and why. But we do use video for learners with hearing impairments, obviously. The verbal evidence is as good as written evidence – but it is easier for most learners to supply it by talking than by writing. And it’s much easier for assessors to judge if the answers to questions are sufficient, immediately – so they can ask supplementary questions if they have to.”

One of the most important advantages to learners is that this approach can start a lifelong love of learning in the most unlikely learners. Several of Revolutions Training’s more ‘reluctant learners’ have progressed through their NVQs and are now studying for foundation degrees in health and social care – to their own surprise and delight.

Advantages to assessors

Revolutions Training has found that assessors, once they have overcome any original technophobia, find the system very rewarding to use. By the time they start the assessment programme, learners have generally already completed their programme of training, and are experienced in their job roles so ready for assessment. Assessors capture evidence dynamically, using their voice recorders with the learners constantly, and typing notes during meetings, rather than having to spend ages poring over written evidence and trying to match it to the NVQ. Eleanor says “It means assessors can draw out the best in people.” More to the point for many assessors, it reduces the time they have to spend chasing their learners for supplementary evidence at the last minute.

For this approach to work, assessors have to be aware of what will make for good assessment opportunities and evidence. It’s important that they have a detailed understanding of the context the learner is working in, to make sure they understand what evidence will be appropriate. They use an Assessor Workflow document to make sure they are all following the same procedure, and regular assessor meetings allow them to share good practice with each other and refine the system. The newly revised Individual Learning Plan provides a good structure for them to set and monitor targets with each learner, and encourage them to learn through reflecting on their own practice. Learners respond very positively to learning through reflection. One said “When you are doing your own work, you don’t realise how important it is, until you do your reflective account.”

The easy access to the original evidence means it is much easier for the internal verifiers to be confident about the quality of evidence which has been assessed. There are far fewer worries about authenticity when evidence is provided in the learner’s own voice, and the quality of witness testimonies from managers and colleagues has also improved.

Advantages to employers

The main advantage to employers is in the increased skill level, articulacy and confidence of their learners, because of the experience they have had in explaining to their assessors what they are doing and why. Employers find their learners suggest ideas for improvement which can benefit the bottom line of the business, as well as the quality of care received by their service users. Another learner told inspectors: “It’s changed the way I do things. I go back and tell my manager to change this and that, and why.” They can also transform the workplace – care settings which had previously been rather staid are now ‘buzzing’ with a culture of learning.

One employer said: “The ‘paper free’ assessment method has been very popular with candidates. It’s put the emphasis back where it belongs: candidates showing their skills and knowledge by demonstrating good practice. We now have staff asking when they can do their NVQ, which is something that did not tend to happen in the days of the paper portfolio”.

A more obvious advantage is that learners generally achieve their qualification in between a third and half the time it used to take with a conventional portfolio – particularly important in care, where employers have to have qualified staff. Employers also welcome the minimum disruption to their employees’ work.