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Open up your learning: How to utilise Access modules in the workplace

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The Open University (OU) offers employers a range of ways to support employees in developing their confidence in learning and set them on a path to work and career-related qualifications. The Open up your learning podcast series explores the different options available to employers. In this episode we take a look at Access modules.

The OU’s Access modules are specifically aimed at employees who are less confident in learning, perhaps because they under-achieved at school or had few opportunites within education. The idea is for the modules to stimulate an interest in learning, giving employees the inspiration and impetus to then pursue a higher level qualification. “They act as a kind of mini-foundation course to prepare people or give them a bridge to move between informal education to a more formal, structured programme,” says Simon Tindall, Head of Skills and Innovation at the OU.

Simon was one of three experts from the OU taking part in a podcast discussion about the Access modules. He was joined by John Butcher, Professor at the OU and Director of the Access Programme and George Curry, Senior Manager on the Access Modules. Corporate learning journalist Martin Couzins chaired the discussion.

Easy access to learning

There is a suite of three Access modules available, across arts and languages, social sciences and professional areas and maths, science and engineering. There are no entry requirements, they are all part time, all done by distance learning and all designed for adult learners. “They’ve been deliberately designed for adult learners, perhaps people who have been out of education for a while or people who don’t have a great deal of confidence in their abilities to return to learning,” says John. “The key is that learners engage with the modules, develop their confidence and develop their study skills. We’ve seen some delightful feedback from students, who didn’t think they could ever do this level of study.”

Widening access to higher education

Simon says the modules provide employers with a low cost, low risk and highly flexible way to improve workforce skills and develop strong career education programmes. They are great for upskilling employees and helping them reach their full potential at work. In particular, Simon says they work well at drawing in learners who would not necessarily take up training opportunities otherwise. “Too often, training programmes are taken up by confident employees, who are already confident learners. But the beauty of the Access courses is it allows a wider opportunity for those employees who may lack confidence and do not see their own potential. It allows employers to encourage smaller, easier steps for those people.”

Given the current business landscape and all the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 and the economy, Simon says it is even more important than ever that employers and employees focus on constant upskilling and reskilling.

Growing confidence

George agrees that the modules really help those less confident learners, people who often don’t understand what it means to be a university student. By studying the modules, learners come to realise that higher level qualifications are an option for them – a degree is achievable. George says the Access module students quickly grow in confidence and resilience, as well as learning new skills. She also says it helps them learn how to learn, a key skill in today’s workplace. “These modules provide them with an opportunity to develop study skills that are really, really important. It’s about skill development and learning how to learn online.”

Each student is assigned a one-on-one tutor and George says this support is key to the success of the modules. “It really does enable people to build up trust in the education system again. They get lots of feedback from their tutor, which really helps.”

Currently, just over 4,000 learners are studying Access modules each year, with courses starting in February and October.

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