Learning at Work week is an annual event in May. It aims to to put a spotlight on the importance and benefits of learning and development at work. This year it takes place from 14th-20th May and the theme is 'Networked for Learning'.

ScOPT are running a series of articles on the website to tie in with Learning at Work week.

This post is by ScOPT Trustee Gillian Muir writes about using technology to improve access to learning and support and inclusion.


Using technology to improve access to learning and support and inclusion

Gillian Muir

Home-Start Stirling is a voluntary organisation offering parent to parent support through trained local volunteers. It is affiliated to Home-Start UK. Rachel Keenan, manager, and I work together through our professional supervision relationship. We have identified the learning benefits of the "community" created through Home-Start i.e. local people having opportunity to develop as home visitors to support other local people who may be struggling in their parenting role. We have been exploring the potential to extend these opportunities through use of technology and social media e.g. through extension of the project’s website and promotion of Facebook group-pages for volunteers and for parents. One Co-ordinator already uses Facebook to post relevant articles and news relating to all things childcare and child development and Rachel is keen to harness this through volunteer and parent-specific group pages.

Currently, volunteers receive comprehensive induction training of 1 day/week over 6 weeks. Once working as a home visitor, they receive a high level of ongoing support through a supervision process of 1:1 contacts on a 6-weekly basis. These discussions inform the development of the annual learning and development programme of 4 sessions per year e.g. a session facilitated by a Shakti Women's Aid speaker on domestic violence and its impact on adults and children. Rachel and staff aim to compliment these forms of learning by use of online methods. A Facebook volunteer group-page has been set up to allow volunteers to share learning resources e.g. relevant news items, articles and links to other online resources on child development, early years policy news, events in the local community etc. This will be a space for the community of volunteers to provide peer to peer advice and help, to mentor one another and be "leaders for learning" in an informal way. Volunteer feedback cites the level of support and training they receive as a main reason for their continued work with the project.

Rachel and Co-ordinators undertake the targeted work with parents and families, allowing volunteers to take a more supportive role, sharing their parenting experience and the additional knowledge and skills developed through their training and support as a Home-Start volunteer. Parents have opportunities to self-evaluate and reflect on their progress through the use, with a Co-ordinator, of the Home-Start UK tool, The Family’s Journey of Change. This tool is used for planning work and evaluating impact of support on parents and their children. The parent is initially asked to score themselves in relation to a set of key skills and tasks involved in parenting e.g. managing behaviour, coping with feeling isolated, managing the household budget, managing conflict within the family and using other services. They are invited to develop outcomes, answering the question "What would it look like if it was better?" This allows the parent and Co-ordinator to identify the types of support that will help to achieve these outcomes. This assessment is reviewed with the parent on a 3 monthly basis. The assessment and review process allows the parent to reflect on and appreciate progress made. It allows volunteers to have tangible evidence of the difference they are making and the project to evidence its impact for a range of evaluation, inspection and fundraising activity. Home-Start Stirling is committed to user involvement and has a Parent Forum which meets with Rachel and Co-ordinators quarterly. They suggested a Facebook group-page as a means to providing parent-parent advice and help. Parents’ potential for learning and development is valued and this new venture will be evaluated.

The profile of parents and volunteers is broad and includes people from urban and rural communities, different socio-economic groups and ethnicity. The uses of technologies to improve access to learning and support and inclusion, across a wide geographic patch, can only add to the potential for all members of this community to learn and develop. There is evidence of various development pathways as a result of engagement with Home-Start Stirling e.g. supported parents becoming volunteer home-visitors, home-visitors going on to college and university to take up roles in the caring professions.

This year's work plan includes a focus on further development of the website to provide information and support to parents, volunteers and referrers. This will include the development of videos charting the progress of volunteers through induction and points throughout their time supporting parents. These will allow potential volunteers to understand the work of the project, provide potential service users with an understanding of what the project can offer and enable referrers and funders to make informed decisions about using/supporting Home-Start Stirling.


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