Further your career, improve your practice
TN spoke to Sarah Yewman about how online learning with the National Extension College is laying the foundations for a future career in the early years sector…
When developing your own training, it’s important to know exactly what you want to achieve, says Wendy Whittaker-Large…
Learning outcomes are vital if you are going to design effective, powerful training courses that make a real impact. There’s a real art to writing learning outcomes, but there are some tools you can use to help you. And remember learning outcomes are not about what you will do – they’re about what the learner will do by the time he or she has completed the course. The best learning outcomes are ones which clearly identify what the participants will be able to do by the end of session. A good acronym for this is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.
Although learning itself is pretty difficult to measure, defined learning outcomes ensure that you know exactly what direction of travel you are taking in supporting learning as much as possible in the training situation. They also allow you to evaluate your session plan and identify whether there are any gaps in covering learning outcomes, and they help you to clarify what each session is really all about. There are some subjects in early years which are huge and a one-day or half-day training session cannot do them justice. Outdoor play, for example, is a massive topic about which much has been written, researched and studied. Squeezing all that knowledge and learning into a staff training session is quite a challenge unless you are very clear about the specifics of what participants will learn.
Defined, measurable learning outcomes help avoid this trap of ‘too much information, not enough learning’, and will enable you to clarify exactly which aspects of Outdoor Play you want to focus on with your participants.
Time and place of session: Twilight Staff session 6–8pm in the staffroom
Topic: Outdoor Play for babies
Learning Outcomes: By the end of the
session participants will be able to:
With these four learning outcomes it would be possible to plan a clear and highly effective training session. These are very measurable! However, you may wish to lessen the measurability and allow for other learning outcomes that are softer, using words such as ‘explore’, ‘consider’, ‘understand’. It’s worth remembering, though, that these are harder to evaluate and address in a session plan.
Wendy Whittaker-Large is the awardwinning founder of early years training provider Elearvation. Visit elearvation.com or call 0845 519 1268.
Why did you decide to train for a career in early years?
SY: I left my career, working in broadband Internet, seven years ago to have children, and ended up having three in quite quick succession. My youngest is three and will be going to school next year, so it was a case of, ‘What do I do next?’ Like most mums with three children I thought, ‘Well, I’d like to be around at school holidays, I’d like to be able to drop them off and pick them up, and go to sports day’. So I wanted to try and find something that worked around my children and was a little bit more flexible.
I started working part-time in the preschool that my children attended just before I started my diploma. It’s quite a traditional setting, offering five, three-hour sessions each week – I’m chair of their committee too, but volunteering there was what made me think this is something I’d like to pursue.
How is the diploma delivered, and how are you assessed?
SY: It’s an online course. You simply log in to the NEC’s system, and there’s a list of all the questions you need to complete. For some you have to ‘demonstrate’ something to your assessor, for the others you have to research and complete an assignment. When they’re done you can upload them to the system for your assessor to mark – and you go on like that, really.
In all honesty, I haven’t really needed much input from my assessor, though she’s been great when I have contacted her. I’m lucky in that I’ve been confident about what I’ve been doing, and I’ve passed most of my assignments first time. I had a few questions for her when I started, but on the whole, I’ve just got on and done it.
There’s also a final assessment, which accounts for about 30 per cent of the course. Your assessor comes in to your setting and watches you. There are certain criteria that you’re marked on – which you get to see up front, so there’s no surprises! It’ll be a bit nervewracking; the list my assessor sent me is a mile long. When I saw it, I thought, ‘OK, I might have to do a little bit of work over Christmas!’.
What does the course cover, and what have you found most interesting?
SY: It covers all sorts – from health and safety through to providing support for special needs, being an inclusive setting, different theorists, personal development; the whole length and breadth of early years education and then some!
One of the optional units I chose was ‘Coordinate special educational needs provision’, and that has been a real eye opener. It teaches you what to look out for and what strategies to implement. I’ve been working really closely with the SENCO within our setting to get more experience, and I’ve learnt an awful lot. It’s got me absolutely captivated to be honest, to the extent that I think I’d like to go down the route of becoming a SENCO, or even going on to offer one-to-one support through the school system. And it never would have crossed my mind if not for this diploma.
Why did you choose to take the diploma with the NEC?
SY: I had a look at attending a college and other options, but this was the best option for me because of its flexibility. If you know that you can motivate yourself, and you don’t have problems working on your own, I would absolutely recommend it. It allows me to choose when I do my assignments, so whilst my children might be busy doing something else I can do some; or, if my husband’s working late and they’re in bed, I can sit down and attack a few. And I’ve worked the odd weekend to get a few completed too. I like to try and spend four to eight hours a week on it if I can, and my assessor has said that I’ve done well in getting through the workload. I didn’t want it to encroach on family life, so I’ve been doing it in the odd hours I get to myself, which are not many when you’ve got three children!
You have to complete it within two years, but I gave myself 18 months – I think it will be 17 months at the end of February, which is what my target is at the moment, and I may even finish before that. My son starts school in September, so I wanted to have it all done by then so I can start actively looking for work!
Training interview: Forest School Leaders