With increasing demand for professional development that works around a busy schedule, online learning is one of the best ways for workplace and facilities management to fill its growing skills gap. Here we explore the case for online learning for budding workplace and facilities professionals and the benefits of flexible study.
A 2018 study from Universities UK (UUK)'s project on 'the economic case for flexible learning' gave some interest insights into the state of flexible learning in the UK, including online learning.
While tertiary education is still made up mostly of traditional three-year, full-time, on-campus study – accounting for 58% of all students at UK universities – there's a trend towards part-time and flexible study. There were 612,200 students studying part-time courses across all types of provider in the UK in 2016-17, accounting for 24% of all higher education provision. Interestingly, almost one third of these were aged 40 or over. This is clear evidence of the importance of flexible learning for those seeking a new career path, or who are looking to get back on track having shed family commitments.
Classroom-based, part-time study is the most common form of flexible learning and IWFM has a network of recognised centres that provide a face-to-face and distance learning provision. However, recent years have seen a shift towards employer-based and online learning at some institutions. The Open University, with its original ground-breaking model of accessible distance learning, accounts for much of this, however, the market has grown and is being more widely shared. Online study via other online providers, such as through 'franchise arrangements' arrangement, has increased – nodding towards a positive change in attitude towards making vocational learning more accessible.
In 2016-17, online learning made up 8% of all provision at UK higher education institutions, with 16% of learners entering with no formal qualifications. Based on our own growth in the online learning arena – from fewer than 70 learners in 2015 to more than 450 last year – we can pin this down to the many benefits online learning provides. For instance, many of our own learners choose online study because they can’t not work due to family commitments, or because their employer does not permit days out of the office for training, but still want to commit to professional development. There’s also an appeal to being able to begin a career transition without having to take what could be a risky plunge into unchartered territory.
Fraser Talbot, Head of Professional Development at IWFM, concludes: “UUK’s study shows that online learning continues to offer value to those looking to upskill – an action the workplace and facilities profession is desperate for – while apprenticeships offer a fantastic entry point to the profession. This through-line provides a direct path to development for budding professionals, who can enter at apprenticeship level and then continue study while working.”