When lockdown hit, family and community learning practitioners had to do what they do best – think on their feet! Practitioners across the country invited bewildered parents, carers and grandparents – as well as excitable children and babies – into their living rooms, as they hastily created virtual learning spaces to enable family learning. Early years practitioners, family learning managers and community engagement managers from schools, museums and local authorities opened their laptops and offered families a respite from the pandemic – helping them to engage in activities ranging from understanding phonics to exploring wellbeing. 

Coping with the shift to virtual learning 

Earlier this year we conducted a survey with practitioners who delivered family learning virtually about their experiences over lockdown.  

There were no surprises that the biggest challenges for the families they worked with were all connected to digital delivery. Poor internet connection (84%), struggles to access equipment (81%), the cost of data (58%) and a lack of digital awareness (61%) were amongst these digital difficulties. Beyond these technical and cost issues, three-quarters of practitioners said that families weren’t as confident, participatory or as engaged with virtual learning. 

Challenges for practitioners delivering learning also included their own lack of digital awareness (42%), lack of skills and knowledge (32%) and poor interaction/engagement from families (32%). 

Further to this, only 1 in 10 Family Learning practitioners felt completely confident in their virtual family learning delivery. 

Parents unable to give undivided attention in sessions due to children/pets things going on at home.Some parents seeming too relaxed, on[a]settee, or in bed wrapped up in[a]duvet, so doesn't appear that they want to be there.As facilitators we can't guarantee that when parents are in the virtual sessions, they are in a 'safe' place where confidentiality can be maintained for other parents.

Virtual delivery wasn’t all negative 

Practitioners were able to overcome some of the challenges they faced by adapting existing program materials (72%), supplying IT support/advice to families (64%) and providing staff training (51%).  

Practitioners also mentioned that their workshops became more accessible for working parents and fathers - traditionally ‘hard to reach’ audiences- who were able to take part in family learning. 

Parents have found not having to travel to a venue beneficial - more flexible to join a group based on timing rather than geographical location. We have had more males engage due to home working.

Recovering from the pandemic and delivering differently  

Family and community learning practitioners are now rethinking how they will engage with parents moving forwards. Many are looking to deliver a hybrid model of family learning including face-to-face and online learning.  

Practitioners participating in the insight survey offered the following 3 top tips to deliver online learning:  

  • Plan well, practise and reach out to parents before the programme formally starts  
  • Delivery sessions should be short, fun and engaging 
  • Seek feedback and adapt according to the needs and preferences of families.  

Further advice included keeping it simple, staying positive and using teamwork when delivering online – whether that is between colleagues or practitioners and families.

Supporting practitioners to deliver with confidence 

On the back of the survey results, Campaign for Learning's next conference on 24th November will provide practitioners with insights and approaches for delivering hybrid models of family learning.  

At the Delivery Differently conference, we will be looking at how to make virtual delivery just as effective as your classroom, museum or library learning offer. We will be sharing ideas and advice from family and community learning practitioners on how to make a virtual experience more personal and interactive, and exploring our learning resources to help invigorate delivery and create an innovative curriculum.  

We’ll have a wide range of speakers, featuring: 

  • Creative input from Seven Stories Museum and All Things Considered Theatre 
  • Partnership approaches from Tes Award Winners Redbridge Institute and Westminster Adult Education Service  
  • Digital expertise from Kingston Libraries and Adult Education and the Campaign for Learning 
  • Audience development from the Fatherhood Institute and Rochdale Borough Council Family Learning. 

For more information and to book a place visit: https://bit.ly/DeliveringDifferently2021 

To read the research report visit: https://bit.ly/3vYAQ9P

Gurpreet Keila  is Deputy Director (Projects) at the Campaign for Learning