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WVLLN Launch Lifepilot a website aimed at the vocational student


2009 sees the launch of the WVLLN's new website Lifepilot  Lifepilot is designed with the working adult in mind who may be looking to progress in his/her chosen career, or looking to move into a completely new field.  It provides a range of information designed to provide a starting point for adults who have the potential to study a higher level course, by dint of their experience.  Lifepilot is not intended as a full guidance tool, its core strategy is to raise confidence and make adults believe they can be successful HE learners.

Some of the website's key feature include: video clips of students sharing their experiences of HE and how they overcame some of the perceived barriers to studying; materials to build skills for study and update knowledge and a personal development planner.

I thought it would be interesting to learn more about how Lifepilot was developed and went to have a chat with Janet Lonsdale who has coordinated the project. 

Janet, can you tell me how you went about developing the content of Lifepilot?

We recognised that we needed to talk to the target audience right at the beginning of the development process.  There are a lot of sources of support out there for those in full time education, but very few for those who are currently working full time.  We found that it was important not to make assumptions about what was needed, and therefore, organised a series of focus groups with current learners on a range of courses from foundation degrees and access courses to Unionlearn programmes.  Students were asked what kind of information they would have found useful at the point they were considering returning to education.

What were the messages that these current learners gave?

The strongest message was that they would have found it really useful to hear from 'real' people who had already made the transition to HE.  Information they thought would be most useful included how these learners had overcome perceived barriers such as juggling family, work and study commitments, and how they had tackled the seemingly complicated and daunting application process.  Another area which was commonly referred to was the financial implications of returning to study.  In terms of a website, the focus groups were very clear that it would need to be straightforward to use (they had found other information sites to be overly complex and this had really put them off) and as jargon-free as possible.

At the end of the focus groups, learners were asked if they were prepared to get involved in providing the kind of information which they'd said would be useful for others.  Fortunately, despite their own heavy work, family and study commitments, they agreed to be videoed for the website!

Did you undertake some sort of testing process once the website was developed?

Yes, we felt this was a really important part of the development process.  We were very pleased to get the support of unionlearn in arranging some testing days.  The advertised the opportunity for their members to get involved, and those who came along included staff from the post office and the fire service, some of whom were currently studying on pre-HE courses.  These testers gave us some really positive feedback about the content and layout of the website, particularly the learner videos and the information on APEL.  They also fed back that they would like to see much more detailed financial information included and reminded us how important it was to avoid educational jargon as much as possible.

You've referred to the video case studies, can you tell us a bit about some other sections of the website?

Focus groups fed back that one concern they'd had before starting HE study was not feeling sure about what skills they would need in relation to essay writing, exam techniques etc.  The Open University contributed their expertise in providing materials which potential learners can have a go at in bite-sized chunks.

Another section of the website is aimed at de-mystifying the process of APEL which is particularly relevant as the target audience are likely to have gained significant professional experience which may be able to count towards entry to HE.  WVLLN progression coordinators developed the very clear explanation of APEL as something which can work alongside some specific institution's guidelines.  Again, groups of adult learners currently in HE were consulted in the process of developing the material.

Is any further development of the website planned in the coming year?

In order to keep the website fresh we have employed some student reporters who will use video diaries as a way of providing regular input on their expeiences on a range of foundation degrees at LLN partner institutions.  One of the other areas we are planning to develop further is the section on APEL as it's such an important one for our target audience.

Many thanks and good luck with Lifepilot in 2009!

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