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Break the Barriers to e-Learning

We all know that there's never enough time to do all the things we want to do and barely have any time at work to learn new things on the job. This is equally true for school support staff with the time and training constraints they face. Skills4Schools looks at the barriers to e-Learning and how they can be overcome.

                                            E Learning

Barrier #1 - I don't know what e-Learning is

E-learning (or online learning) makes use of information and communications technology to provide innovative ways to learn. Distance learning covers learning remotely on courses such as home study or 'self-study' courses, which can be combined with e-learning.

e-learning may appeal to you if you:

  • Want to learn when and where you want, at your own pace
  • Have commitments which make it harder for you to attend a regular course
  • Have mobility or health problems that make travel or attendance difficult
  • Live a long way from a training provider
  • Work irregular hours or shifts
  • Want to try something new without committing to months or years of study
  • Do not work well in a classroom setting

A variety of media is used to help with learning and to provide communication between learners and tutors. These include:

  • Traditional written materials, such as books and manuals
  • Television and radio broadcasts
  • Audio tapes and CD-ROMs
  • Online information
  • Online groups
  • Video conferencing
  • e-mail support

Your tutor can provide support by phone, email, online or by post. You might be able to communicate with other learners by email or website discussion groups. This helps you learn from the rest of the group and comment on each other's work. There is usually a good range of support available to help you organise your time and manage your learning.

Barrier #2 - I don't have a computer


Laptops and desktop computers have dropped significantly in recent years. So the option to buy one either new or reconditioned is reachable now for more and more people. Online shopping offers the best deals with web only laptops from just over £100! Computer exchange shops, online auction sites and classified ads can all offer even better deals but you need to be confident in what you are buy especially without a guarantee. If you know any computer experts - then you would be wise to get them to check it out.

Maybe someone in your family has one you can use to do a course or just practice with and try it for size. Despite what many novices think they are quite difficult to break unless you drop it from a height or drag it behind your car on the way to school. OK, you want to keep on good terms with your family then the good old public library can come to the rescue. Nearly all public libraries have PCs to use and many are free for the first 30-60 minutes as long as you are a member and book your place of course.

All schools have PCs now and with extended schools there is likely to be a better chance of getting a go on one of them. Ask your head teacher about accessibility to the school computer suite.

There are a range of Internet cafes about now and this may be a way for you to practice or try a short course. It saves you the initial outlay and the costs of running the Internet. Prices can start from 50p for a half hour upwards, printing will be extra. Uploading and downloading may be restricted so check if you need additional software to run a course or need to use your memory stick.

Many trade unions have learning centres where members and non members can access PCs and learning. These can be located in workplaces, union offices and trade union education units in colleges.

Finally there are lots of community based projects offering access to computers, courses and the Internet and many are free or subsidised. Try your local library, community centre, schools & colleges, learndirect centres. You can find out where they all are by going to UKOnline

Barrier #3 - I don't have the Internet

Apart from one of the options above there's not much chance of getting this for free. There are loads of Internet service providers (ISP) vying for your business with lots of attractive offers. Just consider a few things if you are going to use it for e-Learning.

  • Go for a high speed line e.g. Broadband or cable as your course will be 'content heavy' which means it needs a lots of bandwidth or upload/ download capacity.
  • Check with your ISP (once you get through to them) that your courses are compatible with their software. Some ISPs give you a CD-ROM to load their software often you get more onto your hard drive than you realise - so check for compatibility.
  • Check you have the correct web browser. Web browsers are what you see the Internet through rather like a stage. You have Internet Explorer or IE for short (one of the most popular), Firefox, Netscape, AOL, Mozilla etc. Again there can be a compatibility issue but most courses have been developed with all these issues in mind.
  • Some course providers offer CD-ROM alternatives which will save you using the Internet if you don't want to get it.

                                                      CD ROM

If you are considering getting Broadband you can check availability in your area and price comparisons at Please note that a BT line is needed for most set ups so you may have to check with BT first to see if your telephone line is suitable, what speed you can expect and who maintains the line. For more easy to follow advice on Broadband click here

Barrier #4 I don't know what to study

                                                      Enter Key

Well you should start by thinking of a few questions to shape the choice of course

  • Are my computer skills adequate to work your way through a course?
  • Do I want to learn something work related, gain a qualification or do something just for pleasure.
  • Will you be able to read from the screen or will you need printed notes, CD-ROM?
  • How much time can you dedicate to it?
  • Will you need an online tutor / help desk at hand?
  • What are you good at to give you early success and keep you interested?
  • Will you pay for the course or look to have it funded?

To help you with your Internet skills and try a free course from the BBC see Webwise



If you need help in deciding what course to do please contact learndirect careers advice on 0800 100 900 or see their website at

examples of learndirect courses that school support staff might find useful, some have nationally recognised qualifications attached to them;

  • English
  • Maths
  • Life Skills
  • English as a second language
  • Essential skills for work
  • Web design
  • Word processing
  • Communication skills
  • Finance & cash flow
  • Working in teams
  • French, German & Spanish
  • Learning through Work*

*Learning through work is an exciting opportunity for individuals and work-based groups to get university qualifications without leaving the workplace. Customised programmes build on existing skills and knowledge and focus on work-related learning.

Open University

Open University courses generally have no entry requirements, and no upper age limit. Courses range from short courses for people who have never studied before to specialist courses aimed at postgraduates. If you haven't studied for some time or are interested in a new subject, short courses and a special programme called the 'Openings Programme' can help you discover if OU study is right for you.

Examples of OU courses that may interest school support staff;

  • Supporting learning in primary schools (E111)
  • Foundation degree - Early years (G01)
  • Researching mathematics (ME825)
  • Classroom research and action (GE022)
  • Flexible PGCE (C21)
  • Understanding children (Y156)
  • Managing in the workplace (B121)
  • OpenLearn Learning Space*

*OpenLearn offers you free materials to use on a wide variety of subjects.

OU qualifications mark academic success but also show that you have commitment, ambition and self discipline. You can complete many small units and build up your credit points to make a qualification.

Find out more about learning with The Open University

National Extension College

The National Extension College (NEC) helps people of all ages fit learning into their lives. The NEC supports over 10,000 learners a year on over 100 home study courses. The website has a range of features to help you study effectively. As a learner you can get online support and access to the NEC student group - a free online group, as well as other specific course groups.

Courses that may interest school support staff include;

  • 20+GCSEs
  • 20+ A' levels
  • Counselling skills
  • Bookkeeping
  • How to write essays
  • English grammar
  • Taking exams
  • Sports management
  • Local authority training

Find out more about learning with the National Extension College

The Teaching Assistants College

                                                         TA college

The Teaching Assistant College is a brand new training provider delivering CACHE Teaching Assistant Programmes on the Internet through online learning (e-learning).

"When designing the programmes to be delivered online we were particularly careful to ensure that your studies were as varied and interesting as possible using a variety of teaching methods, we have incorporated lecture delivery with video clips so you can see other Teaching Assistants working with pupils, a forum to discuss issues with other students, a bulletin board to keep you updated with current issues and, of course, much, much more." Eva Cartwright - Principal & Director

  • CACHE Level 2 Certificate for Teaching Assistants
  • CACHE Level 3 Certificate for Teaching Assistants

To visit the website and get in touch please go to

Barrier #5 I Don't have the cash

Courses don't come cheap these days but e-learning courses can be a third of the cost of a classroom based equivalent. Adding to this is travel, books and possibly childcare. Some basic courses are free like the ones on the BBC website and the OpenLearn materials from the OU. Others free online courses include;

What about the other courses that don't come free?

There are a list of options you can look at to fund the course starting with the obvious;

  • Self fund the course
  • Ask your employer to pay or contribute towards a work related course
  • Ask the provider if there are discounts for unemployed, low paid, groups, young, old, school staff, bulk buyers etc.
  • As a gift from someone
  • Ask your local authority or Learning & Skills Council LSC
  • Ask in your library or local authority as they may have free courses running already
  • Talk to your union rep for ideas
  • See the Skills4Schools page on funding

I hope this has motivated you into at least thinking about e-learning as an option. This sector is likely to grow even bigger as computers impact more and more on everyday life and learning. If you would like to keep up to date on e-learning developments you can download back copies of The British Institute for Learning's informative Connect Magazine just click here.

Please also see below a free learning product

vision2learn product (

Good luck with your learning and see you in cyberspace!

                                                      A mouse

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