Pre-conference listening

Let鈥檚 start at the beginning. In October over 500 learners responded to our 鈥楬ave your say鈥 survey.听Immediately we implemented a new enrolment journey where we could simplify our information, advice and guidance and ironed out technical glitches around our triggered emails.听

Over 300 members took time out to come to our Voice focus groups across the country and online in November. We looked at how we could improve our online enrolment journey and provide tailored support. We also investigated what made WEA learning special and what cultural听subjects听learners wanted. As a result, we developed an action plan and highlighted areas to investigate further.听

Co-design at conference

Those topics were built into the morning workshops at conference.听In the afternoon we also explored our membership. Below are my reflections on the findings. These have been shared with the relevant teams to shape our operation as we go forwards.

Looking ahead

We have got so much out of the listening we have done this year. And I believe the changes we have made, and still have in the planning, make real improvements in our learner experience.

I am committed to continuing these listening exercises. I was so pleased at the diversity we achieved in our Voice focus groups. The challenge for us now, is how to attract that same diversity into our conference.听

Session findings

1. Design how you would like to receive course advice

There was a lot of agreement about the need for Amazon-like recommendations, on the website, via email, and mentions in final classes. Where the WEA didn鈥檛 offer the next step, there was a desire for connections to other providers. Also, learners were open to being in networks allowing other learners to make recommendations to them. If tailored advice was desired, booking an appointment or live chat was desirable.

2. Design how you would like to receive Careers advice

This session was primarily attended by those on community interpreting courses from the Ukraine, so the findings are particularly focussed on their needs. The ideal CIAG (Careers, Information, Advice and Guidance) person would know how to refer and signpost to specialist as needed.听The advisor would be able to provide guidance to overcome language barriers and to explain UK cultural norms, rights and responsibilities.

3. Design how you would like to receive digital support

Some learners continue to struggle with our application process and logging into Canvas with the Microsoft 365 username. Many were keen to be pointed to written guidance with pictures and videos, and suggested that learners were sent reminders of these before their first class. Learners were happy to be 鈥榖uddied up鈥, or to attend a weekly drop in 鈥榓sk me anything鈥 session on Zoom. Learners would like to live chat or have a call with IT experts for more complex or stubborn issues.

4. Design your ideal cultural curriculum

Learners overwhelmingly wanted the curriculum to be delivered in person or hybrid. Working learners asked for more classes in the evening. Learners were happy to travel up to 30 minutes, or one hour if it was the right course, but classes needed to be accessible by good public transport links. Classes should encourage discussion, build a sense of community among learners, and overall be fun!听

When reviewed, learners agreed with the subjects chosen as priorities in the Voice focus groups and suggested that some courses should听support learners with the challenges in life, for example, living with bereavement, dealing with debt, living on a budget.

5. The Membership offer of the future

When reviewing the current offer learners and members said the weekly lectures were the most valued member benefit. Members commented that the early enrolment window was less of a benefit now. Members recognise that the 拢15 fee is cheap but would not want the price听to go up much. As we develop our membership offer, members would like us to consider a discount on courses, access annually to the CEO and partnership offers. The volunteer discount is appreciated.

6. Designing the development of volunteering

Potential volunteers need to know about the WEA and the roles on offer and may wish to speak to someone in role. Having expressed an interest, volunteers need an induction and to be buddied up with someone experienced in the role. Support to navigate the WEA鈥檚 use of jargon would also be invaluable! As you work as a volunteer, it is helpful to have a single point of contact with a member of staff and to have regular opportunities to reflect with them on how it is going.听

7. Advocacy in an election year

There was a clear call that anything we involve learners and members in must be simple and single-minded. Learners and members asked the WEA to provide a simple explanation of how we teach and why it is unique, case studies from each MCA, impact statistics and a course or member lecture on how to be a WEA advocate. There was a desire to connect MCA learners together to collaborate and a recommendation to use the networks of the Local Advisory Panels.

8. Developing course ambassadorship

To be a course ambassador, you need to be networked within your local community or via social media, enthusiastic and able to talk the WEA. The WEA could support ambassadors听more by providing collateral and digital assets for sharing, prompting you to give the right information to be a strong case study, teaching you how to be an ambassador and telling you about our campaigns and what courses are on offer near you.

Photo gallery

Collage of learners and Pat Kynaston from conference
Collage of images from conference

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Simon Parkinson, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the WEA
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About the author

Simon Parkinson

Chief Executive and General Secretary

Simon Parkinson is the Chief Executive and General Secretary of the WEA.