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Learner motivation and engagement in the post-14 sector during distance learning

Written By: Ian Duckett
3 min read


Ways of Engaging is a blended learning project designed to support disaffected young people. The blended learning programme drew on my experience as a teacher and manager in FE and alternative provision in the last 10 years in a wide range of contexts as well as previous research and development of case studies around NEET cohorts. It was concerned with re-engagement, learning and developing skills of employability and enterprise. In its latest incarnation it was used with learners undertaking YMCA Norfolk’s Life Ready project as a blended learning approach to support the development of communication, problem-solving and learning and employability skills.


During the pandemic, events overtook participants and the blended learning model proposed took on a more practical pedagogy linked to the emergency curriculum for practitioners to use in a variety of ways of engaging with the young people in their care, sometimes planned; sometimes as a means of managing in a crisis; sometimes collaborative, but always as a direct and personalised response to individual learner needs. While not directly born out of the COVID-19 crisis, some learning activities have been shaped and altered and, in some cases, driven online.


There are three main curriculum components to the approach to engagement and re-engagement. These are leadership, employability and volunteering. Personalised and assignment-based, the approach is learner focused and built on a foundation of agreed and realistic targets that fully take account of individual learner needs. The engagement project equips learners with personal, learning, thinking and employability skills. Below I describe the key principles of the approach:

  • Introductory skills session – what will you need to succeed? Teamwork; target setting and skills for learning; problem solving; language and communication (employability skills)
  • Describe yourself – using a method of your choice (written description, picture, film or artefact), try to explain who you are. You should think about your background, ambitions and words which describe you. Record your evidence
  • Objects that represent your life or planned career – bring in three objects which represent who you are. Discuss with a partner or in a group what they represent and why you have brought them
  • Research a topic that interests you – use the internet, library, newspaper or another route to find out information about a subject of your choice. Present the information in an interesting or original way
  • Think about teamwork and leadership skills and communicate to a group what it takes to be a good leader. Use examples of famous leaders and, as a group, discuss what made them good or bad. How do you compare?
  • On your own, or as a group, draw a mind map about respect, showing what it means and giving examples of when it is and is not shown. Compare your examples with others.


Even when learners have chosen a course of study, it is sometimes a challenge for teachers to keep them interested and motivated. This is where personal knowledge of individual learners comes into play. ‘Knowing which buttons to press’ for each individual can provide the ignition to motivate and inspire any learner. ‘Which button’ will differ from learner to learner, as the very uniqueness of each learner will form the basis for their personal determination and motivation. Learners crave realism. If we can gain their interest by making learning real – by linking it to the outside world – we can inspire and increase motivation.

Customised and flexible learning, including aspects of distance learning, is a means to achieving this. The whole notion of ‘personalised learning’ recognises that teachers focusing their attention on individual learners further progresses their learning and mirrors the real world, such as the move away from narrow vocational models. Within the post-14 sector, the debate has centred on how best to move from a world where the individual responds to the system and its structures to one where the systems and structures themselves are designed to respond flexibly to individuals’ needs.



In terms of recommendations, this approach frees learners and teachers from a range of the usual constraints: learners can take control of their own learning and teachers no longer really need to consider time allowances or constraints and can consider:

  • length of time allowed
  • independent learning
  • distance learning
  • resource-based learning
  • mastery learning.


Teachers can and should ask themselves:

  • How can learning and teaching move a learner from where they are now to where the learner has the potential to be?
  • How can session-planning accommodate learners’ different, preferred approaches?


Ian Duckett is Senior Education Advisor, UK.

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