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E-learning Journeys Enhance Our Early Years Provision –  It’s Time To Retire The Paper-Based System

Embracing digital technology can pay huge dividends, says Emma Davis

  • E-learning Journeys Enhance Our Early Years Provision –  It’s Time To Retire The Paper-Based System

My experience with online, or ‘e-’, learning journeys began in 2014.

I had concerns about the efficiency of our paper-based system – the endless stream of post-it notes as well as printing, cutting and annotating photographs had become a chore, taking up time far better spent with the children. I began to question the value of the whole process, particularly as parents were reluctant to take the learning journeys home for fear of losing them.

I began researching online methods for recording children’s learning, development and achievements but was concerned that such systems would be impersonal. Happily, a trial of such a system put my mind at rest.

Getting started

There was some administrative work involved initially as we made the transition – from preparing and sending out information and permission forms to parents, to inputting children and parents on the system, writing user guides and updating policies. Before ‘going live’ with the system, it was important that all staff and parents knew how to use it and what was expected of them.

Many parents began using their child’s e-learning journey immediately, adding photos and commenting on observations. Some took longer to build the confidence to engage with the system, but most did so with reassurance and support.

After using the new system for a term, I sent out a questionnaire to parents to understand whether the implementation had been a success. The responses were overwhelmingly positive, with many parents commenting on how lovely it was to talk to their child about what they had been doing, using our photos as prompts.

Although I was happy with the transition, I still wanted more engagement from parents. How could we encourage those who hadn’t got involved without putting too much pressure on them?

I decided to run a competition over the autumn, asking parents to head outside with their child over half term, collecting seasonal items in a paper bag we provided. I asked for photos of this activity to be added to the learning journey, and the photo judged to be the best would win a prize each for parent and child. This worked incredibly well, with the majority of parents participating and telling us how much they enjoyed it. 

Improved engagement

Parents have told us how much they value knowing what their child has enjoyed, experienced and achieved with us.

Previously, parents would often collect their child, ask them what they’d done that day, only for the child to shrug or say, “I can’t remember.” Now if children can’t remember, parents can say, “I’ve seen you’ve been for a walk today” or “I saw you had fun in the sand”, which leads on to lovely conversations.

Because the system is available 24/7, it’s easily accessible and there is no risk of the parent losing it. Once the child leaves us, the whole learning journey is downloaded and saved on a disc for the parent to keep.

Since the system was implemented, engagement between setting and home has grown considerably. The impact of this on children has been the overriding success by far. They love showing us photos their parents have uploaded, talking about where they were, who they were with and what they were doing.

This is fantastic for promoting communication and language development, as children can relive and retell experiences they rarely would have before. We use the information uploaded by parents as prompts in our discussions with the child, which allows them to elaborate on their experiences.

Outstanding provision

As a manager, I’m thrilled at how e-learning journeys have enhanced our provision. This was acknowledged by an Ofsted inspector when we were graded ‘outstanding’ in 2016. The inspector was impressed with the involvement from parents, the quality of observations and how the system allowed us to efficiently track children’s development.

Although it takes time for me to read and moderate each observation before setting them to go live, I enjoy the process; an online system can be just as personal, if not more so, than a paper system and I can now identify which staff member has written an observation, as they all use a different tone or style.

Parents now see many more photos of their child – we simply would never have been able to print the same number. There is also the option of including videos and uploading information and reminders to keep parents up-to-date on events and news from the setting.

Photos are taken of children’s drawings, paintings, constructions and creations, and are shared online. Children now often ask for something to be added to their learning journey as they want to show it when they get home.

Stumbling blocks

Although the transition has been smooth, there have been some niggly issues to iron out. When it felt like staff were becoming too keen to upload any little thing a child had done, we introduced iPad-free days to relieve this pressure and ensure we maintained quality interactions.

As time has gone on, staff have become more at ease with the system, realising that not everything has to be recorded, so a balance has been found that suits everyone.

Going digital

How to make a success of e-learning journeys

Ensure parents are fully aware of the system and provide permission slips prior to setting children up with an online learning journey.
Allow children to be involved. Perhaps they could take their own photos of things they like at the setting and help to upload them?
If parents have commented on an observation or uploaded photos, acknowledge this to ensure they realise that their effort is appreciated. They’ll be more likely to contribute again in the future!
Read all observations before allowing them to go live, so any spelling mistakes or grammatical errors can be corrected before parents view them.

Emma Davis is an Early Years Teacher and setting manager.

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