Allan Boyle, the centre manager at the National Learning Network in Portlaoise, has said that it was difficult adapting to working remotely for the 20 staff and 80 students that use the service – but that some students have “absolutely flourished” during the time.
“Everyone has a different learning style and some students have absolutely flourished,” he said on a recent video interview with Laois Chamber of Commerce.
He also explained how they have managed to continue teaching remotely and offering the same level of support to their students online.
Having previously had up to 30 hours a week of face to face contact with their students, everything changed in mid March when the various Coronavirus-related restrictions were put in place.
The National Learning Network part of the Rehab group and works closely locally with the Laois-Offaly Education and Training Board (LOETB).
From their base on the Dublin Road in Portlaoise, they work with people who have an additional support need in education, training and getting employment.
They run three courses at QQI Level 3 and 4 which are “designed specifically with the job market in mind”, said Allan.
Among their offerings is their 18-month Kickstart programme which focuses on retail, catering and office roles while they also run employer-based training.
All their courses have a significant element of work experience combined with class time in the centre which has led to a huge change in recent months.
It has accelerated a “move towards blended learning, remote learning” but “students still getting what they come here for, still getting access to onsite counsellor, psychologist and student liasion officer”.
“Once work is coming back to us and students are getting support, the work is being done,” adds Allan but if a student is having difficulties, “I’ll sit down with instructor and come up with specific plan how we support that student.”
Looking ahead to September-October when the centre will be facing into a new term, he says that students will have “40-60% face to face time but working remotely from home on other modules”.
“It’s a new way of working (but) everyone has really put their shoulder to wheel.”
Locally in Laois, the National Learning Network in Portlaoise have a good relationship with businesses with Allan specifically mentioning Mochua Print, Fingleton White and Downey’s, whom they work closely with and regularly have student on work experience.
“Work experience is vital to students growth but also gives sense of achievement of which everyone wants of getting a job.
“Some people want full-time jobs, some people want part-time jobs.”
And becoming a member of Laois Chamber has allowed him connect with many other businesses, which is hugely beneficial for the centre’s students.
“We’re always looking to establish that relationship with businesses locally,” he said.
You can watch the video in full here to learn more about the centre and what they offer.