As it has done for everyone else, the Covid-19 pandemic has turned our world upside down at Villiers Park, forcing us to dramatically rethink the way we have always done things. We’re grimly mindful of the tragedy and human cost that the virus has wrought across the world. But alongside the long shadow that the pandemic has cast over the past 15 months, it’s possible to see faint silver linings, particularly where the virus - and our response to it - has become a catalyst for positive change.
Despite being a unique and forward-thinking organisation, Villiers Park had not previously had to seriously consider alternatives to the in-person offer we have refined over a number of years. Until, that is, we found we could no longer run face-to-face activities and direct-to-person delivery in the way we were used to. If we were to continue supporting less-advantaged young people in the way we wanted, we would need to radically overhaul what we do. As for many other organisations, this required us to pivot towards online delivery - and pivot fast.
And so, this week, after four months of intensive development, we are proud to officially launch our new e-learning platform, Launchpad. At the risk of blowing our own trumpet, we are pretty excited by the way it has turned out. We wanted to design our platform and its courses to be flexible, modular and accessible. We wanted to build something that would respond to the way our Future Leaders want to use it and which would give them control and agency over their own development. It feels like we’ve succeeded.
Our courses are easy to access on any device: bite-sized modules that our Future Leaders can dip in and out of as their time allows; they include self-reflection tools that encourage Future Leaders to think about how their learning and development propels them along on the journey towards their best possible self. Each of our courses includes carefully designed assessments that enable young people to identify and articulate their learning and development. The important skills and knowledge they demonstrate will be certified on their Future Leaders transcript, which they can use as a catalogue of their abilities and attributes for future employers, apprentice providers, FE colleges and universities, or even their current and future selves.
Launchpad has been a collective, collaborative endeavour that has nonetheless thrown up a wide range of challenges - technical, administrative, organisational and pedagogic. It’s been awesome to watch the way that the Programme Team has risen to respond to them, drawing on their professional expertise and experience to create engaging, exciting and useful courses that anticipate and respond to Future Leaders’ needs. We quickly realised that we couldn’t just chop up existing resources from our face-to-face activities, upload them, and have done. We’ve had to go back and revisit the purpose of each course, identify what we and - more importantly - Future Leaders want to get out of it, and then work out the best way to make that happen. We’ve built everything from the ground up for the platform, undergoing a crash-course in online pedagogy in the process.
Working in this way has also enabled us to strengthen the self-reflective spine that underpins the Future Leaders programme. While encouraging self-reflection has always been part of what we do, now it’s up front and centre, and we even have skills development courses explicitly designed to support young people with developing the effective critical thinking and self-reflection skills their future self will need to succeed in a complex and uncertain world. And while the content of our courses is important, we’ve also started learning how to use the format and facilities of our new platform to help young people develop a range of additional skills, knowledge and attributes en route, through thoughtful and reflective engagement with the resources we provide.
Of course, like all online platforms, Launchpad is constantly evolving, so, proud as we are, this feels like a soft launch. And, actually, it’s pretty great to realise that we’ve only just scratched the surface of what’s possible through our new platform. Back in Mission Control, the Programmes Team is hard at work, rolling out an initial tranche of 40 courses across personal, academic, career, social, and well-being curricula. But we’re also thinking way beyond this horizon and already have hundreds of ideas and proposals that we’re beginning to develop.
We want to build many more subject-focused courses that will enrich and deepen young people’s academic interests. We want to help them work out how they can personally have a significant impact on their peers, the communities in which they live, and on the wider world. We want them to develop resilience and well-being strategies that will help them remain tenacious and creative in the face of the future challenges they will face. We want to give them top-flight thinking skills, the ability to express themselves to a wide range of audiences, and we want them to take charge of their own future and learn how to make the best possible decisions for themselves. But we can't do it without you.
If you are able to, please make a donation to support the biggest change we've ever made in our provision. There are a whole host of courses and modules we would like to develop and are seeking partners to help us achieve this. To develop each course costs between £2,500 and £4,000. If you can help - or know someone who can - please get in touch with the team: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s clear that the world isn’t going back to how it was - and having now started to realise its potential, our online platform will remain central to what we do, even as we shift to what will be a hybrid/blended form of engagement with our young people. To achieve our ambitions, we’ll be working with our partners, but even more importantly, directly with our Future Leaders, over the coming months and years, to ensure that Launchpad grows into its best possible future self: a critical - and challenging - development resource that orients future generations towards their own best possible future selves and launches them towards the place where they can realise their sky-high ambitions and potentials. It feels like we’ve only just got started.