Adults stuck at home during lockdown are turning to distance learning courses in their droves.
Stoke-on-Trent College has revealed more than 150 people a month are signing up for its online programmes – a 100 per cent increase since February.
They cover everything from childcare, health and social care through to IT, customer service, finance and how to create a business start-up.
As most of the courses are pitched at level two – GCSE standard – they are free to anyone aged 19 or over who has a Stoke-on-Trent or Staffordshire postcode.
And with many people either furloughed or worrying about their career prospects, the training is proving fertile ground for those who want to update their skills and CVs.
Tara Welch, distance learning coordinator at the college, said: “Those enrolling say they are no longer seeing their professional development as something their employer must pay for.
“They are seeking out these opportunities themselves, to adapt their knowledge or increase their skills to prepare for potential economic uncertainty.”
The students are drawn from right across Staffordshire – and some are living as far afield as Kent and Tyne and Wear. Although the studies are completed online, they do get support from college staff.
“We often have people taking the course who haven’t done any formal learning for a long time,” added Tara. “At first, this may be daunting for them, but they see that we are here to help them get on and complete it.
“Then when they complete it, their sense of fulfilment is immense. They often say things like, ‘I can’t believe it. I just didn’t know I had it in me’.”
The college is currently offering almost 40 distance learning courses, which are accredited by a national awarding body.
It would normally cost around £800 to study, but the courses are paid through a grant from the Education and Skills Funding Agency. This financial support is not specifically linked to the coronavirus pandemic.
Jan Cassidy, from Porthill, was out of education for many years before deciding to explore distance learning a couple of years ago. She has now completed college courses in nutrition, challenging behaviour, mental health problems, and equality and diversity.
In the last few weeks, the 54-year-old has also done a business start-up course. She managed to fit it in as she has been furloughed from her job as a dog boarder.
Jan said: “During this difficult time in lockdown, it’s been absolutely brilliant to have the course to focus on. It’s surprising how quickly the days have gone.
“I have developed new skills in marketing that I can use with my employer when I go back to work. It’s given me lots of ideas for the business and the confidence to put those ideas forward and get out there to represent the business at events when I am back to work.”
Now she is urging other adults to give it a go as well.
“It has truly helped to open my eyes to so many different things and to what I am capable of. I am excited by what I have learned,” Jan added.
To find out more, visit www.stokecoll.ac.uk/distancelearning or email firstname.lastname@example.org.