Higher and degree apprenticeships project

Helping further and higher education providers deliver apprenticeship standards using digital technologies

Degree Apprenticeship Infographic Vikki

What we’re doing

We are working with the sector to:

  • understand the requirements and where they present challenges
  • identify and disseminate existing good practice
  • find solutions to common issues

The progress so far section of this page will be updated with the outcomes of each stage of the work.

Why this matters

Apprenticeships is a growth area undergoing massive reform, with a government target of three million starts by 2020. The employer levy funding which began in April 2017 is estimated at £2.5 bn, and we are already seeing signs that employers are choosing to spend the funds available to them at the higher levels.

Increasing and more effective use of technology will be crucial to meeting the needs of this new employer led approach whilst maintaining high quality.

Employers want to see efficient and flexible delivery models, developing the required skills whilst minimising impact to their business. Student apprentices are used to accessing information when and where they want it and they too want flexible access to learning.

Despite increasing awareness of the potential of technology to support apprenticeship delivery, there are many practical obstacles.

Universities and colleges are finding that simply adjusting existing offerings is often insufficient to meet changing requirements and they are having to rethink how they design and deliver a very different type of learning experience.

How this will help you

Making the most of the opportunities afforded by the new apprenticeship standards requires a strategic approach. From course design and marketing, day-to-day learning and teaching practice, managing and sharing information and supporting students through to ongoing customer relationship management the approach is different and needs to be coordinated. We are working with staff in many different roles to address all of these aspects.

Who we are working with

We are working with the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) and the University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC) as well as directly with apprenticeship providers.

Progress so far


We conducted a survey about your issues and priorities that closed in January 2018.

You can find the outcomes of the survey here.

Think Tank

We held a Think Tank event with a range of experts and practitioners in Manchester on 14th November 2017.

The discussions took place under the Chatham House rule but some outputs of the day are available here.


We have delivered a digital apprenticeships toolkit aimed particularly at providers of level 2-4 apprenticeships. Much of the good practice is equally relevant to higher and degree levels.

You can access the beta version of the toolkit here. A new version is due for launch January 2018.

Get in touch

If you want to find out more about this work please contact Lisa Gray, senior co-design manager lisa.gray@jisc.ac.uk

An employer’s perspective


The relationship dynamic between learner and provider is different if the learner is an apprentice.

On a traditional programme, the relationship is between the provider and the learner. The University and the student is a good example of that dynamic. Likewise the A Level learner and their local FE College is another. This dynamic is about how each side views their responsibilities towards each other.

When we come to apprentices the dynamic is different, the relationship dynamic is between the provider and the employer, and the employer has a different kind of relationship to the apprentice, that of an employer. The responsibilities in this case are different and are recognised by providers who have been working with employers for many years.

We know talking to colleges that many have established processes and procedures for communicating the progress of apprentices with the apprentices’ employers. 

Employers have also spoken about how they communicate with providers about the progress of their apprentices.

Suppliers of proprietary software that records the progress of apprentices talk about the functionality that enables different views for apprentices, providers and employers. 

However there is a different perspective that is going to shift this dynamic and that is the proposed increase in the number (and type) of apprentices.

Apprenticeships is a growth area undergoing massive reform, with a government target of three million starts by 2020 and the implementation of the post-16 skills plan. This is a tenfold increase from the current level of 300,000 apprentices.

What this could mean for employers is that an employer that maybe had five apprentices in one vocational area may suddenly find they have fifty apprentices across multiple vocational areas. Rather than working with a single provider, they may find themselves with multiple providers across different apprenticeships and different levels.

We will also see new employers who traditionally not employed apprentices, but with the introduction of the employer levy will want to make use of this funding for probably existing staff, but also potentially new apprentices. The employer levy funding began in April 2017 is estimated at £2.5bn, a billion pounds larger than now. Whichever route they go down will mean that they will be engaging with providers on apprenticeship programmes.

This all means that though existing systems and processes, which are working fine, may not necessarily be fit for purpose over the next three years and beyond. It is in this landscape that the Digital Apprenticeships project Jisc is working on will emerge to support providers to fulfil the changing needs of employers.

Entering Alpha

Entering Alpha


Following a successful transition meeting last month the Digital Apprentice project has moved from Discovery to Alpha.

In the discovery phase we explore new ideas and emerging technology to establish which ideas meet Jisc member’s needs, are technically feasible, fit Jisc’s remit and stand a chance of becoming sustainable services. If an idea passes all these criteria, we move to the alpha phase.

The Digital Apprentice has been looking at three-way communication between employer, provider and apprentices following the introduction of the employer levy for apprenticeships.  As employers increasingly look to ensure they are maximising investment in their staff through the levy they are increasingly likely to be contracting with a wider range of providers, whilst wanting to look across their entire cohort of apprentices to monitor activity and plan progression.

As part of the discovery phase we developed dynamic guidance for apprenticeship providers on embedding technology in design, delivery and assessment http://ji.sc/apprentice-journey-v1 which will be online Jan 18 (watch this space for more news).

So now we enter the alpha phase. Our focus is now on developing the data infrastructure which we will build on top of the learning records warehouse to facilitate multi provider dashboards for employers.

We will develop the tri-partite dashboards with a small number of organisations to iterate and see whether they offer real world benefits. If they do, we move onto the beta phase.

how we innovate

Digital Apprenticeships – next steps

Following our successful workshop with representatives from universities, colleges and training providers a couple of weeks ago, we have been looking at what come next. The outcomes from the workshop showed us that we are broadly on track in terms of the kind of solution that we think we can build to help employers keep tabs on their apprentices and their providers, and the interactions between these last two.

Our thinking has turned now to how to build some sort of dashboard that will present the information about apprentices that employers will need. Jisc has some useful experience in dashboards and working with data from multiple sources and has its own a consolidated data source – the Learning Records Warehouse, a key part of the Learning Analytics cluster activity.

We will investigate how we can build a framework to hold “widgets” that can pull information from different sources. One widget may be a feed showing attendance data for apprentices from the college or university, or outcomes of assessment activities, engagement (data from institution VLE, etc) as well as data drawn from the employers’ systems such as health and safety inductions and incidents, leave and other absences and end point assessment (EPA) information.

Mock up of a possible dashboard

Mock up of a possible dashboard

The next steps are to begin to identify the actual widgets and to begin to work through from the user stories that describe the requirements to identifying data sources that will be required to populate them before moving on in time to user interface design and building the dashboard.

Workshop Report: What would truly digital apprenticeships look like?

As the discovery phase of the Digital Apprenticeship project continues, we wanted to ensure that the sector had an opportunity to have their say in the ideas we had, as well as provide a fresh opinion on shaping our work.


Nearly thirty people from across HE, FE and Skills attended our consultation workshop in London on the 14th June.

Sue Attewell started the day off, providing an overview of where we were, background to the co-design challenge, work undertaken so far, and the reasons we are heading down this road. She explained the process we use to decide what our priorities are and how we consult with the sector. Sue then went onto explain the progress we had made after the initial co-design challenge and where we were now. The delegates were then given an overview of the day and what we hoped, working together, we could achieve.

The first activity of the day was led and facilitated by Rob Bristow which was ranking and reflecting on user stories. User stories are an informal description of a feature of a system – usually from the perspective of a user of the system.


In earlier workshops we had gathered user stories from the perspectives of the key players in the digital apprentice space (employers, providers and apprentices), and we first asked out participants to rank a sample of these user stories that we saw as particularly germane to this activity. We also asked the participants to add more user stories, from the point of view of these same groups if they saw gaps in what we had provided.

One area that came out strongly in this exercise as lacking in the supplied stories was the point of view of the finance functions for both employers and providers. There was a suggestion that a way of easily accessing the spend on apprenticeships against the levy pot and other financial metrics would be helpful. The point was also made that apprenticeships raise all kinds of issues around statutory reporting and that this something that is likely to be a burden across the board. People also raised concerns that apprenticeships are a three way contractual relationship and that there are some thorny issues to be dealt with in this respect, not least the question of what happens when employers go out of business with apprentices short of qualification? Not all apprenticeship standards have qualifications embedded in them, and there are questions hanging over the transferability of any progress against these standards when employers are forced to close.


Overall, the exercise reinforced our belief that there is both a need and an appetite for a means for employers and provider to be able to share a holistic picture of their apprenticeship activities, and that there could be real benefits to the sector in pursuing this approach


Over lunch we had many different conversations about apprenticeships and how digital can be used to enhance and improve that journey.

After lunch James Clay ran an activity on paper prototyping. These paper prototypes can provide an insight into the user experience that digital development or textual based process might not. In human–computer interaction, paper prototyping is a widely used method in the user-centered design process, a process that helps developers to create software that meets the user’s expectations and needs—in this case, especially for designing and testing user interfaces. Using pen and paper means that the focus is on the user experience (UX) and the functionality of the tool. It means that the technical development team have a clear steer from the project team on how to push forward the technical development, which data sets to use and how to process that data, as well as how potentially it could look to the end user on a dashboard. Combined with user stories it supports and aids technical development.


Our delegates split into groups and using their own ideas came up with their own paper prototypes that will we use to feed into our development plans and models. One group usefully focused on language and principles that dashboards and apps should use. It was recognised that this can have both a positive and negative impact on users.

We ended the day with an overview and feedback from delegates

We also mentioned the Apprenticeship and Technical Education Providers Digital Leaders programme running in September in Leicester.

The programme will support managers and senior staff to become a digitally-informed and empowered leader and they will learn how to help their organisation respond more effectively to technology-driven change. Our four-day digital leaders programme will equip you with the tools, knowledge and skills to:

  • Become a more effective digital leader through your own personal and professional development
  • Explore how organisations can engage more effectively with the digital technology at their disposal – at both strategic and operational levels
  • Discover and reflect on how digital technology is changing the way your organisation operates – creating new leadership challenges and strategic opportunities
  • Learn to lead, manage and influence digitally-driven change across organisations, departments, services and teams

Find out more

Once upon a time…


Once upon a time, there was an apprentice called Little Red Riding Hood. She wanted to be a tree surgeon and was looking at a range of apprenticeships. Her employer, the Woodsman, employed many tree surgeon apprentices across many different forests who were all assessed by various Elven assessors. The Woodsman spent many hours working out who was progressing on their apprenticeship and had trouble discovering those who potentially needed support or an appropriate intervention…

User stories are part of an agile approach that helps shift the focus from writing about requirements to talking about them. All agile user stories include a written sentence or two and, more importantly, a series of conversations about the desired functionality. [1]

User stories follow a simple format.

As a…

I want…

So that…

When designing services or software tools we can use user stories to help us define functionality from the viewpoint of the user, and ensure that the development is user led.

For example

As an Apprentice Manager with an employer with multiple apprentices across various disciplines and supported by different providers.

I want to be able to see attendance patterns across all my apprentices, by discipline and by provider, as well as attendance of individual apprentices.

So that I can ensure all my apprentices are attending and making progress on their apprenticeships and where there are issues I can make appropriate interventions.

These user stories enable us to easily clarify the functionality required from an user perspective and ensure that any development isn’t off focus.

We also use more detailed user stories to describe a potential service and its benefits to members and users, as well as internal staff, such as Jisc Account Managers.

1. https://www.mountaingoatsoftware.com/agile/user-stories


If I ask you what you want, what would you say?

Generally when asked people what they want, they reply with what they have but faster and shinier!

John McNeece, a cruise ship designer, said “There is a problem trying to figure out what people want by canvassing them. I mean, if Henry Ford canvassed people on whether or not he should build a motor car, they’d probably tell him what they really wanted was a faster horse.”

If you give people a blank canvas and as therm what they want, they will ask for faster horses and not the motor car.

One way to overcome the “faster horse” syndrome is to use a straw-man proposal. A straw-man proposal is a brainstormed simple draft proposal intended to generate discussion of its disadvantages and to provoke the generation of new and better proposals.

When creating services and tools one way to create a straw-man proposal is to quickly mock up a prototype using wire framing tools.

Within Jisc’s R&D team, Futures, we use a range of wire-framing tools to enable us to quickly create an app, website, tool or dashboard. It makes it easier as it strips the product down the functions ignoring design, style and branding. This allows us to focus on the functions and test user interactivity.

This allows us to create straw-man proposals that we can test with members and users and see how things could work. This is often better than just writing the process down.

The simplest tool is good old pen and paper, and you will know from previous posts that I quite like pen and paper.

There are other tools, one which can be used (which many people are familiar with) is Powerpoint. This has interactivity built in and can be used for creating wireframe tools, one challenge is to avoid adding in design, styling and clipart!

In a previous project we did use Wireframe.cc

Wireframe.cc offers a clutter-free environment instead of countless toolbars and icons that we all know from other tools and apps. You can now focus on your ideas and easily sketch them before they fade away.

What’s nice about this tool, is that it strips away all the clutter and focuses on the process and function of what you’re trying to design.


Another tool we have used is Invision, but this is more useful in the later design processes, but can be used for wire framing.

There are various apps in Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite that can be used including InDesign and Photoshop. Adobe have recently released XD (Experience Design).

Design and prototype websites and mobile apps with Adobe Experience Design CC (Beta), the first all-in-one solution for UX designers.


These tools (and there are others) allow you prototype services and test them with users. Do they work? Do they help people? Are these services needed and are they useful?

In a future post we may demonstrate some working wireframes we have been working on.

Data Flow Diagram

In the Digital Apprenticeship project we plan to explore whether Jisc can build a tracking, monitoring and reporting system for apprenticeships that provides a provider dashboard, an employer dashboard and an app for apprentices.

With any project it is important that all members of the project team have a shared understanding of the technical structure of what we are trying to achieve.

One way we can do this is through a simple diagram (in this example created using Sharpies) and ensure that it covers what we want to do and from there then move to a more planned and technical approach to the data infrastructure.

Data Flow Diagram

Following the first draft of this diagram, we recognised the need for consent.

There are three levels of consent, consent to collect data, consent to process data and consent to action on data.

From the perspective of the employer dashboard this could be seen as collecting data on VLE usage, processing that data and presenting it on a dashboard and finally presenting that dashboard to employers with a list of actions or possible interventions.

We are working now on the data structures required for the apprenticeship work.

What would truly digital apprenticeships look like?

Come and help us find out at a participatory workshop – 14th June in central London.

This was the question behind one of the co-design challenges that emerged from Jisc’s consultation with its customers towards the end of last year.  Digital apprentice encompasses an approach that  harnesses digital approaches to support the entire apprentice process, from recruitment to qualification, via off-the-job training and end-point assessment.

Through its consultation with universities, colleges, training providers, employers and other interested organisations, Jisc has identified some gaps where its abilities to produce digital solutions that help its customers could make a difference.

Employers, in particular, are not well catered for at this time. They need to know where their apprentices are when they are doing their off-the-job training, and how they are progressing with their studies. Employers may have apprentices from different providers and need to be able to see relevant information in one place, rather than having to access multiple systems.

Jisc is proposing to explore building a tracking, monitoring and reporting dashboard for employers, providers and apprentices using data from the Jisc Learning Records Warehouse and other sources. Earlier posts in this blog have shown some early sketches and thoughts as to what this might look like and what may be involved.

The workshop will provide an opportunity to help design what such a service would look like and how it would function.

Who should attend

We are looking for people in universities, colleges and training providers with responsibility in managing apprentices as well as those who deal with the interface between data and people in relation to apprentices.

We are also interested in engaging with senior leaders in the sector with over-arching responsibility for this agenda.

Sign up for this free workshop here: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/events/what-would-truly-digital-apprenticeships-look-like-14-jun-2017

Read more about the co-design antecedents for this activity


Using Drawings

`As we continue to progress through the discovery phase of the Digital Apprenticeship project we have been using a variety of techniques to research and develop our ideas and concepts.

One tool I often use is using coloured pens and paper to draw out concept and ideas that can then feed into the discovery process or further down the line the development of a product or service.

I have a pack of 30 Stabilo coloured pens that I have used to create the following hand drawn concept dashboards.

PRINT01_CPK P1_3516_001

PRINT01_CPK P1_3516_002

PRINT01_CPK P1_3516_003

At this stage they are based on experience and knowledge of existing dashboards, but they do not represent the final look of any dashboard. They are being used the inform the other processes underneath.

They help to stimulate discussion within the team and progress further work.

They can evolve as the research and discussion continues. It will be interesting later to compare these initial drafts with the final product.