Bridges to Learning: delivering higher level skills through lunch and learn sessions.


When did you first introduce the innovation?

Between 12 and 24 months ago

Please describe the innovation you have developed

The innovation is based on Bridges to Learning partnership work between the Open University (OU), UNISON and Workers Education Association (WEA) in the north east of England . Common interest in widening participation in work based learning and providing progression routes into higher education resulted in successful bids for Union Learning Funding over the last 6 years. A second strand of this funded work (see previous example for first case study) has been the delivery, by experienced Open University Associate Lecturers, of flexible lunch and learn sessions in the health and social care sector on issues identified as relevant to employees by UNISON Union Learning Representatives (ULRs). The emphasis in this case study is on the sessions delivered in Trusts. These were targeted at healthcare employees and have attracted diverse occupational groups including healthcare support workers, domestic staff, training managers and NHS consultants. The aims of the sessions were 1) to deliver stimulating and flexible learning opportunities that were topical and relevant to the healthcare workforce 2) that encouraged reflection on practice and promoted cross professional dialogue 3) that drew on Open University higher level learning materials and offered tasters of University study.

What prompted you to develop this innovation?

Increasing access to short, flexible learning opportunities in the work place.

Removing barriers for individuals in considering higher level learning for 1) continuing professional development purposes for qualified staff or 2) entry to degree level qualifications such as pre-registration nursing for non-qualified health care support workers.

In your view, what is it about this innovation that makes it different/important?

The infrastructure of the Bridges to Learning project – this provided capacity for seconded ULRs to 1) consult on topics of relevance and feedback into the planning process 2) take on the planning and organisation of sessions within Trusts and to market and encourage take up of places 3) be responsible for capturing evaluative feedback from participants.

Utilisation of the skills of experienced Open University Associate Lecturers to facilitate the sessions and bring a taster of higher education learning into the workplace.

The flexibility of lunch and learn sessions in bringing together and encouraging shared learning and reflection across diverse occupational groups on themes and topics relevant to service improvement.

Changing individual perceptions that higher education is ‘beyond their reach’.

To what extent does your innovation make use of existing approaches, resources or technologies?

The sessions drew on taster materials from established Open University modules and gave insight into our supported open learning approach.

To what degree has this innovation led to changes in education or clinical practice?

Evidence of high uptake and demand for educational opportunities was provided through an independent evaluation of the initiative in its entirety by Denis Hall Associates.

Uptake of places on lunch and learn sessions. For the first tranche of delivery it was planned to deliver lunch and learn sessions for 12-15 participants but average attendance per session was 22 with many sessions being over-subscribed. This demonstrated a real demand for learning and uptake of flexible opportunities. 38 sessions were initially delivered.

Demand for further sessions and new topics was expressed. The original topics covered, the Cavendish review, dementia awareness, dealing with death and dying, diabetes and nutrition awareness, dimensions of health, ethical issues around end of life care, implications of the Frances report, nutrition and diabetes awareness, spirituality, understanding bereavement, understanding death and dying.

Trusts involved are:

  • Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust
  • County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust
  • Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust

What evidence do you have of the impact of the innovation?

Evaluation of individual learning sessions with level of usefulness identified as excellent by 65%, good by 34 % and average by 1%. No participants rated the sessions as poor.

Findings from the independent evaluation – the methodology included interviews with participants, OU staff, Bridges to Learning core team and ULRs, representatives from Trust managers and HR staff. General themes related to impact were:

  • Increased confidence and removing barriers to higher education. One participant commented that, ‘ it gave me confidence to know that this was higher education. I have to admit that I just binned emails from the OU – they filled me with fear. I always wanted to do a University course and I would love to do an OU course now…’
  • Improved communication across the organisation,
    ‘The tutor must have been overwhelmed by the number of people who turned up. All walks of life were there, from cardiac consultants and doctors to community nurses [ ] you couldn’t sit with your friends like you would normally do but, in the end, it meant I exchanged views with people I would never normally meet in my job and it definitely improved the flow of ideas would’.
  • Manager buy in and promotion of learning opportunities to staff,
    ‘I do a lot of end of life assessment and planning as part of my job and I found the session really helpful. I especially appreciated the emphasis on dignity and respect for the families. It is now the kind of thing I would like some of my staff to do as well’.
  • Greater awareness of reports and engagement with recommendations.
    ‘It was really interesting to have someone else’s perspective on the Francis report [ ] and it was great to see such a mix of staff from healthcare assistants to Band 7 staff and such an interactive discussion between them. I’m really keen to work with our ULR in the future to get more staff along to these events’.

To what degree has the innovation been disseminated in your organisation or elsewhere?

Dissemination has occurred through:

Internal presentations within the OU and partners.
– Seminar at Union Learning Fund conference
Development of short film accessible on YouTube

Article disseminated on Union Learning Fund website describing initiative as an ‘outstanding success’.

Briefing meeting with Health Education North East and their agreement to raise awareness amongst workforce development leads.

ULR membership of workforce development steering groups within individual Trusts.

Communication to stake-holders through Bridges to Learning steering group.

Please provide details of any plans you have to disseminate the innovation in the future.

There are plans to continue delivery of lunch and learn sessions with a refreshed menu of topics and further disseminate this model across more workplaces.