When studying just clicks

More than a million and a half people have tried the Government's e-learning service

In a world where the keyboard is king, many people feel stranded on the island of the under-qualified. But adult learners - from office workers in need of PowerPoint proficiency to enhance their CVs, to busy single mums who think that Qwerty is a children's TV character - now have every chance of boosting their educational qualifications. This state of affairs is thanks to learndirect, a government initiative established in 1998 to provide individual adults and entire businesses with a flexible learning option.

learndirect has become known for its computing and IT courses, but in fact the organisation has a number of other strings to its bow. The most immediately accessible of these is a national learning advice service dedicated to matching potential students with the course that best suits their learning requirements - from university degrees to short courses to weekly evening classes. The advice service runs a telephone helpline and a website and, in the past seven years, has fielded more than six million calls and had 12 million internet hits.

The organisation now has around 8,000 online learning centres across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Adults looking to acquire new skills or improve old ones can enrol on one of 584 different courses (and more than 1.5 million people have done so since 2000). Many of these teach IT skills, but there are also courses in management, finance, languages, and a variety of "skills for life".

Michelle Walker, a single mother who, at 36, had been away from education for 20 years, enrolled with learndirect when helping her son with his GCSEs. "My first course was 'helping your child'," she explains. "At the moment I'm doing a health and safety course; adult literacy and numeracy; and I'm studying for a level two NVQ in early years." Since she enrolled on her first in late 2003, Michelle has completed around 30 learndirect courses. "I want to learn more and more, and the more I learn, the more I want to learn," she says. "It's been a new beginning for me. I do far more in the community than I used to, because I've got more confidence. I always used to go along to my daughter's playgroup; now I'm helping to run it. Soon I'll be a qualified teaching assistant."

Like all the courses that learndirect runs for individuals, most of Michelle's learning is computer-based - in Michelle's case at her local centre in Wolverhampton's Low Hill - but learndirect tutors are constantly on hand to help out if she runs into difficulties. If you have home internet access, you can also do much of any given course online. One of the main selling points of a learndirect programme is its flexibility - you can set your own pace, and structure your course to fit your timetable.

Many of learndirect's centres now also run a workforce development service for businesses. In the London area alone, there are 12 "premier business centres", each of them dealing with between 600 and 1,000 companies. Tim Dobson is the managing director of Role Model Consulting, which is responsible for three such centres, in Sutton, Croydon and Wimbledon.

"Training managers within a business have to justify investment in training with a return," he says. "Training can so easily be a waste of time and money but, with learndirect, you can pick and choose what's relevant to your company."

At the moment, Dobson is in charge of the Information Technology Qualification (ITQ) project, designed to replace an old generic qualification, the European Computer Driving Lesson (ECDL). "The ITQ is a vocational qualification. We gather evidence to tailor the skills we teach to the individual needs of a company's employees. It means that you get a bespoke course tailored to what you're doing, not a generic qualification you have to pass."

Role Model Consulting train not only for IT, but for what Dobson calls "soft skills" - customer service, marketing, management and so on. And, as he admits, "not everyone's up for sitting in front of a computer all the time. But within our training schemes, people can learn individually, in workshops and groups, or on a one-to-one basis, too."

National learning advice helpline: 0800 100 900. www.learndirect.co.uk

A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Maths Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Operations and Maintenance Engineer - Solar

£30000 - £40000 Per Annum plus benefits/bonus package: The Green Recruitment C...

Subsurface Solution Architect

£90000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a leader i...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn