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It’s all about the people
As it celebrates its 20th anniversary, Sam Hannigan relates the tale of how Premier Training started and why it continues to go from strength to strength
It’s just before Christmas 1997. The wind is howling, snow is falling and it’s very dark outside. Pierce Brosnan is starring as James Bond in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ at the cinema, Windows 98 is the hot new operating system from Microsoft and the Spice Girls have just replaced the Teletubbies at the top of the UK singles charts.
In a freezing cold college in North East Lincolnshire the AAT team are discussing the things that make studying AAT more difficult than it need be in traditional day and evening classes…
• “Lots of students are too tired for evening classes after a hard day at work.”
• “If only we could spend more time explaining the tricky topics to individual students.”
• “Many students need longer than the regular academic year of only 32 weeks.”
• “Be nice if we could fast-track the exceptional students so they can complete the course quickly rather than having to progress at the same speed as everyone else.”
• “I prefer to focus on one area at a time instead of having to run several units alongside each other all at once.”
• “I wish all of the students would get stuck on the same topics so we could focus all our efforts on these.”
• “I know that individual students wish they could skip over sections they already understand and not have to sit and listen while we explain it to the rest.”
• “They all say they wish they could study at the times that suit them rather than having to build their whole lives around the hours that suit the college.”
• “Imagine if each student could have an individually tailored study plan rather than having one-size-fits-all.”
• “Coffee’s gone up again”
• “It’s time the car park was a bit bigger.”
• “I wish we didn’t all have to turn out in the wind and rain.”
• “Students should be able to start the course at any time and not just in September.”
• “If only each student could have their own personal tutor… who was available by phone or email whenever needed.”
• “So why don’t we?”
And so we did!
At the beginning of January 1998, with nothing more than a telephone, a PC and some borrowed furniture, Premier Training was launched. Adverts were placed, assignments were written and after a couple of days the first student was enrolled.
A modest start but by the end of that first year the word had got round and that first enrolment had been followed by a couple of hundred more, and it was becoming apparent that we were not the only people who thought there was a better way to study.
In those early days timetables were drawn up manually and typed up by hand and assignments were posted out in hard copy along with all of the study manuals. These were bought in from a range of publishers, depending on who we felt was the best in each subject area.
The first significant change to this procedure was that software was created to generate each individual timetable automatically depending on parameters such as how quickly the student wanted to complete the course and when exam sittings were available. This saved time on enrolment and subsequently made it much easier to change a student’s unique personal timetable if circumstances changed.
Let’s not forget that in those days exams were available only in two sessions each year, so a student joining in January would get a timetable structured very differently to one joining, say, in April.
With the advent of computer-based assessment this all changed completely, and today our software enables timetables to be configured with exams at any time.
At that time assignments arrived by post and were returned by post along with a hard copy feedback sheet, model answer and any relevant extra notes the tutor felt would be useful.
Furthermore, in ‘exam season’ tutors would also post out lots of past papers for extra practice, and there were days when the postman had to make two trips to the van such was the weight of outgoing post. In retrospect, hardly the most environmentally friendly way to operate!
With the advent of broadband internet access we were able to switch all of this hard copy output over to email, starting with past papers and extra notes, and then in 2011 the assignments moved from hard copy submission to an online format.
As a result of this change students now send work in and receive full feedback by email typically within two days or less of pressing the submit button. This applies not only to students in the UK but anywhere in the world.
Another big step forward was the introduction of materials and books written by our own specialist team of in-house authors rather than relying entirely on other people. In addition to this, an award-winning online resource area was created, called the ‘Premier Programme’, which comprises videos, quizzes, practice exercises and much more.
Few organisations can match this level of support and this is a major reason why Premier Training students consistently achieve outstanding exam results year after year.
A final thought. Despite all these changes in technology there is one thing that has not changed in all these years. Students can still ring and speak directly to their own or another tutor at any time and as often as they need to. Likewise, all questions sent in by email are answered promptly – again by their own tutor or another if their tutor is not available.
For all the technology in the world we think it’s the people that make the difference.
• Sam Hannigan is AAT Programme Manager at Premier Training
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