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Planning flexible learning to match the needs of consumers: a national survey


Sam Ayer Research and Development Division, School of Health, The University of Hull, Hull HU6 7RX, England.


The injection of market forces into the National Health Service (NHS) has led to nurse education being viewed as a commodity which educational institutions supply and NHS employers purchase. Conscious of the costs of paying for courses within this new consumer culture, NHS trusts and other health service employers are increasingly looking for cost-effective flexible training to educate their workforce quickly and efficiently. Parallel to this is the accelerated demand for continuing professional development (CPD) brought about by the inception of the UKCC's Post-Registration Education and Practice Project (PREPP). Both registered and enrolled nurses are finding they need professional updating and skills and thus increased access to courses. The increased demand for education and training brought about by these changes cannot be met through traditional methods alone, requiring educational institutions to re-appraise their methods of delivery and introduce more flexible approaches to learning. There is every evidence that this is now the case with open learning, distance learning and flexible approaches to learning ever growing in popularity as providers of nurse education recognize the benefits such approaches offer. The emphasis is on meeting the diverse needs of the health care employers and individuals by providing education that is flexible, learner-centred and customer focused. This paper presents the findings of a national survey to ascertain how providers of flexible education plan educational programmes to meet the needs of their customers. Based on data collected from 120 educational institutions within the higher education, health and social care and private sectors, it highlights: the ways in which flexible learning programmes and courses are delivered; what aspects of flexibility are considered important when designing programmes to meet the needs of prospective customers; and what approaches are used to assess demand for flexible education. The study stresses the need for providers of flexible education to take into account the dual perspectives of those who have a stake in the flexibility of nurse education; NHS employers as funders of students and individual healthcare professionals themselves.