Adapting to change: How FI has navigated the COVID-19 pandemic

Over the past 12 months, FI has seamlessly shifted focus to virtual course delivery, in addition to providing extra services and support to the student and employer community. In this article we take a look at the past year and consider how FI has adapted to this period of change.

Supporting students and employers during the COVID-19 pandemic

Adapting to change: How FI has navigated the COVID-19 pandemic

Over the past 12 months, FI has seamlessly shifted focus to virtual course delivery, in addition to providing extra services and support to the student and employer community. In this article we take a look at the past year and consider how FI has adapted to this period of change.

Virtual classroom becomes the norm

FI has delivered Online and Online Live courses to thousands of students over the past 9 years. As a result, all of our tutors are familiar with best practice in delivering learning via these study modes. This meant that we already had the infrastructure, experience and expertise in place to move to exclusive remote delivery at the beginning of the pandemic, without sacrificing any of the key components of a great course.

In fact, being experts in online learning enabled us to deliver an even more engaging experience for students who were suddenly forced to learn in front of a screen. We make use of digital polls, whiteboards and word clouds to increase engagement during our classes. The use of these tools provides a truly interactive experience.

The feedback we have received from students has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Amazing! The online course was just as interactive as being in the classroom, if not more so.”  ICAEW Assurance student

“Excellent platform, even better tutors. Online lessons were conducted in a well thought out manner with light hearted delivery making it easy to ask questions and get involved.”  Craig, CIMA Strategic Case Study student

“Online session was fantastic. All students were included and encouraged to participate.”  ACCA Strategic Business Leader student

“Ravi is just a fantastic teacher he makes it so enjoyable. The adobe connect works really well especially the option to private message the teacher when unsure about questions.”  ICAEW Strategic Business Management student

Connecting with students in class

Tutors include a feedback layout at the end of each session providing students with several polls to see how they are finding their experience. This allows us to reach out to students who are feeling overwhelmed or struggling. In a virtual learning environment, tutors can’t look around the room and read people’s faces, so we have to obtain this important feedback another way.

Our tutors also use confidence meter polls to ask students at the start of a session how confident they feel and repeat the same poll at the end to see how confidence has improved.

All of these measures were put in place to ensure the continued progression and engagement of our online learners. After excellent pass rates in the September and December ACCA and ICAEW exam sittings, we are excited to continue with these methods of engagement in our online classrooms.

Coaching support for apprentices during COVID

As soon as we closed our offices in March 2020, we converted all progress reviews with apprentices and line managers to remote reviews, using Zoom. FI Coaches were well equipped to deal with this as on occasion earlier reviews pre COVID-19 had been conducted this way. We noted that line manager attendance increased at the remote progress reviews as the online sessions were more accessible for them.

Early in the pandemic our FI coaches were picking up the phone to their apprentices far more. These were a great opportunity for informal check-ins on their situation and welfare. For those experiencing anxiety and seeing this impact on their learning, we were signposting learners to additional support resources. As well as liaising with their employers where needed to ensure they could seek the right support.

Lockdown events to boost motivation

Working from home for an extended period of time presents very different challenges to being in an office environment.

Our ’How to Study Online’ webinar was extremely popular in April 2020, with more than 5,000 ACCA students registering to attend – a record number, according to ACCA! Our aim was to help students better understand the different techniques for online learning and address any challenges. Students asked hundreds of great questions during the webinar. This therefore showed us that they were not willing to let the pandemic affect their chances of qualifying. Attendees were keen to find out how to build an effective study plan and avoid distractions while studying and working from home. We interviewed our Head of Online Programmes, Hannah Campbell, about what students took away from the event and what it was like to deliver a webinar to that many people!

Later in the year we introduced a series of free virtual mini skills sessions that covered the essential skills to help professionals think in a more focused and effective way. These webinars were open to anyone who wanted to improve the core skills required to work efficiently. Topics ranged from time management to building and handling business relationships. We plan to bring this popular webinar series back for 2021 so watch this space.

In 2020 we launched the FI Podcast, presented by FI Directors David Malthouse and Ben Bullman. Each week David and Ben cover the latest insights into exams, apprenticeships and more from the accountancy industry. So far, the FI podcast has had more than 5,000 downloads from listeners across the world. Find out more and listen to the latest episode here.

Minimising the impact of exam cancellations

With assessments paused, cancelled or delayed in 2020, students could no longer sit the exams they had been working towards. We were concerned that our students would find it difficult to maintain their knowledge until assessments resumed. For that reason, we worked hard to launch a programme of events and initiatives to keep students engaged and focused on their studies, despite the disruption.

Summer programmes designed to engage

We created ACCA and ICAEW bridging programmes to support students affected by June exam cancellations. These essential top up programmes enabled learners to maintain their technical knowledge. More notably in the weeks leading up to revision courses for September exams.

The FI Virtual CIMA Summer School helped motivated students use any extra time they had during lockdown to progress with their studies remotely. Our carefully timetabled programme of Online Live courses enabled CIMA students to progress with confidence, avoiding the disruption that students studying other qualifications faced at the time.

FI’s inaugural AATitude festival offered a unique space to draw together a multitude of perspectives, experience and expertise from, through online events held over a week. This was the first AAT event of its kind and reached 1,500 delegates from across the UK.

Summer 2020 also marked the return of the FI Accountancy Summer School, an event aimed at students and university graduates aged 16+ who are interested to understand more about a career in accountancy. This event was delivered entirely online, which meant the sessions were available to more students from across the country than ever before. Following on from last year’s success, this year’s event will also take place online.

Free revision sessions to support students

To offer FI students as well as non-FI students support outside of the (virtual) classroom, we created our FI Masterclass webinar series. FI Masterclasses offer a free live session with an expert tutor, covering topics relevant to all accountancy qualifications. We have helped more than 2,000 students gain confidence in a range of syllabus areas. These include basic variances, accruals and prepayments, transfer pricing and many more.

FI Chelmsford Director, Kelley O’Donovan, wanted to help AAT students by offering free weekly Zoom AAT revision sessions to breakdown a particular question type or topic area. FI tutors launched a programme that at its height offered 14 different AAT sessions per week. More than 6,000 students have registered for these webinars to date and recordings have been made available on our First Intuition YouTube channel.

ICAEW revision sessions offered similar support for students who were looking to maintain their knowledge in the break between exams. Tailored, tutor-led Zoom sessions focused on specific ICAEW modules and the tricky syllabus areas within those modules.

FI Masterclasses, AAT and ICAEW revision sessions are running again in 2021, owing to popular demand. We aim to continue providing these free sessions for as long as students need the extra support.

Impact of COVID-19: Supporting employers

Developing and managing training programmes during a pandemic is one of the most significant challenges an organisation faces. We wanted to help employers proactively manage this unprecedented period of change.

FI employer insight reports shifted focus to help employers navigate industry changes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Topics included remote onboarding, remote management of junior staff and remote recruitment. You can read all of the insight reports on our Employers page.

FI Employer Forums became incredibly popular during the summer of 2020. This came as we saw many employers and educationalists tuning in regularly to hear the latest news from our industry. These First Intuition Think Tank forums addressed issues emerging that were affecting businesses in a way that they hadn’t in the past. Following the success of 2020’s Think Tank forums, we are continuing the series for 2021. View the schedule for future FITT forums.

We also worked very closely with employers to review study pathways to bring forward learning where possible. For example, some trainees were required by the business later in 2020 and therefore we rescheduled their learning. We have been working closely with professional accountancy bodies to provide insight into the needs of employers and training programmes. This has been important because any changes to assessment delivery impacts students and employers.

Award-winning year

We are delighted to share some of the awards First Intuition has collected over the past year. We have won these awards in recognition of our support to students. As well as our enhanced resources and outstanding pass rates. During which has been an exceptionally challenging period for students and training providers alike.

FI wins awards because of support to students and employers

PQ Online College of the Year 2020

AAT Distance Learning Provider of the Year 2020

AAT Tutor of the Year 2020 – Nick Craggs

CIMA Global Excellence Award 2020

Feefo Gold Trusted Service Award 2021

We are delighted to announce that FI has also been shortlisted for 8 PQ Awards this year, which is a record for us! We would like to thank everyone who nominated us across all categories. The FI team are looking forward to the awards ceremony on 29th April. Find out more

Looking ahead

The biggest change we have seen since the beginning of the pandemic is the growing confidence of our learners. We are proud to see First Intuition students boldly progressing with their qualifications and even winning prizes for their fantastic achievements.

As we move into Spring 2021, we are feeling positive about the year that lies ahead.

We look forward to a gradual return to normality as our classroom centres and offices open up again this summer. Our goal is to facilitate face to face learning when safe to do so for those who are keen to return to the classroom.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all FI staff across the network. Not only for their commitment, but also for their tireless work to bring the events and initiatives to life. What made this particularly difficult was doing all this while working from home. Where children, pets and plenty of other distractions were imminent. In addition, we thank everyone at FI for their unwavering support to our thousands of students and employers during these extraordinary times.