How does Fortress Learning respond to the challenges of online learning?


Child listeningIt starts by listening.

One thing our staff like to do is listen.  It’s a skill we look for when recruiting our people.  We like to listen because that tells us if our students are succeeding, and we want to know that for the simple reason that if they don’t succeed, then neither do we.

Since we started delivering the TAA Cert IV online in 2009, we have listened to thousands of students.

So, what have we heard?

We have heard that online learning offers many advantages, and our recent survey of 300 people confirmed what we already believed (you can read about that here):  It can be flexible, it can be rewarding, it can be affordable, it can be efficient.  But, it also can be a lonely path filled with anxiety and uncertainty.

But, as with all things, can does not equal is.  It is only when conscious choices are made that the benefits of online learning can be achieved.

For us, online learning is first and foremost about people.

I shopped around and came across lots of dodgy,cheap places that claimed to be the best but I tell you this … Fortress Learning trainers were amazing. They provided me with assistance via email, telephone and Facebook, even with other students assisting when asking questions through their Facebook page. Response times for answering questions and getting feedback on tasks were incredible, with no staff member ever making you feel irrelevant when answering you.  – Allison

This was not the money-making, one-size fits all, indifferent, franchise business factory that I had expected. Like many people, I did not expect much in terms of service, support, depth/content of materials, or knowledge/skill from their employees – just another business more interested in making money from this industry. 

As I settled into the course, I was pleasantly surprised to find that many of my prejudices were wrong. The staff from bottom to top were very knowledgeable, helpful & easy to communicate with, their service was very prompt – in fact I could see that some corrections were done outside their normal working hours – proactive, and consistent across many trainers. Their Head Trainer was highly qualified with an in-depth background in education…helpful, and willing to incorporate flexible solutions to each and every assessment situation. – Lee

It is people doing the learning, and so our focus is on them.  We developed our own learning management system after trialling many others and have strict administrative procedures that ensure that our students do not have to spend much time on learning how to do the course…instead, they can just get on with doing it.

Three Little Steps is all it takes !
1. Excellent Staff to assist and guide you through your assessments
2. High Quality Website that is totally user friendly
3. Assessments that are full of valuable information to achieve that Certificate

One of the most enjoyable study experiences I have had in a long time !  Thank you 🙂 – Heather

I really enjoyed my first online learning / RPL experience. Great communication, great process and easy to follow. Highly recommended! – Michelle

Alongside this is our commitment to being available and accessible.  We know that the student who chooses to learn online is juggling many competing demands for their limited time.

My trainer was always insightful, flexible and generous with his time. One of my concerns (based on my past experiences) was the amount of time trainers provide to learners in online learning. At the time of enrolment my trainer – yes, I got to speak with the person who would be my trainer before I started – assured me that I would not have any issues in that regard with Fortress and I must say it was as true to form as it could have been. Apart from my trainer the rest of the staff was also always friendly and responsive. Ankit

My experience with Fortress Learning was fantastic. The flexibility was great because I could fit my studies around my work and home life quite easily. The trainers were amazing. They were very supportive, encouraging, and were available when I needed help. I feel confident in the knowledge and skills that I have developed. – Sashi

When they get a window of opportunity, students want to make the most of it.  We have clear guidelines surrounding response times for calls and emails and marking: a recent analysis showed this:

Response-Times_Infographic

Received prompt responses to questions and feedback when submitting assignments. – Mark

Fortress learning was a very well organised RTO. They were always prompt with their responses to any questions that I had about the course. Project were marked and returned in a couple of days and great feedback given. I would definitely recommend them to others. – Debra

This high level of service is a reflection of a simple decision to not take on more students that we can serve.  Our goal is not to churn out thousands of graduates each year to satisfy invisible shareholders, nor to put people through as fast as possible to get a better profit margin.  We want enough students to sustain our ability to serve those students well, both now and in future.  As a family owned business, we turn up to work every day and know that old-fashioned service is both getting harder to find and is the key to our own future.

Fortress Learning were very supportive. Each member of the team aided me in a very professional manner, whether it was administrative staff, Head of Department or tutor. They made sure that I met deadlines using electronic reminder notices or phone calls; they assisted me in understanding requirements with explanations and examples; if I submitted work that needed extra input, they were courteous and the feedback was very helpful; when I visited them at their location in Toowoomba I was made to feel very welcome. I would be very happy to recommend Fortress Learning to other prospective students.  – Kathleen

But our service is not just about being nice and answering the phone quickly.  It is about the learning, and how we make that happen.

The support has been there throughout, everytime I made contact. Emma has been a great support. The content of the course was comprehensive, with options to delve deeper into topics. – John.

As an organisation, we started out with a goal to improve the quality of outcomes within the vocational education sector: our focus is in our name.  We are not Fortress Training;  we are Fortress Learning.  We believe that it does not matter what you have been trained in, it matters what you have learned.

I had a not only good experience but a BEST one in Fortress Learning. I had a very supportive trainer who knows his role very well. Expect for a challenging yet a very fulfilling ride while doing the course. The completion of Diploma course made me feel more confident with my competencies. – Franco

My experience of online learning with Fortress was entirely positive. Fortress has a really efficient team. Via email and phone, I always felt like there was someone who could genuinely help me. I found the team to be highly approachable, well organised and supportive in terms of offering genuine personalised support. The quality of the course materials and assessments is excellent and so I really felt that I was learning and earning the qualification. I also really appreciated being offered an extension to my study period. This supportive move from Fortress provided me with the motivation and stimulus to finally find the time to fit in the online study in my busy schedule. A really rewarding and satisfying study experience. Thank you for keeping the quality in education. It is hard to find these days.  – Sara 

At the heart of our online learning model are our resources.  Our learning materials and assessment are continually subject to revision.  We know that the smallest uncertainty or misunderstanding can derail an evening of study and put you back, and so all of our tasks ask collect information about the learner’s experience, and are continually refined to ensure clarity.

Real people are always available to assist when required and the course materials were very comprehensive. Clear instructions accompanied each task. I found the process for submitting course work to be very easy. – Jacinta

If one student answers a question in a surprising way, then maybe the question was not clear – we’ll take the time to take a look at that. No wonder that in a recent review of these data, we found reason to be confident.  Take a look:

Feedback-on-tasks

Fortress Learning – Was a great group to update my TAE 40110 Cert IV Training and Assessment. Fortress was very approachable and reasonably priced. Online learning materials provided and dashboard set up very user friendly. Trainers were very supportive and approachable – only a phone call away and more than happy to answer all my questions. Thank you Fortress Learning!!!

When I have first started I was a bit worried about it, seeing all these projects to submit with so many tasks. My first thought was “I will not be able to finish in time!”. After submitting the first project I have realized how well-structured and easy to follow the program was. I really enjoyed working on and completing all projects. The student support was excellent and also the teachers were always willing to give and collect feedback to improve the service. I would recommend it to anyone! – Ivan

The decision by us to review student feedback in a truly continuous basis is backed up by efficient administrative processes to allow this to happen quickly; every Trainer has the authority to make changes as soon as they are needed, and all staff are empowered to act as required to deal with any hiccups that arise.

On line learning can be difficult to keep motivated but not with Fortress. The staff keep in contact and help keep the motivation going. – Sharyn

The actual tasks that each student needs to do depends on the student.  Adults possess a breadth of experiences, and we do not presume that everyone brings the same knowledge, skills or ability.  Just because the last student had to do X, Y and Z does not mean you will have to (even if you do, maybe it is better for you to do Y before a combination of X and Z….).   Our training staff spend a lot of time being immersed in the Qualifications that they deliver, and in considering the possible pathways to demonstrating competence.  Our model presumes one-size-does-not-fit-all, and we operate accordingly.

I found that the personalised, flexible learning environment really worked for me. When I had a question my phone calls where answered promptly and my trainer could advise me over the phone and through emails. – Jane

Instead, we take the time to ask them before we do anything else, and from this we work out a plan for each individual student to fit their circumstances.  This informs what they have to do, and is revisited frequently in response to changes at work and in other parts of their life.  Combined with our responsiveness, this living plan becomes a valuable tool to avoid unnecessary hoop jumping.

In the world of computers and the internet, things go wrong.  While we rely more and more on IT for a daily activities, they are still fraught with uncertainty:  Did they get my email?  Did my file attach properly?

One of the most important things to us is that our students are confident with what is going on.  If you submit an item to us, we will tell you when we get it and when you can expect to hear back from us and we will work to that timeframe.  You can rest easy, and focus on other things.

The team at Fortress Learning were very supportive. They made contact when I had not signed into the dashboard for a few weeks and assisted me to get back on track. There was no pressure but a genuine concern from the team. Emails, phone calls and support from the company – I would never have completed it without this.  – Narelle

Our fee structure is calculated independent of the rest of the industry.  We have our own business model and our own business goals, and our choice to invest in only those things that directly and positively impact student experience result in cost savings to our students through lower fees.  By delivering a quality product, we have over half of our new enrolments coming by word of mouth, which reduces our advertising costs and results in cost savings through lower fees.   Our students are often first attracted by our fees, but leave with an appreciation of our quality.

Very cost-effective, learning-focused quality training that I am receiving from Fortress Learning. – Viola

Value for money. I’ve learned a lot from this course. – Jing

By this point, it would be easy for someone to say “but what has all this got to do with online learning?”  I guess that would be a fair comment, and reflects the view of most people that online learning is about computers, and this article has not really spoken about computers.

That’s important.

Experience tells us that success with online learning requires choices.  But it’s not just about the choices you make.  While your choices are important, for us, your success means us first choosing to put people, including you, first.  By doing that, we have been able to develop a way of doing things that is incredibly responsive to and supportive of our learners, that supports the learning that they need to do and when they need to do it, that does this in an affordable way and without compromising the integrity of the piece of paper they receive on graduation.

Do you have a question?

If you would like to know more about anything, then give us a call on 1300 141 994, or CLICK HERE to complete our Contact Form.

The testimonial comments peppered through this article were collected using Trust Pilot.  Fortress Learning chooses to use TrustPilot because it is virtually impossible to generate fake reviews.  You may read more testimonial comments in the side bar, or by clicking here.