This article presents an update on the progress of the INTERLOCALITY project’s initiative to develop online staff training courses aimed at enhancing the employability and retention of international degree students. After gathering and analysing the insights from the first piloting phase conducted in Denmark and Finland in autumn 2023, the second piloting phase has been completed in Germany and the Netherlands in spring 2024. The pilots were further analysed in focus groups interviews in the participating countries.

Generally, the courses on Employer-ability, Guidance and Counselling, and Intercultural Sensitivity, have received very positive feedback regarding their quality, variety of materials, and flexible structure. However, suggestions for improvement, such as incorporating more practical activities and examples, have been noted. The survey and focus groups insights aim to further refining the courses towards a high-quality final version. Additionally, efforts are underway to develop a user guide to enhance accessibility and sustainability, ensuring the courses’ relevance to stakeholders in the long term. This article presents a brief analysis of the survey and focus groups insights, highlighting the strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement identified in both piloting phases.

The pilot participants survey comprised a diverse group including staff from higher education institution (HEI), third sector organisations, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Denmark, Finland, Germany, and the Netherlands. The respondents piloted at least one level of one course, and filled out a survey that gathered their feedback. The geographic diversity of the respondents enriched the piloting process by incorporating varied cultural contexts and professional norms, thereby enhancing the applicability and relevance of the course prototypes across different regions. In total there were 39 respondents: 13 SME staff, 6 third sector organisations staff, 20 HEI staff (both academic and administrative). Each course level has been piloted by at least four respondents. Such a number and variety of respondents in terms of background, role/position and origin have successfully fulfilled the expected results planned at the beginning of piloting phases. The insights from the survey were further supplemented by focus group interviews conducted in the Netherlands, Finland, and Germany, involving a total of 12 participants: four from each country, with at least one representative from each target group.

Both surveys and focus groups interviews delved into detailed insights regarding the achievement of learning outcomes, learning experiences, relevance, and quality of the courses, providing actionable feedback for refining course content, pedagogy, and delivery methods. The strengths of the courses align with the project’s overarching goals and enhance the courses’ practical utility and appeal to the target audience. 

The main positive feedback included the comprehensive coverage of topics, the variety of materials which includes videos, articles, self-reflection activities etc., the effectiveness of initial quiz to guide learners to the appropriate course level, and the “Check Your learning” sections to assess the learners’ outcomes, together with manageable workload and flexible structure

However, areas for improvement were identified, such as the need for clearer language in course materials, the inclusion of transitional quizzes or interactive elements and the desire for more practical examples and case studies. Respondents also expressed concerns about the amount of theory in the course material, the lack of integration between theoretical concepts and personal experiences, and the amount of text. Additionally, suggestions were made to enhance the practical applicability of the content, to increase the diversity of sources, and to use less academic language. The insights also highlighted the need for a more individualised and tailor-made approach to participants’ background and experiences, as well as the inclusion of external resources for deeper learning. 

Overall, the findings from the respondents’ feedback indicate a predominantly positive learning experience and perceived quality of the courses, albeit with identified areas warranting refinement to more effectively address the requirements and anticipations of learners involved in the context of enhancing employability and retaining international talents. Nonetheless, discerning precise areas for enhancement is occasionally impeded by conflicting responses. Therefore, in the course revision phase, particular emphasis will be placed on considering the most pertinent and frequently recurring feedback. 

The respondents’ insights about the progression among levels and courses were also positive. This indicates a generally favourable perception of the structure and flow of the courses and levels. Specifically, respondents appreciated the logical progression from one course/level to the next, noting a smooth and well-thought-out transition. They recognised the courses and levels as well-structured and interconnected, addressing crucial and related subjects. Furthermore, the diversity of approaches in each course was acknowledged, offering varied perspectives on essential topics. However, it’s important to acknowledge the limited sample size that attend multiple courses and levels. While their feedback is insightful, the small sample size restricts in-depth analysis of aspects such as content coherence and alignment of learning objectives.

The insights from the focus group interviews also offered significant guidance and relevant suggestions on marketing and disseminating strategies of the online staff courses. Leveraging local newsletters and social media channels has emerged as an effective method for reaching the target audience, thereby enhancing visibility and engagement within the local community. Additionally, collaboration with industry unions and organisations, such as Chambers of Commerce, has been proposed to extend the courses’ reach through established communication channels, thereby accessing a broader audience of professionals.

Respondents highlighted the importance of addressing concerns related to accessibility and time commitment by suggesting the division of courses into smaller segments to accommodate busy schedules. Moreover, the significance of leadership endorsement and prioritisation within the company was underscored as crucial for fostering employee participation, emphasising the role of clear communication from leadership in motivating engagement.

Furthermore, the differentiation of courses from other options in the market and the emphasis on unique features, such as personalised learning experiences or accreditation opportunities, were identified as strategies to attract potential participants. Finally, ensuring scalability and accessibility of courses to employees of all levels within the organisation was identified as imperative, together with tailoring content to diverse learning styles and preferences enhancing engagement and effectiveness.

In conclusion, the insights derived from both surveys and focus groups offer valuable feedback on the efficacy and reception of the online training courses developed within the INTERLOCALITY project. These insights not only encapsulate the feedback garnered but also delve into a comprehensive analysis of various critical facets pivotal for refining and enhancing these courses, ensuring their alignment with stakeholders’ needs, their future sustainability and widespread utilisation beyond the project’s lifespan. As the piloting phase is concluded, the INTERLOCALITY partners are strategically planning to embark on the next phase, which entails the meticulous revision of the three online courses and the refinement of the user guide for their transferability. The ultimate objective is to produce project outputs that will be presented and disseminated November 2024 during the final dissemination events of INTERLOCALITY in Eindhoven in the Netherlands. This strategic approach underscores the project partners’ commitment to continuous improvement and their unwavering dedication to delivering impactful and enduring outcomes that resonate with stakeholders and contribute meaningfully to the field of higher education and international talent retention.

Sara Paolazzo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *