In an ideal world, a learner would join a course, work steadily, and complete it within a reasonable and pre-arranged time period.
In the real world, many learners do this. But not all. Some disappear halfway through a course, and are never heard from again.
How should a good quality provider respond? Clearly, it will depend on the circumstances, on the details of the provision and the contract with the learner. But there are a few common-sense rules to be followed.
A good provider will spell out from the start, in the terms and conditions, in a Learning Agreement or elsewhere, what the expectations are, not only about who initiates contact and when, but what happens if contact lapses.
Whether or not the expectation is that the learner would normally initiate contact, a provider should stipulate in advance a period (say 3, 6 or 12 months, depending on the provision), after which, if there has been no contact, the provider will try to establish contact with the learner.
At some stage, the learner should be notified that unless s/he replies within (say) one month, then they would be de-registered from the course. The provider may make a number of attempts to contact a lapsed learner before this warning, or they may do so just once after the initial time period has elapsed. Either way, the process should be explained on or before enrolment.
The learner should be told that de-registration means removal from the course. At the same time, the learner should be told how they could continue with their studies. It could involve a simple request for re-instatement, payment of an additional fee, or complete re-enrolment, but whatever it is, it should be clear to the learner.
Occasionally, a provider will choose not to impose time limits, or to de-register learners, and advertise this as a benefit of the course. If so, the provider must attempt to identify any long-term liabilities this might give rise to and, more importantly, be prepared to honour them.
De-registration can be important. Without it, a learner may be entitled to claim that they are still on the course, and that the provider has a continuing duty of care to inform them, for example, of changes in the provider’s contact information, in the availability of tutors, in syllabuses, or in legislation, which could affect the continuation or completion of the course. For example, outcomes can cease to be available, or only available if a significantly different course is followed from the original. Qualifications may be withdrawn by external awarding bodies; entry requirements to Institutes or the rights to practice may be strengthened.
Providers can, and should, cover themselves as much as possible against such circumstances in their terms and conditions. It is also good practice, however, to de-register lapsed learners, not only to make clear the extent of the providers’ duty of care, but also to allow the provider to focus support on those learners who intend to complete a course.
© ODLQC 1st March 2018