Staffroom - Opinion

A college-led model to help learners transition into the workplace

Our learner-led media company shows the impact of providing real-world learning opportunities, explains Lorraine Sutherland

Our learner-led media company shows the impact of providing real-world learning opportunities, explains Lorraine Sutherland

9 Oct 2023, 5:00

For the past decade I have run the Media Learning Company at City College Norwich, an educational programme which emulates setting up and running a media production company. Post-level three students join us for an academic year and gain real-life experience across the media sector.

Riding high from the ‘anything’s possible’ spirit of London Olympics and Paralympics, entrepreneurial learning was an educational buzz-term in 2012. Of the many schemes and courses that launched into the further education sector at that time, ours has been an ongoing success.

Local production company, Eye Film had been looking at ways to give young people proper production training. They had started conversations with the college and I was lucky enough to land the job of taking it forward. The job description was rather open and I soon realised that there was no route map for what the Media Learning Company was to be.

I was a little terrified; the students were due to start just a couple of days after me. But very soon I embraced the freedom to try radical new approaches to learning. Coming from a traditional university teaching background, this felt exhilarating.

We began by developing a model in which students were in five days per week, 9 to 5, plus additional production hours, creating real media content for real organisations while fulfilling the requirements of their qualifications. I watched a lot of Ted talks and tried out all sorts of structures and ideas based on research and practitioners who I found inspiring. Some worked, lots did not.

With support from the college and mentorship from Eye Film, we outlived the educational trend from which we were born and have since solidified our position as a course with very high educational and employment impact. The Media Learning Company offers real experiences of genuine value.

Having worked with hundreds of organisations big and small, there are two constants across every brief we engage in: high pedagogic value, and ethical grounding. Each project has to provide excellent learning opportunities – the chance to develop new skills such as scriptwriting, casting or using new equipment or techniques, and Media Learning Company is not here to mop-up projects companies don’t want to pay a professional to do. Collaborations have to be meaningful and of value to the students up to and beyond completion.

Their impressive work ranges from blockbuster movies to household TV programmes

Students start the year by establishing their own production company. They decide their company values, name, logo, promotional film and website design. This not only shows them the basics of setting up their own businesses but serves a deeper purpose of creating a collective identity they can draw on under pressure.

Over the years, students have pitched and produced cross-media campaigns about weighty subjects such as county lines and domestic abuse. They have run live events, fashion shows, scripted dramas, cast, crewed, animated, designed and were entrusted with telling real people’s stories from our own communities within documentaries.

Though the educational model was the key to our unique learning environment, the qualification remained a rigorous backbone. We initially delivered a Foundation Diploma, but have recently moved to the UAL Level 4 Professional Diploma in Technical & Production for the Creative Industries.

The sector has changed immeasurably over the past decade with the rise of online content creators, streaming platforms and now AI. Yet our graduates are finding ways to adapt and excel in this quickly changing landscape. They have gone on to set up their own award-winning businesses, worked in the production of TV, film, radio, animation, live events, marketing and video as well as going to university. Their impressive work ranges from blockbuster movies like Disney’s The Little Mermaid to household TV programmes like Grand Designs and Love Island.

The key to this resilience rests entirely on the real-life nature of the course. Meeting clients, working and reworking projects until they are signed off. Project by project, building endurance, skills and guts. Taking risks and surpassing what they thought themselves capable of, often without safety nets.

Even when things went wrong, which of course they do, learning happens. They have stepped up and taken the leap, and now there are only more possibilities before them.

Isn’t that what education is all about?

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