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Teach First

Transforming the online experience

Teach First is an educational charity that develops and supports teachers and leaders in England. In under 20 years, it has placed more than 10,000 teachers in low-income areas, supporting more than one million children. In 2020, Teach First accelerated the transformation of its teacher training programmes to enable online learning during the COVID-19 crisis and provide blended in-person and online tuition long-term. The move inspired a whole new way for the team to create and deliver content and introduced an engaging learning environment for trainee teachers. Thanks to the close working partnership between Teach First and D2L, learners were accessing courses through the Brightspace platform three months ahead of schedule, with learner numbers rapidly scaling up to 10,000.


Teach First



  • D2L Brightspace Platform
  • Quizzes, discussions, assignments
  • API features for administrative tasks

Teach First’s rapid transition to a blended learning model maintains continuity of learning for trainee teachers during and beyond COVID-19

  • Helen Farmer, Head of Digital Learning, Teach First
  • Christina Tidy, Learning Tools Product Manager, Teach First



  • Rapid transition of learning online when COVID-19 halted face-to-face training
  • Courses delivered through the learning platform three months ahead of schedule
  • A scaled solution that quickly ramped up to support 10,000 learners
  • Strong collaborative partnership driving results-based outcomes
  • In-house course creators upskilled in digital delivery


Accelerate Online Learning And Upskill Trainers

In March 2020, Teach First engaged D2L with a view to launching new courses on the Brightspace platform for its Early Career Framework in September. However, events of spring that year altered the plan. It quickly became clear that the 1,700 new teachers set to undergo Teach First’s five-week Summer Institute in June and July would have to learn online.

“The moment we realised what was ahead, we worked to flex the learning platform implementation,” explains Helen Farmer, Teach First’s Head of Digital Learning. “We took a very focused approach, with an order of priorities, to deliver what our learners needed. Without the learning platform in place, we would have been in a very different position.”

Online learning wasn’t new to Teach First. Prior to working with D2L, it already provided learners and tutors with digital tools as part of first steps in moving towards a blended approach. Technology helped Teach First encourage collaboration and reach trainees in the most rural and remote schools. Without a digital option, these learners could sometimes struggle to attend training sessions.

However, over time, Teach First had found that building courses on its existing learning platform was costly and took too much control away from in-house teams. It wanted to improve usability of the learning environment and achieve a higher level of autonomy in course creation and execution.


Flexible Delivery Fast Tracks Learning

To ensure Teach First met everyone’s requirements for the new learning platform, the team supplied D2L with a range of use cases. They covered support staff, who need insight into learner engagement, programme owners, who need to create courses simply, and learners who want clear and comprehensive learning pathways. Teach First’s trainees value flexibility and the capability to fit their learning around time spent teaching. This called for effective asynchronous learning delivery as well as support for learners accessing course material from a range of locations and devices. D2L demonstrated its understanding of Teach First’s requirements by proposing an outcomes-based solution to meet all needs.

“It was important to us that our learning platform provider really understand our objectives and what we stand for,” says Helen Farmer. “We wanted a partner, someone who listens, who would help us visualise how the learning pathways would look, and who would move forward with us.”

The immediate priority was to accelerate the platform rollout to provide distance learning to the summer intake. Teach First credits the close working partnership with D2L, together with the flexible and proactive ‘can do’ attitude of the team, with shaving three months off the delivery timeframe.

“We succeeded in fast tracking many deliverables,” says Christina Tidy, Learning Tools Product Manager at Teach First. “We weren’t expecting to have what we had until the following year, so the achievement was significant.”

Starting from June 2020, Teach First steadily introduced new trainees on the Brightspace platform and migrated existing learners over until the 10,000 strong cohort were all accessing courses seamlessly online. The programme is on track to increase this still further to around 20,000 in the autumn of 2021.

Teach First makes full use of the functionality of the Brightspace platform to engage learners and provide clear navigation through course content and assignments. Quizzes and discussions aid support roles in checking learner understanding and generating a collaborative atmosphere in which trainees are able to put their new skills into practice. The interactive platform provides a forum for the trainee teachers to ask questions and learn from others. In time, video notes and assignments will contribute to the rich multimedia experience through easily recorded visual feedback and comments.

Automation was another end goal achieved. Administrators use the application programming interface (API) tools to maintain licences and accounts, create new users on the platform, audit existing groups and keep user attributes up to date. Streamlining administration in this way helps Teach First alleviate time pressures on support and teaching staff.

Instead of attending an eight- or nine-hour long training conference on a Saturday, after a week spent teaching, our teachers learn in their own time, at their own pace, and return to things if they need to. That’s a massive driver for learner engagement.

Helen Farmer, Head of Digital Learning, Teach First


Self-Directed Learning At Scale

Through flexible, agile delivery of the D2L Brightspace platform, Teach First succeeded in providing online tuition for summer students in 2020, three months ahead of schedule and with no drop in learner satisfaction. An overwhelming 97% of learners agreed or strongly agreed Brightspace supported their development over the summer institute. The platform is now used by all trainee teachers and has been well-received.

Rich content functionality provides learners with engaging courses and the asynchronous nature of tuition supports self-directed learning.

Learners take part in quizzes, discussions, assignments and assessments. These enable the trainee teachers to apply their skills, deepen their knowledge of topics and check their understanding. Such progress checks keep learners on track, signpost to support roles where additional tuition may be required, and help maintain motivation through the learning process. Timely and comprehensive feedback is also essential to this, and this is delivered through the platform across a range of assignment types.

Functionality is built-in to the platform, something that Helen notes is especially reassuring to learning providers. In addition, Teach First has achieved its aim of upskilling for digital content creation in-house. The team capitalises on the capability within the Brightspace platform to develop content through HTML templates. The templates help keep courses consistent in their look, feel and navigation for students and tutors. As the structure of content is predefined by the templates, this also means the team can more rapidly turnaround new material to be made available through the platform. As part of its continuous learning, Teach First’s content builders make use of the Brightspace community, a forum that provides guidance and the sharing of best practice among platform users.

Teach First has a substantial learner base, rendering remote tuition through synchronous digital tools alone almost impossible. “When you’re delivering learning on a large scale, with high volumes of learners, a learning platform helps provide an excellent learning experience,” says Helen. “We are now working on new projects and programmes, and are exploring Brightspace as a means of meeting our own internal learning and development needs.”

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