Delivering learning at a distance: tools for ULRs

While we know that many of our members and reps will be extremely busy continuing to deliver our public services, or are busier than usual with caring responsibilities, others are on furlough or self-isolating and find themselves with unexpected spare time.  

Meanwhile, people’s natural creativity and adaptability has been evident as they’ve been adapting their pastimes to life at home and sharing them with friends and family at a distance.  

Members may not necessarily be thinking of these as learning activities, but ULRs will recognise the learning elements in many of these, and can use them to maximise knowledge and skills as well as contributing to members’ health and wellbeing.   

For example, online reading groups have been springing up all over the place, with participants agreeing on a book to read in their own time, and often with a video conference to discuss the book afterwards. ULRs have long been organising reading initiatives, and can continue to do so amid social distancing measures.  

While it’s more difficult to share and distribute physical books these days, there are plenty of ways to find free ebooks. You can borrow them from libraries through apps such as Libby, from Overdrive or Borrowbox – you just need to download the app and sign up with your library card.  Try Project Gutenberg for older booksand have a look on authors’ and publishers’ websites for ebook giveaways of new releases. And see the Reading Agency’s Covid-19 toolkit for more ideas. 




Project Gutenberg

Reading Agency: Covid-19 toolkit

Lockdown baking has also proved popularWhile cooking over video conference might not be wise, you could invite members to cook some kind of cake or snack and then come together for a socially distanced coffee morning.  

You can introduce a numeracy element by challenging participants to keep the costs beneath a certain threshold, and recommend Jack Monroe’s site for ideas of budget, budgeted recipes. 

Jack Monroe: Cooking on a Bootstrap

You can also use UNISON’s Making Every Penny Count toolkit to run some bitesized budgeting activities. You can download the PDF version from the Organising Space, and you can invite participants to use the digital version on our e-learning site. Just run one or two activities at a time; don’t try to work through the whole lot! 

Organising Space

Making Every Penny Count

You can continue to carry out one-to-one mentoring of learners over the phone, email, or via video call. You could set up a Trello board to help create an action plan, or use Unionlearn’s Climbing Frame. 


Climbing Frame

Unionlearn’s popular Value My Skills card game has been digitised – you could use the online version over a video call using screen sharing, or if you have a pack of the cards handy, you could point your camera at it. You might want to follow up with one of the activities from our Moving On toolkit – again, there’s a digital version on our e-learning site. 

Value My Skills

Moving On

And remember, you’re not on your own! Why not join other ULRs on the Organising Space to share your ideas, your challenges, and your experiences? 

Organising Space



Photograph: Kathleen Jowitt; fabric patch: erisapple