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Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing launches an entire digital learning strategy

For more than 100 years the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD) has provided training for dance teachers, enabling them to teach students, enter candidates for examinations and thereby spread the joy of dance. They are an examination board but also a registered Charity - their chief objective is 'to educate the public in the art of dancing in all its forms'.

The ISTD truly represents the diversity of dance - with 11 faculties covering a wide spectrum of genres from Ballet to Ballroom, Street to Salsa and from Classical Indian Dance to the brand-new Contemporary syllabus. With approximately 7,000 members in over 65 countries worldwide, ISTD conducts over 150,000 examinations each year. They have been listed by Ofqual as one of the top 20 largest awarding organisations in England and are in the top five for delivery of performing arts examinations.

The Challenge

During a period of research and development for their new teaching qualification – the Diploma in Dance Education (DDE), ISTD explored the possibility of learning ‘online’ and capturing assessment through a learning management system. Through research, they recognised that they needed to support their members and future proof their qualification for some of the following reasons:

  • recognition that most of the DDE learners are under the age of 30 and thereby expect this type of online learning support;
  • many DDE learners study part time, and often remotely, so an online system would help them to feel part of a learning community;
  • to support Approved Dance Centres and tutors with easy access to teaching resources and guidance about how to structure their students’ learning;
  • online platforms would give tutors the ability to update learning materials as new information became available.

For many years student teachers have submitted their work to the ISTD in the form of paper-based portfolios. This was posted to London via Royal Mail from the UK and Europe. It was fraught with issues in terms of cost and efficiency. The system was cumbersome, laborious and expensive with issues such as missing portfolios and late submissions. Assessors were required to attend London Headquarters to mark work four times a year for several days resulting in costs of up to and beyond £15,000. As an international organisation assessors flew in from Italy and Greece.  It was time for change and working with Accipio has enabled ISTD to do this.

The Solution

Accipio worked with ISTD to design and deliver a 21st century learning and assessment platform using Totara Learn.

This digitalised many manual processes (especially assessment), and integrated a previous Moodle site.

ISTD Learning

Key features of the project included:

  • Multi-tenancy allowing dance centres to manage, assess and support their own students;
  • Automated end-to-end onboarding process;
  • Personalised and adaptive delivery for different types of users with different pathways and dashboards for foreign language students and detailed real-time reporting;
  • Accessibility considerations;
  • Multi-language site;
  • Support building interactive and engaging e-modules; and
  • Plagiarism tracking.
ISTD Totara lms

"Accipio have been exceptional from conception through design until delivery. Without their ‘hand holding’ and confidence in our ability to achieve, we may not have been able to do what we wanted to do. They worked with us to create a bespoke model that can develop and build over time. Totara has enabled us to create a community and to support our students and teachers with their learning and assessment." - Louise Molton, Director of Education

The Results

The introduction of Totara has essentially revolutionised ISTD's working methods and driven them forward to dip into the possibilities of e-learning. This has not been without challenge as this was a major change for ISTD as a society in terms of mindset and processes. Accipio worked closely with ISTD to design, instruct and guide them through every step of the way. Understanding how they work and giving them options has enabled them to create an individualised platform for their tutors and centres.

The impact for the examination board has been huge:

Freedom to save

Costs have been cut dramatically, and ISTD is now able to invest further in content development rather than assessment;

Freedom to Innovate

  • Assessors now mark remotely, and ISTD no longer stores paper-based portfolios;
  • Can create bespoke permissions and audiences;
  • The work is secure, and can track progress;
  • It has improved efficiency and streamlined systems;
  • Students, tutors and centres can share material; therefore creating better communication and enabling centres to be more informed about their students and their progress;
  • Can update and adapt information regularly ensuring that resources are current and supporting the needs of students and teachers;

Freedom Of Choice

  • ISTD staff have been upskilled and trained to support teachers with the LMS;
  • They are now building upon their digital strategy and looking at other areas of digital and online development, and can build on future ideas and look to going worldwide with this qualification. 

Freedom to learn

Students and teachers have access to contemporary e-learning resources 24/7

"Our work with Accipio is the start of our online and digital processes. The ISTD aspires to be a world leader in dance education, setting the benchmark for best practice through our extensive syllabi and teacher training. We recognise that we have made the first steps into creating a Learner Management System, and that it is the start of a long and exciting journey for us – one that will continue to challenge us. Thank you to Accipio for helping us to make this transition and for supporting us through this process."


"The Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing is committed to becoming a dynamic, future-focused organisation that promotes the social, cultural, physical and educational benefits of dance for all.  To build on past success, we recognise the need to improve business performance through digitisation of services.  The learning platform Accipio has helped us create is an excellent start to this journey - paving the way for us to broaden access to our teacher training programmes and thereby strengthen our international presence." 
Ginny Brown, CEO, ISTD