The Impact of Online Delivery and VET

Claudia Reiners
July 2, 2020

The Impact of Online Delivery and VET

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The National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) released a report in late 2019 entitled “Online delivery of VET qualifications: current use and outcomes”, which discusses the state of online learning in the Australian VET sector.

These findings are particularly illuminating in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the implementation of VET activity has largely moved online.

So how are these findings relevant to the evolving educational landscape, what will online learning look like in the future, and why should VET providers consider switching to delivering their courses online?

With the online delivery of vocational education and training (VET) courses gaining momentum due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCVER report on the online delivery of VET qualifications becomes important to revisit. The report presents some surprising findings on the current state of online delivery of VET qualifications, addressing student outcomes, completion rates, student satisfaction and more.

At the time of the report, VET courses that were delivered entirely online were found to have higher non-completion rates than other modes of training. At the same time, however, students who did complete their course enjoyed similar employment outcomes to those who took subjects delivered via other delivery modes, demonstrating how online learning can enrich the student learning experience if implemented correctly.

The relevance of NCVER findings to the VET system during and beyond COVID

The findings presented in the NCVER report provide a roadmap to registered training organisations (RTOs) and TAFEs currently attempting to implement online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One challenge the VET sector faces is that VET teaching typically requires a concrete skill set to be developed, using a competency-based training system. Online skills development can be difficult, and online courses will have to be designed extremely well to generate the same outcomes as face-to-face classes.

As mentioned above, online VET learning was also found to have lower completion rates than other modes of delivery. This presents a challenge to educators who have now been forced to move all teaching online due to COVID-19. If online training and teaching is carried out appropriately, however, students can expect to enjoy similar outcomes to those who have completed face-to-face studies.

The report goes on to identify five key factors that contribute to good practice in online course delivery, which will help to inform successful learning experiences during and post-COVID.

These include:

  • Positive and supportive training providers
  • Students who have realistic expectations
  • Learning resources that are well-structured, up-to-date and cater to different learning preferences
  • Effective student support systems
  • Skilled and empathetic trainers with good problem-solving skills

To improve the outcomes for online learning, NCVER suggests greater involvement by the Australian Qualifications Framework to create guidelines on when a qualification is unsuited to a completely online delivery, and to create consistency in qualification specifications of delivery aspects like work placements.

The Outlook for Online Learning

There are plenty of challenges and benefits offered by online learning that must be worked through, given the education sector’s current reliance on it.

Some challenges include:

  • Online delivery not suiting a student
  • Students being unable to secure work placements
  • Students not having the necessary technology to participate in the course
  • A lack of face-to-face contact with teachers
  • A lack of connectedness with other students
  • A greater need for self-discipline

Finally, if an online course is designed poorly, this could also impact withdrawals and course completion rates.

Some positives identified in the report include:

  • Employment outcomes being similar between students who graduated from online courses and those who studied through other modes
  • Greater flexibility offered to students
  • Accommodations for different learning styles and preferences
  • Lower costs

Online Learning Opportunities for Training Providers During COVID-19

With most forms of education being forced online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, educators and assessors can look to the NCVER report for guidance, guidelines and best practice recommendations.

The report draws light to some factors that have been shown to positively influence student satisfaction with online learning, which include:

  • Clear and relevant assignments and communication
  • Fostering confidence in students’ ability to communicate and learn online
  • Offering access to campus-based learning resources
  • Making technical support available
  • Providing orientation to the course, technology and equipment
  • Allowing for student assessment on their own performance in the course
  • Greater attention given to regulation, plagiarism, and the professional development of teaching staff

With a great deal of learning now being offered online, educators and VET providers have an opportunity to elevate the quality of their online delivery.

The National Centre for Vocational Education Research’s “Online delivery of VET qualifications: current use and outcomes” report provides some excellent stepping stones for the education sector as it grapples with the online delivery of training and further education.

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Claudia Reiners
Head of Strategy
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