The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges to various industries, including the vocational education and training (VET) sector.
In response to the pandemic, training providers swiftly adapted to online delivery to ensure the continuity of education.
The shift to online learning has created an opportunity for VET providers to explore innovative ways of teaching, including blended delivery, which combines online and face-to-face elements.
Now that restrictions have eased, the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) investigated online VET teaching practices and student support services.
The NCVER research aimed to discover the strengths and challenges of online VET while identifying best practices to enhance student success and industry relevance.
Recent data indicates that online delivery, both in its pure form and blended mode, has continued to gain momentum even after pandemic restrictions have eased.
Exploring Online Delivery Across Diverse Training Contexts
The NCVER study explores the diverse landscape of online vocational education training, acknowledging that good training is good training, regardless of the delivery mode. It analysed eight case-study qualifications spanning various industries and qualification levels:
- Certificate II in Community Pharmacy
- Certificate II in Skills for Work and Vocational Pathways
- Certificate III in Fitness
- Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care
- Certificate III in Electrotechnology Electrician
- Certificate IV in Real Estate Practice
- Certificate IV in Training and Assessment
- Diploma of Accounting
Unearthing the Key Elements of Effective Online Delivery
The research emphasises five common elements in successful online training: simplicity, clarity, consistency; development of varied and engaging learning material; communication and engagement; flexibility; and proactive and personalised student support.
Despite the diverse practices in online delivery, the interviews revealed five common elements that constitute practical approaches:
1. Simplicity, Clarity, and Consistency
Clear communication and easy navigation are vital in the online learning environment, especially in self-paced courses. The research highlights the importance of user-friendly technology, relevant information provision, clear instructions, and concise, intuitive learning materials.
2. Development of Varied and Engaging Learning Material
To promote student engagement, successful online VET adopts various interactive learning materials, such as written content, videos, quizzes, collaboration spaces, images, and practical tasks. However, developing effective online materials poses challenges like meeting training package requirements, addressing varying student learning styles and digital literacy levels, contextualising materials, and providing micro-learning opportunities.
Communication and Engagement
Combatting learner isolation in online VET requires robust communication and engagement strategies. Integrating personal stories, regular phone calls, video meetings, quizzes, and involving students in discussions is crucial for synchronous online training. In contrast, self-paced courses necessitate introductory phone calls, distributing information through multiple channels, and maintaining contact with students to ensure their engagement.
Flexibility is a significant benefit of online vocational education training, catering to students’ work schedules and personal commitments. Training providers offer flexible scheduling, shifting due dates, and providing in-person options when needed.
Proactive and Personalised Student Support
Accessible student support is critical for online VET students’ success. Identifying students in need of additional support can be challenging. RTOs employed pre-enrolment questionnaires, LMS data, live class observations, communication, and contact with employers to identify and address student needs. Best practice student support included individualised and proactive assistance through preferred communication channels like email or phone.
Suitability of Online VET Training Delivery for Different Qualifications
While most qualifications adapted well to online delivery, some were met with differing opinions:
Certificate II in Skills for Work and Vocational Pathways (Foundation Skills)
Many RTOs expressed reservations about delivering foundation skills training online due to challenges in building rapport with disadvantaged students, monitoring practical tasks, and addressing digital literacy and access issues.
However, one RTO successfully delivered online self-paced foundation skills training, offering personalised video support and access to campus computers.
Certificate III in Electrotechnology Electrician
RTOs had varied views on the suitability of online delivery for Certificate III in Electrotechnology Electrician. Some provided theoretical components online with on-campus support, while others argued for on-site practical training, underscoring the importance of hands-on trade experience.
Nonetheless, one RTO successfully delivered theory online, conducting practical training and assessment in the workplace, offering flexibility for students and employers to determine suitable training times.
Supporting Effective Online Vocational Education & Training Delivery
The NCVER’s research underscores the importance of simplicity, varied and engaging learning materials, communication, flexibility, and proactive support in delivering effective online VET.
By embracing these best practices, the VET sector can continue thriving in the digital age, providing high-quality education, and training opportunities to students and industry professionals.
While some qualifications may pose challenges for online delivery, creative adaptations and personalised support can enhance student outcomes.
NCVER findings provide valuable insights for training providers aiming to optimise their online VET offerings, ensuring a successful learning experience for students across diverse contexts.
As online delivery continues to shape the VET sector, adopting and refining effective teaching practices and student support services will remain pivotal in nurturing a competent and industry-ready workforce.