The latest findings on online and blended training delivery have been highlighted in recently released NCVER reports. Titled ‘Delivery of VET: Emerging Trends in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic’, and ‘The online delivery of VET during the COVID-19 pandemic part 1 and 2’, the reports were authored by Sheila Hume and Tabatha Griffin and published between 2021 and 2022.
In the ever-evolving Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector, the past year has witnessed profound transformation. The shift towards online and blended learning, driven in part by the exigencies of the COVID-19 pandemic, has reshaped the educational landscape, offering new opportunities and challenges. Concurrently, the growing emphasis on digital competencies has emerged as a vital necessity in an increasingly digitised world, prompting VET providers to realign their offerings. Moreover, the call for flexible and accessible learning environments has grown louder, prompting institutions to dismantle traditional barriers and embrace a more dynamic approach to education. As Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) and VET providers adapt to these seismic shifts, the future of VET training emerges as a compelling narrative, one defined by adaptability, innovation, and commitment to shaping a more inclusive and technologically savvy workforce.
Overview of the findings on the shift towards online and blended learning
Prior to the pandemic, “No Online Delivery” was the dominant category of delivery for all types of training providers. Training programs that were lacking an online component were also experiencing a decline, with a notable 6% decrease observed in 2019. As the pandemic unfolded, the year 2020 saw TAFE’s and RTOs reporting approximately a 7% reduction in enrolments for programs that did not incorporate online delivery, highlighting the accelerated shift towards digital education during that period.
Source: Delivery of VET: emerging trends in response to the COVID-19 pandemic
This is not surprising considering states across Australia suffered lockdowns and restrictions resulting from the pandemic. RTO’s were forced to respond to the pandemic by making the shift to online and blended learning, which is now shaping and influencing how RTOs use online learning in the future. The companies that pivoted to blended learning have experienced substantial growth from 23% of subject enrolments in 2019 to over 29% in 2021. This trend not only showcases their ability to provide learners with training options, but also emphasises the increasing significance of digital skills and the desire for flexible and accessible educational experiences.
Challenges Faced by VET Training Providers
RTO’s transition to online delivery in response to the pandemic, has proven to be a challenging journey to navigate for training providers. These NCVER reports discovered a sobering reality: not all students possess the necessary language, literacy, numeracy, and digital (LLND) skills to thrive in an online learning environment. Mature-age students were the cohort of students that struggled the most with digital skills. Additionally, the studies revealed that while trainers and assessors mostly adapted well to the shift, they faced challenges such as the time pressure to move online and the time commitment required to develop online resources. Some trainers lacked the confidence when it came to training online, which inhibited their capacity to teach their students effectively online. The report also highlighted the difficulties in transferring training courses that typically emphasise practical components to a virtual setting.
The Importance of Flexible and Accessible Learning Environments
It was divulged that approximately 59% of the surveyed RTOs indicated that their students were somewhat or very satisfied with the delivery of online training. Online and blended learning offer enhanced flexibility and accessibility, enabling self-paced learning and access to diverse resources and materials, ultimately making vocational education and training (VET) more convenient and attractive to a broader audience. Learners can pursue training opportunities regardless of their location and schedule. This opens up opportunities for learners and removes barriers, such as distance or limited access to in-person training. Additionally, the integration of technology and online tools can enhance the learning experience and make it more interactive and engaging.
The Future of VET Delivery: RTOs’ Pandemic Response
Here are four key insights found from NCVER Research (Hume & Griffin) on the future of training delivery:
Keeping up with technology
The VET sector is adapting to the changing needs of learners and the job market, emphasising the significance of staying current with technology and pedagogy. Many trainers require professional development in order to effectively respond to the increased use of online learning.
Continued uptake in blended learning delivery environments
RTOs are embracing the opportunities provided by e-learning and have found it useful at different stages of the learning and training process, particularly for teaching knowledge and theory. This has led to many RTOs to incorporate a form of e-learning into their training program. Because certain qualifications still require mostly practical components, most RTOs and TAFEs, employers and employees support a blended learning design approach, which combines e-learning with face-to-face training.
Potential for widespread technology use
The shift towards online and blended learning models showcases the potential for more widespread use of technology in VET training in the future.
Adaptability and versatility
The VET sector’s ability to quickly respond to the changing needs of learners – adapt to online and blended learning highlights its versatility and agility in providing training options for learners.