The vocational education and training (VET) sector has undergone a remarkable transformation with the surge in online delivery prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. As training providers explore the potential of online and blended learning, recent data reveals that online delivery remains popular even as restrictions ease. This shift in online VET delivery has opened up new possibilities and prompted a crucial evaluation of teaching practices and student support services in the online environment.
A comprehensive research initiative by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) delved into the characteristics of online VET delivery through interviews with registered training organisations (RTOs). The Effective Teaching Practices and Student Support Services in Online VET study examined a diverse range of qualifications, including Certificate II in Community Pharmacy, Certificate III in Fitness, and Diploma of Accounting, among others. By analysing various online VET delivery modes, such as fully online, blended, synchronous, and asynchronous, the researchers identified five common elements that contribute to successful online learning.
Online VET Delivery: Key Factors for a Seamless Learning Experience
Simplicity, clarity, and consistency emerged as vital factors in the online learning landscape. Clear instructions, user-friendly technology, and concise course navigation were identified as crucial components to ensure a seamless learning experience for students. In an environment with limited immediate communication, educators stressed the importance of providing relevant information and task-oriented materials that are intuitive and easy to navigate.
Fueling Student Involvement in Online Education
Engaging learning materials played a significant role in promoting student involvement. RTOs incorporated a variety of resources, such as written content, videos, quizzes, collaboration spaces, and practical tasks. Developing effective online materials presents challenges, including meeting training requirements and industry expectations, addressing diverse learning styles and literacy levels, considering students’ digital literacy and access, contextualising materials, and providing bite-sized learning opportunities.
Combating Learner Isolation in the Online Environment
Communication and engagement strategies played a crucial role in combating learner isolation. Depending on the delivery mode, strategies ranged from integrating personal stories, organising regular phone calls and video meetings, to involving students actively during live sessions. Self-paced courses required different approaches, such as introductory phone calls, multi-channel communication, and proactive outreach to students who showed signs of disengagement.
The Advantages of Online Learning for Work-Life Balance
Flexibility emerged as a major advantage of online learning, allowing students to balance their studies with work and personal commitments. Trainers showcased flexibility by scheduling training sessions to accommodate students’ schedules, adjusting due dates based on individual needs, and providing in-person options when necessary.
A Cornerstone of Successful Online VET Delivery
Proactive and personalised student support was identified as a critical success factor in online VET. Identifying students needing additional support online can be challenging, but trainers employed various methods, including pre-enrolment questionnaires, observations, and communication through the learning management system (LMS). Best practice support included individualised assistance tailored to students’ specific needs and proactive contact through preferred channels like email or phone.
Suitability of Online Delivery for Certain Qualifications in the VET Sector
While online VET delivery has seen widespread acceptance, the research revealed divergent views on the suitability of certain qualifications for online learning. For example, there were reservations regarding the online delivery of foundation skills training, primarily due to challenges in building rapport, monitoring work readiness, and addressing students’ limited digital literacy and access. Similarly, opinions varied on the feasibility of delivering hands-on trade qualifications, such as the Certificate III in Electrotechnology Electrician, online. Some providers offered theoretical components online with on-campus support, while others emphasised the importance of linking theory to practical application and conducted in-person training.
Embracing Change: Evolving Practices in the VET Sector
As the VET sector evolves, the study emphasises the need for clear and consistent instruction, engaging learning materials, effective communication and engagement, flexibility, and comprehensive student support. By implementing these online VET delivery best practices, training providers can ensure a high-quality online learning experience that meets the needs of students and industry demands.
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