Online training: Set and forget is not viable for VET

Allison Miller, eWorks Accredited ConsultantAllison Miller has been involved in online training and assessment for more than 10 years. During this time she has seen the exponential growth in the online training market, as more and more people turn to online study to fit in with their busy lives, or because they live too far away to participate in person. And while online training certainly offers flexibility in general, it is important to remember that this umbrella term refers to a range of different learning scenarios.

There’s online training, and there’s online training

Michael Coghlan (based on Clint Smith’s work) describes nine models of online training, ranging from e-training to blended training to the flipped classroom. Michael explains that:

  • E-training is self-directed training where learners receive no facilitation or human interaction.
  • Blended training is where traditional training is supplemented by web-based content and other e-communication.
  • Flipped classroom involves moving traditional class-based content online and away from face-to-face sessions, and then uses the face-to-face time on practical application of the content.

While a small percentage of the population may find e-training to be exactly what they need, this type of set and forget online training is not a viable business model in the vocational education and training (VET) sector. People may want to go online to access training on their terms, but they still want to feel like individuals rather than part of a vending machine online training model. And being part of a wider learning community is important to many learners, regardless of how isolated their learning environment might be.

How do we know that set and forget doesn’t work?

Here are a couple of examples to explain why set and forget online training is not a viable business model for VET:

  • As Jim Bost, Lecturer at TAFE SA once said: Nobody has ever said to an RTO: Here’s my money to do your online training, but now please, I never want to hear from you again
  • Brad Beach, Manager of the Professional Educator College at Chisholm Institute, also talks about how a ‘wow’ learning moment never comes from content. It comes through conversations and discussions with others. 

I’ve also heard Brad say that the number one reason why learners log into a learning management system (LMS) is to see if someone has responded to them, and he’s not talking about the score from an online quiz.

no money handshakeA no money handshake by Mark Miller

Let’s learn a little more about set and forget online training 

Set and forget online training is when a learner is asked to log into an online course and only interact with the content and activities, with no human interaction whatsoever. This type of training is done mainly through the delivery of online content and self-marking quizzes. While it is quite suitable for mandated or compulsory training such as WHS inductions or testing whether people’s knowledge is still current, it does not lend itself to being the only form of training and assessment in VET. In some sectors or for specific types of learning, yes, but entire courses within the VET sector, no.

VET training requires the application of skills and knowledge, much of which is tacit and can only be developed through interaction with others, through modelling and individualised feedback. Set and forget online training also increases the risk of cheating, as there is no buy-in by learners to take ownership of their work.

Now let’s not confuse set and forget or self-directed training with self-paced online training. Self-paced online training still requires interaction between the trainer and their learners through regular communications with their learners as they complete each section of a course. This might include useful feedback about their work and responding to journal entries or discussion forum posts.

What do you need to think about when setting up online training?

Let’s analyse what you need to consider when setting up online training:

1. Firstly, the cost of setting up your online training course, which involves:

  • Undertaking stakeholder consultations to determine when online training is suitable and when it isn’t. No one wants their hair cut by a hairdresser who has been trained solely through online content and a quiz!
  • Creating storyboards as part of the online training design process.
  • Developing content, whether that be text, images, audio or video.
  • Setting up the online course based on the online training design and incorporating the content developed, and then, 
  • Testing the online course to make sure it is learner-friendly, and that all of the links and downloads work.

2. Secondly, maintaining your online training course to ensure that:

  • The content stays up to date and relevant. Remember, audio and video content can be very expensive to update if, say, legislative changes put your content out of date. 
  • It keeps up with the latest technology with which people are accessing your online training course. At the moment, for example, Articulate Storyline 1 isn’t officially supported with Windows 10, so some Window 10 users might not be able to see your Articulate Storyline 1 content in your online courses. And then there’s a whole other blog post on whether or not your online training course looks good on a mobile device.

Getting it right from the start

So, with all of the investment involved in setting up and maintaining an online course, it makes perfect sense that you take the time to:

  • weigh up whether a course free of human interaction is really going to pay off for your cohort of learners, and,
  • how much extra return on investment you will gain by adding the human element to your online training courses, whether that be a self-paced, fully facilitated online training, blended or flipped classroom model.

Remember, people go to a training organisation to learn from and with others

Otherwise they could get most of what they need from the internet in general, or YouTube, MOOCs or other online courses. Through my experience and observations it seems to me that set and forget online training is not a cash cow, rather it is a short-sighted approach to online training which can potentially be an expensive white elephant. What do you think is the most effective form of online training? I would love to know your thoughts.