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.

ASQA, industry engagement and RTOs: what you should be doing

Allison Miller, eWorks Accredited ConsultantWhat is industry engagement, why should registered training organisations (RTOs) bother with this approach, and what does the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) have to say about it all? Allison Miller explains why this part of the Standards for RTOs 2015 is so important, and how to tick ASQA’s boxes without making life difficult for your industry contacts.

Industry engagement – why bother?

We all want our training, assessment and resources to be relevant to employer and student needs. It is therefore crucial that our trainers and assessors have the current skills and resources to deliver this training. But how do we ensure that our staff are well-trained and informed while being aware of the most recent developments in their specialist areas? Through industry engagement.

But what does this mean?

Clauses 1.5 and 1.6 of the Standards for RTOs 2015 prescribe how an RTO should undertake this practice. However, these clauses do not specify any particular method or approach. They do, however, specify that RTOs need to demonstrate how, on an ongoing basis, they:

  1. Utilise a range of strategies to consult with their industry stakeholders.
  2. Systematically use this information to determine the:
    • mode of the study, training and assessment strategies and resources, and
    • the currency of their trainers and assessors, as well as
  3. How these align with the current methods, technology, products and performance expectations in the workplace.

A generic template which can simply be signed off by an industry stakeholder won’t cut it to demonstrate compliance of these clauses. But businesses are busier than ever, so how can your RTO ensure that it engages with industry without making it burdensome on your industry contacts?

Here are some ways to make it easy:

1. Take a workforce development approach

We’ve acknowledge that people are busier than ever, so taking the time out of their busy work schedules without it being advantageous to them or their business can be hard to justify. So, approaching your industry contacts using a workforce development approach can provide an effective win-win situation. This approach is where you ask your industry contacts if they will meet with you to answer some questions about their business’s needs, in exchange for some workforce development advice through a training needs analysis.

This process may also lead to additional training opportunities for your RTO, but the workforce development advice shouldn’t only include information about accredited training, as this is only a small component of the training that a business needs in order to upskill its staff. Rather, it should include a range of workforce development strategies, such as work shadowing and coaching/mentoring, which will meet the business’s overall training requirements.

You could use your mobile phone audio app or an MP3 audio recorder to record these discussions as evidence of your industry engagement. To reduce travel time and costs, you could host these discussions in an online meeting room such as Google Hangout or any other online meeting room tool which also allows you to record the discussions.

2. Feedback through existing industry contacts

Every business is looking to work smarter and this is why they have their staff undertake training. This means that you can utilise the industry contacts that send their staff to your RTO for training, by asking them to contribute to a (hidden) course feedback discussion forum. This can be included within the online or blended course set-up in your learning management system (LMS) to help facilitate the training and assessment.

This approach also helps improve the business relationships between your trainers and the employers, as they communicate with one another through regular contact. This will give these employers more buy-in into the delivery of the training, by offering them the opportunity to have input into how their staff are being trained.

And, once all of the feedback is captured in the forum, your trainers can post the actions that will occur as a result of this industry engagement, and then post another response when the action has been completed. All of these posts will be date and time stamped in the forum as to when they were recorded. Trainers can even upload the audio recording of your workforce development discussions to this forum, so that all of the information is stored in one place.

Group discussionCredit: Volunteers by 1295178

3. Monitor trends online

Once you have established what your industry needs in the way of skills and knowledge for a particular qualification, skill set or cluster of units, you need to continue to monitor changes within this industry. A simple way to do this is by participating in industry online groups and forums through webinars, and by subscribing to industry e-newsletters and blogs.

Online professional spaces such as LinkedIn offer numerous industry-led online groups where people share and discuss latest industry news and changes. Industry and professional associations also host a range of online forums through webinars. In both of these spaces you can ‘lurk’ (aka look but not contribute), or you can ask questions or request feedback related to understanding whether your training, assessment, resources and trainers are all meeting your industry’s needs.

In addition to this, subscribing to industry and professional e-newsletters and blogs means that you will have current industry information delivered to your inbox on a regular basis. You then record how you will use this information to verify or improve your training and assessment practices by recording your ideas and actions in a note-taking tool such as Evernote or OneNote. You can even do this on your mobile phone and then upload these needs into the above discussion forum for continuity.

Pulling it all together

If you follow these strategies, you will have recorded you industry engagement through audio/webinar recordings, posts in online groups and forums, and recorded notes and actions. By saving all of these recordings into the one discussion forum within the online course where the training and assessment is taking place, you have now created a one-stop shop for tracking your industry engagement.

Here’s a table to summarise it all:

Engagement strategy Training & assessment Resources Trainers / Assessor currency How
Workforce Development X X X
  • Mobile phone/MP3 audio recorder
  • Online meeting room
Feedback X X
  • Discussion forum (LMS)
Monitoring trends X X
  • Online groups
  • Industry webinars
  • eNewsletters / Blogs
  • Note-taking tool

It’s not all about ticking the boxes

The Standards for RTOs 2015 outline the minimum that an RTO should do to engage with industry. This process should not just be about being able tick the boxes for an ASQA audit, however. Rather, we must ensure that our students are receiving the most current and relevant skills and knowledge required to be successful in the workplace and in business. Do you have other approaches to industry engagement that don’t make life difficult for your industry contacts? I would love to hear about them.

RTOs train well but assess poorly

Allison Miller, eWorks Accredited ConsultantAt the recent ACPET National Conference, Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) Chief Commissioner, Chris Robinson, said that registered training organisation’s (RTOs) in the vocational education and training (VET) sector train well but assess poorly. Allison Miller, who was in the audience, discusses this candid statement, breaks down the Standards for RTOs according to assessment requirements, and offers advice about good assessment practices for the VET sector.

Non-compliance and assessment go hand in hand

Chris Robinson’s statement was based upon recent analysis by ASQA of RTO compliance rates since the introduction of the new national Standards for RTOs (Standards) earlier in 2015 (ASQA, 2015). The analysis has shown that whenever an RTO has recorded non-compliance, assessment is always an issue. These issues stem from:

  • poor assessment strategies
  • poor assessment tools
  • poor assessment practices, and
  • unqualified trainers and assessors.

An assessment is much more than an assessment tool

The Standards (Clauses 1.8-1.12) are  very explicit about how an RTO should conduct effective assessment by implementing an assessment system that ensures that assessment:

  • complies with the assessment requirements of the relevant training package or VET accredited course; and
  • is conducted in accordance with the principles of assessment

This approach should also be applied to the assessment of recognition of prior learning (RPL). Under the new Standards, trainers/assessors need to be able to:

  • Unpack a unit of competency (UoC) to match skills to their industry. That is, the assessor needs to ensure that a learner has the required skills to work effectively in the relevant industry, according to what is included in the UoC.
  • Design assessment activities and tools which meet all of the UoC requirements, the relevant industry’s needs, and all of the principles of assessment and rules of evidence (Table 18-1 & 18-2).
  • Determine how to best collect, assess, provide feedback and store assessment evidence.
  • Write supporting documentation which outlines the learning and assessment activities students will undertake to demonstrate they are competent.
  • Understand, implement and participate in an assessment validation process.



Credit: Exam by Alberto G.

Other key components of a successful VET assessment system

Although not as explicit in the Standards, there are a number of other key components of a successful VET assessment system, such as having:

  • Several and varied assessment activities such as formative assessments which measure the learning (also known as assessment for learning) and summative assessments which measure the output of the learning (also known as assessment of learning). Summative assessments should not only be included at the end of the course.
  • Assessment activities and tools which are real and applied. That is, the student is doing the actual task in the workplace or simulated workplace environment or producing something that would be produced in the workplace.
  • Effective feedback mechanisms which help students move forward with their learning, also known as feed forward (JISC, 2013)
  • Ways of authenticating that the students are who they say they are, especially online students.
  • A variety of ways to capture assessment evidence such as text, images audio, video, checklists and third party reports.
  • Effective ways to capture and store assessment evidence so that is can be easily found, such as uploading all students’ evidence into a learning management system.

It’s not all about ASQA

Having an effective assessment system is not only about satisfying ASQA auditors and meeting the Standards for RTOs. An effective assessment system should ensure that a student has the skills, knowledge and experience to meet current workplace requirements as outlined in the UoC and according to what is currently being done in industry. This means that a trainer/assessor’s vocational currency is very important (Clauses 1.13-1.16). Trainers/assessors should be supported to continue

to work in industry either through part-time work, through work shadowing opportunities or other industry programs, to ensure they maintain this currency.

Interested in other blogs by Allison Miller?

How about:

Language, literacy and numeracy skills – how technology can help

Allison Miller, eWorks Accredited Consultant

Did you know that one in two adult Australians are below the internationally recognised level of literacy and numeracy to effectively function in the workplace and beyond? Allison Miller explains the implications of this shocking statistic for the VET sector, and how technology can help to address the issue.

What’s all the fuss about language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) and foundation skills?

The need to raise people’s language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) skills is becoming more evident within the VET sector as new units of competency now incorporate and map explicit foundation skills. This move is being supported by VET practitioners now undertaking the TAELLN411 Address adult language, literacy and numeracy skills unit of competency as part of their Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (TAE40110).

These changes come as a response to the low skills levels of literacy and numeracy in adult Australians, with only around 50% of working age Australians with literacy and numeracy skills of a Level 3 or above (Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, Summary Results, Australia, 2006). This means that 1 in 2 adults are below the internationally recognised level of literacy and numeracy to effectively function in the workplace and beyond.

Service Skills Australia defines:

  • Language as the main way we make and understand meaning as humans.
  • Literacy as the ability to read and use written information as well as to write appropriately, at home, at work and in the community.
  • Numeracy as the ability to use the mathematical concepts needed to function effectively in work and social context.

In other words we are talking about basic skills required in order to effectively navigate our world.

Leap into action with the best ways to build your learner's foundation skills

What does this mean to VET practitioners?

It is crucial that VET practitioners not only support learners with low LLN, but also develop and help improve the LLN of their learners. This means that all VET practitioners need to identify strategies to recognise, support, and build these skills into their existing training programs.

Technology to the rescue!

You will be pleased to learn that it’s not all doom and gloom – the effective use of digital technology to develop digital literacy has been shown to be a traversal enabler of key competencies such as language, literacy and numeracy (LLN, Ferrari, 2013).

Here are some of the ways people are integrating technology into their training program to help build their learners’ LLN:

  • Providing video/audio and text – including the text version of a person speaking means that learners can listen to what is being said while reading the words.
  • Scripting and recording audio answers – allowing learners to record their answers verbally means that they can practice their language skills, and then listen to check whether it makes sense.
  • Storyboarding and recording video – allowing learners to provide video answers / stories means that they can brainstorm and storyboard their work before recording.
  • Writing forum/blog/micro-blog posts and commenting – getting learners to write forum/blog/micro-blog posts means they are writing for a wider audience than just their teacher. This helps learners focus on the quality of their writing, and also encourages the analysis and response on other people’s posts.
  • Setting up online calendars – asking learners to schedule their assessment due dates and set up regular reminders in an online calendar helps learners manage their study commitments while improving their time management.
  • Utilising online mind-mapping tools – getting learners to visually brainstorm and link ideas through online mind-mapping tools mean that they can build connections between ideas and concepts while improving their spatial awareness.
  • Accessing open online content and activities – the Web is full of free online activities to help develop LLN. One good example is the Khan Academy, which provides online tutorials and seminars on maths and many more areas.
  • Incorporating social media groups – encouraging use of groups in social media sites like Facebook and Google+ allows learners to view video/text content as well as share their own work and ideas for review and critique by their peers.

Connecting digital technologies and LLN

You have now read about several ways in which digital technology can be used to build the language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) of your learners. The following table summarises the skills upon which each technology will have impact.

Technology Language Literacy Numeracy
Video/audio with text X X  
Audio X X  
Video X X X
Forums / blogs / micro-blogs X X  
Online calendars   X X
Online mind-mapping tools X X X
Online content and activities X X X
Social media groups X X  

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander

The beauty of using digital technologies in your training means that all learners will get the opportunity to improve their LLN, resulting in better engagement with their studies in general – not to mention the positive impact this will have on their careers and lives. It does need to be acknowledged, however, that not all learners have ubiquitous access to the internet. Alternative options should therefore be considered for these learners such as providing access to internet enabled devices or computer labs.

Yes there is support out there

If you are looking for cost-effective and time-efficient ways to build and increase your learners’ language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) skills you might like to review the resources and events on the LLN and VET Meeting Place website. If you are not sure how to incorporate this approach into your online content, then contact eWorks’ content development team.