Courses delivered entirely online deliver mixed results for the vocational education and training (VET) sector, despite online-only courses making up almost a tenth of enrolments.
A new report from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) suggests that while employment opportunities for those who obtain a VET qualification online are comparable to people who got their qualification through other delivery methods, completion rates were around 10 percent lower.
Simon Walker, NCVER managing director, said that even with the report, little is known about the online delivery of entire VET qualifications.
“We estimate that around 8.6 percent of all VET program commencements in 2017 were in courses delivered fully online, which is not an insignificant figure,” Walker said.
“Since the VET sector is underpinned by a competency-based training system, it can experience some unique challenges in the use of online learning. This study shows us that a high-quality online course can result in good outcomes for those students that complete the course.”
Online training has been entrenched in the sector for a number of years now, however, the NCVER said the challenge may arise from the fact that VET courses traditionally relate hands-on skills with ready application to the workforce which can be difficult to attain and demonstrate online.
Data from 2016 indicates that, even for courses with combined online and in-person delivery for different subjects, withdrawal rates were around 10 percent higher for online subjection.
Students who did complete their online course also reported low satisfaction than their peers, although the NCVER notes that satisfaction was still “relatively high”.
Teachers and trainers interviewed for the report said part of the reason students drop out is that, like any form of learning, online delivery does not suit every individual.
Online study also comes with its own disadvantages, they said, including feelings of isolation, a strong need for self-discipline, or students not having access to the necessary tools and technology to participate.
Five key factors identified in the report that contribute to good practice in online delivery include:
- positive, supportive training providers;
- students with realistic expectations;
- well-structured and up-to-date resources catering to a range of learning preferences;
- effective student support systems;
- and skilled, empathetic trainers with good problem-solving skills.
“What’s important to note is that many of these good practice attributes are not unique to the online delivery context; however, how they are implemented may be,” Walker said.
“The lower course completion rates can be due to many factors. This report cannot further differentiate between poor course delivery and delivery that is incompatible with a student or a situation as reasons for higher subject withdrawal and course non-completion.
“However, these findings suggest that clearer guidelines of when a qualification is unsuited to delivery in a fully-online environment, and consistency in qualification specifications of delivery aspects such as work placements and teaching when courses are delivered fully online, may be warranted.”