In the last issue we highlighted a new NCVER report that looked at VET courses delivered totally online.

This article presents the other element of this report: what good online practice looks like.

In our last exciting episode

In the article in the last issue of VDC News: “Online delivery of VET: What’s the story” we found that entirely online VET courses are 8.6% of all commencements in 2017. Withdrawal rates were higher too.

Teachers and trainers reported that delivery approaches had changed little over time, and they felt that online learning “does not suit everyone or every circumstance.”

The researchers found that many ASQA auditors also appear to have a negative view of wholly online delivery, but this view is seen as unfair by some RTOs using this approach who think their quality assurance processes are ‘up to the mark’. So, what are the key attributes of good practice in online delivery the study identified? The NCVER’s report has a bit to say about that.

Good practice in online delivery

There are five key attributes, the report’s authors suggest. First, the attitude and ethos of the training provider and its staff “plays an important role in good online delivery. Good intentions of the provider and staff set the tone for high-quality training and assessment, regardless of the mode of delivery.”

Second, the quality of information provided before and at enrolment ensures “that students have realistic expectations of the course and delivery mode.” This helps students to make informed decisions about their training. “Informing students about any non-online elements, such as work placements, and what they’ll need to do to complete the course will help to reduce the chance of students enrolling in a course that does not suit their learning style or situation.”

Third, the quality of the online learning platform, its associated resources and assessment processes need “to be easy to navigate and use.” The resources also need to be “well-structured, up-to-date and engaging. Content should be delivered in a variety of ways to cater to different learning styles and should be developed specifically for online delivery.”

Fourth, effective student support and communication systems are “integral to good online delivery of VET.” “How support is provided may depend on student numbers and, hence, may be provided by an individual teacher/trainer, or by a dedicated support team. Support should be offered in a variety of ways to suit the communication style and the various commitments of the learners.” In addition, the report suggests that:

“Building a relationship between the teachers/trainers and the students was another element of good practice. This ensures that students feel less isolated – understanding that there is a trainer available to support them – and assists in identifying plagiarism and issues of authenticity.”

Fifth, the quality and the attributes of the teachers and trainers are important. Key attributes include being highly skilled and knowledgeable, as well as “displaying empathy and being creative problem-solvers.” “The dedicated commitment of teachers and trainers to see students succeed helps to enable good outcomes for students.”

Finally, it’s worth noting that many of these ‘attributes of good practice’ are relevant to any VET program, including those offered wholly online. Back in 2003, a book of readings edited by Hugh Guthrie and published by NCVER noted the importance of professional development for staff using online approaches. Hugh’s overview in this book also drew attention to the importance of teacher skills and responsiveness, communication and interactivity between staff and learners and between the learners themselves and the need for high quality learning materials. Students involved in wholly online courses also needed high levels of independence, motivation, persistence, literacy, computer skills and experience, and time management skills. The quality of online approaches to assessment was an issue back then too.