Diploma’s or Certificate – Employments outcomes v Qualification level (The problems of Australia’s debt fuel Diploma industry)

Given a number of discussion I have had recently around Vocation training (VET) in Australia and in particular the rise of debt funded diploma industry I thought I might take a look at some actual figures and see whether or not getting a Diploma (AQF level 5) made any significant difference to employment options and outcomes, or whether it was the case that a lower AQF qualification, in particular level IV or III actually had the same or better outcomes in terms of employment.  So to the figures.

As most of you know NCVER is the place to go to look at statistics relating to the VET industry in Australia.  Now it is important to note that this data is around 12 months old, but still I think worth looking at now if only in the context of us then being able to comment on the new data when it comes out.

If we look at the student outcomes to total VET activity by key measures table it seems to be at least to my eyes beginning to tell us some interesting stories.  If we look at table 21 – Key findings for graduates by qualification firstly what do we see?

 

We see that the biggest proportional increase in employment before and after training at 8.9% is at the Certificate II level with the Certificate III (7.8%) and Certificate I (6.9%) not far behind.  The lowest performers (and significantly lower are Certificate IV and Diploma or above Qualifications at 1.6% and 1.7% respectively.

When we look at table 22 which represent module completer’s rather than graduates we see that the situation is even worse with what appears to be almost 1% fewer people employed out of those that started but did not complete a diploma level course again with the result better at a certificate III, II and I level.

And the trend continues when we look at Improved employment status after training for those employed before training,  at a certificate III and II level  21% of respondents were employed at a higher skill level while only 14% and 10 % for Diploma’s and Certificate IV’s.  Of those not employed before training 51% of Certificate III graduates were employed after the training as opposed to 43% at a Diploma level.

 

So what does this all mean?

Well and I am happy to take any challenges to this as I am now making some assumptions, what I think it shows is that if you are unemployed your best choice in terms of what training to undertake in order to maximise your ability to gain employment is to undertake a certificate III level qualification.  It also seems even if you are employed and you want to improve your employment outcomes a certificate III is still the better option.  This becomes even more relevant when we start to consider the relative costs of certificate III vs Diploma programs.  Certificate III, negligible cost to participant due to direct government funding arrangements versus up to $20,000 debt through government study assistance for a diploma.

It seems to me, and this has been my position for a long time, when we look at the vocational education system in this country and how it relates to that group of people who have for whatever reasons not gone on to tertiary education, it seems that the best approach is to undertake lower level courses (certificate II and III) courses to maximise the opportunity of gaining employment and then whilst employed access higher level training qualifications to improve overall job position.  This use of the system seems to be supported in general (particularly in QLD) by the structure of government funding, where Certificate III level qualifications are heavily subsidised for people without qualifications, yet higher level (IV and V) qualifications require participants to already be employed in the sector they wish to study in.  Also given that gaining a higher level qualification first, rules out the possibility of individuals or employers being able to fund lower level qualifications, it really does seem to me to be the case that you are far better off, starting at a lower level of qualification and working your way through the system, than starting higher up the ladder and hoping for an employment outcome.

Essential Skills – Learning in a digital, interfaced world

I have talked a number of times now about the concept of Interfaced Learning and as part of the discussions about this concept with a number of my greatly appreciated comment providers, one of the prime discussions has been around the concept of essential skills.  One of the reasons why I like thought experiments around the future of learning is that often they tend to give us quite deep insight into the issues facing us today.  So if we consider the world that I have posited on several occasions now, a world where skills and knowledge can for the most part simply plugged in, utilised and then discarded the concept of what basic skills would be essential for me to possess in order not only to be able to utilise technology like this but to utilise it well.  We can also place these ideas more firmly in the now by thinking about the learning through watching YouTube experience I have also mentioned previously, what skills did I need to have to be able to effectively utilise the skills I acquired through the process of interfaced learning.

Now if we take the example of undertaking some home renovation and picking up required skills along the way through watching YouTube.  It is clear that there are some obvious skills which are required in order to be able to do this, things such as;

  • manual dexterity
  • language and comprehension
  • numeracy and mathematics

But what else do we need, what other skills are essential to our ability to rapidly acquire and utilise new skills and knowledge.   What about skills (which are often thought of as being higher level skills) such as critical reasoning, the ability to evaluate options, the ability to extrapolate information (specific to general and general to specific).  We sometimes criticise the outcomes of learning programs without necessarily considering whether or not these higher level skills are present.  To give you an example I am currently working with a group of youths who are disengaged from the general school environment.  While for the most part they have quite good language, literacy and mathematics skills, one of the things I noticed they were missing very early on was the ability to take skills and knowledge from one environment and utilise them in another environment.  It was almost if they had to relearn skills that they actually had, but were unable to transfer to a new problem or task.  This meant that we actually had to spend a fair amount of time early on trying to teach them how to achieve this transference of information but in the long run it made the learning process much easier on them and us.

 

So I would love to hear everyone’s thoughts on  what you think the essential skills are that people need in order to be able to effectively learn.

 

Acquire – Utilise – Disacquire; The essence of Interfaced Learning

“The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn”- Alvin Toffler

 

I was reminded recently of Toffler’s quote by a reader of one of my previous posts  and it, as it had done previously struck a chord with me, both at an individual and organisational level, particularly given the subject matter that I have been toying with over the last few posts I have made, that of Interfaced Learning.  While I think Toffler is to a large extent right, what I think we are beginning to see, with more and more how to videos, learning snippets, user-created content, or as Ryan Tracey suggested to me, technologically enabled distributed learning is that his quote maybe does not go even far enough.

I say this because when we look at a definition of learning say  the act of acquiring new, or modifying and reinforcing, existing knowledge, behaviours, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information.  I would suggest as I have elsewhere that this is, at least in a significant number of cases not what is going on with a lot of Interfaced Learning.  What is in fact happening is we are acquiring a new skill or knowledge, utilising that skill or knowledge and then either actively or passively disacquiring it.  For me whether we are actually learning something, in a traditional sense of learning is really up for debate.  Of course Toffler may in fact have quite a loose definition of learning in mind when he says this which works quite nicely if that is the case, however I think, while probably inherent in the thinking behind the quote, it is the ability to utilise the skills and knowledge acquired that is particularly interesting, particularly for organisations.

This is because, as I have spoken about previously, there are a number of areas where organisations are even now actively encouraging staff not to retain certain types of information and to simply access them when necessary.  An example of this is policy and procedure documents, where, rather than have staff print out these documents or attempt to commit the information contained in them to memory, the organisation’s preference is for the staff member to check the document (held in some form of online repository) to ensure that they have the correct and most up to date information on had.  Inherent in this concept then is of course the idea that the staff member will disacquire the information (I hesitate to use the word unlearn here because I don’t think there is any intentional learning going on here simply the acquisition of information), so that when they have to undertake that task again they will again check the information repository.

In the same vein a significant number of employers are now providing their staff with just in time style learning snippets; small, task specific e-learning modules, delivered through a range of devices to the staff who can access them prior to undertaking a task to refresh their memory on how the task is supposed to be completed.  This process even in this form again encourages and reinforces the Acquire – Utilise – Disacquire mindset of Interfaced Learning.  It is true that at least in most cases the staff in question have already received more formal or traditional training in the task, however due to the infrequency of the task or other factors a quick refresher is useful in assisting them to complete the task successfully.  Let us think about it for a moment though.  How far away are we from not providing specific training in the task in question and simply providing generic skills training over which and interfaced Learning program can be layered to provide the specific skills need to achieve the task at hand at the time they are needed.

On of the complaints often raised against traditional training is that of retention of learning.  As we are all aware if a staff member attends a course or does an online program and then does not have cause to utilise the skills and knowledge they learnt then they will quickly forget them.  This of course then creates a range of situations when however many months down the track from their initial learning of the skill the staff member is called upon to use it.  Perhaps it may be more efficient and cost-effective to ensure that staff members have the underlying skills and knowledge to allow them to rapidly Acquire – Utilise – Disacquire skills through some form of Interfaced Learning, than to try to ensure that they retain the skills and knowledge over and extended period of time.

 

Rapid Skill Acquisition and Instant Evaluation – The Evaluation of Interfaced Learning

Ask yourself this, if we think about just in time learning, utilising YouTube or videos to impart skills to staff, or even just staff reading a policy or procedure through an online portal, what result do we want this?  How can we tell if this skill acquisition through some form of interfaced learning has been successful?  How can we evaluate skills or knowledge, which as I have discussed in another post  may be disacquired as rapidly as we have acquired them.  The more I think about evaluation the more I feel that our traditional models aren’t designed to cope with a world in which just in time, rapid skill acquisition is becoming more prevalent.

If I think about the example I have used previously of me acquiring the skill to use a mitre box to cut ceiling trim and install it, I think this provides where my think sits on this.  So the question is how to evaluate whether or not the ‘learning’ was successful?  Well what was my (or to be truthful my wife’s) success criteria,  it was quite simply install ceiling trim.  So if that was the success criteria, then it would seem that I was successful.  I know I was successful because my wife was happy with the result.  The real question here for me is how long did that evaluation process take, well in reality it was almost instantaneous.  I completed the task and then got my wife to come in and evaluate it as soon as I was finished.

Now you might say that is a very simply example and that evaluating the  success or failure of a learning program at an organisational level is much more complex than that and while I think that is at leas to some extend correct I think there are also a range of learning interventions where trying to do something other than what I have outlined above simply overcomplicates the matter.

Certainly there are tasks, skills and knowledge that we want our staff to have learnt and integrated so that they can perform them independently, and without additional learning when they need to.  However there are a range of tasks within any organisation where what we want from the learning process is that when the person needs to undertake the task, they simply access the relevant information, perform the task and then move on.  It is the Interfaced Learning process that I have described elsewhere, where we don’t actually expect that the staff member will retain skills or knowledge for any longer than it is necessary for them to complete the task (Acquire, Utilise, Disacquire).  In these cases I would suggest that the best time and in really the only time we should be evaluating the effectiveness of the learning should be at the time, that is directly after they have completed the task in question.

Sure we can accumulate all of this data, from all of the Interfaced Learning activities across the organisation and then begin to analyse what worked better, what was successful and what wasn’t, but the success of the actual instances themselves is something that should be determined as soon as possible after the completion of the task in question.

Interfaced Learning – The acquisition and disacquisition of skills and knowledge in the digital world

As some of you may have guessed from my recent posts the #lrn2024 concept has stuck a cord with the philosopher and futurist in me (for those of you who don’t know I am shall we say a Philosopher by trade) and got me thinking about a number of things.  In particular in the changes the way we learn (and I am becoming a little more careful about using this term now) and acquire skills and knowledge.  This is in part driven by the concept that it seems that there may be or may be developing what could a significant difference between what we would traditionally consider to be learning and shall we say the acquisition of a skill or piece of knowledge.  I would argue, and I may at some point, that more so than ever in the past (and I believe this will increase in the coming years) it is becoming possible for me to acquire a skill, in most cases quite rapidly, utilise that skill and then for want of a better word disaquire that skill just as rapidly.

An example of this is my recent renovations of our house, including things like sanding and polishing floors, tiling and cutting and installing trim for the ceiling.  If we take a look at cutting the ceiling trim it provides a great example.  We had done everything else in the bathroom and the last thing to do was the trim between the ceiling and wall, so I went, ‘how hard can it be’ and went and looked at the trim in the rest of the house and the old trim that had been removed and then made an attempt (with a couple of test pieces to make the appropriate cuts.  I failed.  Given this result it was off to the wonderful world of YouTube, where I learnt about mitre boxes and the like, then armed with the knowledge and a rapidly purchased mitre box, proceeded to with relative ease cut and install the trim.  With that task achieved and the likelihood of me needing to do it again in the near future, and the availability of YouTube, promptly disacquired that skill.  Now why do I say disacquire that skill rather than forget, well I haven’t totally forgotten it, could I do it again now without the help of YouTube, probably not, but my reacquisition time would be much less time.  This is also the reason I used the term acquire the skill rather than learn, because I would argue that at no point did I learn the skill cut trim using a mitre box.

Now lets juxtapose this against the more traditional way of learning, or acquiring skills, where one is shown or taught a skill by someone who already possesses that skill and then practices that skill, usually under the guidance again of someone who already possesses that skill, until they are recognised as being able to perform the skill independently.  It is important to note that I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong with this traditional method,  that its time has passed, or that it doesn’t and will not have a place in the learning environment.  I am suggesting however that this Interfaced Learning (where I acquire skills and knowledge rapidly through some kind of interface device and in most cases disaquire them almost as quickly) is not only upon us, but is something that will increase in usage and application and new technologies and out understanding of the brain and how we learn increases.

It is clear I think that if we look at the rise and usage of not only e-learning and mobile learning, but instructional videos on youtube and a range a n variety of apps from which we can pull information and knowledge when we require it that this concept of Interfaced Learning is already upon us.  Be it a desktop computer, a tablet, a mobile phone, or (and I would love to explore this idea more, and yes this is a shameless plug this lovely piece of tech should be available in Australia) things like Google Glass, we are already surrounded by these interfaces and we use them constantly to access information and to acquire skills and knowledge, which we then utilise and promptly disacquire because we no longer need to that skill, knowledge or piece of information.

In fact it seems to me that there are some fairly mundane examples of this where we have been utilising this process for quite a long period of time, even before the rise of e-learning.  Think of the shared drive or the web portal which holds policies and procedures for an organisation.  Organisations have actively discouraged the printing of documents from these location and actively encouraged staff to check the central repository to ensure the latest knowledge.  Effectively the organisation is saying, don’t learn this, simply access it when you need it and apply it, thus ensuring (hopefully) that everyone is always working with the latest and most correct information.  They are actively promoting the rapid acquisition and disacquisition of knowledge through a readily available interface.

The more I think about this subject the more it seems that moving forward this concept of only holding skills and knowledge is one that is increasing.  We talk a lot about just in time learning, rapid upskilling, knowledge sharing and the like, and most of these concepts are wrapped around the delivery of content through some interface device and in a lot of cases we are not expecting the person to have completely learnt and integrated the skill or knowledge, at least in the traditional sense, after they have access the information once, but we seem to expect them to behave, at least for a short period of time as if they do possess that skill of knowledge.  There also seems every reason to suspect that this interfaced learning process will increase and we will see more and more skills and knowledge delivered to us in this way.

So I would really love to hear any thoughts you might have on this.

Learning in a digital ‘cyberpunk’ world #LRN2024

A lot of you have probably come across the concept of a brain/computer (wetware/hardware) interface which allows people learn new skills, obtain knowledge and interface directly with other systems through science fiction movies and novels (William Gibson’s work for example)  and recently there was a paper published which seems to show the first documented brain to brain interface.  After my recent post for #lrn2024 and  question from a friend of mine Eric, I started to think about the effects on this kind of process on learning and the acquisition on knowledge and skills.

Let me set the scene for you first and then we can begin to discuss what impacts these ideas may have.

Think about a world where the need to learn skills and obtain knowledge in a traditional manner is no longer necessary, rather when one needs a particular set of skills or knowledge one simply ‘installs’ in much like installing a new piece of software on a computer or perhaps more like running portable apps on a computer rather than installing anything, but both ideas tend to work in the same way though as we may see there may be more permanence in case than the other.  We might call this kind of learning, if we decide that it is in fact learning and not something else, Interface Learning, that is where skills or knowledge are acquired through the utilisation of some for of interface. So if we take something simple (though in true actually quite complex) like driving a car.  I have learnt to drive an automatic vehicle, however in a particular instance I need to drive a manual  vehicle, so I simply ‘chip’ the skills and knowledge into by brain through some kind of wetware/hardware interface (think a USB port just behind my ear) and I am able to drive the manual vehicle with the skill and precision of a formula one racing driver.  So what then happens when I no longer need to driver the vehicle?  Well there would seem to be two options;

  1. I could simply remove the ‘chip’ removing the skills and knowledge from my brain much like disconnecting a usb drive running portable apps, or
  2. The skills are installed in brain by the process and thus left there, much like installing software on to a computer

both of these options would, it seems, have advantages, so lets look quickly at the two options and then we can look at what I think the real problem that exists behind this sort of technology might be.  The advantages to the first option are simple and really the same as the disadvantages, I never actually need to know very much at all, I just need to have a sufficiently large cache of ‘chips’ to provide me with the skills and knowledge that I need for particular circumstances, perhaps even being able to ‘chip’ multiple sets of skills and knowledge at once to accomplish complex tasks or tasks requiring a wide range of skills and knowledge.  The advantage would be that I could spend my time occupying my brain with whatever I chose to do with it and not need to spend multiple years learning skills and obtaining knowledge.  Of course the disadvantage is that if there is a problem with ‘chip’ then there is a severe problem with my ability to do the things that I would need to do.   So maybe this is really an augmenting technology where skills that I don’t require often, or high specialised or complex are those that I would ‘chip’ in while more basic skills were learnt in a more traditional manner.

So lets look at the second option, where I install the skills and knowledge as I need them but they remain there like programs on a computer hard drive.  There seems to be less problems with this sort of option as, as with software I would simple need to ‘click’ on it and the skills would be available to be again, or once installed they would ‘run in the background’ much as skills and knowledge tend to do now.  Think about however, what happens with computers, and we could well say already happens with our brains currently, hard drives get full and we have to delete things (we forget or lose access to our memories), software and hardware are no longer compatible, files and systems get corrupted and no long work in way they originally did, if at all, and all of the programs running in the background fill up our available ram and all of our processes slow down or blue screen.

There is however to my mind another issue with all of these ideas and that is what happens to our skills and knowledge over time and where do new skills and knowledge come from.  If I no longer have to practice a skill or utilise my knowledge then it is liable I think to stagnate.  Take again the example of driving a car I have been driving a car for nearly 30 years, and my driving has changed substantially over that time, I am a far more competent driver now in a wider range of vehicles than I was when I was 18, and I have learnt things about driving in particular areas or circumstances which are particular to that area or circumstance.  If however, all I had ever done when I needed to drive a car was to chip the skills and knowledge, drive the car and then turn the knowledge off when I was finished, my knowledge of driving a car may be the same for the most part every time I drove, year after year, particularly if I only drive on limited occasions.  I am also faced with the issue of skills upgrades what if I want to drive better, drive a truck as well as a car, or a wide range of cars, with changing configurations, will the chip that I have be able to cope with all of these permutations, or will I need and upgrade as the years pass by to cope with the changing world.  There in also lies the other issue, if this ‘chipped’ learning becomes the predominant means of obtaining the skills to achieve tasks, then where will these skill upgrade come from, will there be artisans who specialise in developing skill sets in more traditional ways, so that this skill and knowledge can be copied and transferred to others.

I would be really interested in hearing your thoughts on this as it has started some deeper thinking for me on this idea of interface learning and skill acquisition.

 

What will learning look like in 2024? (#LRN2024)

So after today’s #lrnchat I thought I would have a go at the challenge set by The eLearning Guild to think about how learning might look in 2024 and to be honest it has challenged me a little bit.  So much as changed in the last 10 years how could we possibly envision what learning might be like in another 10 years and then it hit me

Learning won’t change

 

How we deliver it, package it and how it is accessed evaluated and utilised will, but it will still be about people needing to have knowledge in order to exist in our world, whatever that world looks like.  Now some of you could I guess fairly complain here that I have cheated a little bit here, but when I look at the changes over the last 10 years they have for the most part centred around how we deliver, consume and evaluate the outcomes of learning.  E-Learning, Mlearning, 70:20:10 and MOOC’s are all examples of this phenomena.  How we think about learning has changed but the act of learning and why we learning hasn’t changed.  

Of course sometime in the next 10 years we could invent brain to brain knowledge transfer, or hardware/wetware interfaces where we can simply ‘chip’ the knowledge we need for a particular activity.  If that is the case though (and it may well will be) then we will have fundamentally altered not just the delivery and consumption of Learning, but learning itself and if we think about it, fundamentally altered what it means to be human.

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