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.

VET Reform–Training Packages; The industry-training connection

As I think everyone is probably aware by now Minister MacFarlane announced the demise of the Industry Skills Councils when their contracts around the development and maintenance of Training packages ends.

As  lot of you know I have for a long time been fairy critical of at least some of the ISC’s and their work with the various training packages.  I think the the Minister is right when he says that business and industry feel as though they are left out of the development process and aren’t getting what the need or expect out of graduates of the these programs.

Now if we put aside arguments about quality of training and the like, it seems clear that there are a lot of training packages and qualifications out there that miss the mark in terms of providing employers with graduates with the skills sets that they require.  The level of flexibility to be able to provide a training program which meets the need of both and employer and the packaging rules can sometimes be difficult and graduates can sometimes be missing critical skills needed for more specialised areas of the industry.

As I I have said previously (and I am happy that the Minister seems to be thinking in the same direction) the skill sets and knowledge requirements for job roles must come from within the relevant industry, it can’t and shouldn’t be driven by training providers.  If industry provides the basis, that is the skills and knowledge that various job roles require, then it is the role of the training industry to take that information and to translate it into trainable outcomes, outcomes the ensure that graduates of the programs should everything else being equal, meet the needs and criteria of employers.   The fact that it does actually meet those needs and more than that, that it is understandable by employers needs to be firmly ascertained.  Too often employers have not been kept in the loop or simply don’t understand why training has been constructed in the way in which it as, and that is not their fault, it is ours, if industry doesn’t understand how training works, what the outcomes are and why things are how they are then that is clearly the fault of the training industry.

So for the most part I think the Minister is right, at least in theory, how it plays out in practice will of course need to be seen, there needs to be a much stronger link between industry and training, but with each party providing input into their areas of expertise.  And let’s not forget as I often say, this is Vocational Education and Training we are talking about so if the programs aren’t providing real vocational outcomes for graduates, then why are they even programs and why are they are being to delivered to students.

Small Wins – Why Disability awareness training is so important

This post is a little bit different to my usual posts but not to far from my usual topics.

I saw this video yesterday and really felt the need to share this everyone.  It shows that even small things can have a big impact on people’s lives.


Now I don’t know what kinds of training Starbucks gives to its staff or whether or not this was just a really capable staff member doing the best she could for a customer, but whatever the case the outcome for the customer is awesome.

It is this kind of interaction and making people aware of how to interact with people with disabilities and that even small wins are incredibly important that really drives home to me why disability awareness programs are so important and why more companies should be providing their staff with these sorts of programs and encouraging them to do the sorts of things we see in this video.

Marketing, Marketing Marketing – Selling training ethically

The VET industry in Australia at the moment seems to be beset by unscrupulous marketing programs, designed it seems to do nothing more than rip of the most vulnerable people in society, by promising them degrees and qualifications that will get them jobs and which they don’t have to pay for, oh and dont you worry we will through in a free computer with that course as well.

So what is going on here, why are we seeing such a rise in this, what can we do about it and what alternatives do RTO’s have in terms of marketing.

The first two things that spring to my mind when I start to think about why we have seen such a blatant increase in this clearly unethical behaviour are;

  1. The influx of large commercial providers (often part of even larger overseas backed companies) into the market, who in order to survive, profit and pay for their sparkling offices and campuses need a substantial constant income stream (hence we end up with people being charged $18,000 for a Diploma of Counselling)
  2. The rise of lead generation websites and companies who sole purpose is to funnel students into high cost, VET-FEE Help programs to both generation profits for themselves and to provide fodder for number 1.

This should not be taken to suggest that all providers fall into this category and that all marketing is evil and unethical, but it does raise substantial issues in terms of quality of training, the ability of these students to go on to participate in the workforce, the quality of workers available to industry and of course the elephant in the room (which is always hidden behind the words, Study now – Pay later) the amount of debt some of these students are accumulating, which will have a whole range of effects on their future choices, but that’s ok we gave them a free computer.

To give you a real example of what is happening out there, I was recently talking to a relatively person who was looking for work, she had left the job she had had since finishing high school, because she wanted a change and wanted to have more options than she currently did.  She saw one of the website advertising study now-later and sent them an email asking for all of the details about the course she wanted to do ( dual diploma counselling and something else).  After the fourth phone call from the lead generation company attempting to get her to sign up to the program she finally ‘decided ‘ it was the right thing to do even though she wasn’t entirely sure of all the costs and details.

So she started the program, mostly online, there were a couple of face to face sessions where there seemed to be students from a range of different courses there and found that there was very little assistance available, it took weeks to get her assessments marked and there was little in the way of feedback when she did get them back.  There was no help finding placements, or any assistance in that way at all, but after about 13 months she finished the program and was really please and happy (even though it took nearly 3 months for her to get her certificate) and ready to move into a new career.  She found however that no one was interested in hiring her, because despite what she had been told there were not a lot of roles available and almost none for people without any real experience.  So she took a casual role in a related field, not one that she was particularly interested in, and for less money than she had been getting in her previous role.  The really interesting thing was that once she had got her certificate the marketing company contacted her several times again to see how she was going and when she said she was having trouble finding work, they suggested that what she needed was to do another diploma, this time in management to give her those extra skills that she probably needed to get the roles that she really wanted and oh she ‘study now-pay later’ again as well.  If she had chosen that path the total cost of her study when she had finished would have been between $30-35,000 and she probably would not have been in a terribly better place than if she had done a Certificate III or IV and started from the ground up in organisation, she certainly wouldn’t be in as much debt as is now.

Now I know some of you will say that is her own fault, she should have done her research and looked at the market, the costs of the course and all range of other things.  Which is of course what we would do, but we know that system, we know and can understand the fine print and the details, these marketing groups and the RTO’s providing the courses are specifically targeting people who either don’t know how to do that or for whom the information is meaningless because they can’t understand it and the lovely person on the phone has convinced them that it is the right thing to do and not to worry because they may never have to actually pay it back anyway.

What can we do about it though, firstly we can report to the various regulator (and not just the VET sector regulators) that this is going on, send them links to the websites, expose these things were we find them, and I know there is a lot of this going on already, where people are speaking up and saying something, but there needs to be more voices, the more complaints that flow in the better chance there is of getting something done.

What else can we do and what alternatives do we have, well in the words of Google,

VET vs University – A continuing Divide.

As some of you who have been reading my blog for a while will be aware I have always been troubled by the seeming divide which exists between VET and University education in this country.  This came up again recently when the very articulate Lauren Hollows  asked this wonderful question on Linkedin; “Why does it have to be VET or HE?”.  Quite early on in the life of this particular iteration of this blog, I presented a similar thought.  Lauren’s post and the ensuing discussion prompted me to think a little more about this problem and why it is that there seems to be a divide between Vocational Training and University Education.

Lets jump in the time machine and go back to the dim past when I was in the final years of high school and looking at what I was going to do with myself post secondary school.  The choices were pretty clear-cut back then, you left at year 10 and got a trade, you went on to year 12 and University or you just went and got a job. somewhere and to a large extent what we know now as the VET sector now was still a few years away.  This I think is still some of the problem today, a lot of people not involved in the industry, who are now parents etc saw this divide, you went to  TAFE to do a trade or you went to university and of course the unspoken thought was that the reason you left at year 10 and went and got a trade was that you weren’t going to get good enough results in 11 and 12 to get accepted into University.  Now whether or not that was ever true, the mindset was there and still is, people still view VET as a choice you make when you can’t get into university.

Let’s fast forward to today though, this is not the case anymore and hasn’t been the case for some time now, sure VET education can be seen as an alternative education pathway, but it is also a supplementary or complimentary pathway.  As a lot of the respondents to Lauren’s post said, myself included, a lot of people now have qualifications from both sectors, all of which provide them with different learnings and different skills and knowledge.  So why then do we still hear comments like “I have a degree why would I was my time getting a Certificate IV/diploma?”  We hear them because I think we have failed, all of us, the Government, the peak bodies, the providers to truly explain the post secondary education system in this country to people, and to explain it to people in such a way that makes sense to them and shows them the value of education regardless of what ‘sector’ that education comes from.

We have a single framework in this country for qualifications and we have had it since 1995.  The Australian Qualifications Framework outlines who the whole system works and what each level from Level 1 (Certificate I) to Level 10 (Doctoral Degrees) work and what the skills and knowledge at each level is.  I would hazard a guess however that very very few parents and student and probably not a lot of teachers and guidance officers were terribly aware of the content of the AQF and even fewer would understand how the system works and what all of it means and there in lies the problem.

What we need to do in this country is to embark on an education process, a process designed to explain to people simply and easily how the system works.  If we ever as a country truly want to have an engaged workforce built on ideals of lifelong learning, then we need to do this we need to this, we need to explain to people the choices that they have and how they fit together.  If we don’t there will always be a divide between the various educational sectors in this country and that would be a crying shame.

TAFE and the contestable marketplace – Some thoughts

So many of you saw my little rant the other day, so I thought to be fair what I might, or perhaps should do today is discuss my thoughts around a contestable training market place, how it affects TAFE and what might need to happen to change things.

There are a couple of things I need to make clear first off,

  1. While I have been around the L&D and VET industry for quite a while I haven’t taught at a TAFE in a very long time, but I have been involved with them in a number of different roles I have had over the years,
  2. I don’t believe solutions like the one suggest in the Greens pre-election policy paper (we need to give TAFE $2 billion and restrict the private sectors access to funding) are well thought out, viable, in the best interests of VET education in this country or solve the problem),
  3. I believe that there are in some cases strong social justice, equity and workforce participation issues, particularly in regional, remote areas for TAFE’s to be provided with additional funding to allow them to serve that function,
  4. There should be one regulator for everyone public, private, enterprise, regardless of State with which everyone has to comply.
  5. I have had some very interesting discussion with some wonderful people from a number of TAFE institutions about how they these changes are effecting them.
  6. Despite what we might think education is never free, someone (either the user or the government or someone else) always pays.  However that being said I also believe that education should be ‘free’ to the end-user (within reasonable limitations)

For me I think it is 1 and 6 from this list that bite for me when we start to talk and think about contestable markets and how it might alter the place of what has been seen to be the public educator in the VET system.  One of the things that has always worried me about TAFE has been the sheer size and amount of physical infrastructure that they seem to have, a lot of which, if we extrapolate from the findings of the Queensland Training Task force a number of years ago is vastly underutilised.  This creates a system where funding for education is actually funding for the maintenance of buildings and infrastructure.  Now their may be good social and economic reasons why in some areas it is necessary to maintain underutilised infrastructure, such as the need to provide specialised training equipment to meet a regular though not constant need, or because they are the only education facility within a certain area.  However why are we maintaining or in some cases even really maintaining standard classroom facilities when the overall utilisation rates are say below 50%.  This is not to suggest that there should be just enough classrooms for students, there should be room for growth and allowances made for contractions in student numbers etc, but underutilised space is costing money that could be redirected to the actual cost of student learning.  Now I know that this rationalisation of resources is occurring in a number of TAFE environments and I know it worries some people.  However having to consider how to best utilise limited space is a dilemma that a lot of private and enterprise providers face every week. We have two training rooms, so we can theoretically conduct 10 classroom based trainings a week, however in reality we only do about 6-7, mainly because one of the training rooms is bigger than the other so we try to fit our bigger classes into there first, we also have a number of other groups and activities where go on in the the rooms, study groups (formal and informal), one-off workshops, staff presentations and programs, which means that the building is about 90-95% utilised each week (at least during working hours).  It would be great to have another classroom, but that would drop our actual utilisation down to 60% or less and it seems difficult to justify that cost on the grounds of ‘if we build it they will come.’  If we decided we wanted to provide some training that required specialised equipment or resources the costs would be even more significant.  What would be great would be if TAFE and private provides worked together to get the most out of all of their resources.  I would gladly lease space at our campus once a week for a TAFE to run a program and I would gladly lease space over in another suburb from a TAFE to run our programs there.  I know it would make life easier for our clients who live in another area to get to face to face class.

Most private providers run fairly lean in terms of management  and administration.  I think even the staunchest TAFE supporter would have to admit that TAFE management and admin is not lean.  Now I know that they have large user bases and provide a range of services and programs, but still there seems to be a lot of duplication and a lot of layers of management.  The problem with this of course is the speed at which a TAFE can react to the need or a request from a client as opposed to how quickly a small to medium or even a quite large-sized private provider can react.  This is a problem that just TAFE needs to grapple with however a lot of very large businesses and government departments face the same problem, lean, agile businesses, with flatter management structures and well delineated autonomous decision-making at all levels are adapting and responding to markets in ways traditional companies and government departments simply can’t.

The other big challenge is simply that of change itself, as someone commented to me the other day, there are a lot of people in TAFE who are there because they believe in public education, they believe in TAFE and have worked in an environment for years which mapped very closely to their values and ideology.  A market driven system is seen as changing this, as putting their personal values and ideology at odds with the values of the system they have worked and believed in for years and this change is therefore quite stressful.  I was mildly criticised for being a little less than empathetic when I suggested that change is inevitable and in the world outside of TAFE and Government, if you can’t work within the value and ideology of an organisation then you are going to have a hard time and it is probably better to leave before you are asked to leave.  Even though I take the criticism on the chin, I stand by my statements, there are no jobs for life any more and change in both inevitable and in most cases necessary, we need to either accept that or move on to somewhere that fits better for us.  I also think that a lot of long-term TAFE facilitators might be pleasantly surprised to find that if they came over to the dark side of private providers how many of these providers might be a good match for their values and ideology.

So what is the answer, I don’t know, but I think that TAFE needs to be leaner, more agile and responsive, less infrastructure and resource heavy and more focussed on the needs of not just students but of organisations and employers as well.  They also need to be for the most part self-sustaining, if a TAFE isn’t getting enough students to pay the bills, they need to seriously think about their future.  As I said to someone the other day, old TAFE is dead, and everyone needs to either embrace the new TAFE direction or get out of the way.




I wish TAFE people would just stop whining (Rant Warning)

I really am starting to get sick of TAFE staff right from the top to the coal face complaining about how hard their world is!

Right now that I have offended half my audience.  It seems like every week now there is a new article in a newspaper or somewhere else about how tough TAFE are doing things and how complicated the market is for them now that they have to compete with private sector training providers.

I for one am sick of it.

I tell you what, all of you who are complaining about your life in the TAFE system and how hard it is now that you have to compete with private providers, come and work with a private provider.  Come and work somewhere where your existence depends solely on being able to find enough students to pay the bills, without the support of government for infrastructure and the like.  And I don’t care whether you are a big commercial provider or a niche market one, it is all the same, there is no support out there, if we fail we fail end of story.  There is no government that is going to bail us out, or restructure us to assist us with continuing to operate, that is just not going to happen.  

If individual TAFE’s can’t sustain themselves (except in environments where there a very solid social participation reasons) then why are they being supported by the government, for the most part, private providers would be more than willing and able to step into the spaces left.

TAFE, do not do a better job than private providers just because they are a TAFE, they are not only providers of VET training in this country and it is about time they just stopped whining, accept the fact that they have to compete and get on with it.  Just like in my opinion TAFE in Queensland is doing, and interestingly I rarely here the comments we here from the southern states about having to compete with private providers from the QLD TAFE sector.

Also if you are a TAFE teacher/trainer, stop complaining about how hard you work.  Trainers and Facilitators in the private sector work much harder.


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