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.

Technology – Helping or hindering learning?

Mobile Learning is the next big thing!

We need to gamify that content to engage the learners!

Stunning bite sized e-learning will promote just in time learning on the job!


Sometimes these days when I listen to all of the chatter at conferences, online and at meeting and events etc  about the world of Learning and Development I can’t help but wonder if we aren’t perhaps just sounding a little bit like the new song by Weird Al


Weird Al Yankovic – Mission Statement


and I have to admit it worries me.  It sometimes feels to me like the direction of our thinking is being push or nudged in certain directions by the needs and wants of vendors, both of content and systems, rather than being driven by the needs and wants of learners.  This should not be taken to be a criticism of vendors in general (what is it they say ‘some of my best friends are vendors’) , it is their job to promote their products and services as much as they can and to be fair L&D folk seem to love new technology, new ways of connecting and new things to explore, I know I do.  However isn’t in the long run the outcome for the learner and in a lot of cases the organisations they work in what is important.  I see lots of stuff about how new technologies help learners in Higher education, school etc and this seems to be used as evidence that the same things will work in organisations or in other types of learning environments and as I have said before I am not quite so sure that is the case.

I am happy to accept that there are instances of organisations fully implementing these new technologies and having fantastic results, there seems to be a number of ‘case studies’ and ‘anecdotal evidence’ to suggest that it can be successful.  However there also seems to be quite a range of stories out there about it not working for one reason or another, usually because user engagement was an issue, or to paraphrase that statement – staff didn’t want to do organisationally required learning in their own time,  they wanted to do the training in a face to face environment, or they wanted something really hands on, not simulated.

I guess what I am saying here is that flipped learning might be great in K-12, MOOC’s might work for universities, gamification might engage GenY learners, but do these things actually work or work as well in organisational settings, or are the expectations, needs, wants and outcomes of the people we train and the organisations work with, not a great match for some of these things despite what the ‘research’ might say.  After all how unbiased is an article or paper on the virtues of gamificiation if it is written or sponsored by a gamification vendor.

Sure it is great to explore all of the new and wonderful ways in which we can engage learners and provide truly outstanding outcomes for our clients, but in the long run shouldn’t how we deliver learning be based (at least in part) on who the learners want to learn.




Learning Spaces or Spaces to Learn – What can we learn from delivering training to the homeless.

The concept of where and how learning programs are delivered has been on my mind a little bit lately, particularly since a particularly good presentation I attended recently on the interface between homeless persons and training delivery.  One of the key points which was bought up during the presentation and subsequent conversations was the fact that if we take a group of people like those who either homeless or at risk of homelessness, we will tend to find that there are a raft of other issues that sit with and around the issue of homelessness and all of these issues will have a significant impact on the delivery of training programs to people within these groups.  These impacts are things like;

  • a mindset of failure particularly around academic/scholastic pursuits
  • uncomfortableness in traditional learning environments (classrooms)
  • limited ability to travel to get to training venues
  • limited support network
  • possibility of having to move a significant distance from where training is conducted to secure accommodation
  • limited financial means

These issues and a range of others mean that it is difficult if not impossible to deliver training within what could be considered traditional environments.  This means that learning programs need to be adapted and delivered in different ways such as;

  • within the environment where the person already is and is comfortable
  • shorter sessions to allow participants to take care of their other priorities (it is difficult to concentrate from 9-5, but imagine how much more difficult it would be if you were worried about finding a bed for the night)
  • a wide range of learning activities to engage participants in a variety of ways
  • changing assessment models to ensure that all participants are able to display in competence in ways that are most effective for them

The thing is when I started to think about developing and delivering learning programs, particularly workplace programs it struck me that most of the adjustments that I was considering were things that we should be doing anyway.   We spend large sums of money on creating physical spaces for people to learn in, or online platforms delivering state of the art gamified elearning, when in reality the participants are probably going to learn more from a 2 hour session held in the staff room, coupled with solid support tools to allow them implement the things they have learnt.

And to be honest I think the problem might be us, it is far more challenging to deliver training in a staff room, a homeless shelter or a skate park where there are a range of other things happening in the background, than it is to deliver the same training in our lovely state of the art training room.  Walking though an instruction manual or workbook with a participant is far less fun for us than creating sexy video content or gamifiying our learning programs, but does it make the participant more comfortable and able to learn better.

We need to be able to create spaces for people to learn, that fit with what they need, not with what makes us comfortable.

NCVER NoFrills 2014 – A short Review

So as some of you are aware I attended the NCVER NoFrills Conference in Melbourne last week.  For those of you who aren’t aware of NoFrills, it is a more ‘research’ based conference than most other conference, no surprising really considering it is run by NCVER, the repository of VET data.  This of course means that a lot of the presentations are more scholarly than would be found at a regular conference and have in a lot of cases substantially more rigour associated with their findings.

The Keynote by Steve Sargent on Thursday threw up some interesting points including the one that High wage, low skills jobs are at very high risk of being automated, digitized or outsourced.  I don’t think it was necessarily a revelation as I think a lot of people understand that this is on the way and that the workforce is changing. It was interesting to see that the jobs least like to disappear were those where there was strong person to person interaction required as part of the job, two examples being dentist and personal trainer.

After the keynote it was off to the concurrent sessions, now given there is only one of me, I can only comment on the sessions that I attended, and also given my interests and the sector I inhabit you will notice a decided lean in particular directions.

I attended the two conjoined shall we say talks on students with mental illness and disabilities and approaches to improving their access to and interaction with the VET and Higher Ed systems.  While the content was good, unfortunately the speakers themselves were not fantastic or terribly engaging, that being said, they are not the professional speaker types I am used to interacting with.

Two things came out of these sessions for me, one was the fact that the project team had only looked at how mental illness and disability was handled in a University and a TAFE, there was no data, because there had been no consultation with private and enterprise level VET providers at all.  This was a significant disappointment because it leads to the second point that I got from the talk which was that private providers (both large and small) seem to do a much better job of interacting and catering for students with disabilities and mental illness, than at least the TAFE and University involved in the study seem to.

This fact, that private providers can and are doing things better, more flexibly and with more focus on the outcomes the students needs was also driven home in the afternoon session focusing on VET outcomes for homeless people, where all but one of the providers involved in the case studies look at where private providers.  The reasons for this was that the private providers were more willing to be flexible in terms of their delivery and assessment, how things were packaged, even where they delivered, than the TAFE’s were.  Now this shouldn’t be taken as a criticism of TAFE, there are systematic issues within TAFE with make it difficult for them to be as flexible as a private provider.  However it does show that despite all of the criticism that is levelled at the private RTO market and the view that TAFE does it better, that that is simply not the case.  Private providers can and do in some cases do things better and more effectively than TAFE does.

The other really interesting session for me was Kira Clarke’s research into VET in schools and the problems associated with it delivery currently, particularly in relation to how it is being presented by teacher against how it is viewed by students and employers.

So all in all day one was good and I enjoyed it, though as I tweeted just after lunch, at least in the sessions I was in one could have been forgiven for thinking that it was only TAFE that delivered VET and no one else, which is sad.  There did seem to be a little more involvement for private providers later in the day and on Friday, but it is a real shame that there is not more involvement from the private sector in the research side of VET.

Then again as I thought later, are those of us on the non-TAFE side of the fence, to busy to engage in research projects, don’t see the value, or don’t have the staff to undertake them, whatever the reason it would be nice to see more input.

Current state of VET reform in Australia

Competency based, Time based or something in between?

I have been involved in a number of conversations recently about training (what a shock), but in particular about how long it takes to train some one.  The easiest answer here seems to be well as long as it takes, different people will learn at different rates so the amount of time it might take me to learn something may be radically different from the amount of time it takes you to learn the same thing.  Now essentially that is the right answer, particularly where we are talking about skills based training, if I am able to demonstrate that I can perform a skill to whatever criteria are necessary then surely I have demonstrated that I am competent and shouldn’t need to spend additional time on ‘learning’ that skill simply because it should take say 5 days to learn that skill.

I have a question though, lets take the example of making a cup of coffee.  I attend an online training course called making a cup of coffee, the course is delivered in a state of the art simulated coffee-making environment, includes a range of videos from the worlds best coffee makers and lots of reading questions to think about. Oh and there is  a ‘skills assessment’ at the end of the course where I have to make a cup of coffee in the simulated environment.  I answer a range of questions about making coffee and do a project on how coffee makers work, well to be fair my project is about how the simulated coffee maker works and my answers are largely regurgitated from the videos and printed materials and it takes me less than a day to complete.  These questions are assessed and found to be satisfactory.  I then undertake the ‘make a coffee skills assessment’ and pass with flying colours.  Am I competent?

Some people would clearly argue yes, of course I am competent I have done all that is required to show my competence in making a coffee, however what happens when I go out into the workforce with my making a coffee qualification, get  job, and find myself confronted with a coffee machine that is utterly unlike the one I have used on every previous occasion (in the simulated environment) and my consumers are much more demanding about their java than my simulated customers ever where, and struggle to manage to make a cup of coffee.  Am I still competent?

Would the situation have been any different if there was a requirement that the course took a minimum of 6 months and 100 hours of placement to complete or are we going to get exactly the same result.  Am I more likely over this extended period of time to encounter situations and equipment and people who stretch my skills then I would have been with entirely online or face to face training plus a practical skills assessment.

When we add to this the added dimension that in most cases I am not undertaking this training alone, but rather as part of a group, a group which has both widely ranging skills and abilities, including how fast they learn, how does that affect not only my competent but the competence of the other members of the group.


The first thing to say here is that I am not bashing online training, I like online learning and find it really useful for what it is.

What my focus here is is the question that if we are truly serious about competency based training then  surely we need to recognise that there is for the most part actually a minimum amount of time that it takes someone to become competent in a particular skill.  Now for me whether that time comes from work experience before entering training or through work placement or on the job training is unimportant, what is important for me is that there is minimum amount of time and that that minimum should be part of the recognition of competency.  If you have only ever done 40 hours of work in an aged care facility in your entire life and that was a training placement, then no matter how good the training is you have received I am going to really, really doubtful that you are actually competent across any real range of situations and environments.  There is simply not enough time for you to have experienced enough variety of situations to be able to be competent, even if you have done hours of simulated, intensive, innovatively delivered training to go along side this.  (To caveat this, of course there may be a very small range of people who after this type of training are competent, but in my opinion and experience not many)


We need to have a system that ensures that when someone is given a qualification that they are actually competent and one step towards achieving this seems to me to be the concept of mandating at least the level of placement hours that various qualifications need.

That’s what I think anyway.


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