Innovation, technology, automation and RTOs
July 16, 2015 1 Comment
Some of you may have notice that I have been talking a lot recently about financial viability and the RTO/VET sector and that the delivery of programs of learning are a business and the more we adopt business ideas and models around what we do the more sustainable we can make our organisations whether they be small or large. So I wanted to continue in that same vein today but from a slightly different tack by looking at the idea of how innovation both in how the business of learning is run and innovation in how we deliver learning to students can have a marked and in some cases quite quick effect on overall viability.
Firstly lets look at the business side of the business, administration, management, compliance, finances all of the things that make it possible for an organisation to deliver its product or service in this case learning. There are of course the simple things like how easy is your website for people to navigate and find the information that they need to make a decision. Is it just as easy for a corporate L&D person or a manager who want to access training for their staff to find out what you do as it is for an individual? Does your publicly available information even say that you work with organisations or is it all aimed at individuals? Does your website have the ability to capture information on visitors or the ability for them to sign up for a newsletter or the like so that they can be marketed to later? Can a student apply to enroll from your website? These are simple things but they are also very important things that often are missed out by a business.
More and more these days we hear about automation of routine tasks and activities, but think about how many of the processes in your RTO are automated. One of my friends who recently completed a course with a relatively well-known, but smaller provider, received their Learner Questionnaire in the mail, was somewhat confused that they couldn’t just do it online and wondered whether or not this was standard practice. The moment a student completes their last unit of study a letter containing a link to the survey site we use (we don’t use surveymonkey we use a wonderful site called TrainingCheck) which holds an electronic copy of the questionable is automatically emailed out to them. The same goes with welcome letters and requests for USI numbers automatic emails are generated by the RTO management system we use (Jobready) based on differing sets of criteria. Now the vast majority of good quality RTO management systems have these functionalities in them but still there are organisations that don’t use or in some cases don’t even know they can do things like this. But why is this sort of automation important? Well because it frees up everyone involved in the process to do the tasks that actually generate the income which the organisation needs to remain viable. The great thing about automation is that once you start to look at what you can do and how it might work you start to see a whole range of other things that can be partially or completely automated. We have over time automated a large range of processes within the RTO both for students and for staff and trainers and in long run it makes everything much easier for everyone involved.
What about the money side of the business then, how is invoicing of students and the general finances of the RTO handled and who can and should have access to various bits of this information and when. Not so long ago a worked for a large organisation whose entire financial management system (except for corporate credit cards to some extent) outside of the financial department itself was ‘paper based’. There were forms for everything for generating an invoice to getting something paid for all of which had to be printed out (only a small number of the forms were actually editable) filled out, scanned and then emailed or posted to Finance and then they would use their system to deal with it. Getting financial information just as difficult (in reality it was actually far more difficult) as only Finance had access to the Finance and if you wanted information you had to fill out a request and they would get it to you in a few days, as long is it wasn’t the last or first week of the month. To be fair they did produce a report for all of the executive managers and directors for all of their various business units, but managers (those that didn’t report directly to a Director) had no visibility over how they were going on a day-to-day basis unless their managers and directors passed the information on. Now I understand that the larger an organisation gets the more complex things like finance become, and the more difficult it sometimes becomes to interpret the information in financial reports and when this is coupled with issues of confidentiality, and delegations of authority that it can become a real problem waiting to happen. However, the people who are actually responsible for whether or not your business is viable, should be able to have access, relatively easy access to the financial information they need to be able to make informed decisions about their business area.
So let’s then move away from the business side of things and have a look at the other side, the actual process and delivery of training and assessment. It is important I think at this stage to point out that when I am talking about innovation and automation etc in this regard I am not talking about making a course shorter and calling it intensive or innovative, just to provide the organisation with the opportunity to get paid quicker. What I am talking about here is actual real innovation which improves both the outcomes for all stakeholders. I am still amazed by the number of providers who run term based or course based programs which have set enrollment and start dates and if you miss the start date you have to wait until the next course starts. Why not instead structure the course around subject areas or units of competency and run a rolling set of workshops which people can just enroll into and commence whenever they want. Yes it is a little more difficult to manage (particularly if you aren’t automating things) but you don’t lose students because they have to wait until they can start. All of your material should be available in a range of formats as different people will prefer different formats for their learning and your systems should be able to cope with assessments in different formats as well. Do you record your face to face sessions so that they can be viewed later or allow people to join in remotely using video conferencing software and programs? Do you chat rooms and forums where students can get together without having to be in the same room and talk about the course and ask questions both of other students and the trainers?
Everyone talks about things like clustering and holistic assessment, but often what ends up happening is that students end up answering the same sorts of questions over and over again through a course and the assessor keeps marking them, because no one took the time to identify all of the similar questions and map properly across the whole qualification rather than just the unit. Also as I have said before integrating assessment and training into what organisations are already delivering and working closely with students work supervisors and making the forms they need to fill out as easy and straightforward as possible increases the amount of information you will receive and their willingness to assist you and the student.
Now I know some of you are going to look at this piece and say ‘yeah I know all of that’, but that isn’t the challenge here, we all know what we should be doing to make things work better and more smoothly, but let’s have a good look at what we are actually doing in practice, see what else we do and build on the good things we already have.
Anyway that’s just my opinion.