The Future of Learning and its effect on VET

I thought I might take a little bit of a different tack with my post this week and do some crystal ball gazing and look to the future and how technology is going to effect the way in which we learn and then how this might effect the kinds of learning that make up the VET arena.

Late in 2014 I wrote a couple of pieces on rapid skill acquisition and interface learning, a cyberpunk notion of simply jacking any skills or knowledge directly into our brains through some kind of brain/machine interface.  Imagine basically plugging a small usb stick into your skull and downloading all the skills, knowledge and physicality of say, how to service your car, and then when you were finished simply deleting it until you needed to utilise it again.  I suggested that in essence places such as YouTube already provide us with some of this by enabling us to watch how to do some specific thing, in order so that we might be able to replicate that skill ourselves for that specific task, without having to learn all of the skills and knowledge which sit around it.

Since then we have seen the rise of augmented technologies, Virtual reality, Artificial intelligence, machine learning and even robots.  Now while most of these new technologies are only being tinkered with in terms of their learning potential and despite what a number of pundits claim, will not reach their true potential in terms of how people learn and deliver learning for quite a few years yet, they will without doubt irrevocably change what human learning looks like in the future.

Augmented reality allows anyone with a smart phone to point it at an object and receive all of the information and bite sized learning objects they require in order to what ever tasks are associated with the object in question.  A care worker who is unsure of how to operate a new patient lift, simply points their phone at the lift and instantly they receive detailed instructions in how to operate it.

Virtual reality reality and robotics present a future where participants can be trained in fully immersive environments, interacting with the world around them as if it was real.  Add to this an AI controlled population (NPCs in gaming terms) with the ability to react in both expected and random ways to ensure that those undertaking training encounter a full range of circumstances and variations.

Online learning and Mooc’s facilitated, moderated and assessed by AI ‘teachers’ with student support and assistance handled by AI chatbots.  In fact it is more than possible to imagine an entire student experience from their first contact through to their graduation and issuance of certifications without the student at any point having to interact with, in real life (IRL), another person. Enrollments can already be handled by smart website interfaces, the addition of AI chatbots to lead the potential student through the process seems a very small step away.  Access to systems and learning platforms is already automated in most providers at least to some extent, with in a lot of cases significant amounts of communication regarding the course, content and assessments being handled through email.   Shared virtual reality simulations, where students and NPCs interact with both the environment and themselves, facilitated and moderated by an avatar of the AI controlling the entire system, utilising natural language processing based on machine learning to interact with students, conduct, collate and ‘mark’ various assessment pieces both from within the simulation and external to it.

So where do directions like this leave Vocational education, apprenticeships and the other educational activities we utilise currently?  Well if you talk about there always needing to be experts, sme’s and people to provide the system with information, or that there needs to be practical on the job components or that there will always be a need for face to face human interaction you are unfortunately, most likely wrong.  While we won’t see these things happening over night, we will see practical components, which were usually done on the job, moved to complex virtual simulations, why?  Well to give you an example staff working in the community sector, even with at risk clients, may go their entire working careers, let alone their on the job training phase without ever encountering a person at immediate risk of suicide and never know until the moment happens how they will react.  Complex simulations populated by AI characters, provide  a safe environment for staff to encounter situations which are rare in the workplace.  Working on car engines, dealing with electricity, building houses, all will be able to be simulated through virtual reality in such a way as to mimic the actions in the real world.  Simple economics are already moving many providers to more automated enrollment systems and as the levels of complex analysis and response available through ‘bots’ and other systems increases more and more of these processes can and will be successfully automated.

But then if other predictions are true and they probably are a vast array of the jobs that we currently train people for in this sector won’t exist in the very near future.  However there seems as with a range of other industries there may also be niches available to capitalise on gaps left by all of this progress.  Highly skilled teachers and trainers could impart their long held and well developed skills, knowledge and wisdom through ‘Artisan’ face to face models to those who wished that they or their children received their education in a ‘tradition’ environment, all of course for a substantial additional cost. I can see the advertising now.

Anyway that’s just what I think




What is the purpose of a VET qualification?

Over the last few weeks, the concept of mission statements for, and the purpose of, Vocational Education (VET) has been rolling around in my head, so this week I thought I might throw an idea or two about the purpose of VET in particular out to the world and see what happens.  Firstly then here is what I think is a relatively simple statement about what VET is designed to do;

Vocational Education and Training (VET) is designed to deliver workplace specific skills and knowledge, across a wide range of careers and industries which prepare participants for work, advancement or further study.

but let’s just leave that there sitting in your brains while I go on a little bit of wander through some of my thoughts on this idea of purpose in VET.

The first question which comes into my mind when I think about any kind of education, but particularly education over and above compulsory, Primary and Secondary education is why? Why would someone make the decision that they wished to undertake some program of study in some chosen field?  While we talk about lifelong learning, and learning for the sake of enjoyment and personal interest and I am sure that for a significant number of people the continuing learning process is something which motivates them and to at least some extent underpins some of their decisions in relation to learning, I don’t think it is for most people the central thing which drives them to undertake formal courses, particularly formal courses in the VET sector.

Most people, according to the NCVER just over 80%, undertake VET for employment related reasons.  This would seem to suggest that for the most part people who undertake a VET course are looking to convert the outcomes of that course (skills and a certificate) into either employment or advancement in their role or field.  This idea of converting a VET qualification into employment is an important one because I think it is one that in general all stakeholders can agree upon in terms of a purpose.

For employers and industry the idea of being able to convert a person to a worker or a more highly skilled worker through a qualification is central to why employers would utilise the VET system. Employers need workers with the right skills and qualifications to undertake the roles they have within their organisations.  From a Government perspective, if we focus on workforce participation, converting people into workers through a qualification reduces unemployment numbers, (even when they are undertaking training) and creates a pool of skilled workers for employers and industry to call upon when needed.  For providers having a good qualification to employment conversion rate helps to make the business more profitable and sustainable through growth in their reputation as a quality provider.

So it seems to me that this idea of conversion, converting a qualification into employment or advancement is an important one across the board and one which we could perhaps use to underpin our various models and thinking.  If the central goal of the delivery of a VET qualification is employment or increased chances of employment and advancement, this creates an environment where the outcomes for the student are central and quite clear.  This should then provide us with a critical lens through which to assess compliance and quality in terms of providers, connection with industry, funding levels and appropriate courses and range of other parts of the puzzle.  It also would provide students with a lens through which to evaluate both the courses they are interested in undertaking and the providers through which they wish to undertake them.


Anyway that’s just what I think.

Voluntary Administration, closures and VSL – A New Year in VET

As many of you may be aware a number of RTOs have over the last few weeks have shut their doors either voluntarily or not so voluntarily.  A significant proportion of these providers were ones which had large exposures to the VET fee Help market and have been financially impacted quite severely by the move to the new VET student loans scheme.  Have we seen the last of these closures?  I certainly don’t think we have. Over the rest of this financial year we will see the closure or downsizing of a significant number of VFH providers who, for what ever reason have been unable to adapt to the new market place.

Why is this happening?  There are a number of quite obvious reasons why this is occurring, although it is important to note that I have know direct knowledge of the the reasons behind any or all of the recent spate of closures.  The first reason I would point to however,  is a simple one, either the provider has not been granted access to the new VSL system for whatever reason, or the courses which they relied on have been removed from the list.  In both these cases the revenue which was being generated through VFH will have effectively stopped.  Take for example a provider with $11 million turnover, $10 million of which came from VFH.  Not being given access to VSL or having their courses removed from the list effectively reduces them to a $1 million turnover business and destroys the cash flow created through the VFH system.  Finding a way to plug this revenue hole will be almost impossible given the changes under VSL, because even if the provider were to be granted VSL access in the next round or commence delivery of courses which are now on the approved list there are other issues which I will outline below.

The second reason why a number of VFH providers are struggling is the loan cap.  As we know the government has capped loan amounts depending on the course you are undertaking, at $5,000, $10,000 and $15,000.  Let’s take our $11 million provider again.  Say they were delivering the Diploma of Leadership and Management under VFH for $15,000 and this accounted for all of their $10 million VFH income (I know this is unlikely but it is just an example).  The price of the the Diploma is now capped by the government at $5000, so even if the provider is granted early access to VSL and can still generate the same number of enrollments, without the use of third party brokers (which now can’t be used under the legislation) their income from ‘Loans’ under VSL will be at most 1/3 of what it was under VFH, reducing their income to $3 million making it exceedingly difficult to continue operating the same manner they had been.  The other thing to consider here is that even if the provider can generate the same number of enrollments, payments under VSL are now made on a completion rather than commencement basis.  This means that providers now have to have enough additional cash flow generated from other sources to sustain delivery and assessment to these students for perhaps as long as six months before they complete and payments flow through.  Even if therefore a provider was granted access to VSL and could generate the same level of enrollments, they will not, in most circumstances be able to maintain their cash flow at the same level which will of course mean they will either need to severely downsize or close.

The changes from VFH to VSL give us substantial evidence as to why providers should ensure that their revenue streams are as diversified as possible if they want to be able to sustain changes in government policy, funding and the market in general.  Heavy reliance on one source of funding, as myself and others have said for a long time now, is a recipe for disaster.  So will we see more of these closures?  I certainly expect that we will, in particular I think we will as the end of this financial approaches and the legacy arrangements around VFH (and the payments associated with those arrangements) cease and revenue streams become tighter.  I suspect that June/July will be the prime time this year for the closure of a number of RTOs

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

Happy New Year.


%d bloggers like this: