Have apprenticeships had their day? Do we need another model?

As I am sure everyone is aware there has been another drop in the numbers of traditional and non-traditional apprenticeship and traineeship numbers of about 5.7% from September 2015 to September 2016 according to the most recent figures from NCVER.  Not surprisingly, accusations and opinions about what is the cause of this and who is to blame have been flying around since the figures were released. Amidst all of this I can’t help but wonder if our traditional indenture based 3-4 year apprenticeship system has not passed its use by date and that perhaps we should move away from this model to something more in keeping shall we say with the modern world.

Why do I say this, well that is fairly simple.  Despite some relatively cosmetic changes apprenticeships in Australia have not changed very much at all in any real sense.  For the most part apprentices still need to serve their time with an employer for up to 4 years, regardless of whether or not they are competent at some point prior to that.  The prime reason for this seems to be that a business which takes on an apprentice does get any ‘payback’ for that apprentice until their third or fourth year.  In a time of rapidly changing approaches to  technology, work,  learning, and almost everything in society a ‘learning at the feet of the master’ style of model seems to me to be either redundant or rapidly becoming so.  Surely there is a better way for us to produce our apprentices and future trades people than a time served style model.

I have always wondered why trades are not treated in the same way as other training programs are treated..  Theory and a substantial amount of practical knowledge and application being learned and undertaken in classroom style environments, with employment, residency or internship honing the application of those skills in actual working environments.  There could still even be some form of capstone test or other form of certification that could be undertaken at some point after the conclusion of formal study prior to a ‘full license’ being given to a person.  Given that we know that people learn and become competent at vastly different rates and have vastly different preferred ways of learning and assimilating information our standard apprenticeship models seem to say that regardless of all of this you have to serve a certain amount of time before you can be deemed to be competent.  Surely it seems to me models which allow people to become competent in their own time, and when ready and able, to be deemed as such.

It strikes me that the motivating reason for having the model that we have, has far more to do with the needs of the employer of an apprentice, than it does with either the needs of the apprentice themselves or the future need we as a country may have for qualified professional trades people and if that is the case then if seems to me that we have got our view on apprenticeships very very wrong.

But hey that is just my opinion.

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

 

 

My Blogging year in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Its Christmas Time

So the end of the year is fast approaching and as the working year winds down I thought I would share some thoughts on the year that was for me and it was a big one. I changed jobs, bought a new house and our youngest child finished year 12, my wife burnt her hand badly and got the flu for 6 weeks and we renovated our new house (not quite finished just the kitchen to go), so really it was one of those years.  It really doesn’t feel like 12 months have passed since this time last year it has been that busy, but I know I am definitely looking forward to steeping on to a cruise boat on Saturday to do tripping around the pacific islands.

This time of year is also a time for thanks to the many people I have encountered throughout the year who have added something to my life, be they old friends or new ones.  So to my LinkedIn friends, people like Jim, Kath, Brett, Phillip your willingness to share your views and opinions, to engage in thought-provoking conversation, and to share you depth of knowledge joy and more people in the VET sector listened to people like you we would be in  much better place.  To all the moderators of the groups including the Department of Industry, thank you for taking the time to provide us with forums where we could discuss things, learn thing, argue and generally chew the fat.

To my twitter and conference buddies, Ryan, Helen, Con and the rest of you, I know I haven’t seen you all as much this year (Sorry Elizabeth I know I missed the AITD conference this year) but I value your insight, opinion and knowledge and look forward to catching up more next year.  To the rest of my twitter friends particularly those on #lrnchat thanks for interesting topics and stimulating conversation.

To the readers of my blog, thank you so much for your interactions and comments. I know that those of you who have your own blogs will understand that sometimes it feels like you are talking to yourself and it is the people who interact with you  that make the difference.

So thank you all very much for being a part of my life and work, for listening to my rants, arguing with me when I was wrong and generally just being good people.

May you all have a wonderful Christmas and New Year and I look forward to catching up at least some of you at some conference next years (at this stage I am probably doing AITD, EduTech and VELG).

Be safe, have fun with your families and most of all enjoy yourselves.

Thanks for the year.

Paul

Current state of VET reform in Australia

5 Reasons We Shouldn’t Bury Instructor Led Training (ILT) just yet

C2C Consulting & Training blog

It has become a very popular hobby among L&D professionals to bash Instructor Led Training (ILT) at the profit of social learning, self paced learning or even individual coaching.

There is no doubt that new technology based forms of learning are great in the way that they allow learners to use new interfaces that sometimes fit their learning style and lifestyle  better. There is also no doubt that coaching is an extremely powerful, highly personalised development approach.However, this does not mean that our ancient ILT was never effective or “just doesn’t work for digital natives”(sic) or “goes against adult learning principles.”(sic)

When I read or hear this, I really wonder what kind of ILT people have been attending or have been facilitating. If done properly, ILT can be a very effective part of someone’s development.

1. ILT allow participants to share experiences with one another with someone to facilitate the…

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I can’t use Facebook

E-Learning Provocateur

This one goes out to all the L&D folk who are wary of the “I haven’t been trained” excuse.

I can't use Facebook because I haven't been trained in it (said nobody ever).

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