Sunday, July 13, 2008

Technology and VET Part 1

Beyond all doubt the Vocational and Further education sector is a vital part of the skills development needs of Australia. it is also a strange balance of various management and research authorities, state governments, teacher unions, industry groups, private enterprises and lots of not very responsive and ancient, states managed bricks and mortar institutions and private colleges.

Funding and governance originates with the federal government through disbursements via COAG and other discrete and special projects funding arrangements. Enterprises and Defence tend to arrange their own extensive publicly unfunded training that goes quite below the radar of visibility of the sector in official statistics.

Monitoring and research about VET policy and initiatives is handled for the Government by academic institutions and specific authorities such as NCVER. Typically this is out of date by 12 to 24 months as there is no way to see anything even approximating real time data as there is no infrastructure at the moment for information gathering and sharing. That may change as DEEWR is starting a project to set data standards for the sector. This is a major defect in management of the sector as feedback for effectiveness of policy is necessarily lacking. How do we know that a policy is worth pursuing?

Initiatives such as learning management systems and online learning capabilities are supported by clearing house functions such as Australian Flexible Learning Framework and similar parallel initiatives in the states. It appears that the uptake of e learning is slowly increasing rising: increase has been fourfold over the last three years( but there is much room for improvement.

There is overwhelming evidence of individual initiatives using social networking tools like Twitter, blogs, flickr, brightkite, etc. These come about through teachers, with strong commitments to 21st century learning, exercising their own initiatives often against policies and security demands of authorities. They are vitally persuaded by the needs and opportunities of a communications equipped culture in which we are immersed. In particular, they are driven by the interests, the learning needs and capabilities of young learners. They are learning themselves in conversations with both others and the young digital learners and exploring these new possibilities for learning. There are some amazing stories emerging about the use of digital technologies not just in second life virtual realities but also in (superficially) unlikely places like stone masonry(cf. simon brown QLD vet in google). Connectedness is transforming learning opportunities. Getting apprentices online to show their talents and find opportunities is a new and amazing development. Why are we not using this connectedness in VET?

We are seeing some use of ePortfolios in VET (Swinburne TAFE) for skills capability recording. This is essential for RPL(recognition of Prior Learning) this is needed across state and institution boundaries. The technology is there why are we not exploring this nationally?

We are seeing an exciting growth of communities of practice quite unrestrained by formal organisational structures and commitments. There is an openness and commitment to sharing that has enormous potential to benefit our communities. This is quite a radical change from the formalised and structured and organisational learning of the past.

The lack of full use of online tools and e learning holds us back from creating the skills we desperately require to meet the changes in technology, in the economy, the skills shortage with an aging workforce and the needs of people who wish to gain more skills or wish to reenter the workforce. Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is difficult and expensive to establish. This is a sore point for those wanting to reenter the workforce as gathering documentation is complex. Remote and rural populations are poory served by VET opportunities through lack of good online and broadband services. An example of this is the need for skills in mining areas remote from home and remote from study opportunities. This puts pressure on workers to get into the work force and not complete their certification, hence certification completion rates are falling. A further contributor to the falling completion rate is the need for multi-skilled workplace ready staff. Farmers want hands who can drive tractors, use GPSs, be aware of OH&S, who know how to handle pesticides and irrigation and a dozen other skills. Learners are wanting bits of courses rather than the whole certification and pathways are not flexible to allow for this need. And there is no national recording of skills acquisition.

There is something missing at the centre of the VET sector. Something that should hold the national VET enterprise together. Something that unifies the largely States based efforts of a critical contributor to Australian productivity. Something that can help us create flexible pathways for learning for all and recognise those skills. Something that gives any Australian citizen better access to VET opportunities.

Part 2: Initiatives of the Federal Government