University degrees are expensive and time consuming. Not everyone can afford the luxury of spending so much time and money to get a diploma, and unfortunately, there are millions of people in the world who have received no education at all. However, society tells us that the only way to get a quality job is to first have an education, and millions of people are thus left feeling hopeless. With this in mind, programs have been created that differ from the traditional university system, yet give thousands of people a quality education in specific fields. This is what the TAFE system in Australia is designed to do: allow people to receive a practical education so that they can get a better job and keep climbing the job latter.
TAFE stands for Technical and Further Education, and it’s a program that focuses on providing vocational education and practical skills. “At universities, you go for your degrees, undergrad, postgrad, doctorates, etc., but the TAFE system sits right under the higher education sector, and being vocational, its primary focus is on preparing people for the workplace”, James Taylor explains. He is in charge of learning technologies at the Challenger Institute of Technology, an institute in Western Australia that teaches vocational system and has 140 different courses. Taylor manages the technology as such, staff capabilities, and the strategy and the policy behind it.
Taylor explains that people go to a TAFE institute for different reasons. It might be a pathway to higher education, where a person gets a certificate in nursing, grasps the fundamental concepts, and then pursues a career in medicine. It could be that they have already had work experience in a certain field, for example in social work, and they want to get a better position in the same area, so they study for a certificate in order to extend their knowledge beyond what they have learned by working. And finally, a person might need a job urgently but can’t afford the luxury of being a full time student for four years while they get a degree at a normal university, but still wants to be qualified.
Vocational education is essentially of an overwhelmingly practical nature; it is interested in what really works, and anything else counts as wasted time. This is why people failed to understand the fact that e-learning was being introduced into this type of teaching. “I explained that the national training system for every course and every qualification has required skills and required knowledge, so there’s the part of learning how to do a particular task, but also learning the concept and the knowledge that underlines that. It could be legislation, safety practice, etc., so a lot of the required knowledge ends up being delivered online” James explains. When students were told they could take the online courses at the same time as they were taking their regular classes, and that this would mean they could progress in less time, they never hesitated. In fact, today, students expect there to be an online component in their education.
However, implementing e-Learning wasn’t easy, and if it hadn’t been for the help provided by the Australian government, vocational education in Western Australia might today still be considered crazy by many. “We were fortunate in Australia in the early 2000s that there was a federal government program called the Australian Flexible Learning Framework, which did a significant amount of work to help vocational educational institutes across Australia with training and resources. When the time came to implement e-learning in the organizations, they did a lot of good work to start building that culture”.
It has been a bit harder for the older teachers, who have traditionally thought of vocational education in the old-school way. However, it is part of James’ job to make sure those teachers know how everything works, and basically give them vocational education in teaching via a computer screen.
The faster students can get through each class, the more likely it is that they will get further in their studies. The way the Challenger Institute works is that the level at which a person starts is based on how much knowledge he or she has. So, if a person is completely new to the practice and has no previous knowledge, they start from the bottom and begin by studying for the first certificate. But if, for example, a person has already had some work experience and knows all the basics, he might start at point three or four on a course. Just as they can enter at a certain level, so they can also stop at a certain level. So, if a person is in a real hurry, he might study until the third or fourth certificate and then stop while he works, or he can continue until the highest level and be awarded a diploma. This system allows the student complete freedom.
Moodlerooms has allowed students to go through the courses faster, and therefore go further. “Moodlerooms has helped because it has allowed the online lecturer more control, and in an easier way. Previously, we were using vanilla Moodle, and it was a hosted solution, so we didn’t have the benefits of being able to tinker with the backend, which you can if you host if yourself. So we only felt like we had 80% of what we needed, and moving to Moodlerooms added that extra 20% because it has more of a teaching focus, so the ability to build more personalized learning into the courses with things like the personalized learning design, adaptive release and even the reporting capacity allows the teacher to get a better idea of how the whole group is performing” adds James Taylor.
“It’s a basic premise that adult learners and lifelong learners want relevance and impact, and they want immediate reward for their training. They aren’t doing something because it’s going to benefit them five years in the future; they are doing it now because they need it now. There is definitely a demand for the need to support self-directed students who want it now”, James adds.
*James Taylor, Project Manager Learning Technologies, Challenger Institute of Technology
*Photos by: AFP Greg Wood