The online delivery of training is well established in the vocational education and training (VET) sector, and it is not unusual for a course to include training that is delivered online in one or more units. However, little is known about the online delivery of entire qualifications in VET and how this works, given the overarching role of the competency-based training system in the sector.
This research provides a contemporary view of how online learning is used to deliver complete qualifications in the Australian VET sector. It estimates the extent to which entire qualifications are delivered online, as well as investigates the nature of this online delivery and whether this training is providing students with a similar experience and outcomes to that of face-to-face training. The final element of this research identifies the factors that contribute to good practice in online delivery.
It is estimated that 8.6% of all VET program commencements in 2017 were in courses delivered fully online. While this proportion appears relatively small, it is not insignificant, noting that in New South Wales and Queensland more than 10% of courses are delivered fully online.
Online VET is characterised by higher subject withdrawal rates and lower course completion rates. Analysis of 17 qualifications across six subject areas revealed that qualification completion rates for fully online courses are consistently lower than for all other modes of delivery.
Higher subject withdrawals and course non-completion can be due to many factors, such as poor quality training, the delivery mode not suiting the student, issues with securing a work placement (if required), or the student lacking access to the necessary tools or technology to complete the course. This research cannot differentiate between these reasons due to limitations in the available data.
For those students who completed an online course, the outcomes were mixed but in general, comparable to other delivery modes. Overall, student satisfaction measures were lower for graduates of courses delivered online, although they were still relatively quite high. For many of the individual qualifications examined, satisfaction with teaching (one of the satisfaction measures) was lower for courses delivered online. Conversely, for many of the qualifications, graduates who studied online were more likely to report they had achieved the main reason for doing the training. Additionally, the employment outcomes for graduates of online courses were similar to, or slightly better than, those of graduates of courses delivered via other modes.