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Too often in VET we focus on the paperwork, so intent on meeting training package requirements and other administrative burdens that we forget about the art of training and engaging with students.
For students to flourish, training organisations need to create a learning culture which supports its students and brings out the best in their learners. However, these cultures can only develop with management initiatives and supportive trainers who are motivated, passionate, and true experts in their field.
During my time working in early childhood we often called the learning environment the ‘third teacher.’ While this mostly referred to the physical environment, many of the same principles apply to the culture of a training organisation. In adult education the learning culture becomes just as important as the course content, as well as the trainer’s role when it relates to students’ outcomes.
How can trainers and training organisations foster a supportive learning culture and maximise student engagement?
Any average learning program is capable of feeding information to students. However, what differentiates an average program from a stellar program is its ability to inspire students to want to know more. It’s important that the program motivates its students to continue in their studies either by providing easy access to learning content, or directly teaching them to be confident in themselves and their abilities.
It’s not just up to trainers to inspire students. I’ve worked at some amazing colleges where marketing staff, management, guest speakers, and past students have all fostered a vision for students about what’s possible in life. If you can create an obvious correlation between a course and the student’s future aspirations, they’re not likely to become disengaged.
A guaranteed way to build a supportive learning culture is by promoting a strong relationship between students and trainers. In research done by Harvard university it was found that the first reason a student is likely to stay at Harvard is due to the prestigious brand; the second is the rapport students reported feeling towards their lecturers.
The same goes in VET: the more support and trust a student feels from their trainer, the more likely they are to complete their course. In a classroom situation this is easier to accomplish — but it’s just as important for online students.
Ensuring regular and personalised contact between trainers and students is a good starting point. Consider sharing a bit of a trainer’s personal side when the student enrols — adding a picture to a trainer’s welcome email has been shown to build greater rapport between trainers and students.
It’s well-known that communication is the key to any well-running organisation, and the same could not be truer for education and training. The time frame in which a student query is replied to — especially for online students — is key to positive engagement. The quicker the feedback, and the more personalised, the better the students’ engagement levels.
Environments where students receive quick responses have been shown to have better completion rates, mostly due to the impact this support has in fostering more motivated and engaged students. In a world where technology makes everyone more accessible, waiting over 2 weeks for assessment results or an email response is too long. If you can get feedback to a student in 2–5 days of submission, they’re more likely to stay engaged in study.
Deciding as an organisation to be student-centred is a start, but to make it a reality you need to take steps to identify areas of improvement and put a plan in place. Trainers, admin staff, and management need to take practical steps to make students feel supported. If you can achieve a supportive learning culture, everyone benefits: students are more motivated, trainers have a higher job satisfaction, and management have a higher return on investment with a higher completion rate. Winning all round!
About the author: Tania Gomez is Director of Strawberry Solutions, a boutique consulting firm offering VET, NDIS, business, and transnational solutions to training providers and disability services. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.