We all know the VET sector is lacking when it comes to incorporating digital skills into teaching and learning. With COVID-19 forcing us all to embrace the world of online training and learning, it’s not hard to imagine a near future where digital skills are just as important as foundational skills.
With the world’s increasing technological reliance, the use of technology in our every-day lives has also been on the rise. However, there’s a clear distinction between being able to use technology and being able to teach it - with both requiring different skills. There’s an expectation for VET educators to be on top of the technologies being used in the industry in which they’re teaching, and to know how to teach these technologies and digital skills to learners. More help is needed in supporting VET educators to develop their digital skills, and in many cases younger learners are more comfortable with the technologies than their trainers. Concerningly, over half of the industry survey respondents in NCVER’s research were unsatisfied with the digital skills of their VET graduate recruits.
Metro Trains Sydney recently trialed an augmented reality app for training workers who were manufacturing precast concrete panels for the Sydney Metro tunnels. The purpose of this was to overcome challenges with accessing large plant equipment for training. Suzi Kuti, Head of Organisational Development and Learning at MTS, found that while the technology was very interactive and instructional, it wasn’t well-integrated into the training program. This meant the learning outcomes and the use of the technology weren’t optimised. Another issue that came from the trial was literacy. The AR involved a lot of text and audio, which caused various issues in the learning.
Kuti noted a ‘digital integrator’ role would have been helpful, as a lot of time was spent by the trainers to troubleshoot and support the learners in using the technology, taking away time from the actual learning. The role would entail someone who is competent at using the specific technology, and being able to teach it efficiently. We’ve seen a similar role be introduced in Western Australia of the New Tech Advocate which has been successful in the aged care sector in building a more resilient and adaptive workforce. However, Michelle Circelli from NCVER found this type of role could be quite expensive and unsustainable in the long-run, expressing supporting the technological capabilities of VET educators is more important.
There’s no doubt that the current five core skills still hold strong importance for learners. However, the future workforce will undeniably include the need for digital skills. Digital skills are already so integrated in many industries—waiters using iPads instead of pen and paper, appointments and check-ins all available to book online, fashion designers using apps to create their designs. Even Disney is using RDF technology to streamline guests’ experiences. The Commonwealth Government is also undertaking a project that includes digital skills alongside the foundation skills as part of foundation training in remote areas.
Despite the many advantages and advances technology can make, resistance to technology, at least in the early stages of use in learning, is inevitable. Kuti found the MTS learners had higher engagement levels with the technology when using it outside of the classroom in the workplace. This let the learners feel more empowered and knowledgeable by improving their skills in the real working environment. Another way Kuti found to help reduce resistance was to get the users to play around with the technology and get comfortable with using it before properly using it for learning. This pre-learning experience reduces the fear and discomfort that drives resistance for learners.
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