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It’s a common misconception that students getting a VET education are either school-aged learners or school leavers wanting to advance their education. And sure, any NCVER survey on student ages will tell you that young learners make up the biggest demographic. But there’s still a large number of mature students who need to be catered to.
Older learners don’t necessarily want to learn in the same way younger learners do and have different values and VET expectations. A report by Adult Learning Australia highlighted that older learners are more interested in acquiring skills than attaining qualifications; they prefer to build on previous knowledge and enhance their skill sets.
With such a vast age difference in learners participating in VET studies, how can your RTO ensure that the needs for students of all ages are provided for?
Since the time of industrialisation, learning theories and practices have been heavily focused on childhood and adulthood. While this strategy does apply to a large number of vocational students, it leaves a substantial amount of learners uncatered for. The needs of all aren’t necessarily provided for and the learning objectives of students of different ages might not be met. With this, a percentage of the older population may feel that the need for vocational education and further study isn’t worthwhile—and this is not the case.
The 2017 NCVER results exploring the total VET activity highlighted that although the age group 15 - 19-year-olds has the highest vocational education participation in Australia, the highest amount of VET students are aged between 25-44 years, followed by students aged between 45-64 years. There’s also a significant number of students aged 65 and over.
With continuous progression in technology, an aging workforce, and an ever-changing workplace with the constant need to upskill, we can only predict that the number of older learners will slowly but surely keep increasing.
Here are some ways to make sure you’re engaging your mature learners.
The key to providing age-inclusive education is to keep your systems and elearning collateral visually clear and easy to use. Learners of all ages can benefit from having simple systems to keep them on track and to help them achieve their learning goals and agenda.
No single approach will fit all students—no matter what age they may be. Stereotypes about how different students learn should be avoided, instead, try and find alternate ways to teach the same content. Cater to different learning styles so everybody wins.
Encourage and foster your students’ desire for lifelong learning. Teach your students how to learn new concepts to further grow their skills after study, and they’ll soon be masters of their own learning.
Make access to different types and levels of support readily and easily available. Ensure your students are aware of ways they can gain extra support within your RTO and out.
The best way to provide age-inclusive education is to listen and take on board feedback and advice from past and present students and make changes accordingly to best reach your students.