IF THE GOAL of training is learning with understanding, then feedback is the indispensable ingredient.
Feedback should be continuous, across the learning experience, and not just at the end when summative assessment is conducted. Good teachers want to know what their student is thinking and understanding as they are learning. They want to know this so that they can tailor the learning for her, so that it is relevant and focussed. On the other hand, she wants to know how she is getting on, to overcome any shortcomings or take up any additional challenges.
Unfortunately, it is clear a good deal of elearning as practised in vocational education and training (VET) neglects continuous feedback. This is revealed in the 2011 survey on the use of elearning in vocation education and training (VET) as summarised in the 2011 E-learning Benchmarking Survey – Final Report.
Buried in this report is a student critique of elearning:
The ‘loss’ of face-to-face contact with other students, and in particular teachers and trainers, is a significant factor for some students. More than any other factor, it is this reduction in personal physical and visual contact and interaction that is the main negative for those who do not like e-learning.
When there is no teacher present as part of the elearning model, there is no feedback, because only a teacher can provide feedback in a meaningful way.
And if we look at the results of the survey, we see communications tools that facilitate teacher feedback and peer collaboration, are at the bottom of the list.
The report also revealed:
The quality of e-learning resources was also noted, with some students who were otherwise happy with their e-learning experience disappointed at e-learning resources that were simply large amounts of online text or poorly designed and presented e-learning activities.
We can infer from this that for some VET students, elearning constitutes a process where they work through, either at home or work, a set of online resources (text books) that have been stored in a Learning Management System, perhaps email the trainer some questions, then submit an assignment via the LMS or email, or sit an online quiz test. That’s it folks: this is the elearning revolution! In this kind of elearning, the teacher is absent from: the instruction (which is fine), the assessment (which may be tolerable) and the feedback (which is detrimental).
Indeed, only 45% of VET teachers agreed that the use of elearning had enabled them to facilitate a more personalised approach to learning for their students. That means 56% (a majority) believe that it doesn’t.
The overall national picture on the use of elearning in VET hasn’t changed all that much since 2006.
That is, about 35% of courses don’t use elearning. Can we conclude from this that there is still a large degree of scepticism about the ability of elearning to deliver effective learning; that is, learning with understanding?
What is interesting is the student’s use of technology outside the classroom, as revealed by the survey, and the inability of VET providers to reflect this usage in the training.
The number of hours students are online is now significant:
Student’s use of different technologies, outside of training, is revealed in this chart.
Clearly, VET elearning needs to be leading, not lagging in this regard, and ensure that feedback is built systematically into every elearning experience by cleverly using the raft of digital communications tools at hand. If teachers do not have the requisite skills, they need to use their student’s skills in a collaborative exercise to revitalise their elearning.