E-Learning challenges in vocational education

Yesterday I participated in an enterprise discussion panel at the eLearning08 conference in Sydney. Topics under discussion were the emerging issues and key challenges facing e-learning in the vocational education sector.

James Dellow, Kate Carruthers, Catherine Eibner & Ryan Tracey on the Enterprise Panel at eLearning08, courtesy of rosao, Flickr.

The discussion was facilitated by Kate Carruthers (CEO, Digital Business Group), and my fellow panellists were James Dellow (Consultant, Chief Technology Solutions) and Catherine Eibner (Dynamics Developer Evangelist, Microsoft Australia).

Our role was to share our perspectives of e-learning in the industry sector with the conference delegates, hopefully sharing some knowledge, experiences and ideas that can cross over into vocational education.

Emerging issues

For me, one of the major emerging issues in both sectors is the rise of Web 2.0. Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, blogs, wikis and other social media have shifted the role of the learner from a mere recipient of content, to an active participant in the production of content.

Likewise, Web 2.0 has shifted the role of the teacher from an authoritarian transmitter of content, to a facilitator of content exploration and generation. Sure, the teacher can remain the “expert” in their field, but their role today is not so much to tell you what’s what, but to guide, coach, mentor and assist you in using the tools at your disposal to find out for yourself and to share your own ideas.


Three of the challenges that resonated with me during the discussion were: computer literacy (or lack thereof), assessment difficulties and information overload.

Companies and vocational education institutions share the challenge of a diverse target audience, particularly in terms of computer literacy. This tends to (but does not always) correlate with age. For example, more and more recruits into companies are being drawn from Generation Y, whose members are typically familiar with the Internet and happily use it in their everyday lives. In contrast, many of us among the existing staff base may never have heard of podcasting, don’t have a clue what Facebook is, and are totally mystified by the concept of a “wiki”.

A similar situation is experienced by vocational education institutions, which draw their students from all walks of life. Teachers also find themselves in this predicament: how can you use e-learning to its full potential if you don’t have the practical skills?

Assessment via e-learning presents other challenges. For example, can you effectively assess a skill like repairing a fuel pump remotely? Can you be confident in an online learner’s competency more generally? How do you even know the right person is undertaking the assessment?

With so many e-learning tools and technologies available to us today, and with it all changing so rapidly, how can we keep a handle on it all? We can’t spend our entire days reading endless news feeds and subscribing to a multitude of professional journals and magazines. After all, we have a job to do!

Further discussion

It’s clear that there are no single, simple solutions to these challenges, and any solution will depend heavily on context and circumstance. However, I’m sure we can learn plenty from each other and share some great ideas.

Please join the follow-up discussion at:


4 thoughts on “E-Learning challenges in vocational education

  1. Hi Ryan,
    Sounds like there was some good discussion points ! I agree with the challenges you posed – in addition to the rise of learner created content we have to add the education of those higher up..as you said not all them know the benefits of web 2.0 tools and demonstrating the value of these tools in the corporate learning space is a constant challenge! My CEO said he listens to 60 podcasts a day – but he isn’t yet comfortable with sharing his knowledge via his own podcast or blog..there’s a lot of potential and a lot of groundwork that needs to be done yet ! Fun times ahead.
    Let me know when you’re in town and we;ll catch up for a coffee !

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