Almost overnight, COVID-19 transformed how we live, work, play, and learn. Higher and Vocational Education providers were among those hit first and hit hardest; campuses across Australia were shutdown, international students weren’t able to enter the country, and there was the need for an immediate shift from face-to-face to online learning.
In ‘normal’ times, any one of these issues would’ve been a dire challenge – in the face of the pandemic, education institutions had no choice but to answer all three simultaneously.
Despite being one of the hardest hit, it is upon the shoulders of the higher education sector that Australia’s economy and workforce will be rebuilt. Large swathes of the population require retraining and upskilling, and the government is calling on education institutions to take the lead on such training through a new service – online short courses.
In April this year, the Minister for Education announced the Higher Education Relief Package. The initiative’s aim is to support workers displaced by COVID-19, helping them retrain and upskill, while enabling education providers to continue teaching.
In the package, a number of fields were identified as having ‘national priority’ such as teaching, health, science, and information technology. Fees for short courses in areas of national priority include subsidies of up to $12,000 making them particularly attractive for new learners.
In further recognition of the unprecedented times, a new qualification has been introduced to the Australian Qualifications Framework – the Undergraduate Certificate – which ensures those who complete short courses receive formally recognised qualifications.
Its clear short courses will play a pivotal role in our economy’s post-COVID recovery, but what are the key considerations to take into account when designing a successful short course?
Smaller courses at massive scale
Given the need to enforce social distancing measures, one of the key characteristics of short courses is they must be delivered online to a concurrent cohort thousands of learners strong. When TAFE NSW, for example, launched its online short courses, it was ‘swamped’ with more than 100,000 enrolments. TAFE QLD also fielded thousands of expressions of interest for short courses before they were officially launched.
While this shows the demand for such courses, it also presents a number of immediate challenges education providers must overcome: How many learners can they support on their platform at once? Can they rapidly increase the scale of their platforms when required? Are student registration processes simple, secure, and streamlined?
These are fundamental questions that must be answered before any course design can take place. Achieving the scale and elasticity required with traditional learning platforms is, to put it frankly, impossible. Rather, education providers should prioritise learning management systems that leverage the power, cost-savings, and elasticity of hyper-scale cloud providers like AWS to ensure their platforms can not only support, but flourish, under the unprecedented demand.
Engaging while educating
Once the foundations are in place, the next thing to consider is the student experience – how will short course educators keep thousands of remote learners engaged, and how will course materials be delivered.
The most important element of successful online learning – or any learning for that matter – is the level of learner engagement. The ability to hold both synchronous and asynchronous lectures at scale enables educators to interact with students in a way that simply uploading recorded lectures online can’t replicate.
Further, flexibility is key to a successful online course. As some students learn better visually, some orally, and others textually, the capability to allow multiple forms of dynamic content to be shared – be it video, audio, image or text – means students can find and focus on the media that works best for them.
Another key consideration is how students will access the course. With the plethora of devices learners might use to go online, short courses need a consistent experience across a variety of mobile, tablet, and laptop devices – not to mention the multiple operating systems that must be catered for.
A pivotal moment
These are the two fundamental issues higher and vocational education providers must consider before short courses can be designed – let alone delivered. Beyond supporting learners at the massive scale required and ensuring each is engaged during the process, there are many more challenges that must be overcome: How will courses be assessed and accredited? How will students discuss and share ideas during the course? How will learners interact with the teacher?
This is a pivotal moment – for the wider economy and the educational institutions that will see us through to the other side. Both need to transform, to reinvent themselves, and leverage technology to do so. In the coming weeks, we’ll publish an e-book to help support those institutions who’ll play a leading role in reskilling our workers. We’ll dive into the challenges of short courses, discuss best practice, and highlight a local education provider who is successfully leading the way.
Click here to register your interest to receive a free copy of the upcoming ebook.
Jennifer Dewar is senior education consultant at D2L, the edtech company