This week I attended the Flexible Learning Framework’s Industry e-learning Showcase and Exhibition held at the Shangri-la Hotel in Sydney. This event was designed to showcase the results of the seed funding provided, to various industry sectors for e-learning, through the Industry Engagement Project.
Flexible Learning Framework
Unfortunately, and despite the genuine efforts of a number of people involved, I came away from this event somewhat disappointed and concerned. At best the event was naive, at worst it was a sad indictment of Australia’s continuing under-investment in both education and information and communication technologies and hence our incapability to compete in new media industries.
The naivety stems from the fact that industry in this country is not greatly interested in improving training or any of its methods such as e-learning. Business is, rightly, interested in improving performance. There are many ways to do that other than just improving the efficiency of developing and delivering more training courses.
The education and training sector can invariably only address the efficiencies of an organisation, related to turnover, skill levels and operational efficiencies and costs etc. Rarely can it, nor does it, address the real need of business for competitive advantage, or effectiveness. To think that e-learning is going to provide increased profit and growth for any business or industry sector, without increasing effectiveness, is naive.
There is a certain missionary zeal at play here in the hope that more e-learning will improve the educational outcomes of an underfunded system. Australia has slipped form eighth to eighteenth in per capita spending on education in the past twenty years which prompted the Australian Financial Review to call the results of an OECD report into education levels a “national scandal” (AFR 20060823 ). More e-learning will not fix that.
In my Masters thesis of 1996 I predicted the Vocational Education and Training (VET or VTE) sector to be most likely in the successful uptake of e-learning. I was wrong. ( Masters Thesis - Chapter 5) Mainly because there has been no demand from industry. Australia sits fat and happy crushing rocks and shipping them offshore and everyone revels in the rewards of our resources boom. Yet in most other areas of intellectual pursuit Australia is in a competitive decline. In the ICT sector we import nearly 100% of products and a fair proportion of services. Ireland, India and SE Asia are surpassing us rapidly.
Accordingly my disappointment in the quality of the content and programs on show this week. The skills levels in media development in both the VET and industrial sectors are very low. The Flexible Learning Framework acknowledges that and does some of its best work in trying to rectify that issue. But this event shows it has a long way to go. The abysmal amount of funding for these projects (around $20,000 each) produced mediocre results. You get what you pay for.
Industry wants help with the application of learning to increase effectiveness and performance. To gain credibility the VET sector must focus on outcomes, not inputs, and show how to transfer a capability (such as e-learning or skills) into performance. The mindset must shift from the current one of training as a cost to one of learning as an investment. This investment has not been forthcoming at either the industry or national levels for some time and I argue Australia will suffer the consequences for many years (both economically and environmentally) when this resources boom invariably ends.
January 24 2007 PostScript:
Kevin Rudd leader, of the Labor opposition in Australia, today announced an education revolution was required in this country. In a policy document to support the speech it is stated that Australia spends well below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average for early childhood education and has one of the lowest retention records for secondary school students. And it quotes statistics showing Australia’s productivity has declined in line with education funding.
“There is now incontrovertible evidence that education should be understood as an economic investment,” it says.
“Australia has been insulated from this underlying deterioration in its economic performance in recent years” the paper says.
“The resources boom has masked the impact of slower productivity growth… A smarter workforce is vital if Australia is to compete with the emerging global giants China and India, it adds.
Sydney Morning Herald, January 23 2007.