Focus on COVID-19 and online learning in VET


The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, and resulting social distancing measures and 'lockdowns', has greatly impacted the provision of vocational education and training (VET) internationally. Almost overnight, teaching and training in-person ceased and had to be delivered online to students in their homes, forcing VET training providers to act quickly and be innovative in their training delivery. The International Labour Office report Skills development in the time of COVID-19: taking stock of the initial responses in technical and vocational education and training, highlights the main challenges faced by international VET training providers and identifies emerging innovations in switching from face-to-face to online teaching and learning.

The previous issue of Focus on, published late last year, provided insight into research and policy addressing the impact of COVID-19 on education and training internationally. This issue focuses specifically on recent research exploring the impact COVID-19 has had on the delivery of online learning in the VET sector.



Both the Australian TAFE Teacher article Agile TAFE and the TAFE Directors Australia report The power of TAFE: the COVID story, explore how quickly TAFE teachers and staff have adapted during the pandemic, particularly through online learning. For example, TAFE New South Wales hospitality teachers developed an innovative way of engaging students learning from home with the 'Hello TAFE boxes' concept. Inspired by popular meal-kit companies, the boxes include fresh ingredients delivered to the students who then join an interactive online cooking demonstration using the ingredients from the box. In Victoria, the William Angliss Institute turned anticipated networking events online, enabling students a chance to talk to key hospitality and events industry professionals from their homes. The Canberra Institute of Technology extended an existing online training platform to support plumbing apprentices and their employers, reorganising and adapting resources and units to online and remote training delivery.

In The power of TAFE: the COVID story report, the authors surveyed TAFE staff and students from March to June 2020 to discover various approaches undertaken in response to the extraordinary circumstances. This included the everyday experience of students and teachers within these new approaches. Some students valued at-home learning, while others found it difficult, citing challenges such as technical issues, balancing study with other commitments at home, isolation, and the difficulty to engage. While TAFEs are valued for their face-to-face training, and the strong feedback from students was that they preferred this method of delivery, the development of new capabilities during COVID-19 disruptions may result in hybrid delivery methods in the future.

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) is currently undertaking a strategic review of online learning in the VET sector, prompted by training providers having to quickly shift to delivering training online due to changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The aim of the strategic review is to explore the opportunities and risks of online learning in VET and ensuring that regulatory approaches and responses to the changing training environment are effective and of a high standard. A final report is expected to be delivered mid-2021, detailing findings, recommendations and actions enabling quality online learning outcomes for the Australian VET sector.

More on this...



Online learning is not a new approach for the VET sector in many Asian countries, though this mode of delivery has accelerated significantly during the pandemic. COVID-19 impact on technical and vocational education and training in Sri Lanka highlights this rapid increase and considers challenges institutions face when delivering online learning in these regions. In developing countries, a strong digital divide means many households have limited or no access to internet connectivity, or do not have the necessary devices, and as noted in COVID-19 and education in Asia and the Pacific: guidance note, there are some regions where governments have no direction regarding online learning. In those areas where action is taking place, remote learning policies are often being drafted concurrently to the establishment of online teaching practices. This has placed considerable pressure on teachers and education administrators as they struggle to quickly integrate VET training into an online environment and has subsequently revealed significant gaps in the capacity of institutions to manage this transition.

The effectiveness of online learning, particularly in Indonesia, is discussed in Students' perceptions toward vocational education on online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. This report highlights improvements to the quality of teaching and learning through increased student motivation, satisfaction, and interaction. However, the rapid uptake of online learning in areas and courses not previously using this model has impacted students who are adapting suddenly and unexpectedly, with some experiencing 'learning burnout'. Vocational skills learning model strategies during COVID-19, examines contributing factors to this burnout - unappealing media or material, length and interactivity of lessons, lack of detailed explanation of accompanying materials, and minimal support for learning in the home environment. The use of video is encouraged to assist with teaching practical VET skills whilst also engaging students and keeping them motivated.

Practical training is a prominent issue for online VET courses, students require real machines and equipment to practice their skills, yet this is not possible at home. Technical vocational education and training: reflections on the issues facing TVET and its potential in the time of COVID-19 suggests this can be addressed by incorporating virtual simulation programs where possible and practicable. Research on organization and practice of web-based teaching and learning in Chinese TVET institutions under COVID-19: a case study of Shenzhen Polytechnic, also gives recommendations for successful online learning practices by outlining programs, platforms, methodology, evaluation, and experiences of students and teachers using this model in TVET institutions in China. Solutions to many of the challenges faced when transitioning hands-on courses to online learning are presented.

Ensuring VET education is consistent during the pandemic is another challenge. Online and open education in Shanghai: emergency response and innovative practice during COVID-19 pandemic includes case studies reflecting approaches to ensure continuity. The importance of a blended approach is underscored, whether through diverse digital platforms during the pandemic or strategic planning to combine digital and classroom teaching post-pandemic. Blended learning is also explored in Explanatory of learning models and vocational teacher perceptions of mechanical engineering during the Covid-19 pandemic with an emphasis on the need for teachers 'to determine the appropriate model with the characteristics of students in a pandemic situation to reduce constraints in learning' (p. 8). Both reports suggest current changes in modes of training delivery, in response to COVID-19, have the potential to address access inequalities amongst students and expediate solutions to the digital divide across Asia.

More on this...


UK and Europe

The Ministers in charge of VET from the European Union (EU) Member States, the EU Candidate Countries and the European Economic Area (EEA) countries, the European social partners and the European Commission, endorsed the Osnabruck declaration on vocational education and training as an enabler of recovery and just transitions to digital and green economies on 30 November 2020. The declaration acknowledges the pandemic has shown that digital learning can play an important complementary role to support learning, and collaboration networks are growing under the new conditions, particularly in respect to emergency solutions.

An extensive report on innovation and digitalisation released by the ET 2020 Working Group on VET, states the pandemic has exposed the difficulties of using remote/online learning and simulations to replace work-based learning. It also shows the capacity to use online and virtual learning between countries becomes more significant where physical mobility has been halted or severely curtailed. The responses to the pandemic in Greece, Denmark, Romania, and Croatia have encompassed live lessons over digital platforms, digital teaching and learning materials, and content broadcast on television. Software, internet connectivity and e-learning books and materials have been provided to teachers and students for free in some instances, either by the government ministries responsible for VET or donated by the private sector.

In Gravity assist: propelling higher education towards a brighter future, polling undertaken for the report showed 58 per cent of students and 47 per cent of teaching staff in England had no experience of digital teaching and learning before the pandemic, however the number of students learning either fully or mostly online had increased to 92 per cent by December 2020. Digital gap during COVID-19 for VET learners at risk in Europe states VET and apprenticeship providers in Germany, Greece, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey, and the UK are incorporating online platforms for learning and assessments. For on-the-job delivery and to train students in practical skills, some are using or plan to use virtual platforms and others are investigating the use of simulators, augmented or virtual reality, and artificial intelligence. Apprenticeships such as engineering, information technology, finance and insurance have been able to continue by using online learning.

Case study on Finnish TVET: a resilient model of training during COVID-19 discusses how the prior reforms and the flexibility of the training system enabled staff and students to rapidly adopt the increased use of digital and online learning when TVET providers had to shift to distance learning in March 2020. The Ministry of Education and Culture and the National Agency for Education supported providers with an information and advisory service, setting up a COVID-19 website and curating and sharing material on how to plan and implement distance learning, and teachers supported each other with advice and training materials. Contact with students was maintained with digital communication and learning tools including the learning management system (LMS) chat, WhatsApp, Zoom, Teams and Skype. Training for workplace mentors and orientation for students was given online, and the use of video evidence was permitted for instances where work-based learning was able to be continued but teachers were not able to access work sites to assess students.

However, the necessary shift to digital provision of education and training required by lockdowns and social distancing measures has emphasised equity of access issues. The 6 April 2020 report of the Coping with COVID-19: mapping education and training responses to the health crisis in ETF partner countries series states countries had adopted measures to maximise outreach, especially through television broadcasts, but access to internet was still patchy. The 20 May 2020 report indicates that in all 27 countries there was still concern about the support available for teachers and trainers and access to provision for students. The reports highlight the importance of co-operation with the private sector to facilitate access to equipment and connectivity.

More on this...


Research from other regions




Published: May 2021