On-line education set to stay


Even before COVID-19 there was no uniform, on-campus learning model that suited everybody

In last week’s IEAA Virtual Forum English Australia CEO, Brett Blacker, shared survey data from his members showing that at the end of Q1 2020 only 1 per cent of EA students were studying on-line or offshore. But by December 2020 that figure had grown to 52 per cent.

While COVID has caused a serious decline in the number of ELICOS students, the shift to on-line and offshore delivery is nonetheless remarkable. According to Mr Blacker, COVID-19 has triggered changes which the sector will build on, not retreat from, including more on-line delivery.

In my view the same is true in both higher education (and more gradually) in VET.

The challenges for the higher education sector are the views of Education Minister Alan Tudge and ensuring the quality of delivery. In media interviews and his keynote speech to the Universities Australia, conference Mr Tudge stated, “we must see a focus in our universities on how to enhance the classroom and learning experience of Australian students. And this must start with a return to the previous face-to-face learning.”

With half of all students in Australian higher education aged 23 years and over; even before COVID-19 there was no uniform, on-campus learning model that suited everybody. University lecture attendance rates have been in decline for years – as students juggle work and study, and as recordings allow students to learn in their own time.

Regardless of delivery mode, students need to be actively engaged in their learning and it needs to be tailored to their circumstances, meaning more face-to-face on-campus learning for new undergraduate students and more on-line asynchronous options for mature-age learners. Universities know this and many are looking at how to “personalise learning at scale” as Deakin University VC Iain Martin put it at the Universities Australia conference.

As with the ELICOS sector, universities will not retreat post-COVID-19 to an “on campus” nirvana. They will continue to pursue more on-line education and as they do they will need to make sure it is highly engaging.

Claire Field is an adviser to the tertiary education sector. In the latest episode of her free ‘What now? What next?’ podcast she discusses the shift to online learning with Professor Claire Macken (RMIT) and Professor Michael Sankey (Charles Darwin U).