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8 RTO Concerns about eLearning and how to overcome them

by | Jan 26, 2014 | blended learning, eLearning, Michael Gwyther |

I’ve been fascinated by New Year discussions by RTO (Registered Training Organisation) personnel in various online traps around short comings with a type of understanding of eLearning that begins and ends with self paced online learning. Let me try to address some of the concerns I’ve heard from RTOs and those in the VET industry about eLearning.

#1 Who is submitting the assessment?

Identify is a perennial question in Assessment with self paced eLearning. Is the person submitting the assessment the person who is enrolled in the course? This has ramifications for both the integrity of the RTO but also the application of knowledge and skills in the workplace, not to mention potential liability. While identify of submitted written assessments is always an issue for RTO it is especially magnified in the online delivery.

Grab 3 forms of personal ID and ask 10 specific questions (e.g. Name two places you’ve lived in the past 5 years) not asked during enrolment. Ask at least 2 for each assessment and match the answers. Follow up inconsistencies. Remember the money you save through not delivering face to face can be diverted by ensuring the validity and integrity of the certificates you award those who complete.

#2 Everyone cheats

For shorter compliance courses tutor contact is essential to back up what the online system is telling you in terms of quiz and other automated results. If this is not possible, do a random selection of learners. Call and interview especially around the key knowledge and critical aspects of evidence so you have an extra observation to back up their quiz results from the online system.
Build a checkist to help you during your calls.

#3 You can’t teach skills online

You can teach a lot of soft skills online. Those you cannot, you can also just address the underpinning knowledge and assess face to face or via remote evidence collection. Remember you can only use a simulated environment where the unit permits you too.

Otherwise you’ll need to either do it in person or develop a strategy for remote evidence collection (apps, phone video, podcast) along with a consistent methodology for learners to demonstrate evidence, confirm their identity and questions to address underpinning knowledge. These can all be wrapped up and sent to you via whatever Smartphone or purpose built app (a few are emerging on the market) you elect to support.

#4 You cant assess online

RTOs can develop a variety of Assessment if they elect to use self-paced learning. Too many online self-paced courses rely solely on quizzes. While quizzes are good for information retrieval and knowledge concepts, they are notoriously poor indicators of problem solving ability and information gathering to equip learners to address new workplace processes. Decision-making trees and problem-based learning requiring the application of SOPs and procedure are useful cross checks here.


# 5 eLearning is all about online

eLearning works best when delivered using a blended learning mode where RTOs choose and craft a delivery strategy from face-to-face, online self paced, social and online facilitated modes (think webinars and discussions, peer review). Much corporate learning is heading towards a just in time learning kiosks to support employees to solve many of their own workplace needs.

The provision of a portal with video, short job aids, case studies, and access to a trainer, or personal informed mentor is where they are heading. They recognise workers learn from each other and teach themselves most new learning on the job. Formal face-to-face training is being saved for the big ticket or essential compliance items. Preparing online learners to understand how to assess and apply workplace information is continuous improvement opportunity for many RTOs’.

#6 There is no decent learning content

A lot of online course content – including that provided from vendors – I see from RTOs’ is deadly boring. Text with few or no images, little if any video, occasional use of sound to support learning concepts, and assessment based purely on short answer comprehension and quizzes. Its very structure encourages learners to click through – it fails to immerse learners to think, absorb and apply information to vocational contexts.

It also fails to show learners how to use the resources around them in the workplace (people, procedures, SOPS and manuals) to solve their own problems on the job. This was one of the key justifications for the embedding of employability skills going back to Meyer. Using webinars (live or recorded), PowerPoint’s supported by audio and video, simple decision making trees (using the Lesson in Moodle or other rapid eLearnng software), character based workplace case studies, learning games, Video scaffolding off to quiz or scenario questions, peer review of learner workplace projects by sharing their phone captured skills assessments, can all raise the content standard.

#7 Learners never see another soul

Learning is a social activity where we learn from our studying peers as well as the RTO, course content, employer and assessment. Online learners generally work in isolation, particularly where the RTO has focused purely on self paced delivery mode without use of any F2F or online facilitated delivery. Consider how learners may learn from one another by either sharing their workplace context or by running regular mandatory interactive webinars, which will help you, get a sense of the learners in your group and their progress toward competency.

#8 There is no need for trainers

Trainers are invisible in online self-paced courses. The voice of the resource is generally that of the subject matter expert or instructional designer. Consider how to make the trainer active through forums, webinars and phone contact if only to cross check learners identity and match assessment response to interview response.

A simple checklist against the critical aspects of competency can get you started. Trainers are often subject matter experts particularly in smaller RTOs’. Point the way to new methods of developing Elearning content, build their skills in running discussion forums, put time into their development of webinar facilitation, give them new ideas by herding them off to eLearning conference. Evolve their skills to ensure the quality of your training product matches pace with market demand and the characteristics of today’s mobile workforce.


  1. Mark Shelton

    Great post Mick, I can see myself emailing this and quoting from it on numerous occasions. You’ve covered every concern I’ve heard in my quest to coax my colleagues into incorporating more e-learning into their delivery. Some nifty little solutions to the issues raised as well.
    It’s always great to read articles that relate specifically to the VET sector.
    Keep up the good work.

  2. Dorothy

    Thanks Michael, I think this will find it’s way through my contacts as well!

  3. Judy

    Hi Michael, I like your advice and I want to know if it is OK to share your thoughts with others for a ‘practise blog’. I work for a NFP RTO with very tight resources working towards elearning platform. I have offered to be a test guest blogger for the newly formed NSW elearning community of practice (www.nswinnovations.wikispaces.com/About+Us)

  4. Michael

    Hello Judy, I come from the NFP RTO sector myself back in a prior Yum life. I am happy for you to use what you need from the article if you can put a link back to the original post here along with an attribution to me as the author . Let me know if I can help in other ways – for example – a webinar on this or other elearning entry topics for your community of practice which I hear is launching soon?

    good luck and kind regards, Michael


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