Growing engagement in online learning


Despite having a National Vocational and Education E-Learning Strategy with a specific goal to drive learner engagement through online education platforms, e-learning engagement and learning outcomes remain shockingly low. At the same time, technology advances have made viable, user-friendly online learning platforms easy to build, use and benefit from in the modern workplace.

The low rates of engagement and completion in vocational and educational programs funded through VET Fee-Help loans have bought this issue well into the public eye.

This is in part due to wide media coverage, joint investigation into marketing practices, learner engagement, completion rates and alleged exploitation of vulnerable communities and individuals through the use of third party brokers.

It’s not just accredited learning programs like the Diploma of Business or the Diploma in Community Services that have low commencement, completion and engagement rates. It’s all online  training, even the compulsory ones such as online Work Health and Safety, Bullying and Harassment Awareness training and others.

A colleague who is an expert in digital marketing was recently offered a large contract in digital marketing training, with a requirement that the training be delivered face to face due to previous negative experiences of low student engagement. This is ironic, because digital marketing of course is online.

Why are learner engagement levels still low? 

I think it’s important to ask those hard questions, and to look beyond purchasing learning software, or accessing online learning platforms to delve into identifying reasons for low engagement  and increasing learner involvement  and measurable learning outcomes, for example mapped to work tasks.


Part of the problem in understanding engagement levels is the lack of available valid data. What is a valid measure of engagement? Commencement, completion of units, number of logins, submission of assignments, reading course material? Graduation?  What about software?

Purchasing and accessing IT learning software 

When purchasing IT software, it is so important to consider it is not just the purchase, but the set up, maintenance, use and measurement of impact in the workplace.  Older style models of purchase from the previous decade and even the last five years rely on a reasonably large investment of set up costs, followed by a significant annual subscription, with the hope by the time a year has passed the sunk costs are such that changing would be inconvenient and expensive.

Large cost subscription services are becoming n  outdated business model.  With new entrants to the learning sector such as Open Learning, a MOOC platform, and Udemy, an online learning platform where instructors can host and sell their courses for a commission based fee.  Software such as Smartsparrow individualises learning pathways, through adaptive course ware  but this means the learner must be engaged enough in the first place to have a learning plan tailored to their specific needs. (That is you need a data set to tailor something to, which means learner engagement has to happen first)

There is also a new  range of purpose built compliance platforms, giving the market leaders from the last decade have a challenge on their hands.



What about open source learning software? 

There are still some highly respected, open source software options available. The key thing with open source software and programs is the organisation needs to have the in house technical skills to host, update, upgrade and keep current the learning system or risk being left behind, say with a model of software from 2007.

More questions than answers

With technological advances, there is going to need to be fresh, new approaches to learning design, the actual technology behind it and the delivery and measurement of learning outcomes for services to stay viable into the future.

This is an issue with more questions than answers. It is the basis of our research and development projects, and it means sitting with many and varied questions trying to come up with a framework through experimentation that leads to a valid research outcome.

Ideally, we’re trying to create a framework to measure student engagement in technology and increase the uptake of learner use of tech through identifying barriers to participation and engagement and working towards solutions.

Of course, this requires both a data set,students and a standardised way of measuring those outcomes, which includes current students and those coming on board in 2016. Our target sample group is 250 students and we’re well on the way to that within one month of launching.