How to Enhance Skills Development with Digital Learning
Skills urgently needed in today’s high-tech working environment are best acquired in technology-enabled classrooms.
Information and communications technology (ICT) brings both challenges and opportunities to technical and vocational education and training (TVET).
Digital technologies have changed how organizations work, creating new jobs and replacing others. For workers, this means reskilling themselves in order to thrive in a high-tech working environment. For educators, this means integrating ICT in skills development, not just in the course materials but also in course delivery.
Technology can make it easier to deliver TVET to more people. More than 80% of the youth population are now online. Students can use their own digital devices to access courses through the internet. Skills for technology-oriented jobs are also best acquired in a high-tech learning environment.
However, many challenges remain for countries without reliable electricity, computers and internet connectivity, and where teachers are unable to use technology in their teaching. There is a danger that ICT will widen the gap between rich and poor, unless policymakers and educators can accommodate learners with poor computer literacy or lack access to digital devices.
Key Success Factors in Introducing Digital Learning in TVET
Successful introduction of digitalization is more likely if there is
- a holistic approach, so that technology in TVET institutions is an integral part of a wider digital strategy with compatible technology at all levels of education;
- use of public-private or public-public partnerships to create a vision and raise funds for the introduction of new technology;
- future-preparedness and adaptability of facilities and equipment to prevent them from becoming obsolete and to allow for the incorporation of new technology;
- blurring of the distinction between formal and informal learning, inclusion of technologies that do not require literacy (e.g., radio and videos), and local language content; and
- teacher and manager training to maximize the use of new technology and the adaptation of teaching materials for ICT-enabled delivery.
Many developing countries will prefer to make a gradual transition to ICT-enabled learning, using technology to ensure wider access, more competent teachers, and better labor market forecasting. Countries just beginning the digital journey may adopt low-cost measures, e.g., allowing access to open educational resources online, placing existing text and presentations online, or producing videos demonstrating technical and behavioral competences.
Those countries that are further along the path may implement high-cost measures, such as building smart infrastructure with data-gathering devices, supporting personalized learning, and producing online programs.
Whatever stage a country is in, it is important that its approach to digitalization of TVET is coherent across institutions, compatible with other parts of the education sector, and an integral part of a comprehensive human resources development policy.
Four Steps to Take in Integrating ICTs in TVET
1) Planning: preparing for technology-enabled learning.
Digitalization influences labor markets, job profiles and the way countries envision their education and training systems of the future. Plans for ICT usage need to take account of training for new sectors, training for new jobs, and the impact of technology on existing jobs. Retraining and upskilling will be critical elements of the plans to make workers resilient to labor market changes, will require close collaboration with industry, and will impact on learning resources and teacher competency.
A Digital Skills Partnership as part of a wider Digital Strategy will ensure that skills training is included in future plans. In the United Kingdom, the government is planning to develop a world-leading digital economy, which includes policy on digital skills and inclusion and plans to close the digital divide. The country’s Digital Training and Support Framework shows how a government might procure the necessary training and support for citizens who lack digital skills, confidence, or access.
Creating an industry skills council for ICT is one way of ensuring that the sector is efficiently governed, that forward planning is being done and that there are close ties to industry. In Sri Lanka, the ICT Sector Skills Council has been established as part of a pilot program, with assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
The high demand for computer programmers in Indonesia has presented an opportunity for the private sector to offer coding training. Programs for children from primary school and upwards are delivered out of school and in boot camps.
Australia's National VET e-Learning Strategy allows the training sector to take advantage of the rollout of the National Broadband Network. By using the new technological environment, innovative approaches can be introduced to increase participation in training and work, and improve the skill levels of the workforce. The strategy is a 3-year program with continuous measurement of outcomes to allow for ongoing improvement and responses to changes.
The European Working Group on Digital Skills and Competences hosts peer-learning activities and produces key policy messages. It looks at the development of digital skills and competences at all levels and stages of learning and the potential and challenges of digital technology use in education.
2) Infrastructure: building smart buildings, outfitting new laboratories, or updating old facilities
The following examples show how starting with small steps, collaborating among institutions, and partnering with the private sector can help create a digital learning environment.
A pilot project in Bangladesh shows how equipping five labs for a national ICT center had a wide impact on teacher training and e-governance. The project is an example of how south-to-south cooperation can work in the context of setting up and operating a state-of-the-art training center, and how effective knowledge exchange can benefit both partners.
An interactive center with immersive technologies enables alternative forms of learning for students from technical trade training centers in Australia. The center offers programs to improve students’ scientific literacy and critical thinking skills, broaden their understanding of possible study and career paths, and raise their aspirations.
Ericsson India and Plan International have established 12 digital learning centers for girls and young women in marginalized communities in Delhi, India. The aim is to reach isolated girls and women across Delhi by making skills development affordable and available in a safe environment. Apart from teaching ICT skills, the centers offer classes on core general education subjects and provide career counselling.
ADB is helping the University of the South Pacific to expand access to higher education in 12 Pacific Island countries, including establishing a new ICT-based campus in Kiribati and enhancing ICT-based education in the Solomon Islands, where the new campus will also offer TVET programs.
A futuristic building in Singapore, fully equipped for collaborative learning and student interaction, shows that teaching methods and curricula must adapt. Teaching in 56 new, smart classrooms has required new curricula for over 1,500 courses and a digitalized library. The learning hub also makes extensive use of peer-coaching.
3) Learning resources: creating courses and materials for digital delivery
It is important to take stock of existing multimedia and ICT-enabled resources, and establish an online repository.
An online polytechnic in New Zealand offers a wide range of vocational courses to students who might otherwise be unable to access training.
In India, a training provider uses audio-visual resources in its training curriculum.
An open-access repository containing technical and skill development materials for downloading and adapting is maintained and developed by the Commonwealth of Learning, an intergovernmental organization of the Commonwealth of Nations based in Canada. Establishing the repository recognizes that access to learning resources is critical for lifelong learning.
In the Philippines, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) has gone online to provide vocational courses to migrant Filipino workers in the Middle East. The programs are affordable and aim to give students other forms of livelihood.
All-India Digital Skill Mission, an initiative to raise awareness about internet-based career options in more than 50 major cities and over 100 villages and towns throughout the country, is proof of how a joint initiative between government and digital entrepreneurs can have country-wide impact.
The UK government and the private sector partnered to deliver digital skills training to over 10,000 female entrepreneurs.
4) Teaching: recruiting and training staff for a new learning environment
The task is to find and deploy competent, confident teachers to deliver learning in a digital environment.
ICT competency standards for teachers and guidelines for planning teacher education programs are available in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s ICT in Education Program. Four case studies have been produced showing how different journeys can reach a common goal and provide step-by-step references for countries that wish to introduce competence-based teacher training in ICT.
Out-of-the-box after-school clubs in the UK are designed to encourage girls to stay engaged in information technology. The same program shows how TechFuture Careers provides multimedia content to inform students aged 14+ about career options in technology.
Technical teachers in remote villages in Cambodia benefit from a bank of video recordings of TVET instructors explaining theory and practice in their native language. This is an example of how problems related to access to in-service training and access to materials for teachers in remote areas, can be overcome using low-tech solutions and local expertise.
Entrepreneurship training is conducted via e-mail and video-conferencing for teachers in dangerous and remote areas of Afghanistan. This is a low-tech model that could be replicated for other subjects and other countries, using local resources.
Canadian educator Tony Bates, who has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, has written a book on teaching in the digital age. The book touches on topics such as choice of media, maintaining quality and appropriate teaching approaches.
Questions to Help Guide Next Actions
Here’s a list of questions to help countries identify issues and potential problems in implementing ICT-enabled learning.
- Does the current policy framework for TVET allow for the introduction of ICT-enabled learning?
- If not, how radical will policy changes need to be and within what timescale?
- Which stakeholders need to be involved in developing new policy?
- Can the introduction of ICT-enabled learning proceed in the interim?
- Are the media and technology appropriate for the level and extent of ICT-enabled learning envisaged?
- Are sufficient functional and up-to-date ICT and connectivity available in classrooms, training sites, or other places of learning?
- Can ICT graduates be recruited into TVET?
- What is the current shortfall in ICT-competent teacher numbers?
- Do pre-service teacher training courses include ICT training and pedagogical approaches?
- Is in-service training available for teachers on technology-related learning?
- How well-suited are current teaching materials to being used online?
- How can they be adapted?
- Can a repository of online and multi-media resources be established?
- Do the learning facilities and materials in TVET institutions match the quality and resources found in schools and tertiary institutions?
- Is it possible to adapt available courseware to the local context?
- How suitable is material copied from other contexts that are less resource-constrained?
- Can partnerships be formed with industry or between providers to inform the development of new courses and to economize on their development?
- Are current assessment methods and tools suitable for digital learning?
- Can an assessment bank be established from which teachers and assessors can draw?
- Do the assessment tools available measure to the standards required by new curricula and qualifications?
- Can they be adapted?
- What support is already available?
- Does it need to be augmented?
- Is training available for mentors?
- What are the indications of a digital divide between genders?
- What steps are being put in place to close that divide?
- Is facilitating ICT-enabled learning included within teachers’ preservice training or made available as in-service training?
- Have tools been developed or provisions made that do not rely on fast broadband, such as small-scale, solar installations or sharing resources using USB memory sticks?
What capacity building will be required for staff to identify suitable MOOCs and incorporate them within a coherent, industry-focused program of training?
ADB. Forthcoming. ICT-enabled Learning — Maximizing the Potential of Technology for Delivering TVET. Manila.
Bates, A.W. 2015. Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for Designing Teaching and Learning. Vancouver BC: Tony Bates Associates Ltd. ISBN: 978-0-9952692-0-0.
Gros, B. 2016. The Design of Smart Educational Environments.
Maheshwari, V.K. 2017. Smart Class Room – a New Vision in Education.
Raihan, M.A. and Han, S.L. 2013. Integrating Web-based e-Learning in TVET to Enhance the Literacy and Socio-economic Condition for Sustainable Development of Bangladesh. Journal of Education and Practice, ISSN 2222-1735 (Paper) ISSN 2222-288X (Online), Vol.4, No.1.
UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education. 2003. Analytical Survey: The Use of ICTs in Technical and Vocational Education and Training. Moscow.
UNESCO/UNEVOC. 2013. ICTs for TVET Report of the UNESCO/UNEVOC Online Conference, 14-28 May 2013. Bonn.
UNESCO/Commonwealth of Learning. 2016. Making Sense of MOOCs: A Guide for Policy-Makers in Developing Countries. Paris.
UNESCO/ Commonwealth of Learning. 2017.Using ICTs and Blended Learning in Transforming TVET. Canada.
The views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Asian Development Bank, its management, its Board of Directors, or its members.