Australian aboriginal walkabout painting - sometimes the best way is not a straight line

Australia: Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (2011) National VET e-Learning Strategy, 2012-2015 Canberra: Government of Australia

This document sets out a national strategy for e-learning in vocational education and training (what we in Canada call vocational and technical education).

From the executive summary:

The National VET E-learning Strategy for 2012–2015 will play a key role in enabling the Australian training sector to take advantage of the roll-out of the National Broadband Network (NBN) to make major advances in the achievement of government training objectives.  Coordinated action to develop sector-wide capability in using the new technological environment will, at the same time, stimulate innovative approaches to increasing participation in training and work, and improving the skill levels of the Australian workforce.  

Vision: A globally competitive Australian training system underpinned by world class e-learning infrastructure and capability.


1:  Develop and utilise e-learning strategies to maximise the benefits of the national investment in broadband

2:  Support workforce development in industry through innovative training solutions

3: Expand participation and access for individuals through targeted elearning approaches.

The National Broadband Network

The National Broadband Network (NBN) is a national wholesale-only, open-access data network under development in Australia. Up to one gigabit per second connections are sold to retail service providers (RSP), who then sell Internet access and other services to consumers. The network is estimated to cost A$35.9 billion to construct over a 10-year period, including an Australian Government investment of A$27.5 billion. NBN Co, a government-owned corporation, was established to design, build and operate the NBN, and construction began with a trial rollout in Tasmania in July 2010. The mainland rollout began with five first-release sites with the first services connected in April 2011.The final rollout is planned to reach approximately 93 per cent of the population by June 2021 (from Wikipedia).


I was initially excited when I read the headlines on this. Wow – a national e-learning strategy for vocational and technical education – why doesn’t Canada have one? Then I read the report carefully, and unfortunately I have a nasty feeling that this could be technology looking for a purpose. The Australian government has taken such a risk on a national, government-sponsored network that it is clearly desperate to ensure that it is used. Does this remind you of Canarie in Canada?

Australia already has a strong VET system, delivered primarily at a state/provincial level through TAFE‘s, and a national e-learning support system, the Australian Flexible Learning Network. There is often good liaison and communication between the public and private sector in Australian VET. Providing broadband technology throughout the country will obviously help these ‘on-the’ground’ e-learning activities. It makes a lot of sense to have a strategy that brings all these pieces together.

However, going on past experience, I have a number of questions:

  • Would more investment on the human side of e-learning provide a better return?
  • Will this result in the long run in diversion of funds away from the TAFEs or Australian Flexible Learning Network to support the broadband network? Or is this extra money that the government has found, out of another budget?
  • How much will it cost training providers to access the network? (For many training providers, the main cost is not the network but the production costs needed to exploit the bandwidth and the learner support costs)
  • Would it not be more cost-effective in the long run to encourage the private sector to develop the broadband networks, with a little help from the Federal and state governments in reaching remote or rural areas (the Canadian solution)?
  • Good to have a broadband network, but shouldn’t the choice and use of technology be driven by pedagogical requirements? After all, sometimes a bike route (or a walkabout)is better than a highway. Will this national strategy run the risk of distorting the decision-making process around appropriate use of technology?

I’d be really interested to hear from the Aussies on this. In the meantime, yes, I’m green with envy!

Thanks to Richard Elliott’s e-learning Watch for directing me to this.



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