The increasing role of online delivery during COVID-19

November 2020
Estimated publish date
February 2022
Principal researcher(s)
Sheila Hume, Research Officer, NCVER
Tabatha Griffin, Senior Research Officer, NCVER
Research sponsor(s)
New South Wales Department of Education; Skills Canberra.
Sheila Hume, Research Officer NCVER +61 8 8230 8622
Project code

Project purpose

The COVID-19 pandemic and the introduction of strict social distancing measures led to complications with delivering training face-to-face and a push to online delivery. At the same time, as the unemployment rate rose due to forced closures of businesses, there was a policy push to get more people into training or to help people stay in training. This project will provide a picture of how the VET system has responded to the changing landscape and uncertainty the pandemic has brought in terms of delivery and assessment practices to ensure learning opportunities and outcomes for students continue.

This project will examine the extent to which RTOs shifted to online delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic. It will compare the incidence of online learning in 2020 during the pandemic with 2019 pre-pandemic, including a comparison of student outcomes such as completion and satisfaction rates. Given the pandemic is currently on-going and it is not clear when it will end, we are unable to look at post-COVID-19 practices at this stage.

This project ties into the ASQA strategic review of online learning in the VET sector and NCVER will partner with ASQA to deliver the survey aspect of the project exploring the benefits, opportunities and risks posed by the transition to online delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic. It will also attempt to gain insights from RTOs and trainers on whether this is a short-term fix or whether it will change how they deliver in the longer-term. Please note the NCVER project will only be focusing on the view of RTOs/practitioners. The ASQA strategic review will also explore the view of students.

This project will also build upon the work of Griffin and Mihelic (2019), which estimated the extent that entire qualifications are delivered online, investigated what this online delivery looks like and whether online training is providing students with similar experiences and outcomes as face-to-face training.

Research questions

The following areas will be explored in the project:

  • The extent of the shift to online delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Why RTOs switched to online delivery (given it was not mandated) and the type of software/technology used.
  • Whether the move to online applied to all programs, or only some, or parts of programs, and the reasons for doing so or not (e.g. strict assessment rules for training packages and/or mandatory work placements; funding source).
  • The opportunities and challenges in shifting to online delivery, either fully or partially for RTOs and trainers and what suited different categories of students. What worked well, and what didn’t to facilitate online delivery.
  • If and how it impacted training and assessment practices and mandatory work placement, as well as quality of assessment and/or training delivery, for different categories of students or types of training.
  • What barriers to accessibility, student engagement, learning and course completion outcomes for different learner cohorts were identified and how these were addressed.
  • The extent to which shifts to full or partial online learning may have impacted on student learning outcomes and satisfaction rates.
  • Whether it is likely to change how RTOs deliver training in the future post-COVID-19.

The project will also attempt to find out if any RTOs were unable to shift to online delivery and why, and the implications for learners of this, as well as how they plan to adapt for the potential of similar situations in the future.


The project will be divided into three parts, including:

  • Analysis of government funded subject level data: This analysis will compare January to September 2020 data with January to September 2019 data to measure any changes in delivery modes through the pandemic.
  • Survey of RTOs and interviews: Collaboration between NCVER and ASQA will facilitate the design and administration of a survey of RTOs examining the shift to online delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic. Follow up interviews with RTOs will be conducted by NCVER to fully understand the implications of the shift online on quality training delivery for different types of courses, assessment and student engagement, and the developmental needs of practitioners.
  • Analysis of Total Vet Activity: An analysis of 2020 Total VET Activity will be conducted to explore the extent of online delivery during 2020 compared with online uptake in 2019.