Effective teaching practices and student support services in online VET

By Sheila Hume, Tabatha Griffin, Upekha Andrahannadi Research report 22 June 2023 978-1-922801-14-2


This research identified effective teaching practices and student support services that facilitate the successful online delivery of VET, including in blended delivery. Across eight case-study qualifications, five themes of good practice online delivery were identified: simplicity, clarity and consistency; development of varied and engaging learning material; communication and engagement; flexibility; and student support. Some divergent views on the suitability of online delivery for some qualifications were found, however, especially for foundations skills and trade qualifications. Best practice student support was provided pro-actively, individualised, flexible and responsive to students’ individual needs.


About the research

The aim of this research was to identify the teaching practices and student support services that facilitate the successful online delivery of vocational education and training (VET), including in blended delivery.

To achieve this, the research examined the characteristics of teaching approaches and student support services across eight qualifications delivered online, with these qualifications also representing diverse student cohorts (including apprentices and trainees), industry types and Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) levels.

Using information collected from interviews with 37 registered training organisations (RTOs) who deliver at least one of the eight case-study qualifications, it explored:

  • how teaching practices and student support services vary across the diverse VET system (that is, differing RTO type, student cohort, training type and industry) and across delivery mode (that is, blended and fully online delivery, synchronous and asynchronous delivery)
  • the elements of VET that are being delivered online, including for apprentices and trainees.

Key messages

When the RTO interviewees were asked to identify best practices in the online delivery of VET in the case-study qualifications delivered by them, the majority of training providers named five features common to all of them:

  • simplicity, clarity and consistency
  • development of varied and engaging learning material
  • communication and engagement
  • flexibility
  • student support.

The Certificate II in Skills for Work and Vocational Pathways and the Certificate III in Electrotechnology Electrician did not elicit these five themes, meaning that these two qualifications were notable exceptions. These qualifications represent examples of foundation skills and traditional trades qualifications, respectively. Opinions about the suitability of online training delivery, and the extent to which it could be used, were mixed for these qualifications, which may be indicative of the applicability of online delivery for foundation skills and trade qualifications more generally.

In terms of student support, best practice involved proactive provision, while being individualised, flexible and responsive to students’ needs.

Executive summary

A dramatic shift to online delivery in the vocational education and training (VET) sector occurred in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The experience of this delivery mode created an opportunity for many training providers to consider increasing their use of online delivery, including through blended delivery (offering a blend of online and classroom and/or workplace-based training). Indeed, recent data show that the use of online delivery (including in a blended mode) remains higher than it was pre-pandemic. Now that restrictions have eased, it is timely to assess the teaching practices being used in the online environment and their ongoing suitability for online learning. In addition, to facilitate student completion and to deliver learning outcomes that meet the needs of both students and industry, online students need to be supported by appropriate services and facilities.

Through a series of interviews with registered training organisations (RTOs), this research investigated the teaching practices and student support services associated with training delivery that takes place both wholly and/or partially online, and across the synchronous (live training) to asynchronous (self-paced training) delivery spectrum.

Good training is good training, irrespective of the delivery mode

Good practice online and in-person training share many characteristics, but how they are implemented may differ. Previous research has determined that no single best practice approach applies for online delivery in VET, due to the diversity of training contexts, student cohorts, Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) levels, and varying industry requirements. For this research, in order to capture the characteristics of online delivery across a diversity of training contexts, eight case-study qualifications were examined: Certificate II in Community Pharmacy; Certificate II in Skills for Work and Vocational Pathways; Certificate III in Fitness; Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care; Certificate III in Electrotechnology Electrician; Certificate IV in Real Estate Practice; Certificate IV in Training and Assessment; and Diploma of Accounting.

The RTOs interviewed in this research described many methods for delivering training online, spanning combinations of fully online, blended, synchronous and asynchronous delivery modes. These were tailored to the qualification requirements and the needs of the various student cohorts enrolled in the courses. The variability in the use of online delivery highlights the need for training packages to be flexible enough to enable innovative, but effective, online delivery.

Despite the variability in practice, there were five common elements in their approaches: simplicity, clarity and consistency; development of varied and engaging learning material; communication and engagement; flexibility; and proactive and personalised student support.

Simplicity, clarity, and consistency

In the online environment, especially when a course is self-paced, the opportunity for immediate two-way communication between the student and trainer does not always arise. Thus, it is important that learning tasks, assignments and course navigation are clear. Educators highlighted the importance of:

  • user-friendly technology
  • provision of relevant information to the student
  • clear instructions
  • materials that are task-oriented, clear and concise, intuitive and easy to navigate.
Development of varied and engaging learning material

The use of varied and interactive learning materials was considered important for promoting student engagement. An array of learning materials was used by these RTOs, including written content, videos, quizzes, spaces for collaboration (such as breakout rooms), images/diagrams, and practical tasks (such as ‘your turn’, where students take a break and practise what they have learnt).

Developing effective online materials is not easy, with several considerations and challenges being described by interviewees. Five common considerations were:

  • ensuring training package and/or legislative requirements are met, as well as the additional industry expectations over and above those requirements
  • recognising the different learning styles of students, and their differing language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) levels
  • being cognisant of the digital literacy of students, as well as their access to suitable technology
  • contextualising learning materials, including through workplace simulation
  • providing small ‘bites’ of learning (micro-learning).

While many of these considerations are also applicable to in-person learning, they often need to be addressed differently in online delivery; for example, the requirement to develop materials specifically for online delivery rather than simply shifting in-person materials online.

Communication and engagement

Strong communication and engagement strategies were adopted to combat learner isolation, which can occur in online delivery. Methods of communication and engagement varied, depending on the delivery mode, especially whether training was synchronous or asynchronous.

Communication and engagement strategies used in synchronous online training included: integrating personal stories into training to build rapport; organising regular phone calls and/or video meetings; building relationships through introductions, games and quizzes; and involving students in online sessions by inviting them to provide answers to questions and ‘filling the gaps’ in slides.

Self-paced courses required different communication and engagement strategies and included: introductory phone calls to build the trainer—student relationship; course information provided upfront; information distributed through a variety of channels (such as through the learning management system [LMS] and via email); and contact with the student if they are not engaging with the course.


The interviewees highlighted the different ways by which they ensure flexibility through online delivery, reporting that flexibility is one of the main benefits to students who choose to study via this delivery mode. Trainers described flexibility in:

  • scheduling live training sessions to ensure they worked around students’ work schedules and/or personal commitments
  • shifting due dates in response to students’ needs
  • responding to individual student needs, including providing in-person options (when possible) if challenges arise.
Proactive and personalised student support

The ready availability and provision of student support can be a significant success factor for online VET students and represents an important element of good online training delivery.

Identifying if, and when, a student needs additional support in the online environment can be difficult. The trainers in this research highlighted several ways by which they identify students who may need additional support, including: pre-enrolment/enrolment questionnaires; through the learning management system (LMS); observations through live classes; communication between the trainer and student; and contact with the employer. The LMS was a particularly important source of information for trainers, enabling them to monitor student activity and progress.

Trainers identified two key elements of best practice student support for online students:

  • individualised support that is flexible and responsive to the students’ individual needs
  • proactive contact, by student-preferred means (such as email, or phone).

Trainers described a vast array of ways through which student support is offered and provided to online students. Who provided the support often varied according to the size of the training provider: larger training providers generally had student support officers and/or student services to respond to and delegate support enquiries, whereas student support in smaller training providers tended to be given by the trainers, sometimes with ad hoc assistance also provided by administrative staff.

Divergent views on the suitability of online delivery, especially for some qualifications

Similar to findings reported in the Australian Skills Quality Authority’s (ASQA’s) strategic review of online delivery (ASQA 2023), this research encountered examples of the opposing views held by some RTOs on whether some qualifications could, or should, be delivered online. Of the eight qualifications examined, the suitability of two being delivered through online delivery was a point of contention.

Certificate II in Skills for Work and Vocational Pathways (and foundation skills more generally)

Most of the interviewed training providers had strong views that online delivery was not suitable for foundation skills training, although some conceded it could play a supporting role due to the digital skills required in many jobs. The reasons for online training being considered unsuitable included: challenges in building rapport with the (often disadvantaged) students; difficulties in monitoring ‘work ready’ tasks (like wearing work clothes and shoes); inadequate digital literacy skills among students and/or a lack of access to appropriate digital equipment; and trainers being unable to read body language easily.

One training provider did not share these views, however, and had recently launched an online self-paced delivery model. To mitigate some of the challenges in delivering this qualification online, the online course and materials were developed with the particular student cohort in mind, with educators on hand to support students via video, and computers available on campus for student use. Despite some reservations raised by the referring job service providers, the RTO had confidence in the model, since it had successfully provided foundation skills support to remotely based apprentices and trainees.

Certificate III in Electrotechnology Electrician

Training providers displayed a broad spectrum of views on the suitability of online delivery for the Certificate III in Electrotechnology. Although online delivery, including blended delivery, can never replace the workshop and hands-on experience, some of the training providers interviewed delivered the theoretical components of the course online, but on campus and with trainer support.

Two other training providers held opposing views. One believed that online delivery was not suitable for hands-on trades under any circumstance, arguing that most of the learning should link theory to its practical application. The other, who had implemented a fully online self-paced model for theory, conducted practical training and assessment in the workplace. This provider reported that this flexibility enabled the student and employer to determine mutually suitable times for training and this was viewed as a benefit.


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