Taking adult education online – and into the future

adult online education

When you think of the education industry, what’s your first thought?

For many, the mind automatically flicks to the education of children – early childhood, primary or secondary education.

People often forget about the adult education industry – an industry that’s seen a huge uptake over the past few years. Organisations like TAFEs and registered training organisations (RTOs) are places where adults can complete their basic education, explore subjects of interest or find an alternative admission pathway to university study.

Rapid advances in technology and a surge in adult learning opportunities mean that adult educators are also in high demand.

Educators like Kathryn McGilvray.

Kathryn began her career as a high school English and History teacher. She taught in both the private and public systems for 12 years. Then she transitioned to being a TAFE teacher. At TAFE, she taught English, History, and Communication in Pathways. Plus, she took on a position as a technology coach in building and construction.

While working in vocational education, Kathryn saw a gap in the adult education market. She started eLearning Educational Solutions in 2011. The aim was to understand the complexities of adult learning environments and the needs of adult learners. As a result, she saw a need for innovative education strategies to help the training and assessment sector – and enrolled in a Charles Sturt University (CSU) master’s degree.

Insight sat down with Kathryn to chat all things tech – and how studying with CSU helped her company flourish.

Postgraduate study with CSU

“By 2014, my interest in education technology had developed to a point where I wanted to know more. I had travelled to international conferences around the world (including the International Society for Technology in Education conference in the United States and the Practical Pedagogies conference in France) and saw a need to discover what was happening in schools and training colleges around the world.

“The inception of Twitter meant there was a platform to connect with other educators about our industry. I was part of the team that started the popular #Ozengchat hashtag for English teachers. These interactions with like-minded people were fascinating, but I felt I wanted to take my learning further. I was looking for more evidence and understanding of the global education technology market, as well as trends and changes to the vocational training sector.

“I had many Twitter chats with Judy O’Connell, Senior Lecturer and Course Director of the School of Information Studies at CSU. Judy told me about the new master’s program at CSU that she had been heavily involved in developing – the Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation).

“I began studying the course and I was hooked. It’s been the most amazing and wonderful journey so far. I have loved this course and I could not do what I do today without it.”

Finding opportunities and networks

“When I started my degree, I was an English teacher at TAFE using technology to help my classes. So much has changed since then. Because of the skills and knowledge I gained from the course, I am now the managing director of a successful company – my own company. I employ people in the local community, I can influence decision-makers, and I have been pioneering learning opportunities for vocational training contexts using the latest technology. I am now a leader in my field. This journey has been so exciting and deeply meaningful.

“I can’t sing the praises of Judy O’Connell enough. She absolutely sold the course to me through her encouragement, sharing and engagement on social media. I loved reading her blog and often used many of her pearls of wisdom with my classes at the time.

“I also developed the confidence to have a go. Mistakes are learning opportunities and feedback from peers is not scary. I now have the skills to maintain and grow my knowledge networks. This enables me to ensure not only employment in the future for myself and my staff but to have an impact on the field that I work in.”

About eLearning Educational Solutions

“At eLearning Educational Solutions, we create online learning systems and programs for the vocational training sector – specifically the construction industry.

“eLearning Educational Solutions has partnered with major global companies to provide engaging, compliant and collaborative learning opportunities for our students. These companies include Google, Canvas, eCoach and AWE media. We have built up a solid client base, including TAFEs from around New South Wales, small and large RTOs, industry associations and private companies.

“One of our key offerings is contextualised learning videos. To ensure the material is engaging and as close to reality as possible for our online students, we film our video content on location at construction sites. This allows our students to have an immersive learning experience. Even though they’re studying online, the technology allows them to gain experience ‘on the job’ and feel confident when they do start working in the industry.

“In terms of staff, we have 20 developers and contractors that make up our educational video and virtual reality team. They are responsible for capturing imagery and footage to use in virtual reality [VR] scenarios, developing contextualised videos and creating interactive content.”

What does the future hold for Kathryn – and for online learning?

“The future of online learning is very exciting. I think we will see an explosion of virtual and augmented reality across the vocational training industry that will be used for simulated learning and assessment. I think we have a few years to wait before the price of development goes down a little and the technology becomes more mainstream. Learner analytics and big data will also play a much bigger role for feedback and engagement with trainers in the future.

“The challenge for the market can be seen in the struggle around contextualisation of learning and work environments. The Australian experience is different to other countries. In contrast, the training developed in Asia does not always meet the needs of the local market. Automation is dramatically affecting many trade areas. Consequently, keeping up with technology is a real challenge for training in the future.

“Politicians need to provide more funding for development of e-learning training. Some areas of the training sector are still using paper-based resources! Parts of rural Australia are struggling with access to the internet. These rural students would benefit greatly from online learning, but with limited resources they are disadvantaged.

“At the moment, I’m quite happy working as a consultant and managing my company. In saying that, I’m always on the lookout for creative and innovative challenges that may come my way.

“I would certainly like to expand my network to include boards and industry groups to influence thinking about e-learning, blended learning and all things education technology. I love my job – and the sector I work in. Above all, I hope to continue my work for many years to come.”

Ready to take your career to the next level with a postgraduate qualification?

CSU has a range of flexible postgraduate degrees that you can study online to help you step up to your next challenge. If you’re looking to further your education career, explore some of our master’s degrees, such as:

Make your next move count with CSU.