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What is the Student Experience?
The best way to learn is by experience, right? But sometimes this can be tough because we often make mistakes as we learn and acquiring new skills and knowledge can take time. Providing opportunities to practice skills and try out new knowledge is a core part of the approach to the training in the VET sector so that our students gain the confidence they need to use their new skills and knowledge in the workplace. But is the student experience just about what happens in the classroom or during on the job learning or does it include other things?
In reality the student experience encompasses all aspects of student life and whilst the key focus is achieving academic outcomes, the academic or learning experience can’t be considered in isolation from areas like social engagement, student welfare and other types of support. As VET professionals we must facilitate learning by providing a safe and supportive environment that can be customised to meet the needs of all of our students.
Why is the student experience so important?
Here are just a few reasons to think about.
A student who…..
- feels safe in the training environment is more likely to engage in the learning process;
- engages in the learning process will be better equipped to apply new skills and knowledge when they enter into the workplace;
- enjoys the learning experience is more likely to return for more study;
- has a satisfying learning experience will be a great ambassador for your RTO!
So, if the student experience is so central to what we do in VET, why is there so much variety in the quality of the experience?
Since the late 1990s there has been a shift away from public training providers. Our modern day VET sector is now made up of thousands of private providers of training and assessment. This shift was meant to provide more choice, greater efficiency, and improved quality while maintaining access and equity. However, according to an NCVER report back in 2006, the market reforms failed on a number of key grounds.
They resulted in:
- higher transaction costs and
- increased the reliance of a large proportion of the private providers on public funding.
Unfortunately, the imposition of market forces on the VET system has created incentives to reduce costs, rather than to improve quality and right now, in 2018, we still find so many RTOs who are struggling with the tension between quality and cost. In many cases the competition is so fierce that cost wins, leaving the notion of a quality student experience behind!
ASQA states that their primary risk to manage is
‘an RTO certifying that a person has competencies that do not reflect his/her skills, knowledge and attitudes’.
The potential damage done by incomplete training and assessment and a lack of attention to the student experience is wide spread. This explains the shift in auditing to be based around the key phases of the student journey in an RTO. The structure of the audit follows the student journey or experience from marketing and recruitment, to enrolment, then support and progression, training and assessment and finally, completion. Of course, regulators will still be looking at general compliance and governance but the shift towards a student centric approach to auditing demonstrates their genuine concern for the student, industry and community, and sends a clear message that the student experience matters!
So how have you responded to this shift in auditing approach?
Are you using the student journey and experience to frame your planning and resources allocation? Have you defined the student experience in your RTO and identified areas for improvement? What is best practice for you at each of the phases of the journey?
The table¹ below provides examples of RTO practices and behaviours at each stage and makes some suggestions regarding best practice. Why not use this as a starting point to review the activities in your RTO?
What is best practice?
Develop and implement a proactive continuous improvement system to monitor RTO activities so that you can stay one step ahead of quality and compliance issues!
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you have a clear governance structure for your RTO and are all your key managers suitable for the role? How do you determine and verify their suitability?
- Do you have a clear, overarching compliance policy that articulates the RTOs leadership and management approach?
- Is your RTO financially viable? How do you know this and how will you maintain financial viability?
- Are you compliant with all relevant legislation? How do you know this and how do you communicate this to your staff and students? Do you have required insurances for operating your RTO?
- Do you communicate with the regulator as required?
- Do you have suitable agreements and processes in place for any third party arrangements, if relevant?
- What do your students say about their experience? Are you confident that they are positive ambassadors for your RTO?
- Are you confident that your students are equipped for the workforce?
We have recently presented a webinar on this topic and have unpacked the student experience even further. You can watch a recording of the webinar here
And if you need some assistance to work through some of the questions we have asked in this blog please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org
We would love to help you!
¹ (Adapted from the diagram from Users Guide to the Standards for Registered Training Organisations 2015 v2, November 2017, p9)