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Hybrid learning environments: Is this the new vocational education and training?

Michael Orr, Helen Smith and Rae Fankhauser


Converging: Technology, Work and Learning (Australian Employment and Skills Formation Council, 1995) highlighted the issue of integrating new technologies into vocational education and training. This integration within the vocational education and training sector has given rise to a range of hybrid learning and assessment models and tools. A hybrid learning environment within this context incorporates people, places, resources and technology and specifically is characterised by a blend of self-paced formal instruction, (some face-to-face), situated learning, workplace assessment, and the targeted use of electronic tools. Each model seeks to represent a unique learning environment, which can be customised to accommodate specific learner needs, locations, local needs and qualifications requirements. These models redefine the relationships between stakeholders and facilitate a greater sharing of control over both the learning and assessment processes between learners, trainers and assessors.

This seminar will focus on the design considerations in the development of hybrid learning environments and related issues of co-operative work-based training and assessment. A case study of a particular hybrid learning model, (CSTP-Assess), where electronic tools have been used to support formal training and assessment in the workplace, will be explored.

Underpinning principles

Constructivist teaching and learning principles form the theoretical foundations upon which hybrid learning environments are based. Constructivism as articulated by researchers such as David Kolb emphasizes socio/cultural experience as the basis for 'meaning making' and effective learning. The New London Group places constructivism in the contemporary cultural context in which meaning is made through a multiplicity of increasingly integrated learning modes - "where the textual is also related to the visual, the audio, the spatial, the behavioral and so on" (Kalantzis & Cope, 1997, p. 10). The learning cycle that reflects these principles is commonly described as a four-stage cycle comprising: Situated practice, Overt instruction, Critical framing, and Transformed practice (eg. Kalantzis and Cope, p.12).

Design attributes

Educational designers at the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand have successfully applied the principles of constructivism to develop a competency based vocational degree program and associated CD-ROM learning resources (Clift, &Chambers, 1994). These instructional design criteria have been adapted for use in a range of multimedia toolboxes and training packages for trainers and trainees in the community services industry. A number of these products have been developed by a consortium lead by RMIT University for the Australian National Training Authority and Community and Heath Services Training Australia. The products developed around the Community Services Training Package illustrate the application of electronic tools in a web, database and CD environment have been developed specifically to support and meet the vocational educational and training needs of trainees and trainers in the workplace. These design principles are: Based on these criteria, four key instructional techniques identified by Clift and Chambers [on the basis of the criteria summarised above] were selected for use in the toolbox product design. These techniques are as follows: The products designed by the consortium for the Australian National Training Authority and Community and Heath Services Training Australia in areas such as Community Services Community Work, Home and Community Care and Aged and Disability Care, reflect the changing nature of work-based training and assessment. They describe a new sense of entrepreneurial culture emerging between universities, training providers, industry bodies and those responsible for standards and accreditation. They also illustrate the application and value of electronic tools in providing flexible delivery and access to self-paced learning and assessment tools. The development of electronic workplace assessment planning and learner management programs, as found in products like CSTP-Assess, provides further evidence of the hybridisation of the learning and assessment environment.

Case study- CSTP-Assess

The CSTP-Assess product is a computer-based tool which supports the design and implementation of assessment for units of competency and qualifications in the Community Services Training Package, and records and reports on the outcomes of assessment. CSTP-Assess comprises two sets of tools and a learner management and administration system. The tool sets found in CSTP-Assess are:
  1. An assessment database
    The database holds the files that enable users to design and build and assessment specification, produce and maintain records of the assessment undertaken for each learner, and produce reports on assessment outcomes for the purposes of certifying competence and meeting national quality assurance requirements. The database follows a process which selects the qualification, the units of competency to be assessed and includes the design and development of individual training plans and records.

  2. An assessment support system
    The support system includes a guide to the use of the database and a series of assessment resources that can be used as required. The resources include, The Community Services Training Package, vocational outcome statements, competency overview statements and a comprehensive range of assessment planning tools, exemplars and links to web-based resources and guides. This content is held in PDF and WORD editable files and can be customised extensively to meet local needs.
The learner management and administration component of CSTP-Assess allows users to develop assessment plans for individual learners and trainees, enroll learners, enter assessment details and information, edit or change this information as learners achieve competency and meet national standards of compliance. As a prototype of things to come, the CSTP-Assess CD when linked to the Internet, represents a very powerful assessment planning and learner management tool. It provides immediate access to key support and resources and places significant control in the hands of trainers.

The effectiveness of the hybrid learning environment is underpinned by the choice and application of appropriate technologies that engage trainers and learners in an on-going learning and assessment process. These technologies seek to provide quick access to the key tools and resources and provide essential links to mentors and networks of support. They have the capacity to facilitate efficient program design and learner management and move control of the processes closer to where the competencies are being assessed.

However there are some limitations that must be addressed if the product is to be used effectively: - trainers must have a PC with a CD-ROM and the hard disk capacity to carry the program and store data; ideally they should have access to the Internet; users require the skills, knowledge and the confidence to grapple with the complexities of hierarchical programs and relational databases. Above all trainers need to commit to a change of practice; from the certainty of tedious paper-based systems and records to the opportunities of efficient high-end computerised design and management tools which provide links to current research and professional advice.

Where to next?

The consortium has explored a range of options to facilitate work-based, situated learning and assessment within the guidelines and parameters set by the contracting authorities. The resulting tools have been designed to meet the needs of learners and trainers and to improve outcomes for clients. The products are under continuous feedback and review and streamlining. Some of the key issues and limitations that remain relate to the availability and use of technologies and the ability to design user-friendly applications.


National Board of Employment, Education and Training (1995). Converging: Technology, Work and Learning, Employment and Skills Formation Council, Canberra: Australian Government Printing Service, November 1995.

Clift, J. Professor & Chambers, Mark Dr. (1994). Educational Considerations in the Development of a generic degree program. Report to New Zealand Qualifications Authority.

Clift, J., Chambers, M. &Lockett, K. (1994). CD-ROM Prototype Demonstration Project: Applying Problem Based Learning Techniques to Distance Economics Course.

Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Cope, W. and Kalantzis, M. (Eds) (2000). Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures. New London Group, MacMillan.

Please cite as: Orr, M., Smith, H. and Fankhauser, R. (2002). Hybrid learning environments: Is this the new vocational education and training? In S. McNamara and E. Stacey (Eds), Untangling the Web: Establishing Learning Links. Proceedings ASET Conference 2002. Melbourne, 7-10 July.

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