The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for and the inequalities in the use of digital tools in all aspects of education and training. Vocational education differentiates from other educational sectors as it possesses two characteristics that can affect the way it can engage with digital learning. One characteristic of VET is its unique combination of work-based, experiential learning of occupational “practice” and classroom-based learning. The second distinct characteristic of VET is its learners. The majority of VET learners do not consider traditional school education as a rewarding experience and may also come from challenging socio-economic backgrounds. Therefore, in order for digital learning to be beneficial for VET, it should not cancel out these two distinctive characteristics.
The use of digital tools in VET should facilitate improvements in teaching and learning that help develop the learning outcomes for the learners.
During the pandemic, VET students from lower-income backgrounds were unable to access the digital tools which were required for remote learning. This was particularly unfortunate as digital learning has the potential to support alternative pedagogies which are better suited to the learning styles of VET students who are not big fans of traditional learning. In addition, recent evidence supports that the incorporation of digital tools and gaming in VET, helps young people from disadvantaged backgrounds develop their transversal skills.
Considering the practical and experimental learning characteristics of VET, the pandemic emphasized the lack of digital tools for the work-based learning part of VET. Despite their potential of providing new ways of teaching and assessing learners, virtual and augmented reality tools are extremely expensive for VET institutions. However, there are other less expensive and basic digital tools (e.g. interactive whiteboards, e-learning platforms) that can provide substantial pedagogical change for VET education.
The effect that such technologies can have on teaching and learning depends on both the in-built features of the digital tools in question and how teachers want to use them. For this, both teachers and trainers need to be given the right support and resources through training. Digital technologies can provide education, and especially VET, with new opportunities to reimagine the 21st century school as more accessible, more relevant, more resilient, and more inclusive.