We worked closely with D2L and were able to have the courses and infrastructure set up in five days, capable of supporting 10,000 concurrent users at any one time.Joann Pyne, Chief Academic Officer, TAFE Queensland
Navigating The New Normal
Headquartered in Brisbane, TAFE Queensland is the state’s largest, and one of Australia’s largest, training providers. It delivers practical, industry-relevant training to more than 120,000 students annually across more than 50 locations.
Some of the first industries forced to shut their doors due to COVID-19 restrictions were the training and education sectors. Campuses usually teeming with the life, enthusiasm, and exuberance of youth fell silent almost overnight.
Throughout the course of the coronavirus pandemic, TAFE Queensland had to overcome many challenges to ensure its learners received the best training possible despite unprecedented disruptions.
The first of these was transitioning previously face-to-face classes to online learning for its traditional cohort of 120,000 students.
Secondly, in recognition of the mass displacement workers faced as a result of the pandemic, it sought to design and deliver online short courses and microcredentials for Queenslanders to upskill and retrain.
These courses aimed to support those recently out-of-work as they searched for new skills while in isolation.
Finally, as restrictions began to ease across the state, it was tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the thousands of employees in the hospitality and beauty industries were appropriately trained to return to work amidst the ‘new normal’ of social distancing and infection control measures. As the Queensland Government mandated all employees in these sectors complete the training within two weeks of businesses reopening, TAFE Queensland had to be able to support a concurrent online cohort of potentially 100,000 people.
As each and every one of these students would need to be trained remotely, TAFE Queensland turned to the capabilities of its dynamic Learning Management System and the expertise it had gained through years of driving a blended learning strategy.
Ensuring Engagement At Massive Scale
Despite leveraging D2L’s Brightspace learning platform for years, Joann Pyne, Chief Academic Officer, TAFE Queensland, said the sudden campus closures in response to COVID-19 meant its use had to be expanded to include those courses still largely delivered face-to-face.
“While we were already well-equipped, 700 of our programs had to change to some extent to accommodate more online delivery,” she said.
Lee Webster, Director Learning Technology Innovation and Services, TAFE Queensland, said the first consideration was ensuring all educators were trained on the use of the platform to allow existing students to continue learning.
“When restrictions were first announced, we had a one-week pause where delivery was halted followed by a two week semester break—during this three week period we ran an extensive professional development program to ensure our teachers could use the Brightspace tools to their full effect,” she said.
In total, 5,400 participants attended training sessions to ensure they could deliver training online and build courses that kept learners engaged.
Given the disruption, Webster said regular communication with learners was critical to ensuring the best learning outcomes.
“We quickly established course hubs on the platform so teachers could not only engage directly with the students, but teachers could also collaborate amongst themselves and share learning resources.” With the existing student cohort successfully transitioned to online-learning, TAFE Queensland was then called upon by the State Government to play a critical role in reskilling displaced workers and reopening Queensland’s economy as restrictions eased.
“We worked closely with Government and industry to identify the skills new entrants would need to hit the ground running and developed a series of Skill Sets and Micro-credential courses for workers to retrain while in isolation,” Pyne said. “Then, as businesses in the hospitality and beauty sectors were set to reopen, we were tasked with training workers in these industries on how to return to work safely—all 100,000 of them.”
TAFE Queensland had just a few days to develop the COVID Safe courses and ensure they were capable of supporting thousands of simultaneous users.
“The biggest issue for us was around capacity,” Pyne said. “But we worked closely with D2L and were able to have the courses and infrastructure set up in five days, capable of supporting 10,000 concurrent users at any one time.
“We had to be supremely confident the system wouldn’t crash—it would be extremely concerning if workers weren’t able to access mandatory training.”
We quickly established course hubs on the platform so teachers could not only engage directly with the students, but teachers could also collaborate amongst themselves and share learning resources.Lee Webster, Director Learning Technology Innovation and Services, TAFE Queensland
Kickstarting The Recovery
As the Brightspace platform leverages the hyperscalability of AWS’s cloud infrastructure, TAFE Queensland was able to support thousands of learners during the unprecedented disruption of COVID-19.
In addition to ensuring its existing student cohort could continue training online, TAFE Queensland has successfully trained more than 113,500 hospitality and beauty workers on how to return to work safely and enabled more than 24,000 Queenslanders to learn new skills while in isolation.
“To put things in perspective, our usual student cohort is 120,000 over the full year. With the COVID Safe courses for the hospitality and beauty industries alone, we were looking at potentially managing more than 100,000 learners—not over the course of a year, but condensed to a two-week period,” Pyne said.
With the platform’s stability ensured, TAFE Queensland sought to make course administration as light touch as possible given the sheer number of learners involved.
It achieved this by making the enrolment process completely self-service and streamlined, publishing an instructional video on how to navigate the course to help prepare learners, developing automatically marked quizzes at the end of each module to assess learning, using conditional release features to ensure learners viewed all the course content, then automatically issuing the personalised training certificate using the Brightspace Achievements tool.
Further, as the Brightspace platform is interoperable across multiple devices and operating systems, TAFE Queensland was confident the courses would be easily accessible to all learners. Following the initial success of the COVID Safe courses, the Queensland Government announced it would extend the program for an additional six months, accommodating up to 100,000 additional learners.
Pyne said the VET provider is now planning to develop further short courses to ensure Queenslanders have the skills they need to thrive in a post-COVID economy, working closely with industry to ensure training courses match the skills required.
“Particularly in regional areas, we simultaneously have high youth unemployment and employers with skills shortages,” she said. “We’re collaborating with industry and government on a new range of micro-credentials to help bridge the skills gap.”