Demotivation and low engagement in VET learners

Vocational education and training or VET can play a significant role in empowering learners not only in seeking and maintaining employment, but also in other areas which contribute to a greater quality of life such as in wider engagement with the community, general skill-seeking and personal development in and out of work—in the case of digital competencies in particular the consequences for a higher level of social contact with friends, family and loved ones across the globe can be an enormously enriching advantage to VET learning.

However, motivation in VET learners is consistently low which translates often to learners leaving courses prior to completion or struggling to engage in the first place. There are countless factors which might contribute to this difficulty engaging or completing a course of VET studies—factors which can be located in the prior experiences of the learners and in the general structure of VET and adult education in general. 

A large percentage of global VET work has been completed in Australia, including several studies on engagement and motivation in ‘disadvantaged learners’— what the National VET Equity Advisory Council (NCEAV 2009) defines as any indigenous learners, learners with a disability, learners from a culturally and linguistically diverse background (CALD), unemployed learners, and learners with a low level of prior educational attainment (in an Australian context this means anyone who has not completed year 12 or a certificate III or above).

This framework is of course slightly different in a European context but serves as a good starting point to consider the kinds of lived experiences which might make engaging in VET learning difficult. It might be particularly relevant to consider the experiences of culturally and/or linguistically alienated learners across Europe— the level of social exclusion experienced by migrant learners due to cultural and linguistic differences alone, which may be then further exacerbated by the existence of a Xenophobic social culture in certain contexts, can be a major barrier in even seeking to engage in VET let along managing to complete a course of adult education.

Digital competencies might be particularly significant for migrant populations, as the ability to communicate easily and frequently with loved ones, friends, and family from a distance can massively reduce social isolation and therefore contribute to a better quality of life, better mental and emotional wellbeing, and increased confidence, all of which make engagement in VET far more likely.

Entire swathes of the population, migrant or otherwise, might also struggle to engage in VET due to a lack of digital competencies—as technology continues to develop, the chasm between those who are intuitively able to adapt to new facets of digital life and those who are entirely without the skillset needed to engage online, for example, is constantly widening. Continuing with the framework provided by the NVEAC, we can see how factors such as access needs due to neurodivergence, mental illness, learning difficulties, or disability, economic difficulties including long-term unemployment, and a low-level of prior educational attainment might intersect and overlap to affect a huge number of learners in a vastly diverse set of contexts across the globe.

It is also important to consider that VET courses and institutions providing this kind of adult education may not be structured in a way that supports, nurtures, and empowers learners who fall into any one or more of these categories (and it is indeed highly likely that most learners struggling to engage with VET will fall into more than one). By modifying the approaches of adult educators and institutions, increasing awareness around the challenges that VET learners face and fostering a greater commitment to make learning environments accessible and welcoming to all, it might be possible to see an improvement in levels of engagement and completion of VET courses across Europe.

The ENDIGI-VET project will focus specifically on those groups who experience the highest levels of social exclusion and have to cross the most barriers in order to access adult education, with an aim to provide digital competencies that might facilitate higher levels of engagement in personal development, community engagement and employment.

Follow ENDIGI-VET project on facebook, for more details.