To date, a lot of good has been done for Career Technical Education (CTE). Lives have been changed and skills have been built, as institutions and dedicated faculty have been well-preparing students for careers in CTE.  In this series, we'll talk about how to build on the strong foundation of CTE and evolve the system while innovating for the future.

Given our position as one of the nation's largest and most experienced providers of online instruction in at the high school and post-secondary level, we have six recommendations to improve career and technical education in our country today:

  1. Employ project based learning to personalize the student experience
  2. Embrace digital learning
  3. Change the perception
  4. Stimulate innovation
  5. Promote data uniformity
  6. Reward competency, not accreditation

Like many other organizations, we are seeking to navigate the new needs of the next generation CTE students, and be productive advocates and supporters of current faculty and administration and collaborate with them to better address the needs of both traditional and adult learners. We share these perspectives based on directly interfacing with thousands of students each year, and as active observers of the incumbent delivery approaches and providers.    

1. Employ Project Based Learning to Personalize the Student Experience

Project-based learning (PBL) is an educational approach that focuses on real-life application of theories and lessons and is in practice in many leading CTE schools across the country. Students engaged in PBL pursue solutions to nontrivial problems by asking and refining questions, debating ideas, making predictions, designing plans and experiments, collecting and analyzing data, drawing conclusions, and communicating their ideas and findings to others. Proponents of project-based learning cite numerous benefits to the implementation of these strategies in the classroom including a greater depth of understanding of concepts, broader knowledge base, improved communication and interpersonal/social skills, enhanced leadership skills, increased creativity, and improved writing skills.

At present, the vast majority of funding is devoted to traditional infrastructure and practices. Instead, investments should be made to "mainstream" PBL enabled by online and hybrid courses that are personalized to directly benefit students.

2. Embrace Digital Learning

Educators and policymakers should continue to encourage use of the Internet and digital learning in education at every opportunity, especially to perpetuate peer-to-peer platforms and social media enablement. These adaptive learning engines will contain intelligent programs that understand and respond to each student's level of competency.

For example, tech-enabled and hybrid educational delivery platforms can optimize total spending per student by using predictive tools that automate intervention and augment student-progress, while increasing faculty productivity and moving from hard copy text to digital content. The goal is to deliver a student experience that drives academic progress and has built-in tools to catch students before they struggle. This includes using personalized and adaptive learning systems for teachers. These systems are complemented by greater parental, business, and community engagement and work through partnerships with local employers. The results would be higher attendance rates, higher effectiveness as measured by staying in school, progression, and most importantly more career and college pathways.

3. Change the Perception

Public and private CTE institutions, together with the government, should proactively educate the public on the value of careers in CTE fields. We have to be even more effective at communicating the narrative of why students and citizens should be compelled to embrace these careers. Explaining this story has always been essential, and now faces more complex marketing challenges as new social tools are introduced and mobile consumption becomes more prevalent. This will require new types of content, such as user generated reviews. Americans need to see "alternative pathways" not as code words for less potential and low wages, but instead as a viable, credible and highly pragmatic academic and career roadmap for a significant number of traditional and adult students.

Historically CTE has suffered from negative perception, and flipping that perception may be the number one issue holding us back from filling these important jobs with skilled labor, and tackling the national jobs crisis.

4. Stimulate Innovation

Career technical education is a $30 billion industry and impacts millions of learners each year, yet it has been largely ignored by entrepreneurs, venture capital and top executives from leading companies. Innovation is the key force that shapes industries, and more talented leaders need to be attracted to the sector to help conceive approaches and take advantage of emerging practices from the new education economy. While there are highly successful and innovative schools, such as Gateway Technical College, their influence is constrained by geography. To attract large-scale innovators and new sources of capital to drive research and development the delivery model and economic and regulatory environments will need to change.

Online and hybrid learning models can offer more affordable career and technical education for students while also reducing labor and operational costs for schools. As a result of these savings, more funding can be freed up to directly benefit students.1

5. Promote Data Uniformity

Despite significant spending on CTE across the High School, Technical College and Career School sectors, the quality of unit-level and aggregate data on spending and student achievement is often elusive, contradictory, or out-of-date. The definition of what constitutes a CTE course varies across states, districts and even schools. A world-class educational system cannot be modernized without better data and consistency for the sake of benchmarking and performance improvement management on behalf of students and investors. Similarly, inconsistencies in how and who provides tracking and reporting costs impact how a given state's delivery system is set up. Those variables impact administrative, transportation, instructional, and capital costs.

Simplifying and unifying definitions and practices will save providers operating in multiple states time, money, and frustration, and will ultimately benefit students.

6. Reward Competency, Not Accreditation

Education is entering a transitional moment. Moving forward we should embrace the best of the traditional model while incorporating the advantages of a competency-based system. The need to assure the public that an institution meets standards and delivers on its promises will remain essential, but the future is a movement toward competency-based education and away from credit-hour measures.

One option is for CTE (over time) to embrace an employer-driven competency-attainment based system to complement credit hours.This will likely require panels of employers to set criteria for competencies needed to meet industry standards and regulation at the national level, which would eliminate, standardize or simplify state-by-state restrictions and barriers. As CTE makes the transition to competency-based certification, the online education will be uniquely positioned to serve learners in a variety of fields including Vet Tech and Pharm Tech, where competency programs are already operational.

Recommended for You: The Time is Now for Blended Learning - Part 1

Tune in next week for Part II - CTE at the High School Level

Resources: Photo credit. (1) Improving Productivity and Efficiency