Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Thursday announced a White House proposal to significantly reform the way vocational training is funded and run — a move that's likely to rely heavily on online training and e-learning.
The proposal seeks to reauthorize — and beef up — the Perkins Act, in which the government pays for vocational and "career technical education" (CTE) programs, by pumping an extra billion dollars into a competitive grants program. The White House expects the grants to produce an extra 3,000 so-called career academies, or vocational training programs.
The move is an attempt to close what is described, rightly or wrongly, as a "skills gap" in this country by training the unemployed in skills that match up closely with real-life areas of high growth, like the healthcare sector and green manufacturing. President Obama has already pledged $8 billion to a Community College to Career Fund in an attempt to address the skills gap.
The announcement — which, it should be noted, described only a proposal (no member of congress or the senate has sponsored a bill yet) — was held at a community college outside Des Moines, Iowa, to draw emphasis on the need to support rural workers who have far less accessibility to skills training programs generally.
That's the part of the plan that should excite people in the e-learning space. Given that the increase in Perkins grants are set to be competitive (whereby programs are required to bid on them to foster innovative approaches), and given that one of the primary objectives of the move is to educate rural workers who don't already live near a big university, it only stands to reason to assume that distance-education and e-learning programs, or at least blended learning programs, should figure to play a big role in the future of vocational training.
This, of course, opens another discussion about the feasibility of supplying vocational training over the Web. (For instance, can you teach someone to be a nurse online? Can you teach IT support online?) It should be interesting to see how CTE programs approach the grant process, and what kinds of online training models they come up with. Either way, online learning is sure to be at the center of this change in education.
Image by Paul Wood via ed.gov.