Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Contextualisation to Meet Learner's Needs

Recently I was asked to explain how Training Packages, accredited curricula and learning resources can be contextualised to meet the needs of individual learners without compromising standards.
 
First, let's look a little bit at standards. Standards are important things, without standards the quality of any given product can be found to be lacking, usually as a result of an underlying weak system.
 
When standards are compromised, the remaining product is something that lacks (in quality) credibility and value when measured against the unadulterated original intention. This can lead to the integrity being questioned, and ultimately confidence in the product or service, and ultimately the brand being lost.
 
You only have to look as far as the proverbial dodgy Forklift Licensing Assessor who issues forklift licences over a number of years and is found to be not just bending, but blatantly breaking the rules (and standards), which results after investigation in all previous candidates who were assessed as competent, requiring reassessment (see Maryann deFrutos WorkSafe investigation 2005).
 
So what does this have to do with contextualisation?
 
Contextualisation of Training Packages, accredited curricula and learning resources can be achieved without compromising the standards. Contextualisation is the addition of industry specific information to a unit of competency, accredited curricula or learning resource to tailor the standard to reflect the immediate operating context and thereby increase its relevance for the Learner.
 
Contextualisation is ultimately defined as; the activity undertaken by a Trainer/Assessor to make units of competency, accredited curricula or learning resources meaningful to the learner.
 
Resources such as “Contextualising teaching and learning, A guide for VET teachers” explain how learning activities can be tailored to suit varying workplaces and individual learners, steps in contextualisation, examples of contextualised teaching strategies and professional development activities.
 
Contextualisation can assist in the delivery of the material in the practice environment by drawing on common understanding as a frame of reference and/or building on the individual Learner's understanding with relatable information, activities and tasks to facilitate the delivery of a new or developed understanding of the information covered. Thus improving the understanding of the Learner and working towards achieving competence and a practical, relatable application of the points delivered. The overall aim is to deliver to the individual Learner's needs as much as possible in a comprehensive manner.
 
The main steps to successful contextualisation are through:
· Being familiar with the units of competency, accredited curricula or learning resources
· Getting to know your Learners
· Taking account of the learning setting
· Developing learning activities
 
Training Packages provide the industry standards required in the workplace, but they normally don’t specify any one rigid way to teach these standards. Training Packages can be contextualised to suit the needs of the Learner to the extent that the lesson is made tangible for them.
 
This does need to be done carefully so as to not undermine the requirements in the Units of Competency. The end result needs to be in line with the demonstration of competence within the required outcomes of the assessment process. This is inclusive of modifications to specific terminology (generic terms in the performance criteria) used in industry altering the competency outcomes. The elements and performance criteria in a Unit of Competency cannot be changed. The range statement can be made to reflect specific needs as long as the changes do not detract from the breadth or portability of the competency.
 
This contextualisation requirement therefore carries over to accredited curricula (where the course leads to an AQF qualification or a Statement of Attainment being issued) and any related learning resources (which in their content use contextualisation as a means to convey the lesson).
 
An example of contextualisation to suit the needs of Learners and maintain the standards could be covered in the delivery of training and assessment for Learners who are undertaking a qualification in order to gain employment. Contextualisation can be achieved through the establishment of a practice environment (e.g. simulations) or entering into a workplace placement arrangement to meet the needs of the Training Package where the training and assessment are completed outside of a workplace.
 
Contextualisation can be very useful in situations where it may be difficult or even unsafe to seek to use real life occurrences such as those linked to the Unit of Competence ‘Apply accident and emergency procedures’. For example, observations of skills may be restricted to contextualised simulations when looking at dealing with chemical spills. The substance that is used as a substitute inside marked dangerous goods packages could be water, instead of a very dangerous corrosive substance. The application of the processes in the response would still need to be in line with the requirements, but this would diminish the potential harm within the training environment without detracting from the requirements within the training and assessment. And so you have appropriate contextualisation.
 

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