Volume of Learning: How long is enough?

There’s been a lot of discussion around the sector recently about the concept of ‘volume of learning’. It’s been particularly important in the Victorian funded training market where some providers are holding very short courses for full qualifications. It’s a very passionately argued topic, and for good reason.

I think the trouble comes from the fact that the concept of allowing students ‘enough time’ in a course can be difficult to define.

On one hand, we need to allow the student enough time to develop their skills to a point where they can be assessed as competent. On the other, we’re talking about competency-based training. So in theory, when they’re competent, they’re competent, no matter how long that takes. In a sense, someone could grasp a concept very quickly and be assessed very quickly.

While I’m not advising on how to structure courses, I do think it’s important to stop and reflect on how people learn in general, before we jump to a conclusion. Too often the discussion around this issue is one focussed on contractual compliance, rather than on actual learning principles. Both are important, however, I believe that if you’re doing the right thing by the learner and the way they learn, you’re in a very good starting position from a compliance point of view.

I’m reminded of a VCAL student in one of the programs I used to manage. He was studying Children’s Services at the time, and on a particular day, his class was learning how to change nappies on babies. He struggled for a long time to get it right and after a while his trainer said to leave it and try again—to go home, think the steps through then come back again tomorrow.

So, he did. He came back the next day and had a few practice goes, then eagerly told his trainer he was ready to be assessed. The trainer agreed to watch him, and he went through the steps with a mannequin and did it. He was so excited to have mastered this skill! He was smiling from ear to ear, as was the trainer.

So he says to the trainer “Great! I’m competent! What’s next?” The trainer smiled, knowingly and said “Well, that was a really good demonstration of how to change a nappy, but I can’t deem you competent just yet.” He was confused and said, “How come?”

The trainer went on to explain that he wouldn’t be truly competent until he could change the nappy of a real baby, in a real childcare setting, where the baby was wriggling, and possibly peeing on his face—and all while keeping an eye on all the other children in his care, answering the phone and greeting a visitor. He was a bit disappointed, of course, but the trainer reassured him that he’d get there—that she had complete faith in his ability to achieve all that, given time.

And that’s the point. True skills mastery takes time, particular where there is a practical component. So, when determining whether you’ve got ‘enough’ volume of learning, have a think about exactly what it’s going to take for a student to show competence, and then how much time and support you need to facilitate that. You may be surprised!

NickNick is a business coach and VET consultant. He works with the VET community to build leadership capacity and provide elegantly simple yet robust solutions to the complex challenges RTOs face. A regular speaker at key VET events, Nick is passionate about enabling people to be their best. Find him on LinkedIn and Twitter @nickmc or email him –nick@latitudecoaching.com.au.

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