Course Design – Part Three – The Analysis


In part three of this article series on course design, we dive into the Analysis of the course requirements including analysing the target learner, the workplace requirements and the training package requirements.


Analyse the workplace requirements

You have a concept for the delivery of a qualification. Before you jump too far into acting on this concept, the first thing you want to do is identify some industry representatives that you can talk to and get some feedback on their requirements. Of course, consulting with industry is a requirement of the RTO standards, so this is a good thing to do not only from a compliance perspective but also to make sure that the training you are about to design is going to be well received by your customers. Industry consultation is basically a win / win for you and industry and it’s a no-brainer. Who is industry? Answer: The potential future employers of your students. Identify the businesses or organisations that may be likely to offer your students employment or it may actually be your student’s current employer. Develop a questionnaire that you can use to ask questions and capture feedback from the employer. I suggest questions like the following:

  • Of these elective units of competency, which units of competency best align to the capability requirements of your workplace?
  • Of these units of competency to achieve the qualification, are there any that stand out to you as being critically important and therefore requiring greater emphasis during the training process?
  • Are there any workplace procedures or SOPs that relate to the performance of these duties, which may inform the way we train or undertake assessment?
  • Are there any industry standards, guidelines or codes of practice that are applicable to the way work needs to be performed in your workplace?
  • Are there any specialised items of equipment or resources that you use in this workplace that we should ensure students are trained on and familiar with?
  • Are there any workplace forms or documentation that underpin the performance of tasks that would be suitable for us to introduce into the training and assessment activities?


There are many other questions that you could ask but the above questions really do go to the core of the information we need to find out from industry stakeholders to inform the development of training. I usually advise clients to ask these questions verbally and take notes as opposed to handing over a questionnaire to an industry representative. Keep a record of the details of the industry representative that you spoke with, the feedback that you received and most importantly the outcomes that were identified that informed the course design.


Analyse the Training Package requirements

With the completion of your industry consultation, your next step is to refer to the training package for your target qualification and select your units of competency in alignment with the workplace need and qualification packaging rules. Make sure you read the rules really carefully as sometimes they can be a little bit tricky in terms of needing to select a number of units from specialised groups. It’s always a good idea to get another person to review your selection to make sure that you have interpreted the qualification packaging rules correctly and have constituted a valid qualification. Your selection of units of competency needs to align with the workplace need to ensure the students that complete the course are getting the skills that are revevant to industry. It may be appropriate to include some elective options depnding on the variety of workplace requirements that need to be supported.

You also need to take note of any particular entry requirements that may apply to the qualification or any prerequisite requirements that apply to the units of competency. Usually these will be explained clearly but if you don’t go looking for them sometimes you can miss these. Take note of entry requirements, unit pre-requisites, qualification packaging rules, any mandated work requirement, et cetera. It is also recommended that you check the companion volume or implementation guide for the training package for any recommended requirements in there. There is a link to the companion volume implementation guide on the national training register at the applicable training package and training product page. The implementation guide (companion volume) is not part of the endorsed component of the training package but, sometimes there is some useful information that clarifies the requirements for a training product such as recommendations around how work placement may be implemented, assessment conditions or guidance around pre-requisites.

Once you have your selected units of competency, open up each one and review the unit and particularly review the Assessment Requirements document to note significant performance evidence and the assessment conditions. Assessment conditions can have a significant impact on how the course might be designed in terms of the need for assessment in an actual workplace or a simulated workplace and the equipment and resources that are needed to support assessment. I also like to take note of any significant repetition in the knowledge evidence. Is there a lot of common knowledge between the units of competency? This may be useful to know down the track when deciding how or if you might group units for delivery. You should make notes on these requirements so you can refer back to this information later. You might think going into every unit at this stage is a little tedious but, if you have ever found yourself in the position of almost completing a course development and then you discover some significant requirement in the assessment conditions that has a major impact on the structure and design of the course, you will be kicking yourself that you didn’t take the time earlier to look in detail at each unit. Trust me, I have done this and if I am honest, more than once. Remember the analyse phase is all about gathering information, so take the time to look at everything so you have the benefit of this information moving forward.

Lastly, confirm the expected volume of learning according to qualification level and the Australian Qualification Framework. Volume of Learning alone is a very big topic to consider, so I will recommend you refer to our three part series of articles which begin with The Amount of Training – Part One. In addition to the expected volume of learning, I will also record what the allocated nominal hours are for each unit of competency. I do this by going to the NCVER Nationally agreed nominal hours page, download the data onto the browser and then to a page search for each unit code. This takes only a few minutes. Why am I interested in the nominal hours? Good question. I am not using the nominal hours to determine the duration of the course. That is the role of the volume of learning. Nominal hours were introduced in the 90s to provide a basis for the funding of nationally recognised training by allocating the hours of training notionally required to achieve the outcomes of units of competency. They are still useful at identifying the weighting difference between single units in the same course. Lets say you have one unit that is allocated only 20 nominal hours and another unit is allocated 60 nominal hours. What this tells us that when we allocate the time in the course to each unit, they should not be allocated equally. They should be allocated proportionately based on the complexity and depth of each unit and the amount of training required. Remember, this is just information gathering at this stage. This information will be useful in the design phase.

With your analysis of the training package, you should complete this step with an understanding of:

  • the qualification framework rules,
  • the selection of units of competency,
  • any mandatory entry requirements,
  • any mandatory pre/co-requisites,
  • significant performance evidence requirements,
  • significant common knowledge evidence requirements,
  • significant assessment conditions,
  • significant equipment, resource, facility requirements,
  • mandatory work placement requirements,
  • the volume of learning for the qualification,
  • the nominal hours for each unit of competency, and
  • any mandatory work placement requirement.


Analyse the target learner

So that you can plan your course with confidence particularly in relation to delivery modes and duration, you really need to understand who the target learner is. The way that training and assessment strategies have evolved in the last 10 years means that, your training and assessment strategy needs to be written for a particular target learner and a particular mode of delivery. If you had the same course being delivered to two different target learners (with different needs) requiring different delivery durations and modes, you would need to have two different training and assessment strategies to reflect these different delivery arrangements. Acknowledging this, I do encourage clients to try and narrow down their description of a target learner to be very specific. Don’t worry about the significant variation that can and might occur in relation to those who might want to do the course. Concentrate on the typical target learner that represents the vast majority of learners who will present for this course. There is an entire body of theory around target learner analysis, and I have certainly produced target learner reports in my past that would pass the weight test. If you have time for that, great, but for everyone else, I recommend that you focus on identifying your target learner characteristics in response to the following questions:


  • Are they likely to be an existing worker or seeking to enter the industry? This is an important question because the answer can have a fundamental influence on how the training and assessment is delivered. As an example, if your target learner is already employed in a similar or related role to the proposed course, it means that they may have some pre-existing skills and knowledge and there may be the opportunity to use their current workplace for the learning and assessment context. It means that potentially the course could be delivered in a shorter timeframe (because of the pre-existing skills and knowledge) and the learning and assessment activities could be designed to utilise the existing workplace for context as opposed to trying to introduce a simulated context. Also, if the learner is currently employed it means they have less time to participate in training. If they are not employed, they are more available and are usually super motivated to finish the course as quickly as possible.


  • Are there any expected pre-existing knowledge and skills? I realise this was partially considered in the above question, but it deserves its own question. With the focus on volume of learning in the standards and by the national regulator, considering the learners pre-existing knowledge and skills is important. Individuals can acquire knowledge and skills in many ways but, we are not talking about ‘individuals’ here. We are talking about a target learner group. That’s an important distinction. As an example, you may be designing a course for existing and qualified aged care workers seeking to undertake the Certificate IV in Aging, or you may be designing a course for school leavers who have completed a sport and recreation VET in Schools pathway seeking to complete a Certificate IV in Sport and Recreation. The point is, we need to try and value the expected existing knowledge and skills these learners will hold when they enter the planned course. How to do this? Firstly, consult industry representatives and your colleagues and get their opinions on what knowledge and skills these target learners are expected to have. Certainly, refer to any documents that are available that might inform this. What you are doing is building a picture in your mind of the target learner. Who are they and what do they already know and what can they do? Then, take an hour or two to open up each unit for your planned course and read through the performance criteria and the knowledge evidence and ask yourself two very simple questions. Do they already do this? Do they already know this? I know, it sounds very simplistic, but as I go through the units, I make notes and write down all the things they can already do and all the things they already know. Be conservative in this. If you read a knowledge and think,,, maybe,, no, leave it off the list. Only include those items where you have that Colgate ring of confidence that,, yes, they will already know this or they are already doing this in their current work. At the end of this process, you will have a measure for the expected pre-existing knowledge and skills. You can use this information when giving weight to the amount of learning required and also use it in your rationale for a reduced about of training if applicable.


  • What is their availability to participate in the course? This is such an important question and one many do not consider. I mentioned above that the current employment situation of the target learner is an important factor to determine. Are they existing workers or are they job seekers? Job seekers will have a lot more availability and existing workers will be less available unless they are getting some type of work release for training. Availability influences how you structure your training and when/how you deliver it. As an example, if you are delivering to existing workers, you might choose to deliver on-the-job training supported by online learning. If you intend to deliver off-the-job training to existing workers, you will need to consider options like block release where the employer releases the student for a block of time, say a week every month or every two months, et cetera. You may also consider night classes or weekend classes for existing workers particularly if the training being undertaken is not connected to their current work. Think retail / hospitality workers seeking a side-hustle and undertaking a Certificate III in Entrepreneurship and New Business or Certificate IV in Accounting and Bookkeeping as examples. These guys are working full time and are looking for options to progress with their dreams in their available time. These are truly the best student to train! These considerations are fairly straightforward. What is less straightforward is the availability for non-supervised training. Since the introduction of ‘amount of training’ requirements in 2015, there has been an explosion of this concept called “self-paced learning”! OMG, this would have to be the most abused and misunderstood strategies in course design hands down. This is the time that you allocate additional study and assessment to the student outside of scheduled supervised training. You really need to consider how much time the student is likely to have to complete these activities? Also, what is their motivation to complete these activities?


  • I just cannot move on without giving you a common example of what I encounter. Lets say the RTO has allocated 6 hours per week to self-paced study. In addition to that, they have allocated another 6 hours to complete the non-supervised assessment tasks (projects, assignments, reports, et cetera). Ok, we have a requirement for 12 hours per week for the student to complete training and assessment tasks in their own time. Ok, lets now assume they are an existing worker. Anyone who has kids knows exactly where I am going with this. So, the existing worker gets home after picking the kids up from childcare and dropping into the shop on the way home. Lets say it is now 5:45 pm. They then enter the domestic bliss of homework, cooking dinner, planning / prepping for tomorrow, baths, TV, and bed. Now it is 8:00 pm and they have emerged out of all that exhausted. Now, study on the weekend is not plausible. We have kids sport, shopping, housework, and if we are lucky, maybe a little outing or relax time (you need that!). So, this means they need to cram in the 12 hours of “self-paced study” and “non-supervised assessment” between 8:00 – 10:30 pm Monday – Friday! Not going to happen and any course designer who thinks this is viable is dreaming. My recommendation is to absolutely limit the total of “self-paced study” and “non-supervised assessment” to a maximum of 5 hours per week. Keep it realistic. Anyway, the point is, you need to determine what is the likely availability of the target learner and design the course contact hours according to this.


  • Other considerations about the target learner. Other things to consider about the target learner include, what is their likely level of education, are there any licencing requirements that are applicable, what is the typical age range, what is their likely preference for how to engage in training, where are they geographically located, what is their likely access to technology and the Internet, are there any likely barriers to engage in training, what is their motivation to undertake the course, will they likely have any available support during the training, what is their likely access to the required equipment to practise and develop skills, et cetera. You can see that the considerations are fairly in-exhaustive. The key point is, before you launch into designing and developing the training, just pause and consult with others and put together a picture of who your target learner is so that you are able to design the training according to their situation.


In future articles in this series on course design, I will take a deep dive into the design phase of the training development process including course structure, duration, unit weighting, sequencing, scaffolding, alignment with the training package requirements and course logic (coming soon).


Good training,

Joe Newbery

Published: 30th May 2022

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