Advantages Of The Use Of Competency-based Training In Australia

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Teaching and learning under any circumstances requires a common understanding, responsibility and need between the teacher and the learner. The environment in which this takes place should be one that caters to this effect. Effective learning is one that can be put to use in different and new situations. There is the ideology that learning is the mere recollection of points and details that fits into an academic framework. But learning is a lot more than that. The ability to jump from just recalling to acting and performing sets new standards and this ability also creates an expertise framework based on competency.

This essay begins with the definitions of Competency Based Training by researchers, followed by a rationale for this training and its existence in Australia. Competency Based Training is discussed in three articles and then analyzed from the teacher’s and industrial provider’s point of view.

Definition of Competency-Based Training (CBT)

Education has been defined by the Oxford dictionary as “the process of educating or being educated, the theory and practice of teaching” on the other hand, training is said to be “teaching a particular skill or type of behavior through regular practice and instruction” (Gibbs et al, 2004)

Competency has been explained by European bodies and experts in education as having three integral components (O’Sullivan & Bruce, 2014)

  • Knowledge component
  • Behavioral component
  • Value component

This means that a competent person has a combination of the above three components. At another level, competency has been divided into three aspects

  • A particular behavior in something
  • A particular context
  • A particular quality

Giving competence a definition can be challenging and an educational competency a lot more difficult. Through PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has done a lot of work try to give competencies a definition, and in turn has given birth to a framework for comparing student competencies for the purpose of assessment. According to that report, a competence can be something that is more than knowledge and a skill; it is an ability to cater to complex demands by extracting psychosocial resources. The ability to communicate effectively can be said to be a good example of competency.

From the above definitions, it is evident that competency isn’t confined to classroom learning; in fact it is continuous learning.

Rationale and CBT in Australia

Keeping in mind the above said points lets go back in history to see why CBT was introduced into Australia. Firstly, the most attractive feature of Competency Based Training was its link to the work place, its guarantee of creating more job ready candidates, enhancing productivity and of formalizing existing work skills with an educational qualification framework (CBT an evidence approach). The promise of CBT was that it gave higher accountability and quality in producing graduates with work ready skills for the work place.

In the early 1990s, the Australian government agreed to take Competency Based Training as the path to all county wide job-related training. Authorities were then walking away from policies that used curriculum that was made by several industrial and educational bodies. In the hands of this new system, there exists no degrees but in its place, licensing qualifications for the state. Those who make the state policies wanted a better and more advanced system that could replace the volume of accountability and welcome the skills qualification. At the centre of this Australian based version of CBT, is an evaluation that is founded on evidence and the learners are expected to display skills equivalent to national standards.

CBT assessment can be called as a confirmation of whether or not the individual can perform to the expected standards, this assessment is also made on bases of the evidence collected during the training to decide if competency has been achieved. The former systems for skills development was looked at as being unsound and inefficient, simply because a qualification wasn’t recognized Australia-wide. As a result of this, the government introduced training packages for vocational training. These packages were formal and consisted of units which included competency and fell in line with the national framework for qualifications (Australian Qualification Framework).

Today this system is focused on nationally recognized qualifications, according to which a child care worker with a qualification from Sydney will have his/her qualification recognized nationwide. All units are registered and coded nationally; therefore, learners of the same course/ trade had a similar recognition all over Australia. In order to facilitate mobility, the units of competency presented by a particular body of vocational education and training (VET) institution, are duly and recognized by law by any other VET organization. This in turn guaranteed quality and continuity for learners. Regulating bodies like the (ASQA) Australian Skills Quality Authority ensure that organizations registered under this policy comply by the training and assessment standards, industrial standards and teaching standards as well. This serves as a national regulator to confirm that only ASQA registered institutions can deliver such training.

When CBT was first introduced into Australia in 1990, there was much disquiet among the academicians and educators from vocational education and training (VET). The general feeling was that CBT was not sound education and that students and trainees would end up with reduced skills. Most of all, it would circumscribe the role of teachers and trainees. Looking at the literature, it is clear that CBT and its functionality is debatable. But looking at its several definitions on a broad scale, this training focuses on the outcome in terms of Australian standards, which are normally the industry competency standards and not against other students.

Although CBT has been practiced in various forms over the years, the main impetus for its implementation in VET in Australia came with the decision in 1990 by ministers responsible for VET to aim for substantial implementation of VET by the end of 1993. Implementation was slower than planned (Smith et al, 1996), so then by the end of 1994 only 29% of Technical and Further Education College (TAFE) courses and 39% of non-TAFE courses met a basic definition of competency-based.

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Making a Difference? was a study that was published in order to crease the differences and questions around CBT and this study also made it clear that CBT cannot be viewed as a single entity but as a collection of features. These are some of the features of the 36 courses in the study (Smith, 1999).

  1. Course designed on industry competency standards
  2. CBT format for course documentation
  3. Monitoring of course
  4. Acknowledgement of previous learning
  5. Assessment on demand
  6. Part of the assessment is practical
  7. Defined learning outcomes for each module
  8. Assessment is based on competency standards
  9. Assessment is based on demonstration of skills
  10. Criteria for assessments are transparent
  11. Flexible entry and exit to courses
  12. Watching and learning

O’Sullivan & Bruce (2014) claim that teachers and students have a shared responsibility in this kind of a learning atmosphere. According to them, the most important characteristic is that it measures learning rather than time. Students progress is measured by demonstrating their competency, which means they prove that they have mastered the knowledge and skill regardless of time, rather than a particular course. A fine comparison is brought in here, while most colleges and universities hold time requirements constant and let learning vary, CBT holds learning constant and allows time to vary.

Data Findings

Article 1

In this article, Smith (1999) very interestingly says that in order to analyze whether or not CBT has changed teaching, one should first understand what teaching is.

Fenstermacher (1986, p. 38) describes the following features of the activity of teaching. Firstly, if there is a person (teacher), who has knowledge/ content of a particular subject and intends to impart it upon a learner in need of that content, then the giver and the receiver enter into a relationship in order to fulfill their need of giving and receiving.

There are two interesting points in this description. Firstly, it clearly places the 'teacher' in a position of power and control over the 'learner'. Secondly, it emphasizes the relationship between the two participants. (It should be noted that this is a description of teaching, not learning, and does not necessarily preclude learning taking place outside a teaching - learning relationship.)

Finding - This definition seems to fit well with the transmission orientation, according to which, education is commonly recognized through transmission, transaction and transformation (Miller & Sellar, 1985). It can be argued that transmission orientation model isn’t appropriate for VET as it primarily deals with work. However, Maglen (1997, p. 9) argues that VET is combination of learning from experts and learning by doing. The former originates from VET roots through the apprenticeship system. But this seems to naturally fit as it believed in more equal power relations and this was conferred by CBT.

Significance - The significance of this finding is that the CBT model blends in with VET as it matches the lines of skill development through an expert, trainee learning environment.

Article 2

Hodge (2007) analyses CBT theoretically and arrives at two bases, namely broad influences and specific contributions. The influences are academic and try to give a context and put together theories, while the specific contributions remain as principles and rules and capabilities to organize and implement CBT. The two key theoretical influences on the development of CBT are behavioral psychology and systems theory. Analyzing it from the point of academic contributions, they have been tabled according to their contributions to various dimensions of CBT: the objectives, the learning process or the assessment.

Hodge (2007) traces the significance of both behavioral psychology and system theory in CBT to the specifications of the Comprehensive Elementary Teacher Education models program, which he says was most important for this evolution. He draws in a reference from the United States army, where there was a large amount of scientific resources but their struggle was in designing and executing the most effective training. The importance of military contribution to the development of CBT can be gauged by the several military sponsored conferences towards the initiation and development of CBT. These conferences also investigated hoe advances in education psychology arising from research could be applied to general problems in education and training.

Findings - The finding of the article was that there was a constant controversy between the functionalism and structuralism of CBT. However, the methodology seemed to be the most accepted. Since, functionality and the structure of the program were in question, so was the consistency of the program.

Significance – the significance of this article is that CBT seemed to have the right methodology, and the rest needed to be structured better and that army officials were included in order to make it more of a functional structure.

Article 3

This article is by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research. Discusses some of the most recent research on CBT in Australia. It has provided a bridge between industrial clients and the provider of vocational education and training. The standards of competency have served as an enduring means of articulating industrial training equipment, in turn increasing the relevance and job specificity of vocational education and training efforts. This training is widely available in most industrial sectors by endorsing national industry standards and enterprise standards.

Finding – the findings of this article is that CBT has advanced over the years. Its significance is felt in almost every industry among Australia. It has given greater prominence to work based learning and enabled those in the work pool to acquire an Australian Qualifications Framework credential.

Significance – the significance of this finding is that CBT has risen in value over the years. Though there is research that claims CBT to be wobbly grounds, this research has proved otherwise with substantial evidence.

Analysis of Literature

Role of teachers in CBT

Taking a closer look at CBT, in article 1, Smith (1999) extensively discusses the assumption and change in the role of a teacher in CBT. It had been observed that some teachers were anxious about using CBT and its assessment (Robinson, 1993). They felt that CBT removed their autonomy while others enjoyed looking at it as being on a more equal relationship with students. There was also a bit of confusion over teaching methods and the preparation of learning material for the module. This left some teacher dissatisfied and with the need to create their own additional learning resources. Smith also points out that in the last few years there has been an increase in research of the components in CBT, simply because of the realization that this training is here to stay, so commentators have started looking at its effectiveness and how it can be best used.

Despite new research supporting CBT, it is evident that the role of teachers has been considerably reduced. VET teacher and trainer have become more of facilitator rather than up-front teachers. Harris et al. (1995, pp. 270-271), for example, described the CBT teacher as a 'resource person' who 'facilitates learning' with a wide range of roles.

Article 2 doesn’t have much to say about the role of teachers; however article 3 radiates the recent attitude change towards the role of teachers in CBT. Teachers have begun to view this concept more positively than before by both in TAFE and non-TAFE providers. Teachers and trainers who predominately teach lower levels of AQF tend to be doing more of teaching rather than training. There is definitely a need for professional development among the staff and trainers of CBT in order to equip themselves to the required standards but this hasn’t been fully met. Some VET trainers and teachers continue to perceive CBT as a reduction of their professional authority. This seems to be the underlying feeling, as radiated in Smith’s article as well.

Impact of implementing CBT in an Australian enterprise

Article 3 presents data from surveys conducted across several industries in states and territories of Australia. The result of this survey proved that 85 per cent of industrial establishments used CBT as a vital and a source of progressive development. Certain areas have been identified as being enabled by CBT. Technical skills and specific skills were predominant in the trainees along with enterprise and competency standards. Problem-solving and procedural knowledge was also found to be good and so was the ability to handle frequently recurring routine activities. On the other hand, behavioral skills, tactics, experiential knowledge and the ability to use existing knowledge differently had taken a back seat.

In Article 2, Hodge comes up with an interesting theory that explains CBT from another perspective and completely put it out of evaluation into an open minded approach. He says, comprehending CBT as a system enables to clarify why it is complex to classify it in design to other theories for adult learning. The complexity is in the fact that CBT isn’t and cannot be viewed as one theory for learning or of learning. But one must understand that it is a blend of different theories in order to create an effective social context. He says that CBT is an open system and it is always replying to a variety of inputs.

The first purpose of this is to determine function rather than to seek compatibility with other theories. This appropriateness suits the fact that components which are a misfit in philosophy and behavior coexist with CBT. This training is one of endurance and collectivity rather than viewing it as one theory that must suit all others and learning patterns. Hodge’s view of CBT absolutely coincides with the research on CBT under the title Making a Different?. As mentioned under the heading rationale and CBT in Australia, this training is definitely a collection of features and not a single entity.

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