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Volume of Learning — What you should know

April 30, 2019

Do you struggle with the idea of volume of learning? Many RTOs experience confusion about what ASQA expects in terms of ‘volume of learning’ and ‘amount of training’. Here’s your guide to understanding volume of learning, how RTO’s can determine the correct amount and why shorter timeframes may be appropriate.

Every RTO must comply with the VET Quality Framework (VQF) which includes a number of items including the Standards for RTOs 2015 and the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF). Within the Standards lies the phrase ‘amount of training’ and within the AQF there is ‘volume of learning’.

Clause 1.1 of the RTO standards states that amount of training is the number of hours allocated to formal activities such as classes and other activities in order to meet the requirements of a unit of competency or a cluster of units of competency.

Meanwhile, volume of learning refers to the notional duration (in full-time years) of all activities, including teaching, learning and assessment, that a typical student must undertake to achieve a certain learning outcome.

Confused anyone?

Since its introduction in 2015, the volume of learning policy has met with its share of criticism and frustration. In 2017, even ASQA commissioner Mark Patterson admitted the regulation is complex and confusing.

The first problem is that ‘volume of learning’ and ‘amount of training’ are very similar, overlapping parameters, each ambiguous, appearing in different policy and lacking clear guidelines on their respective inclusions.

Some consultants suggest the amount of training provided by an RTO is part of the overall volume of learning, while others advise that volume of learning is one of, but not the only consideration in determining the amount of training. What is to be included or excluded in calculating training time remains unclear. There is a HUGE variation in the way different regions within ASQA interpret the requirement and inconsistency in audit outcomes as a result.

Breathe, one…. two…. three….

Let’s take a step back

Sometimes it is helpful to step back from the details and take a wider look at an issue. In the case of decoding volume learning, you may ask - what does the VET Quality Framework seek to achieve by the guidelines on volume of learning?

Both the amount of training and volume of learning guidelines intend to:

  1. Ensure the training offered by an RTO is of sufficient duration
  2. Establish a general guideline on sufficient duration as that which enables a learner to gain the skills and knowledge specified by a particular qualification

How much is enough?

The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) provides a guide to the volume of learning.

AQF volume of learning indicators table  

 RTOs must develop and implement strategies for training and assessment that are consistent with the AQF. But recall that clause 1.2 states:

“AQF ‘volume of learning’ range is considered to be a starting point for RTOs determining the ‘amount of training’ required to deliver a particular qualification.”  

Generally, volume of learning indicators describe how long a learner who does not hold any of the competencies identified in the relevant units of competency or modules would take to develop all the required skills and knowledge. The actual volume of learning required will take into consideration the existing skills, knowledge and experience and the mode of delivery utilised by the RTO. So for students with prior skill, the volume of learning may be shorter.

So what is the correct volume of learning for a particular training program?

The crux of the matter is to offer a good course with a structured learning and assessment pathway which provides suitable opportunities for the learner to acquire all of the required knowledge and skills and be able to practice applying these prior to their assessment. That is basically the panacea of complying with the amount of training requirement.

If the amount of training you offer is lower than the volume of learning indicator then you will need a sound rationale based on evidence that justifies your allocated training. The key is to keep it real and realistic. Avoid using arbitrary numbers and calculations simply to arrive at the minimum benchmark volume of learning!

So if you have a reduced timeframe of say 780 hours instead of 1200 hours, it is fine so long as you are confident the amount of training provides the learner with sufficient opportunity to acquire the required skills and knowledge, as well as practice those skills prior to assessment. The issue is about delivering sufficient training to ensure competency.

Amount of Training, Volume Learning, Course Duration and Nominal Hours Explained

The Training Accreditation Council of Western Australia has one of the most useful fact sheets on the amount of training which attempts to differentiate the amount of training, volume of learning, course duration and nominal hours. There are also several case studies provided.

The amount of training comprises the formal learning activities you provide to a learner while the volume of learning includes all activities (formal structured activities plus unstructured, unsupervised activities such as individual study, research, field-placement, non-supervised work experience etc).

Sum up

Volume of learning and amount of training are grey zones and there are no mathematical formulas that can be applied. The flip-side of this ambiguity is that training organisations have a degree of freedom in determining the required amount of training for individual cohorts. What is required of an RTO is a reasoned, evidence-based and informed account of what extent of engagement is expected of a learner, taking into consideration their existing skills, knowledge, and experience and the mode of delivery of the training provider.