How to describe a unit of competency in a way that can be understood by learners

The Australian VET system is based on competencies. Units of competency have been developed by industry to describe the performance of work tasks or activities. By design, these units of competency are vague or ambiguous, so as to allow contextualisation for different workplaces, different circumstances or different situations. This may include different tools, equipment or materials being used to perform the work.

Trainers and TAFE teachers need the ability to translate, or transform, a unit of competency into something that can be understood by their learners. The structure and jargon of units of competency often need to be removed, or modified. When we communicate to our learners, we may need to:

  • Remove the decimal numbering of performance criteria (1.1, 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, etc.)
  • Use a simple numbering system (Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, Step 4, Step 5, etc.)
  • Use different words to better describe the task step to be performed
  • Re-sequence because the performance criteria are not always in the order of performing the work task or activity
  • Re-structure because the elements are not always the best way to communicate how the work task or activity should be performed.

Structure of a work task or activity

A unit of competency has a ‘task, element, and performance criteria’ structure.

Generally, I use a ‘task and step’ structure.

However, if there are too many steps or stages that are needed to describe the performance of a work task or activity, I use ‘task, part and step’ structure.

Work flow: is it a process or a cycle?

It is useful to think about performing work as a flow. A work process can have a defined start and a defined end, or it could be a continuous cycle. A diagram can be used to help our learners ‘see’ the entire work task or activity, and how one step is followed by the next.

A simple flowchart

Flowcharts can get complicated. But a simple flowchart can quickly capture, and communicate, the essence of a work task or activity. The following flowcharts illustrates a 4-step and a 5-step process.

Note: When there are more than five steps, it is a good idea to add structure by ‘chunking’ steps into parts. People often count: one, two, three, a lot, far too much.

A simple cycle

A cycle diagram can be used when the work task or activity is continuous, repetitive, or seasonal. The following illustrates a 4-step cycle.

And the following illustrates a a 5-step cycle.

Note: A cycle diagram can be used to describe steps or parts of a process. Each part could then be further described by a flowchart or task breakdown.

An example

The following shows how to translate and transform a unit of competency so that is can be better understood by learners. I have use the BSBSUS211 Participate in sustainable work practices unit for this example.

Step 1. Unpack the unit of competency

When unpacking the BSBSUS211 Participate in sustainable work practices unit, it becomes apparent that it consists of two distinct work tasks:

  • Workplace sustainability, and
  • Environmental hazards or breaches.

The following highlights performance criteria 2.2 and 2.3 as being sperate from the other performance criteria.

Step 2. Create a work flow structure

Select an appropriate diagram to describe the work flow.

Workplace sustainability

A cycle diagram has been used to create a new structure for performing the workplace sustainability task.

Note: The ‘implement improvement’ step has been added to show what happens after the ‘present suggestions for improvement’ step. However, learners are only required to satisfactorily perform the first four steps of the cycle for the BSBSUS211 Participate in sustainable work practices unit to be deemed competent. Implementation is outside the scope of this unit.

Environmental hazards or breaches

And a simple flowchart has been used to show the two steps for identifying and reporting environmental hazards or breaches.

Step 3. Map performance criteria

A matrix can be used to map the performance criteria to the new structure that will communicate how to perform the workplace sustainability task.

The purpose of the mapping document is for us to check compliance with the requirements specified by the unit of competency. This mapping can be expanded to cover foundation skills and assessment requirements. We would not give this mapping document to our learners because it has too much details.

Step 4. Develop a task breakdown

A task breakdown can be used to give details about performing a work task or activity.

In this example for the BSBSUS211 Participate in sustainable work practices unit, the performance criteria have been re-structured and re-sequenced. Also, the elements and performance criteria have been re-worded and simplified.

In conclusion

In this article, I have described how to translate and transform a unit of competency into something that can be understood by learners. A 4-step process can be used:

I believe that an appropriate diagram can help communicate the flow of work to our learners; but it must be keep simple. And a task breakdown can be used to provide procedural details.

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Training trainers since 1986

Author: Alan Maguire

35+ years experience as a trainer, instructional designer, quality manager, project manager, program manager, RTO auditor, RTO manager and VET adviser.

4 thoughts on “How to describe a unit of competency in a way that can be understood by learners”

    1. Thank you, Derek, for your kind feedback. I would like to put together my various articles into one coherent textbook. I am slowly working towards this goal but I have no timeframe for getting it completed. It could be good timing to get coordinate the release of my textbook for the next version of the TAE Training Package.

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  1. You have presented a very simple format to understand the concept of unpacking a unit of competency, elements and performance criteria to perform a particular task. Thank you!

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