How to develop an RPL assessment tool – in a nutshell

Introduction to RPL

The Australian VET system has been designed to recognise a person’s competency without prescribing how a person should learn and develop their competence.

This is the fundamental difference between a competency-based training system and a curriculum-based training system. The current competency-based training system was implemented in 1993 to replace the previous curriculum-based training system. And a focus on outcome, or demonstrating competence regardless on how it has been attained, has continued to be a feature of Australia’s VET system.

Some people can learn from performing work. They have learnt from their own work experience rather than attending formal or structured training. The Australian VET system allows a person to have their competence assessed before commencing a training program. We know this assessment-only pathway as Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL).

What is RPL?

The following is the ‘official definition’ of RPL: [1]

RPL is an assessment process that involves assessment of an individual’s relevant prior learning (including formal, informal and non-formal learning) to determine the credit outcomes of an individual application for credit.

An RTO should offer RPL at enrolment or prior to the commencement of training. [2]

Many people report that their experience with RPL has been unsatisfactory. It can be time-consuming. It can be frustrating. Often RPL assessments are poorly conducted. And many RTOs seem to be reluctant to offer RPL.

Fair and flexible assessment process

Two of the four principles of assessment are fairness and flexibility. RPL is an important process that contributes to an RTO’s service being fair and flexible. And the principles of fairness and flexibility must be used to guide the RPL process that is implemented by an RTO.

Fairness

The RTO must fully inform the learner, or RPL candidate, about the assessment process before the assessment process begins. And this includes types of evidence and performance standards expected. [3]

Flexibility

The RTO must ensure that assessment is flexible to the individual learner, or RPL candidate, by assessing competencies. It does not matter how or where competency has been acquired. [4]

The RPL assessment tool

You may be required to design and develop an RPL assessment tool.

If you work for an RTO, the RTO will probably have a template for you to complete. And the RTO should have an RPL assessment tool for other qualifications, skill sets or stand-alone units that it has on it’s scope of registration. Therefore, the RTO should have existing examples of RPL assessment tools for you to refer to.

Often the RPL assessment tool will be known as the ‘RPL Kit’. An RPL Kit will usually consist of:

  • Information
  • Ideas for evidence
  • Instruments
  • Instructions.

Information

The RPL Kit should give clear and concise information about the RPL assessment process. Relevant RTO’s policies and procedure will need to be communicated to the RPL applicant, including appeals and complaints processes.

A range of general information must be provided.

For example (from the RPL applicant’s perspective):

  • What is competency-based assessment?
  • What do I need to do to be assessed?
  • How do I submit evidence?
  • When do I need submit evidence?
  • Who do I contact if I need support?
  • How much does RPL assessment cost?
  • What happens if I cannot provide evidence?
  • What happens if I cannot provide enough evidence?

An RPL applicant may have many questions about the RPL assessment process before they commence. Giving information to prospective RPL applicants aims to provide answers to frequently asked questions.

Ideas for evidence

Specific information must also be provided. An RPL applicant needs to clearly understand the type and amount of evidence that required to be provided. This information may be descriptive rather than prescriptive, and when possible, it is useful to give a range of typical evidence that may support a person’s application for RPL.

Sometimes a single item of evidence may have multiple descriptions because there may not be a single or standard term used in industry or workplaces. For example:

It is only fair that an RPL applicant is informed that evidence is required for every performance criteria. The following example is an extension from the above example for the BSBPEF202 Plan and apply time management unit of competency.

A comprehensive list of evidence has to be communicated to the RPL applicant, otherwise they will not know what to do. They need to know the type and amount of evidence needed to be gathered. This is important information to help the RPL applicant focus on gathering evidence that must comply with the four rules of evidence: valid, current, authentic, and sufficient.

The RPL applicant needs to be provided with specific information relating to the required evidence for the unit or units of competency being assessed, such as:

  • What specific evidence do I need to submit?
  • What is current evidence? How can I prove that the evidence is current?
  • What is authentic evidence? How can I prove that the evidence is authentic?
  • How much evidence is sufficient evidence?

Volume or frequency of performance evidence

Some units of competency specify a volume or frequency of performance evidence. The specified amount of evidence to be provided must be communicated to the RPL applicant. The following are some examples.

The specified quantity of evidence is still required when a person is seeking RPL.

Instruments

Assessment instruments are required to gather knowledge evidence and gather performance evidence. Also, these instruments are used by the assessor to conduct the assessment and make their decisions about competence.

Gathering knowledge evidence

A common method for gathering knowledge evidence is asking questions. Questions can be written, verbal, or combination of both.

Written questions are often used because it can be a cost effective methods for the RTO. Using verbal questions help to explore a person’s breath and depth of knowledge. Having a ‘competency conversation’ is a useful approach. Verbal questions can be to tailored to specifically relate to an individual’s Portfolio of Evidence. Many people will find it easier to talk from their own experience rather than talking theoretically or hypothetically.

A verbal questioning approach has the additional benefit of helping to verify the authenticity of items from a Portfolio of Evidence.

Gathering performance evidence

A common method for gathering performance evidence during an RPL assessment process are:

  • Portfolio of Evidence
  • Third Party Reports.

Often indirect evidence is extensively used during an RPL assessment. And a favourable assessment result can not be made based solely on supplementary evidence.

Many people do not keep documents when they are performing their everyday work. Therefore, many people will not have ready access to document evidence. An RTO should be prepared to offer assessment tasks to the RPL applicant. This may include gathering direct evidence if an assessor can observe the RPL applicant performing tasks.

Assessment conditions

The assessment conditions specified for a unit of competency must be complied with. For example, the assessment conditions for the BSBPEF202 Plan and apply time management unit of competency states:

Skills in this unit must be demonstrated in a workplace or simulated environment where the conditions are typical of those in a working environment in this industry.

Basically, evidence for the BSBPEF202 unit must be from a workplace.

Assessment matrix

An assessment matrix gives an outline of the various assessment methods that can be used for gathering evidence. The following is an example for the BSBPEF202 Plan and apply time management unit of competency.

The above assessment matrix is incomplete. The matrix should also include:

  • Performance Evidence
  • Knowledge Evidence
  • Assessment Conditions.

Some units of competency may also require evidence for the specified Foundation Skills. For examples units from:

  • BSB Business Services Training Package
  • FNS Financial Services Training Package
  • ICT Information and Communications Technology Training Package.

Instructions

Clear and concise instructions will be required:

  • Instructions for the RPL assessor
  • Instructions for the RPL applicant.

The RPL assessor needs instruction about conducting the RPL assessment process. And the RPL applicant needs instructions to guide them through the RPL assessment process, in particular the gathering of evidence.

Non-evidence

It is common for RPL applicants to be asked to submit a resume, position descriptions, and job descriptions. And some RPL applicants are asked to complete a self-assessment. These documents may be useful background about a person’s previous work experience but:

  • A resume or CV is not evidence
  • Position or job description is not evidence
  • Self-assessment is not evidence.

Asking ‘how-to’ questions

Asking ‘how-to’ questions should not be used as a method for gathering performance evidence. A person may not be able to describe how to perform a task, but they might have the ability to do it. And a person may have the words to describe how to perform a task, but they don’t have the ability to do it. Asking questions can gather knowledge evidence but not used to gather performance evidence.

How to develop an RPL Kit

It is common for the RPL assessment tool to be called an ‘RPL Kit’.

ASQA’s Guide to developing assessment tools is a document that is worthwhile reading before creating any assessment tool. It is brief, easy-to-read, and it covers essential information.

However, ASQA’s Guide does not go into the details about how to develop an RPL assessment tool.

  • Step 1. Get your RTO’s RPL assessment tool template
  • Step 2. Check that the general information about the RPL assessment process is clear, concise, and current (if not, re-write)
  • Step 3. List ideas for evidence and add this specific information to the RPL Kit
  • Step 4. Develop assessment instruments for the unit or units of competency that are covered by the RPL Kit
  • Step 5. Write clear and concise instructions for assessors and RPL applicants.

Usually, an RPL Kit will be developed for an entire qualification. Hence, it will cover many units of competency. The RPL Kit can become a very big document. It will be important to organise and structure the RPL Kit to make it easier to read, navigate and use. This includes:

  • Using headings, sub-headings, and a Table of Contents
  • Using language that is clear, concise, and written in plain English.

In summary

The walnut has a hard shell. The effort to crack open the hard shell is rewarded by the tasty nut. RPL seems to be a hard nut to crack in the Australian VET system.

In this article, I have covered some key considerations when developing an RPL assessment tool, and I have listed a 5-step process for developing an RPL Kit.

An RPL assessment tool, also commonly known as an RPL Kit, should consist of the following four things:

The conduct of RPL assessment is another topic.

References

[1] https://www.asqa.gov.au/resources/glossary/r accessed 20 August 2021

[2] https://www.asqa.gov.au/standards/training-assessment/clauses-1.8-to-1.12 accessed 20 August 2021

[3] https://www.asqa.gov.au/standards/training-assessment/clauses-1.8-to-1.12 accessed 20 August 2021

[4] https://www.asqa.gov.au/standards/training-assessment/clauses-1.8-to-1.12 accessed 20 August 2021

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Author: Alan Maguire

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

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