Knowledge Evidence and the Australian VET system


A decade ago, many RTOs were getting away without explicitly gathering evidence of the Required Knowledge specified by the unit of competency. If challenged by an auditor, the RTO would argue that if a person could perform the work task, then they obviously must have the required knowledge. Over the past 10 years it has become abundantly clear that this argument is unacceptable. Most RTOs will now explicitly gather the Knowledge Evidence specified in the unit of competency.

In 2012, the Standards for Training Packages were changed, and a ‘new format’ for units of competency was implemented. It has taken until 2021 before most units of competency have be converted into the ‘new format’. An exception has been units of competency from accredited course that have remained in the ‘old format’. The Standards for Accredited Courses were changed in 2021, and over time, this will make all units of competency follow the same format.

Old format

The following is an example of ‘old format’:

BSBWOR202A Organise and complete daily work activities 

New format

The following is an example of ‘new format’:

BSBPEF202 Plan and apply time management (superseded BSBWOR202A Organise and complete daily work activities)

In this example, the ‘new format’ has include the statement that the candidate must be able to demonstrate knowledge. This has meant that RTOs must gather the specified Knowledge Evidence. (No more arguments with auditors.)

Note: Currently, a completely different way of describing industry skill standards is being explored with a possible introduction in 2022 or 2023. See the Australian Government’s Skill Reforms for more details about this initiative. It took a decade to fully implement the previous change. I wonder how long it will take to fully implement the next change.

Why is knowledge important?

A person needs knowledge and skills to perform work tasks. Therefore, without the required knowledge a person could not perform their work.

Also, it is said that if a person does not have the appropriate depth of knowledge they cannot respond to non-routine or emergency situations.

What knowledge is required?

The developer of a Training Package has consulted with industry to identify the required knowledge to perform work tasks. And a list of Knowledge Evidence items is given to us. Here is an example. The BSBPEF202 Plan and apply time management unit of competency has been used for the purpose of this example.

Knowledge evidence:

  • time management techniques and strategies
  • features of a time management plan
  • organisational standards, policies and procedures relevant to own work role
  • relationship between own work goals and plans and organisation’s goals and plans
  • factors affecting work progress and performance improvement techniques.

The knowledge required by a person to perform a work task has already been identified for each unit of competency. We do not need to ask, “What knowledge does a person need to perform a work task?” But we may still need to ask, “When is the the knowledge used?” and “How much knowledge is required?”

When is the knowledge used?

The knowledge required to perform a work task is specified. Before the introduction of competency-based training and assessment, I use to work for one of Australia’s largest and most progressive organisations as an instructional designer. I would use the following structure to identify content for the development of curriculum.

The concept that people need knowledge and skills have carried over to the competency-based training and assessment approach embraced by the Australian VET system.

A unit of competency specifies the required knowledge but does not identify when that knowledge is used. Extra analysis is required to identify when each item of required knowledge is used to perform the work task. Here is an example. The BSBPEF202 Plan and apply time management unit of competency has been used for the purpose of this example.

Another way of presenting the above mapping information is:

It is helpful to know when the knowledge is used. This can provide a context for determining what and how much knowledge is required.

How much knowledge is required?

Often the required knowledge specified in a unit of competency is a broad description with very little details. Additional research and analysis may be need to determine how much knowledge is required.

Industry engagement

The Standards for RTOs, Clauses 1.5 and 1.6 requires an RTO to engage with industry to ensure the assessment resources are relevant and current. The aim of this engagement should include the identification of industry’s expectations for the knowledge required.

A person who is developing an assessment instrument to gather the specified Knowledge Evidence may seek further details from employers and industry representatives. Here is an example. The BSBPEF202 Plan and apply time management unit of competency has been used for the purpose of this example.

  • What time management techniques and strategies are used in your workplace? (Can you give me examples about how these time management techniques and strategies are used in your workplace?)
  • What are the features of a time management plan used in your workplace? (Can you show me a time management plan that is used in your workplace?
  • What organisational standards, policies and procedures do you have in your workplace that relate to time management, development of work plans and communicating the progress on work plans to relevant personnel? (Can you show me a copy of these organisational standards, policies and procedures?)
  • In your workplace, how are the work goals and plans of individuals aligned with organisation’s goals and plans? (Can you show me a copy of documented work goals and plans used in your workplace?)
  • In your workplace, what factors affect work progress? (Can you give me some recent examples about these factors and how they have affected work progress?)
  • In your workplace, what performance improvement techniques are used? (Can you give me some recent examples about how these performance improvement techniques have been used?)

Types of knowledge

The Standards for RTOs gives us the following definition:

“Competency means the consistent application of knowledge and skill to the standard of performance required in the workplace. It embodies the ability to transfer and apply skills and knowledge to new situations and environments.”

This acknowledges the need for a person to have knowledge to perform work tasks. There are different types of knowledge. Wikipedia gives us the following description:

The term ‘knowledge’ can refer to a theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. It can be implicit (as with practical skill or expertise) or explicit (as with the theoretical understanding of a subject); formal or informal; systematic or particular.

Our understanding of knowledge can become philosophical or esoteric if we think too deeply about what it is. As a trainer or assessor working in the Australian VET system, we need a basic understanding about what knowledge is, without getting immersed in abstruse thoughts.

Also, Wikipedia identifies descriptive knowledge (facts) and procedural knowledge (skills). The Knowledge Evidence items from a unit of competency are descriptive knowledge. I would like to give another way of looking at different types of knowledge:

  • Undefined knowledge
  • Defined knowledge

Undefined knowledge

Knowledge that is undefined is not exact. It may vary depending upon various situations or circumstances. It could be disputed or debated. The following is an example of a question seeking an answer for undefined knowledge:

What is knowledge?

The answer to this question can vary. There may be more than one acceptable answer.

A person may need some knowledge that is defined and some knowledge that is undefined when performing a work task. The following are some considerations when the knowledge is undefined:

  • A developer of an assessment instrument being designed to gather evidence of undefined knowledge will need to develop a range of sample answers that could be acceptable.
  • An assessor will need to exercise flexibility when a candidate gives an acceptable answer that has not been provided by the developer of the assessment instrument.

Defined knowledge

Knowledge that is defined cannot be disputed or debated. Therefore, the following is an example of a question seeking an answer for defined knowledge:

What is the definition of competency in the Australian VET system?

There is only one answer to this question. The Standards for RTOs gives us the definition. Therefore, the answer is defined and indisputable.

Knowledge is usually defined when it relates to legislation or regulations, such as, workplace health and safety (WHS) legislation, regulations, and codes of practice.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives , also known as Bloom’s Taxonmoy, is a framework for categorising educational goals. The following illustrates the ‘original’ Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Having the ‘Knowledge’ involves the recall of it. ‘Comprehension’ refers to having a type of understanding and making use of knowledge without necessarily being able to apply it.

The Australian VET system requires ‘Knowledge Evidence’ to be demonstrated. But the problem is we can not see knowledge. It is hidden inside a person’s brain.

How can a person demonstrate they have knowledge?

We will ask a question or give an instruction to elicit a response. This is how we can determine if a person has knowledge, or not. The Bloom’s Taxonomy give us a useful approach to developing questions or instructions so that a person can demonstrate they have the required knowledge.

Bloom’s Taxonomy provides lists of action verbs that can be used to write educational goals or objectives. The following is a sample.

We can select verbs from these lists to write an instruction to elicit a response. For example:

Define competency within the context of the Australian VET system.”

As an alternative, we can write a question rather than writing an instruction to elicit a response.

“What is the definition of competency within the context of the Australian VET system?”

Scenario-based questions

Scenario-based questions ask a candidate to describe how they might respond to a workplace situation. The following is an example.

A scenario would be given and the person would be asked questions or given instructions designed to elicit a response. For example:

“The above cartoon illustrates a workplace:

  • Identify five hazards
  • Assess the risks for each hazard you identified
  • State a control measure to address each identified hazard
  • Explain the procedure for reviewing the effectiveness of control measures.

A person’s response can be used to determine if they have the required knowledge and to what extent they comprehend it. This scenario-based approach should not be used as performance evidence. It may be true to say that performance of a work task will require the application of knowledge but performance evidence should be gathered when the person performs the task in a real or simulated workplace (not by looking at a cartoon).

Explicit or implicit evidence

Explicit evidence is evidence that clearly has been gathered, leaving nothing implied. Gathering explicit evidence will leaves no room for debate about whether knowledge evidence has or hasn’t been gathered. However, if an RTO says that evidence of knowledge is implied when a person performs a work task, then there will be no record of knowledge evidence being gathered.

It is best to always develop an assessment task designed to explicitly gather all items of knowledge evidence. As a minimum, one question for each knowledge evidence item. However, sometimes one question is insufficient to gather the breath and depth of knowledge that is required. Ask as many questions as necessary to gather sufficient evidence.

In conclusion

This article is a follow-on from a previous article titled:

How to develop an assessment instrument for gathering knowledge evidence

The previous article was based around a 5-step process. It was a simplified process that may not have communicated some of the complexity of developing an assessment instrument for gathering knowledge evidence.

Questioning is the common assessment method for gathering evidence for the required knowledge (listed as Knowledge Evidence). It can take time to:

  • Analyse the required Knowledge Evidence items
  • Research sample answers for each item of knowledge
  • Develop appropriate questions and sample answers.

As a reminder, the assessment instrument should be reviewed and trialled before being finalised and implemented.

Some people struggle with various topics and terminologies used during their TAE40116 studies. For example:

My TAE Tutoring service has been designed to help you with your studies.

Do you want more information? Ring Alan Maguire on 0493 065 396 to discuss.

Contact now!

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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.

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