RPL Series

See the RPL videos discussing Deb Carr's research. The 10 sessions were hosted by Skills Education in 2020.

While the research was conducted with a very small sample size, it has prompted thought and discussion about ways to "do RPL better"

  1. Allocate dedicated staff to RPL
  2. Teach RPL
  3. Facilitate social learning
  4. Advertise carefully
  5. Keep assessment flexible
  6. Be there
  7. Charge equal to coursework
  8. Throw out the RPL Info Kit
  9. Invest in industry expertise
  10. Build relationships with employers

Exploring the recognition of prior learning in Australian VET, 2020

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1) Do RPL Better - Allocate dedicated staff to RPL

This session nuts out how competent and experienced staff solely dedicated to RPL support and assessment can be a good business decision for training and assessment organisations. 

* Many assessors feel they are not proficient at RPL. Many assessors complain their workload does not allow them to conduct RPL in a way that is responsive and supportive for the candidate.

** Many candidates bemoan the assessor never gets back to them, that their submission will be attended to during the teaching break, or that they just want to 'talk' to someone. Some candidates exclaim the assessor doesn't even know much about their industry.

2) Do RPL Better - Teach RPL

This session shares some tips RTOs can use that 'Teach RPL', enabling candidates to move through the RPL process with less angst, more chance of completing and more sustainable outcomes that empower candidates in their learning and earning journeys.

* Most candidates do not understand RPL. They are bewildered and overwhelmed. My research found that even VET teachers, as candidates, found the process complex and convoluted. During the process, all candidates felt disempowered. "It's an emotional rollercoaster" described one; "I'm not smart enough:"; "there's nothing easy about the RPL process... it's a minefield?" bemoaned others. However, one candidate explains, "It stripped me down before raising me back up again". 

** Arguably the most magnificent outcome of RPL is an empowered learner - one that is able to articulate the skills and knowledge they have and do not have. They learn 'skills language' used to target future learning and advocate for their career progression. They can explain different contexts for their transferable skills to potential employers. Additionally, and most importantly, they are confident in their informal learning ability - RPL has in effect, validated this!

3) Do RPL Better - Facilitate social learning

This session shares ideas on how assessors can navigate group RPL and social learning in the context of RPL.

* Over 5 months, Deb Carr followed nine candidates as they 'lived through RPL'. She found they were relieved to learn other candidates were experiencing similar challenges, yet they had no way of contacting them. 

** Why do Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) not convene Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) candidates? Is this cheating? How can RTOs facilitate social learning? Is 'learning' inherent in the RPL process? What is group RPL? 

4) Do RPL Better - Advertise carefully

This session looks at ways RPL can be promoted in integral and attractive ways through the eyes of consumers and experienced assessors.

Expectations, motivation and frustration are intrinsically entwined for RPL candidates. Over 50% of assessors interviewed indicated candidates with expectations of RPL being easy and quick suffered mindset challenges inhibiting a successful RPL journey. 

Assessors relayed, “Some candidates expect that RPL is just a given, a tick and flick”.

Typical candidates' sentiments include: 

  • "I've done this for 15 years, just give me the qualification",
  • “There's no necessity to work for it”
  • “If it's going to take effort, I will just do the coursework”
  • "Hang on, I've paid for this, where's my qualification?" 
  • "I just need to put a whole heap of documents together and send it off"
  • “There is more effort, more understanding, more reading than in your promotional material"

This is a tricky space because some institutes DO provide a 'tick and flick' RPL and, can candidates be to blame for seeking the path of least resistance? On the other side of the coin, perhaps some institutes do make it harder than it has to be.

5) Do RPL Better - Keep assessment flexible

This session shares one way to design a flexible RPL assessment tool and invites others to share what has worked for them.

* RPL IS an assessment BUT it is NOT assessing coursework. This means assessment tools must truly be flexible. Not impossible, but it requires skill on behalf of the assessment designer and the assessor. 

** It requires assessor agency to move away from a template whilst remaining inside the principles of assessment and rules of evidence. Many assessors are fearful of doing this. 

*** Some qualifications are more straightforward, such as childcare qualification which provide industry-specific occupational standards within a regulated framework, however some qualifications like project management require the assessor to be across industry sectors and numerous industry standards. 

6) Do RPL Better - Be there

This session shares tips candidates suggest and assessors implement that reduce the likelihood of candidates giving up.

* Deb Carr's research found 41% of all RPL candidates' difficulties were about mindset. Coursework students have each other for support and there is an expectation the trainer is available for support. RPL candidates on the other hand, do not - they are usually isolated from other candidates, external to campus, the institution does not calculate the cost of support and it's just a process, right - you're either competent or not!

** However, for candidates, once the realisation dawns, this is an assessment process, all sorts of unhelpful mindsets manifest - difficulty dealing with the fact of having your professionalism or work competency questioned, fear of failure, demotivation, loss of confidence, and resisting the RPL process as valid were clearly challenges that jeopardised candidates' continued engagement.

*** Be there – be reliable, accountable, supportive, empathetic and approach as a skills audit.

7) Do RPL Better - Charge equal to coursework

This session provides some insight and invites discussion on RPL market drivers, for the individual, the workplace and a national skilling agenda.

* Sounds weird but the market is willing to pay! The market IS seeking flexibility and shorter time commitment, but NOT necessarily less dollars. 

** Most RPL in Australia is conducted by private providers and the greatest proportion of investment is fee-for-service. What are the drivers for RPL over coursework? Who are your clients?  How is the changing world of work impacting the demand for RPL? 

8) Do RPL Better - Throw out the RPL Info Kit

This session investigates issues linked to the 'RPL Info Kit' and explores practical solutions to things including the following:

  • "I don't understand what they're asking me to do, on the first, second and sometimes the third reading!" says a disgruntled Henry, who is post-grad educated and, he is not alone. Many candidates say the initial information is overwhelming and very easily dissuades. When asked what RTOs could do better, candidates said; "more pre-reading that explains things, would NOT have helped!" 
  • One frustrated assessor exclaims, "ASQA loves my RPL info book, but my manager says it's too big and candidates are overwhelmed, and even then, candidates constantly find themselves ill-prepared for the process!" 
  • Are there better ways to ensure RPL candidates can make informed enrolment decisions? Are self-assessments effective? Can technology help?

9) Do RPL Better - Invest in industry expertise

This session shows the importance of having industry expertise to make connections between the units of competency and candidate experience

Broad industry expertise enables the RPL assessors to build rapport with candidates, interpret evidence, pre-map candidate's experience, build skills tests, get the most from competency conversation and allows for ‘wild evidence’ and ‘thinking on your feet’. As John Price comments in this video, “industry expertise goes beyond industry currency. It is broader than currency”.

Work worlds are changing at an increasing rate. Best practice, technology, globalisation, research and increasing diversity in our client base and work forces have impacted the 'shelf-life' and context of many skills and much applied knowledge.

The majority of RPL candidates are existing workers and sometimes know contemporary and emerging practices more so than assessors and sometimes, this is a problem.

Additionally, some units of competency are outdated and overly prescriptive making it difficult to contextualise contemporary work practices, approaches and processes. This is a challenge for both the assessor and the candidate. Broad industry expertise helps navigate this.

10) Do RPL Better - Build partnerships with employers

This session shows the importance of building partnerships with employers.

In Australia, the onus for eliciting past and present employer support for RPL is on the candidate. There is no regulatory imperative for employers to make evidence available, nor for RTOs to support candidates to elicit employer support. It is easy to understand candidates feeling disempowered and that the system is against them! 

* Deb Carr's research found problems with employers constitutes candidates' biggest challenge! Candidate difficulties due to employer dynamics cannot be understated. Think how hard it is to maintain a good job referee let alone maintaining relationships with past employers who are happy to:

  • invest time and effort into understanding your need for evidence and verification
  • invest time and effort into your RPL 
  • navigate privacy and confidentially restrictions. Perhaps the company has folded, the contact does not work there anymore or perhaps it is a relationship the candidate really does not want to revisit. Or perhaps the candidate is a casual worker or contractor lacking agency to access evidence or verification. 

** Deb's research also found employers sometimes act in ways that are questionable such as trying to 'rush' the assessment, are less than enthusiastic to support because success may mean higher wages, or they simply don't 'believe' in RPL. 

When RTOs know this, they can design RPL programs that mitigate these challenges.

Deb's YouTube channel hosts these clips as well as others from her research and experience with RPL.

Enjoy the videos. None of these attract a Record of Participation from Skills Education.

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