Designing a Learning Program - Sydney Community College

Designing a Learning Program

Note: the following should be read in conjunction with any Course Development and Design documentation supplied to you by SCC for a specific program

What is a learning program?

A learning program provides the basis for a cohesive and integrated learning process by outlining the processes of learning and assessment (and it can be part of a bigger delivery and assessment strategy). Endorsed Training Packages do not come with prescribed delivery and assessment programs or strategies. They come with mandatory benchmarks for workplace outcomes but leave decisions about the processes of delivery and assessment up to the facilitator and/or assessor. Therefore, there is relative freedom in terms of design, which enables greater customisation options.

Adult learning principles

One of the significant changes in the training of adults in recent years has been the recognition that particular characteristics of adult learners are different from children. These characteristics affect how adults learn and consequently how they are taught or trained. While learning in children is largely subject and teacher focussed, for adults the learning is self-directed and learner centred. Adults learn best in an environment that acknowledges them as autonomous individuals and when the learning matches their needs and interests. Whether checking the design of a training program or actually observing the training in progress there are a number of principles that should be evident:

  • Adults learn by doing: Adults retain both knowledge and skills better if they have the opportunity to act on what they have learned. Skills should be practised and knowledge used for some meaningful purpose such as problem solving. Learning activities should be structured to facilitate this. There should be immediate opportunity for application of knowledge and/or skills gained.
  • Adults learn when they have a need to learn: Adults like learning things which relate to their current needs. They want to learn what is relevant to them. This means that the trainer has to make considerable effort to find out what the students want to learn – the learner-directed model of training.
  • Adults learn by solving problems: Training is about improving the capacity to do work and the most challenging part of any job is inevitably its problem-solving aspects. It is logical then that adults actually enjoy solving problems, particularly those that derive directly from their personal experience. Training should reflect this desire and provide regular opportunity for the learners to apply their learning to real life problems, rather than to the abstract demonstration of knowledge.
  • Adults like variety in learning activities: Adults have a low tolerance for monotony. This means more interesting and more effective training techniques have to be employed. As well as lecture-style (keep it short), use group discussion, syndicate exercises, role plays, field trips, case studies, diary writing, reading, reflection periods, analytical instruments, simulations, project work, practice sessions, instructional games, experiments, problem-solving exercises, computer-based training and anything else that supports learning.
  • Different adults learn in different ways: Not everyone learns in the same way. There are differences in learning styles and preferences and trainers need to take account of these differences. For example, some people learn best by actively doing, others prefer a more reflective approach. Some people are most effective when dealing with concrete experiences, others approach learning through a process of abstract conceptualisation. Consequently, trainers need to be sensitive to these differences so that all the types of learners represented in a group will have the opportunity to integrate their learning in their preferred way.

Developing the learning program content

Ideally a learning program should identify the following:

  • its purpose (why)
  • the target group (who)
  • the outcomes to be achieved (what)
  • the learning and assessment strategies (how)
  • any required resources.

It should also include:

  • learning objectives
  • a plan of how the learners will achieve the objectives
  • a structure and sequence for learning
  • content for learning
  • delivery and assessment methods
  • assessment requirements.

The following steps are necessary to ensure that a learning program is innovative and meets the identified benchmarks:

  • define the parameters of the learning program in consultation with the client
  • generate and select appropriate options for designing the learning program
  • develop the learning program content
  • develop the structure of the learning program
  • review the learning program
  • gain approval from appropriate personnel.

SCC has a number of template forms that can be used to elicit information about the learners and their needs, otherwise design your own. For example a standard questionnaire could be used with clients when defining the parameters of the learning program. This may contain questions to ask the client to help to determine the purpose of the learning program. Further to this, the standard form could be modified each time it is used to enable contextualising. Below are some examples of some useful standard forms that could be designed:

  • parameters of the learning program questionnaire
  • characteristics of target group learners checklist
  • learner profile – listing the learner characteristics, preferred learning styles, learning environment, attributes, prior knowledge and concerns
  • program plan – outlining each component of the program
  • learning program questionnaire for reviewers
  • client status report.

It is critical to keep the learners' needs in the forefront of thinking during design. The following questions may assist in this process:

  • What is most useful to them?
  • What would be a logical flow of information for them?
  • What delivery mode is best suited to their needs?
  • How can the learning program be flexible for them?
  • What resources do they have access to already?

The task of designing learning programs requires both structured and systematic work processes, as well as innovative thinking to ensure engagement of the learner group. It is important to gather as much information as possible to obtain a thorough understanding of what is required. The following is a guide to determining the purpose of the development tasks and the things to consider when in interpreting the client’s requirements:

  • What is the purpose of the learning program and what it is you are hoping to achieve;
  • What are the competency standards or other benchmarks which must be met;
  • What are the specific learning objectives, outcomes or goals of the learning program that reflect the benchmarks. What skills, knowledge and attitudes to you want the learners to demonstrate as a result of the training;
  • The scope of the program - how many competencies need to be achieved. What vocational or generic skills need to be developed. What subject or technical knowledge needs to be learned, What activities need to be encompassed into the learning program. What specific organisational goals need to be addressed;
  • The target group of learners - who is the learning program for and what are their characteristics (e.g. cultural background, age group, learning style, language, literacy and numeracy needs, motivation for learning). Are they learning as a group or as individuals. What level of work experience have they had? Are there any access and equity issues;
  • The learning environment - where will it take place, will it be an operational workplace or simulated, will it be online;
  • What resources are required to plan, design and deliver the learning program. What is provided and what is in the budget (e.g. staffing needs, provision for guest speakers, technical support, equipment and technology, learning materials and resources); and
  • Access to other sources of information - Where can information be obtained about this learning program (e.g. how can access be gained to job descriptions, employee records, performance appraisals, enrolment information, surveys etc).

Target group learners may include:

  • Existing workers
  • School leavers and/or new entrants to the workforce
  • Apprentices or trainees
  • Individuals learning new skills or knowledge
  • Individuals seeking to upgrade skills and knowledge
  • Individuals changing careers
  • Unemployed people
  • Learners who have a disability
  • Indigenous Australians
  • Overseas students
  • Recent migrants

There are many different ways to find out about a target group of learners. Characteristics may include:

  • Level and breadth of work experience
  • Level of previous experiences of formal education
  • Skill or competency profile
  • Socioeconomic background, age, gender, range of abilities
  • Cultural background and needs
  • Special needs – physical or psychological
  • Motivation for learning
  • Language, Literacy and Numeracy needs of learners
  • Learning style and preferences.

How can the learning program content be developed?

Once the parameters of the learning program have been analysed, the next step is to determine options for the type of learning program to be designed. It is worthwhile to explore a number of different possibilities at this stage. The first one designed may not always be the best one. Through generating ideas for various learning programs, more innovative solutions will emerge. When all the options are available, these can be presented as findings to the client or work colleagues together with an explanation of how the learning program solutions fill the identified gap/s. Work collaboratively with others within SCC – or within other like-minded RTOs – to evaluate the options and determine the one which is most appropriate. Who could be involved in the collaboration?

  • Work colleagues
  • Trainers, facilitators, assessors
  • Industry contacts
  • Vendors
  • Human Resource personnel
  • Marketing personnel
  • End-users
  • Language, Literacy and Numeracy experts
  • Subject or technical specialists

What sort of support resources could be used?

Existing learning resources may include:

  • Official Training Package support resources or Tool Boxes
  • Other published, commercially available materials
  • Videos, DVDs, USB, other computer-based software
  • CDs, Audio Tapes, Computer Media (e.g. mp3)
  • References and texts
  • Equipment and tools
  • Materials developed under the Workplace English Language and Literacy (WELL) program
  • Learning resources and support materials produced in languages other than English, as appropriate to the learner groups in the workplace.

Existing learning materials may include:

  • handouts for learners
  • worksheets and workbooks
  • prepared case studies, activity sheets and role-plays
  • overheads and power point slides, and
  • materials sourced from the workplace, for example, workplace documentation, operating procedures, specifications.

Use the checklist below to assist in reviewing the quality of the resource:

  • Is the resource current?
  • Does the resource cover the competency standards or learning outcomes that need to be addressed?
  • Does the resource provide clear and comprehensive information?
  • Does the resource clearly identify its purpose?
  • Is the resource able to be contextualised to meet the learners' needs?
  • Does the resource respond to access and equity issues?
  • Does the resource offer flexibility for delivery and assessment?
  • Is the resource recognised by registration or accrediting bodies?

What considerations are there for selection of training aids?

  • Training objectives – will the training aids help you fulfil the training objectives?
  • Size and shape of training room – this may make it difficult to use some training aids, for example, a column in the middle of the room will obstruct view
  • Trainer preferences – the trainer should use what they are familiar with without relying only on one source
  • Session content - visuals should be used to highlight the main points
  • Costs – how much will the training aids cost to use?
  • Portability – will training aids need to be taken to each of the training locations? How easy are they to transport?

NB: Copyright applies to all published material whether written, in audio or video form or computer based. Every publication or learning product will have information on copyright written at the beginning somewhere, or contained in its original packaging. Therefore, this should always be referred to before copies of anything are made or anything is included into course materials. If uncertain about the copyright of materials, the first step is to consult the publisher or the Australian Copyright Council.

What delivery model and activities are appropriate?

Following are some models, advantages of their use and limitations.

Model 1: Off-the-job training - Participants are grouped and attend regularly. The trainer moderates learning pace, sequence and methods.
Advantages: Familiar to all. Provides interaction and social opportunities between participants. Adjustments can be made continually.
Limitations: Whole group needs to meet. Usually course delivery pace is set by trainer. Needs structured time allocation. Time and place dependent. Inaccessible to distant potential participants.

Model 2: On the job training in the workplace
Advantages: Provides interaction and problem solving opportunities. Peer support in real workplace situations
Limitations: May impinge on workplace activities. Time allocation of peers or mentor.

Model 3: Distance learning - Participants use resource packages to learn off-site.
Advantages: Cheap to administer. Easy to transport. Encourages independent learning. No technical skills required. Can stand-alone.
Limitations: High degree of self-direction and motivation needed. High degree of literacy required. Return times may slow down process.

Model 4: On-line - Participants use e-mail and the Internet to access resources and information
Advantages: Participation in the learning process for people who would otherwise be unable to access this training. Enables familiarisation and practice with information technology required in workplace settings
Limitations: Requires resourcing of the host platform and troubleshooting related to technology issues. Requires support of other technologies, such as telephone, email, internet access, on-line chat facilities and computer/desktop video-conferencing.

Model 5: eLearning (electronic learning) - Generic term for any learning that involves the use of electronic technology to deliver training or support learning
Advantages: Learner can select materials appropriate to their level. Provides flexibility for learner and trainer in time, pace and place. Accommodates different learning styles. Encourages learner to take responsibility for their learning. Transfers technology skills to other facets of work and life.
Limitations: Managing and learning to use learning software can be challenging. Learning that requires practical or hands-on delivery may not be suitable or may be difficult to simulate. Trainer not always available on demand.

Model 6: Blended learning - Combination of all delivery models and learner support formats to best meet needs of learner, resources available and learning goals.
Advantages: Enables selection of different methods that maximise effectiveness and achievement of learning outcomes. Can provide option of customised delivery method and material to individual and group needs. Significant potential for achieving efficiency/reduced training time in achieving learning outcomes
Limitations: Requires knowledge, skill and confidence in use of technology. Requires learner to have organisational skills to manage and navigate their learning process. Instructor needs to be mindful of assuming ‘learning to learn’ skills are present. Requires student to have access to the specific technologies.

Following is a list of the most commonly used delivery methods, their uses and some disadvantages.

Includes: demonstration of the performance of task, explanation and instruction as learners undertake task with feedback from trainer, supervised practice.
Useful for: demonstrated delivery of training, conducting assessments and giving feedback.
Disadvantages: time and equipment required, immediate application of skill required for effective learning.

Includes: games, simulations, role-play.
Useful for: learner directed exploration of attitudes and values, interpersonal skills. Especially useful in conduct of assessments and delivery training. Useful for developing language skills.
Disadvantages: real purpose may be lost, time requirements, materials and equipment needed, potential for unequal participation.

Includes: buzz groups, brainstorming and structured discussions.
Useful for: learner directed exploration of attitudes, values and interpersonal skills. Assists the trainer in testing knowledge informally.
Disadvantages: domination by individuals, time-consuming, may appear to be a waste of time

Case studies
Provides for the presentation of a story, report or other illustration, followed by analysis by the trainer or participant.
Useful for: promoting interpretation, problem-solving and analysis, checking understanding and demonstrating real situations.
Disadvantages: some participants may experience dissatisfaction with lack of detail and opportunity to question, as well as language and literacy demands.

Field trips
Includes: excursions, off-site visits, attendance at specialist facilities.
Useful for: seeing and discussing skills and knowledge applied in workplaces.
Disadvantages: can be costly, requires time, planning and management, requires debriefing and follow-up. Risk assessment required.

Assignments, projects and reports
Includes: essays, projects, reports, short-answer questions.
Useful for: enabling learners to explore required knowledge and skills and developing problem-solving and analytical skills.
Disadvantages: literacy may be an obstacle, language and literacy demands and interaction may be minimal

Work-based learning
Includes on-the-job training, mentoring and coaching.
Useful for: practising skills, linking theory with practice, developing problem-solving and holistic learning.
Disadvantages: reduced learning if feedback is inadequate, time required.

How is the learning program structured?

Essentially, the learning program needs to be broken down into a plan. The program delivery plan outlines the program, giving details about how it will be broken into sessions. This plan can then be used to guide the delivery of the program.

A program delivery plan is a tool for designing and developing a learning program. It outlines each component of the program, so a clear breakdown can be seen. It may be set against a timeline or it may show a series of sessions that make up the wider program. The plan outline will clearly show:

  • The competencies or other benchmarks to be achieved
  • The specific learning outcomes for each session
  • The content and learning activities for each session
  • The delivery methods for each session
  • Workplace tasks or applications
  • Practice opportunities
  • Assessment points and pathways
  • Assessment methods and tools used to gather evidence

The learning program designer should structure the program in a way that best suits the learners to achieve the identified benchmarks. Consider the following:

  • what should they learn first?
  • what skills need to be developed and practised before moving to the next stage of their competence?
  • what is a logical flow of learning to be followed?
  • what is the program timeframe?

The plan should map the program to a timeframe. The amount of time that will be allocated to the learning program will influence what the learning program covers, the extent of the detail and how it can be broken down into sections to enhance learning. Whatever the learning mode, there should be some timeframe provided to suggest the time the program will take. This will assist the trainer in developing appropriate activities and will also enable the learners to manage their own learning.

The plan needs to state the delivery methods to be employed in the learning program. As the learning may take place in multiple locations (workplace, classroom, computer lab etc.) appropriate delivery methods will need to be documented to enable to the trainer to provide the required support to the learners. For instance, will the program delivery model be: face-to-face delivery, online delivery, distance learning, coaching or mentoring, workplace applications, simulated workplace applications or blended learning combining several models?

How can assessment be structured into the program?

The program plan needs to include how the learners' competence is going to be assessed. Some common methods which could be included are:

  • Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is the acknowledgement of skills and knowledge obtained through learning outside the formal education and training system. These can be achieved through work or life experience;
  • Observation or Actual Performance - Common examples are observing a product being made and/or observing a workplace procedure;
  • Questioning - These can take the form of oral, written (includes on line), short answer, essays, multiple choice, sentence completion, series of opened or closed questions;
  • Simulation - Common examples are role-play interaction with customers, scenarios, observation in real simulators;
  • Portfolio Production of Item/s - Includes for instance, provision of qualifications, jobs descriptions, third party reports, work samples, evidence that shows proof of prior learning, recognition of prior learning.

The qualifications framework describes what a person has to do to achieve a specific Australian Qualification Framework qualification.
It can contain:

  • The range of AQF qualifications that can be achieved
  • Potential career pathways
  • Details of the core, elective units of competency for each qualification
  • Information about units of competency from other training packages used in the qualification, where relevant.

Last reviewed: August 2017