Many Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) are making use of clustering to reduce the amount of training required for delivering qualifications. However, for clustering to be administered effectively it is not as simple as slapping the code and title of three different units of competency on the front of an assessment and then having a separate section addressing each unit of competency.
True clustering requires the integration of the units to provide a meaningful learning experience that reflects how a task or job is performed in the workplace.
Learning experiences and assessment activities are generally intertwined when units are clustered, and this means some careful preparation and a certain level of skill from the assessment designer.
Why would we cluster units?
The most simple explanation would be to better reflect the way that tasks are performed in the workplace. For example, a Certificate III in Business has a number of units of competency related to document production from a technology perspective (such as word processing) and separately there is a unit about written communication. If assessed separately, the learner will be using the technology to reproduce the text for a letter that someone else has written, and then in a separate unit writing the letter themselves. In the workplace it is more likely they would be composing and producing the letter from start to finish (under direction of their supervisor). So why not cluster or group these tasks together and have the student complete the task themselves from start to finish?
The same can be applied across many different qualifications and industries as qualifications are developed in a way that reflects how the job is done in the workplace and generally the skills and knowledge from one particular unit of competency are rarely applied in isolation to other skills and knowledge. As assessment designers we need to utilise our vocational comptence and industry currency to look for those opportunities in the units of competency being delivered to identify genuine opportunities for clustered delivery and assessment.
What are a few of the common assessment pitfalls when clustering?
Utilising separate assessment criteria for each unit
The advantage of clustering is that the task is being assessed holistically and the assessment tools should reflect this. Having a separate checklist for each unit means that the assessor is spending unnecessary time on the record keeping component of assessing. When conducting an observation of a student demonstrating their skills, there is no need to record this in multiple places – if they can demonstrate they are able to safely use required PPE then this can be recorded on an overall task checklist rather than a separate checklist for each unit being assessed.
Assessment decisions being applied to the task and not the units
It needs to be remembered that a decision regarding competence is against the requirements of the unit, not the task itself. Therefore, it is important to ensure there is comprehensive mapping of the task back to the individual units of competency in order to determine there is sufficient evidence towards each unit for a judgement.
Trying to do too much
While clustering provides a number of advantages, over-clustering can lead to making the assessment unwieldy and difficult to implement. Start small – cluster only 2 – 3 units to ensure there is still a focus on the job to be completed and not be distracted and taken off on a million different tangents because of a massive scope of units within the cluster. Careful consideration needs to be given to which units to select as part of the cluster.
The very definition of competency is outlined in the Standards for RTOs 2015 as “The consistent application of knowledge and skill to the standard of performance required in the workplace.” With some careful planning and consideration of the risks outlined above, developing effective clustered assessments provides a greater link to how jobs are performed in the workplace and more realistic in terms of the tasks not being performed in isolation of other tasks that would usually be completed together for the job outcome.