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If it sounds so good in theory

In Theory

why doesn’t it work in reality?

There is a simple answer to that. It is because you don’t know how to apply it to new situations.

Or, maybe you don’t know when and where to apply parts of the theory, as another option?

Or applying theory in isolation to other theory… etc., etc.

But is that making things bigger and more complex than things are in reality? If you are thinking “what’s wrong with that?!”, please, keep reading

Let’s get all the cliché quotes out of the way (in the first section) that academics will generally use to explain why theory works to the simple folk bringing their theories to the real world. Generally, this is used by academics to “dumb it down for you” to get you to accept that the problem is not with their theory, their critical thinking tells them the problem must be with you.

So for the academics out there, let’s see if we can dumb it UP for you.

You will hear the academics say “but you don’t understand”, which is effectively creating a market for what they do, and they want to educate you.

However, VET stands for Vocational Education AND Training.

What the academics don’t seem to understand is that a trainer’s job is to explain things in a way that other people without your experience CAN understand. Many specialists lose the ability to communicate with people outside of their field and are speaking a different dialect. It requires generalist knowledge to have empathy for others to find people that specialist teachings are relative to in the real world.

This brings me to my first cliché quotes, from someone most academic would respect…

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction – Albert Einstein

Or as a trainer sees an academic…

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough – Albert Einstein

If you don’t think these 2 quotes are “relative” to you, why should people listen to you?

“Survival of the fittest”, a term made famous naturalist Charles Darwin in 1869, is another common quote I hear applied commonly in the wrong situations. It suggested that organisms best adjusted to their environment are the most successful in surviving and reproducing. So those who can adapt, survive.

For example, if you think COVID-19 brought on “unprecedented times” for business, you’ve missed the fact that this has been a natural selection process that has existed for more than 150 years.

If you can’t adapt to the environment you wish to operate in and try to change the environment to suit you, your own critical thinking has given you a death sentence through a lack of self-awareness. If you don’t accept this (either), that leaves you with one ultimate goal to achieve – how many others can you take out with you?

Answer this: If you go here and there’s a problem, you go there and there’s a problem, then you go there and again there’s a problem, what’s “the problem”?

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What environment do you operate in?

In just the past month, I have been involved with helping to implement training programs in all 3 VET sectors. A common issue across formal, non-formal, and informal learning providers is the theory is not being applied in a way that works in their industry. Or, maybe they are trying to change the way people do things in one of the other VET sectors. Hard to tell.

While the intention may be to improve the “quality” of training in each case, as a “better” way to do it, if you can’t adapt the theory to the new environment all you do is give others the ammunition to shoot holes in your theory.

It’s not like they are reinventing the wheel, more so deciding which car to put their wheels on. It’s more like people are listening to consultants who don’t understand the theories used to create the systems in the environment.

When questioned about how it works, you hear retorts that seem to come from pure fantasy, and sound to me like Doc Brown’s comment in back to the future – “roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads”. October 2015 has come and gone, and I don’t see flying cars either yet. Well, except for the director of S.H.E.I.L.D., Phillip J Coulson. Do not tell me he’s not real, and no spoilers please, I’m up to the last season of that documentary.

It comes down to “the Job to be done”. So I’ll start with that on my list of theories I think you need to know about if you want to design and develop training courses that work in different markets.

What theory do you know?

What is your product’s job?

The theory of disruption was spelled out in the 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clay Christensen. Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, wrote about the difference between sustaining technologies and disruptive ones. The theory of jobs to be done was developed in part as a complement to the theory of disruptive innovation, which at its core is about competitive responses to innovation.

It explains and predicts the behavior of companies in danger of being disrupted and helps them understand which new entrants pose the greatest threats. So to apply this theory you also need to know how Porter’s 6 competitive forces affect the profitability of a business.

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If you know Peter Drucker, who said “What the customer buys and considers value is never a product. It is always utility, that is, what a product or a service does for the customer.”

This quote is used to explain to marketers that customers don’t buy the features of a product, they buy the benefits. So under the 4P’s of the marketing mix, the features describe the product, and benefits to the customer of using those features are what you promote to get sales. What people will pay for is a list as long as your arm. However what benefits people can only get from you is a Unique Selling Point (USP), and people will be prepared to pay extra for that.

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If you are developing a course, you are creating a “product”. How well you deliver that course is a selling point as the after-sale “service” you provide which is the benefit for the customer to buy from you.

So what job do your students hire your course to do for them? Get them a job? Skills? Entertain them? Get center link off their back?

You don’t need to be an RTO to provide quality training for those jobs, and RTOs don’t even need to be the ones to do the training. A Registered Training Organisations needs to be registered to issue qualifications owned by the government, but to do that all an RTO needs to do is assess.

For the people that complain about ASQA getting in the way of doing their job, they should have read the sign on the wall in my year 11 economics classroom:

“sick of your parent’s telling you what to do? Well, you should move out of home, get a job, and support yourself, while you STILL know everything!”.

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To say they are ASQA’s rules is like saying the Police service makes laws too.

It’s their house, their rules. The government that is. And if you don’t want to be an RTO, you don’t have to. The ACCC has a different set of rules for you.

Start with why

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No, I’m not talking about Simon Sinek, I’m talking about an instructional design model called 4-MAT that in its simplest form has many different uses across the 3 VET sectors.

COAG uses the basic 4-MAT principle for consistency in the training products. Even if you don’t use it in L&D, If you want to do an accredited course and issue a qualification, remember their house, their rules. If you meet the rules, you can do whatever else you like.

In the formal VET sector, the units of competency are written following this model, largely I believe as it fits in with the secondary education system:

  1. Why – the unit titles, particularly the verbs used. Identify, develop, manage, review etc etc etc
  2. What – the performance criteria say what to do, not how to do it. how you do it
  3. How – as in having the explicit knowledge (Evidence) of how to do it, being shown at least one way to do it I the training
  4. What if – show they can do it in a new situation different to the training. If they just do it the same way they were told to do it in the training ASQA will say that is teaching the test and doesn’t demonstrate they could do it in a new situation. They can do this in a simulation, or where possible real-world, but either way you have to capture the tacit knowledge.

Informal course providers seem to me to largely use 4-MAT as a way to put a value on their expertise as IP and create products to upsell clients to.

  1. Why – The experts ’ why they do what they do, usually set in Simon Sinek’s why these days. This is also used as the marketing “elevator pitch” as to why you should do their course. so as lead generation the lowest value, but still worth something
  2. What – The feature of their training product, what they would do to solve your problem, without giving away the process of how to do it.
  3. How – being shown at least one way to do it in the training, step-by-step. The more options they show you how to do it the more people will pay for the course. Can be down one to many in a workshop, so lower value training.
  4. What if – this is your premium coaching and mentoring products, done in smaller groups or one-on-one so people expect to pay more for a customized product. Anytime a student says “I get that, but what if [this] happens to me, what would you do?”. These people can’t adapt what you do to their own situation, so need you to adapt it for them so they can survive. How much the students can make out of what you build with them will set what the coach/mentor changes and access to the IP stored in an expert’s head are the highest value content.

“How” do you develop a course

While many instructional design models tell you what to do, this one tells you how to develop a course by defining what to do in the research, writing, planning, and implementation phases of training development.

The SECI model to create Tacit knowledge transfer is used to develop a formal qualification training product that are responsive to industry needs. Whether RTOs are aware of it or not is another question, and don’t expect ASQA to tell you this as (remember?) they don’t make the rules.

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If the RTO has applied to have a qualification added to their scope, or a trainer is proficient in TAEASS502 Design and develop assessment tools, this model should look familiar to you.

For the government, PwC skills for Australia would do the SE (for TAE, BSB, ICT etc) in this model, and it is the RTOs job to do the CI part. But if you are trying to do everything, I understand why this project looks bigger than Ben Hur if you work in L&D to develop just 1 course.

This is the process I go through to update my industry currency so I can do training and assess for business units across multiple courses, so you can see why many others don’t do it:

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This process works best to create informal courses. Think of it like creating a cookbook from grandma’s recipes. You grew up in the kitchen cooking with her just telling you what to do, but as she got older she started writing thigs down so she could remember recipes and amounts. When Gran passed away, you wanted to teach your kids how to cook, but the kids didn’t want to look through 100 pages, so you sorted it in a folder with lunch, dinner, dessert recipes so it was easier for you to teach your kids, and the process continued across generations.

If you relate this to training, technology is changing at a rapid rate. For L&D, you would go through this process every year as technology basically doubles every 18 months.

Informal course providers make money from early adopters and are largely product beta testers that would go through this process every 6 months to stay at the top of their industry.

Compared to the formal qualification systems that have a mandated 3-year review period, plus a 12 to 18-month Teachout, is there any wonder RTOs struggle to remain competitive in the training market? Do you know many businesses that survive when their competitor releases 3 generations of products at the same time it takes you to make 1?

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You can try and shortcut this model, but people who still do work in their industry of expertise don’t have to. They are constantly in this process.

RTOs have been given a bigger shortcut with the new business training package (BSB7.0) as they only have to do the last step. So they only have 1 job to do.

How incompetent does that look?

Given the benchmark set by our elected PM, I guess Australian’s will eat vegemite even though it looks like shit on toast to the rest of the world. As the world’s 3rd largest educator of international students before COVID-19, what will they come back to? Assuming they do come back, that is.