Building learner foundation skills is your responsibility

Allison Miller, eWorks Accredited ConsultantAllison Miller is a member of eWorks’ team of accredited consultants, and a regular contributor to eWorks’ blog. Allison is passionate about providing learners with the knowledge and skills that they need in order to succeed in the world of work. Today she discusses the importance of foundation skills in general, as well as how they are linked VET FEE-HELP loans.

LLN and VET Fee-Help (VFH reforms)

One of the recent VET Fee-Help (VFH) reforms is the requirement that a learner who does not have a Senior Secondary Certificate of Education must complete Language Literacy and Numeracy (LLN) assessment to be eligible for a VET FEE-HELP loan. This type of assessment has been around for a while for State-based government funded training, and highlights the ongoing agenda to improve the language, literacy and numeracy of Australian adults (also see Allison’s Language, literacy and numeracy skills – how technology can help blog post).

This move to improve our learners’ core skills includes a foundation skill section in all new and updated units of competency. This section outlines the LLN and employment skills which a learner needs to demonstrate in order to be deemed competent for the unit. This means all VET practitioners using units with foundation skills explicitly included in them need to be assessing their learners’ required foundation skills.  

Ideally, more and more VET practitioners will do the TAELLN411 unit to help them understand how to address adult LLN skills gaps. However, competency in this unit is only the beginning of a VET practitioner’s journey, as each learner cohort will present different LLN needs, so it is important to know how to support that journey past the starting point.

What foundation skills might need to be addressed?

Even though learners may successfully pass the pre-enrolment LLN assessment as part of the requirements to access Government funded training, they may still present with some foundation skill gaps for one or more units within the qualification they are undertaking.

The explicit foundation skills being mapped in each unit come from either:

How will I know if my learners have foundation skill gaps?

The foundation skills section in each qualification unit describes each foundation skill and maps it to a unit’s performance criteria. Further analysis is required by a VET practitioner, however, to determine which of the five levels of performance in the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF) their learners should be performing to in order to deem them as competent for each unit. There are three steps to this process:

  1. Determine the foundation skill level or stage for a unit by identifying the embedded trigger or action words within the unit’s performance criteria (PC).  

An example would be TAELLN411 PC 1.2 Identify and analyse the LLN skill requirements essential to the workplace performance. Here the action words ‘identify’ and ‘analyse’ are Reading foundation skills, and the knowledge/related word = ‘LLN skill requirements’.

  1. Analyse the Australian Core Skills Framework performance levels based on the action word(s) (Leske and Francis, ND).

This is done by determining how these action words best match those in the five levels of ACSF Performance Variables Grid (ACSF, pg 14). For TAELLN411: the Foundation Skill Reading refers to interpreting and analysing information, indicating a level 3-4 of task complexity, text complexity, context and support performance indicators for this unit, which refer to such terms as ‘requires minimal support’, ‘includes specialised vocabulary’ etc.

You continue to do this for each foundation skills for the whole unit, to get the overall level for each foundation skill. For example, Reading – Level 3-4, Oral Communication – Level 3 etc.

  1. Identify whether each learner cohort has any foundation skill gaps through diagnostic and formative activities at the beginning of, and during, their training program.  

This is best done through activities which improve learners’ unit knowledge.   For the TAELLN411 this can be done through questioning or brainstorming each learner’s LLN workplace requirements for their industry requirements, either as a group or as individuals.

You will often find that only an individual or small number of learners will present with one or two foundation skills gaps. This is important, however, because even one skill gap needs to be addressed for the learner(s) to be deemed competent.

What strategies and tools can address each foundation skill gap?

Once you have established your learners’ foundation skills gaps, consider some of the following strategies and tools to help your learners build these skills:

Foundation Skill

Strategies and tools to address the gap

Learning

  • Incorporating reflective or self-assessment journals using blog/micro-blogs such as Mahara e-portfolio, WordPress or Twitter.
  • Encouraging conversations (ie reflective dialogue) around topics using online groups in Facebook, LinkedIn, Edmodo or Yammer.
  • Getting learners to teach each other using Skype, Google Hangout or Zoom.
  • Helping learners establish action plans using Mahara eportfolio, Evernote or Google Calendars.

Reading

  • Encouraging learners to read and comment on each other’s blog / journal, social media posts.
  • Providing audio versions of text so learners can read this information while listening to someone else reading it aloud.
  • Getting learners to record themselves reading the content using their mobile phone voice recorder and then listening to them self.
  • Incorporating images, diagrams, flowcharts etc which help learners to visualise text / content.

Writing

  • Using Moodle discussion forums or chat rooms for group debates, sharing researched information, problem solving or scenario-based learning.
  • Incorporating collaborative / group writing activities using Moodle wiki or Google Docs.
  • Encouraging peer reviews of learner work / ideas via social media groups.

Oral Communication

  • Incorporating learner presentations using webinar tools such as the Big Blue Button.
  • Getting learners to create screencasts, podcasts or videos of workplace scenarios using Screenr, Podbean and YouTube (respectively).
  • Encouraging learners to create animations of information that they have researched using Powtoon.

Numeracy

  • Using the Numbers (14.01) Toolbox to practice calculations, measurements and other mathematical formulas.
  • Encouraging learners to use Google Calendars for time management and assignment deadlines.
  • Using online calculations and converters such as ATO tax tables, time/currency converter sites, and insurance quoting etc.

Overwhelmed? Here is a quick summary

Building upon all learners’ foundation skills is important in order to meet the growing skill needs in Australian businesses.  A range of strategies are being implemented to support this, including explicitly outlining the foundation skill requirements of all new units of competency.  This change means that it is the responsibility of all VET practitioners to:

  • identify the foundation skills levels within each unit of competency, and
  • use a range of training and assessment strategies to ensure their learners are performing at the required foundation skill levels to pass a unit

Where else can you get help with addressing foundation skill gaps?

  • It is a good idea to seek Foundation Skills / LLN specialists support when you have individual learners who present with larger foundation skill gaps, or larger cohorts of learners who need help building their foundation skills. These specialists may be people within your RTO or staff in your local adult and community education sector.  
  • LLN & VET Meeting Place write regular blog posts, offer links to resources and run webinar events on this topic.  
  • eWorks provide excellent foundation skills educational design and content development services.