Meeting Learner Needs

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Under the Standards for NVR Registered Training Organisations and the AQTF, RTOs need to have a strategy that details how it will establish the needs of learners. Often potential learners’ needs are established through interview, sometimes through the completion of a form, sometimes through both methods. An interview is an opportunity to ask about learner needs. 

Sometimes learners are embarrassed or self-conscious of their special need, or about particular skills. Some people with low level language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) skills are quite open about their skills, and others are embarrassed and will make no mention of them. Trainers need to always be on the lookout to identify when learners are having difficulties with training, for whatever reason.


The Commonwealth government has funding available on a competitive grants basis to develop the LLN skills of workers – it’s called the Workplace English Language and Literacy (WELL) program. WELL programs are developed to suit particular worker and workplace needs. For further information, contact IBSA or go to


To assist with identifying what the key LLN tasks are within a unit of competency, units developed against the new standards for training packages have a field titled ‘Foundation Skills’ that highlights, or makes explicit, the LLN skills required. This information will assist trainers to know which LLN skills need to be developed for the job.

Foundation skills include the five core skills in the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF), which are: learning, reading, writing, oral communication and numeracy.

The term ‘foundation skills’ also includes some employment skills, such as teamwork, problem solving, initiative and enterprise, planning and organising, self-management, and technology.


Disability Standards for Education were formed under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and were introduced in August 2005. They clarify the obligations of education and training providers to ensure that students who have a disability are able to access and participate in education without experiencing discrimination.

The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) provides further information in the Disability Standards for Education 2005 Guidance Notes, accessible via the DEEWR website at

Quality vocational training and assessment is often about making adjustments to meet the learning support needs of individuals. The information provided in this section is aimed at assisting trainers to meet the reasonable adjustment needs of people who have a disability.

What is a disability?
A disability presents some impairment to everyday activity. Some people with a disability do not have any impairments resulting from their disability. For example, a person who has a hearing impairment which is compensated for by a hearing aid may function without any adjustments. While some people with a disability may have an impairment because of the environment, not the disability itself. For example, hearing loss can be accentuated in a room with loud, competing noise and poor acoustics.

A disability may affect or relate to a range of human functions, including mobility, stamina, lifting ability, memory, vision, hearing, speech, comprehension and mood swings. This may be due to accidents, illnesses or birth disability.

Health conditions can also be acquired through sporting accidents, repetitive or over-use (through regular or sporting activities), or the daily activities of life.

There are many resources available that provide information on how to adjust training and assessment for someone who has a disability; some of these are listed in the contacts section below.

Adjustments in training
An open mind, common sense and tailoring to individual circumstances will help ensure individuals achieve the standards that employers and training providers expect. Reasonable adjustments need only be that – reasonable. It is about identifying what adjustments might reasonably be made and how they may be put into place.

Training and assessment can be made more appropriate and fairer for a person who has a disability through attitude, preparation and application.

The attitude of others is often the greatest barrier for people who have a disability. While most people who have a disability will only ever require minor adjustments to ensure learning is positive, some will require additional support. There are many support agencies that can provide advice, however teachers/trainers may need to take additional time to ensure training meets the needs of the individual concerned.

Positive language creates an atmosphere of mutual respect, which is essential to learning. For example using language that identifies learners as people, rather than language that identifies them by one of his or her characteristics, conveys that the person is more important than the characteristic, such as the difference between a ‘person who has an intellectual disability’ and an ‘intellectually disabled person’. A person who has an intellectual disability could also be identified by a range of equally important characteristics – height, age, sporting interests, etc. However, the term ‘intellectually disabled person’ refers to the disability as the major, and often only, defining characteristic.

It is important to identify any functional issues arising from the nature and extent of a person’s disability. This can usually be done by discussing such issues with the individual. In most cases, this consultation will identify reasonable adjustment needs which can be put into place. There are many simple things that trainers can do to make reasonable adjustments to enable individuals who have a disability to succeed in training. In some cases, professional support may be required.

Once reasonable adjustments have been implemented it is important to monitor and evaluate what has been done to ensure the best environment for continuous learning, because:

  • adjustments may only need to be temporary – i.e. mechanisms may only need to be in place during an induction period or due to a temporary disability, in which case evaluation will ensure appropriateness without the need for ongoing monitoring
  • adjustments may need reinforcing – when adjustments need to be ongoing, monitoring may reinforce patterns of behaviour in order for them to become ‘natural’
  • adjustments may need improving – where adjustments are ongoing or substantial, a commitment to continuous improvement is recommended through monitoring.

In most cases an informal discussion with the person concerned may be all that is necessary. However, should adjustments be substantial, or a learner not be acquiring competence at a reasonable rate, a more formal process may be required. This may include:

  • performance indicators – training providers, learners and employers should have agreed indicators of performance which can be measured and monitored
  • independent support – a third party, independent of the training environment, may need to be involved
  • experimentation – if existing adjustments are not proving satisfactory, creative solutions may be needed
  • continuing review – formal monitoring is encouraged if adjustments are changed or if substantial adjustments are necessary.

For further information on training and assessment for people with specific needs, the DEEWR website has information about the National Disability Coordination Officer Program, which ‘provides information, coordination and referral services for people with a disability interested in or enrolled in post-school education and training’. Go to


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have expressed concern about the importance of developing appropriate training processes.

There are four main areas of concern:

  • diversity
  • cultural appropriateness
  • community control
  • accreditation.

The term diversity is used to emphasise the wide range of opinions, aspirations, community circumstances, cultural practices, geographic locations, and social, economic and political conditions that exist throughout Australia and the need to guard against assumptions that all communities are the same.

One approach is to distinguish between remote, rural and urban settings. These settings suggest differences that may be relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, including:

  • culture
  • language
  • history
  • social make-up
  • geography
  • social and economic infrastructure
  • economy
  • political structure.

These factors suggest that training, in order to be relevant to the needs of a particular Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation, should address each situation as unique.

Cultural appropriateness
The term culture is used in a broad sense. It refers to:

  • values, social beliefs and customs, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander law, land, and family and kinship systems
  • protocols of behaviour and interaction e.g. cultural authority, gender and kinship
  • ways of thinking, including preferred learning styles
  • language, both English and Aboriginal English
  • lifestyles
  • local history
  • location, including region and place.

A particularly important aspect of cultural appropriateness is that of learning styles. There is evidence that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, both traditional and contemporary, approach learning differently from the Western intellectual tradition, which is relevant to effective training and assessment.

There are no rules, but in many cases Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may:

  • learn better in groups than individually
  • learn better in the surroundings of their community than in an institutional environment
  • prefer oral communications to written forms
  • learn on the basis of trial and error in the presence of an experienced person in preference to concept building approaches
  • have a highly-developed sense of spatial relations by which they learn, hence stories, maps and pictures would be preferable to oral explanations.

To be effective, it is necessary that training and assessment recognises, adopts and practices appropriate delivery and assessment approaches.

Trainers who are not Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander need information on aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. They need to work closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to adopt practices that reflect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander approaches. The community should be asked to identify experts to provide information and to assist with assessment of relevant protocols, for example, where required.

There are a number of ways an RTO can establish and maintain culturally appropriate training and assessment practices, including:

  • ensuring a high proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in all aspects of planning, development, delivery and evaluation
  • establishing and maintaining a collaborative relationship with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • as a mainstream (non-Indigenous) RTO, establishing auspice relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and individuals, including direct and indirect involvement of persons identified as appropriate by the local community
  • ensuring ongoing training of non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff at all levels of the RTO, delivered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander personnel.

Community control
The term community control is synonymous with such terms such as self-determination and self management – these terms underpin most community aspirations and are a fundamental concern to people who see themselves as having been dispossessed by colonisation.

The essence of control is control of decision-making. In order to be able to do this, people need all relevant information, relevant competencies, and recognition of their own structures and processes.

Among other things, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people seek control over their training. It is necessary, therefore, that they participate in meaningful ways in all stages of planning, development, delivery and evaluation. One way to achieve this is for communities to have control of the contract for training initiatives.

It is important that training providers and assessors respect and conform to the practice of community control which underpins this field within the Automotive Training Packages.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have said for a long time that their involvement in training has not been formally recognised and that many of the skills they use in managing their organisations and delivering services to their communities have not been valued.

The first issue may have arisen because much of the training that has been delivered to communities has been customised to particular situations, and has not been assessed on an individual basis if at all, and has been delivered by unregistered personnel. Secondly, until this time, recognition of current competencies (RCC) has been under-utilised.

Individuals may demonstrate competence in complete units of competency through formal training, informal training or the recognition of current competencies and skills, resulting in qualifications or statements of attainment being awarded.

In the community group setting, an important feature of likely relevance for assessment is that participants may vary with respect to previous education and training experience, which may result in diverse literacy and numeracy issues. However, literacy and numeracy skills are not a barrier to sophisticated thought, and care must be taken not to use assessment strategies that rely on a person having numeracy and literacy skills that are not intrinsically required by the unit of competency being assessed.