3. LLN – Do you get it?

Every so often, someone in education, and especially adult education, comes up with something that actually supports the learners and tries to support educational outcomes. In my opinion, the requirement to evaluate Language, Literacy and Numeracy requirements for the educational outcomes and for the learners always needed to be linked; and, finally, using the Australian Core Skills Framework, it has been.

Firstly, to correct the LLN misnomer, LLN no longer stands for only language, literacy and numeracy. LLN is now actually reading, writing, learning, oral communication and numeracy, and all qualifications and reference materials that relate to LLN now refer to all the above.

Secondly, the application of LLN is no longer about whether a learner can just read and count. It now includes what reading and counting is actually required to complete the unit of competency being undertaken.

And lastly, everything about LLN is now about aligning both the learner and the courses material with each other to ensure that the learner adequately fulfils the requirements of the course.

As trainers, we have all been required to complete an LLN unit as an upgrade to our Cert IV in TAE to continue training. Many trainers have done this, some have not. And the interesting thing about those who have done their upgrade through my RTO is that the upgrade that we do doesn’t seem to be like the upgrade that many others have done. What is the difference? Well, to start with, the new LLN unit (TAELLN411) is not the same as the old unit. That’s right. The performance criteria are not the same in the new unit as the old. Why has this not been picked up by many RTO’s? Well the answer to that is simple – the RTO’s didn’t read the new unit of competency requirements. If they did, they would have noticed that the new unit is all about ‘doing’ not ‘identifying’; the new unit is all about application and not theory.

Part of this application comes down to the basics behind the new world of LLN itself. You need to work out what the learner needs to complete the unit of competency, not what the learner currently has in general. In other words, if the unit is all about numeracy, and the learner has sufficient numeracy skills to pass the unit, then it actually doesn’t matter if he has skills in any other part of the LLN spectrum. Certain of the accounting competencies in the BSB courses do not require oral communication skills at all, much less to a high level, and those courses may be Cert IV or Diploma.

This brings up the issue of the performance requirement of the unit of competency in the first place. You cannot know what LLN skills the learner needs if you haven’t identified the actual skills that the unit of competency requires. This means that you must have done a first pass on the unit of competency against the LLN requirements. This brings us to the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF), which is the bible for everything LLN. Running to about 200 pages, the ACSF breaks each of the five areas of LLN (reading, writing, learning, oral communication and numeracy) down into 5 levels ranging from very basic to very complex (numbered 1-5). When you take a look at the performance criteria for the unit of competency, you will need to have identified what the ACSF skills is e.g. reading, and what level that skills needs to be delivered at e.g. 3. A reading level 3 will require more advanced skills than a reading level 2, but not as advanced as a reading level 5. Additionally, your unit may not require all the ACSF skills, and they may need to be delivered across all of the levels 1-5. Your unit may need advanced oral communication skills, but only require very basic numeracy skills even in the same unit.

In order to determine what each unit requires, you have to do this exercise for each unit. Fortunately, you only need to do it once for each unit, but is will form part of your validation for each unit, so it is worth doing.

The real issue is that you will have to do a similar exercise for each learner – evaluate the LLN skills that the learner has and at what level – and then you will have to align the learner skills and level with the requirement of the unit of competency. (When we teach our LLN upgrade course, this is the primary focus of the learning outcomes. You may already have a sense that getting your head around applying these new processes can be a bit complicated if you don’t know what you are looking at or doing!)

If your unit requires you have oral communication skills at level 4, and your LLN pre-evaluation shows that you have oral communication skills at level 4, then you will be fine. If you have skills at level 2 then you will struggle with the unit. And, this is the cornerstone of the new world of LLN. If your learner skills align nicely with the unit skills requirements, then the learner will be able to grasp the unit requirements for competency better than if the skills levels are widely divergent. But, even exactly aligned skills and levels only means that your learner has the minimum skills to complete the unit. It is still no guarantee that the learner can evidence competency, which is a completely separate issue.

The other issue I will touch on here is that trainers and instructional designers seem to forget that not all units of competency are at the same qualification level. A unit may be from a Cert II or an Advanced Diploma, and the actual evidence requirements for these two qualifications are widely divergent. A Cert II can be answered all day long using multiple choice, but the answer for an Advance Diploma will require pages of discourse and complex reasoning – even for the same question. So it may be that your learner has an ACSF level 2 for oral communication, but that is fine for the Advance Diploma that he is doing, because the LLN skill he actually requires to evidence competency is writing, not oral communication, and writing at a level 5 standard.

Many trainers seem to have developed the unfortunate idea that the best way to address lower LLN abilities with their learners is to make the content of their courses easier. However, this may well mean that the course is no longer meeting its competency standards, and this may now be putting our training outcomes (and the qualifications for our learners) at risk.

So what is LLN, and the application of LLN principles in our training environments actually about?

It is about modifying our training and our resources to ensure that the LLN abilities of the learner can be better aligned with the LLN requirements of the Unit of competency. All along, trainers have been ‘dumbing down’ the content of the unit to attempt to match the LLN abilities of the learner, but that ‘dumbing down’, although making it more possible for the learner to pass, may be significantly changing the competency requirements of the unit. The learner may now be failing to meet the standards of assessment required against the performance criteria of the unit of competency.

In truth, simply because a learner wants to undertake training in a particular area doesn’t mean that they have the LLN skills to do so. As a trainer we need to identify what LLN skills are required, and to do our best to align the learning to the abilities of the learner. If they can be aligned – success. If they cannot be aligned …

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