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WHAT IS A INTEGRATED COURSE?

and why it matters

What is an integrated course? And why it matters.


It means ITAC students complete 4 key modules (3 for Cert III), instead of 17 highly repetitive units.


In our article entitled ‘how to choose a provider’ we said that enrolling in an integrated course is very important. Enrolling in an integrated course will save you months of time and stress. It means you can graduate earlier and start working and earning money much sooner. This article explains what an integrated course is and why you should enrol in one.


Imagine studying a dual qualification with 25-30 separate units! You are much better off enrolling in a true ‘combo’ that has only 4 modules.


Summary

This article gets a bit technical - so here is a quick summary:

  • There is a large amount of duplication or overlap found across any nationally recognised qualification. Some units are up to 90% the same.
  • Many assessable items are found more than 20 times across a course.
  • An integrated course means only being assessed once for each item - not 20 or more times as happens with a unit-by-unit course.
  • Integrated courses literally save students hundreds of hours or many months worth of writing unnecessary assessments.
  • Graduating sooner means being able to enter the workforce sooner - it means earning up to $25,000 more compared to spending 6 additional months studying.
  • To design an integrated course the developer 'mashes' all units together into logical, work-like modules.
  • Only highly specialised providers like ITAC have the capability to offer integrated courses.
  • It's even more important to enrol in an integrated course for a combo or dual qualification. This is because there is twice the number of units and therefore twice the duplication.
  • ITAC is the only provider in Australia offering integrated teacher aide courses, as well as the only 'true' Teacher Aide Combo.

ITAC is the only provider in Australia offering integrated teacher aide courses, as well as the only 'true' Teacher Aide Combo.


The problem

Courses such as the CHC40221 Certificate IV in School Based Education Support are based on units of competency. In this particular course, there are 17 of them. These units however, were never intended to be delivered on a unit-by-unit basis, although that is what many providers do these days (mainly because it's cheap and easy to run courses this way). Almost all units of competency are actually designed to be ‘unpacked', contextualised and delivered in work-like modules of some kind.


This is because when you’re in the workplace, you will need to draw on skills and knowledge from multiple units in order to complete even the simplest of tasks. It's these work-based tasks that providers should teach - not discrete units that don't actually reflect how tasks are completed in the real world. In fact, there has been a lot of academic research into this problem particularly in fields where people make life and death decisions (nursing, aviation etc).


Because units within any qualification are developed to be stand-alone training products capable of being delivered on their own, there is significant overlap or duplication of content. For example, the term ‘confidentiality’ and other related terms (e.g. privacy, record keeping) is present in almost every unit – often multiple times in the same unit.


So, this then means that if you were to enrol in a unit-by-unit course, you would be assessed on this item every time it appeared in a unit. How may times does this particular term appear? About 20 times - yes 20. This usually means 20 short answer questions (some providers even have students write essays or reports).


Compounding this issue is that ‘confidentiality’ is not the only generic term that appears across all units – there are literally dozens of them such as hazards, policies, reflective practice and reporting to supervisors. In addition, there are many assessable items that a worker would do together in the real world e.g. supervise children while at the same time helping them learn to read. In a unit-by-unit course, these two tasks would be assessed separately and this is obviously very inefficient. In an integrated course, they are co-assessed.


The solution

Multiply that time saving by dozens of generic assessment items, and the student saves hundreds of hours (many months) of unnecessary repetition and duplication.


ITAC class

Above: 17 units are mashed together to form 4 modules that represent work-like tasks and functions. This is a much more effective and logical way of learning.


Integrated courses are effective because they combine or mash all units together into work-like functions or tasks - called modules in VET. This means a massive reduction in the number of assessment items that each student has to complete. Instead of being assessed 20 times on 'confidentiality', they are only assessed once or twice on this item throughout the entire course. Multiply that time-saving by dozens of generic assessment items, and the student saves hundreds of hours (many months) of unnecessary repetition and duplication.


In addition to removing duplication, similar or related content can be co-assessed. For example, let's say a teacher aide course has a unit on teaching reading and a unit on teaching writing. However, the instructional strategies that make up the bulk of both units are basically the same e.g. prompting, asking good questions, feedback, modelling etc.


In integrated courses, the requirements for both of these units are co-assessed in the same assessment item. This further saves the student time and stress, and allows them to focus on mastering critical skills instead of writing out a seemingly never ending stream of very similar theory assessments.


In addition to removing duplication, similar or related content can be co-assessed.


An interesting effect of using an integrated structure is that the assessment requirements for any given unit is spread out over multiple modules. This means, for example, that part of a unit is assessed in module 1, another part in module 2 and so forth.


The downside to this is that a student has to finish every assessment in order to be deemed competent in any given unit - it's kind of like an all or nothing situation. It also means the student is enrolled in every unit on day 1 and completes every unit on the final day (finishing all units at the end happens in most unit-by-unit courses anyway because the placement is at the very end and all practical aspects of each unit can't be assessed until then).


Note about 'clustering': clustering is where 3-4 overlapping units are delivered together in some format. A cluster should not be confused with a module. In a cluster, all aspects of each associated unit is 100% assessed in that cluster alone. There can be up to 8-10 clusters in a course and each cluster is independent of each other. Effectively a cluster is a big unit and hence there will still be a significant amount of repetition overall - the clusters don't talk to each other. Some providers get confused and think clustering means to deliver 3-4 separate units at the same time. While a clustered structure is more efficient than a unit-by-unit course in some cases, it pales in comparison to a fully integrated course.


The benefits

It means finishing sooner (up to 6-9 months earlier in some cases) while still learning the exact same content.


What does this mean for a teacher aide course such as the CHC40221 Certificate IV in School Based Education Support? It means ITAC students complete 4 key modules (3 for Cert III), instead of 17 highly repetitive units. It means finishing sooner (up to 6-9 months earlier in some cases) while still learning the exact same content.


It means working and earning an income many months earlier compared to unit-by-unit courses. It means getting your new career up and running sooner rather than later - opening the door to many more opportunities.


Finishing sooner rather than later has significant financial benefits. If a student graduates and spends 6 months working full-time instead of studying, they earn an extra $25,000+. Then there is benefit of less stress, more time for family, travel etc.


What about the Teacher Aide Combo?

In short, when it comes to dual/combo programs, integrated courses are even more efficient because there are twice the number of units meaning twice the duplication.


Combo or dual courses have been popular for some time and you will see universities, TAFEs and other providers offering them in a range of different areas including IT, fitness, business, mining etc. The problem is that many of these programs are not really 'combos' but simply two courses studied unit-by-unit and one after the other - maybe with a few credited units when you get to the second course. You really want to enrol in a combo or dual program that uses an integrated structure for the same reasons outlined above.


In fact, when it comes to dual/combo programs, integrated courses are even more effective because there are twice the number of units meaning twice the duplication - yet there are usually the same number of modules because of 'nesting' (which basically means content overlaps but at different levels of skill). Imagine studying a dual qualification with 25-30 separate units! Without doubt, you are much better off enrolling in a true ‘combo’ that has only 4 modules.


ITAC’s Teacher Aide Combo is an integrated course which combines over 30 units into four user-friendly modules. Be sure to enrol in a true Teacher Aide Combo and not a unit-by-unit course.


Why don’t more providers offer integrated courses?

For these reasons, only a few providers in Australia (from about 4500) have the capabilities to design courses in this way.


The simple answer is that almost all providers buy their course content from ‘curriculum developers’ who generally don’t know how to develop integrated assessments, or don't want to because they take a long time to develop and are very difficult to write.


To successfully write an integrated course that would pass a government audit, the developer needs to be both a VET and industry expert - and most curriculum developers are neither. For these reasons, only a few providers in Australia (from about 4500) have the capabilities to design courses in this way.


From everyone at ITAC, we hope this article was useful and we hope to see you soon!


Happy Learning

About the author

Image of the managing director of ITAC.

ADAM GREEN

Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to check his article for accuracy, information may be outdated, inaccurate or not relevant to you and your location/employer/contract. It is not intended as legal or professional advice. Users should seek expert advice such as by contacting the relevant education department, should make their own enquiries, and should not rely on any of the information provided.

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