It is rather frustrating when consultants who evaluate training materials on behalf of quality assurance bodies claim that the materials have not been contextualised when clearly they do not know how materials should be contextualised to begin with. Quality assurance bodies mostly rely on the expert advice of such evaluators so that they have no other choice but to refuse approval and accreditation of such materials. Sadly the so-called experts are often also private training providers who use their position as evaluators to keep other providers from obtaining accreditation. There is a clear conflict of interest here, but still it happens. In the process learning programme designers and developers have no choice but to review the materials, thereby wasting time and money while potential students are denied an opportunity to receive good quality education and training.
Evaluators would probably have been really happy if only learning programme designers and developers would discuss contextualisation under the heading “CONTEXTUALISATION” in their alignment reports. Problem is, contextualisation is not a separate process – the entire learning materials need to be contextualised. Contextualising training materials mean that the materials are developed in such a manner that it applies to a particular context, such as a community, a workplace, an industry, etc. Currently all three the major quality assurance bodies in South Africa, i.e. the CHE/HEQC, Umalusi and the QCTO favour generic standards so that it is most unlikely that the learning programme design will be contextualised. All three require curriculums that apply to as many workplaces as possible. This is acceptable in the case of higher education, but probably impractical in the case of occupational education and training as well as further education and training. For example, the QCTO will eventually realise that all welders cannot be trained according to the same curriculum – welding security gates is completely different from welding oil pipelines so that curriculums for training welders need to be contextualised to the skills needs of different workplaces.
One can often use generic standards as the basis for the development of training materials for different workplaces in the event of which contextualisation will be necessary. The same standards can, for example, be tested in many different workplaces by asking different questions (theoretical or practical) testing the same knowledge or competencies but applying to each particular workplace. Especially assessment instruments used for RPL need to be contextualised as RPL is sensitive to the context in which the assessment takes place. People seek RPL for different reasons, which means that they will also utilise the credits and/or certificates that they receive through RPL for different purposes. Manuals, reflective exercises and learning event plans also need to be contextualised.
One would also contextualise learning materials to both the internal and the external environment in which the materials will be used. Learning materials need to be articulated to the learning institution that will offer the learning programme, and this is done by means of an internal environmental analysis. This would typically require that the materials be adapted to the learning institution’s policies and procedures, capacity, culture, size, strategic objective, etc. The materials are further contextualised by means of an external environmental analysis. To achieve this one would typically adapt the materials to legislation, technological developments, community needs, economic factors and perhaps even political trends. So, you will probably have noticed that articulation is a useful tool to use in contextualisation of training materials.
Yet another important factor for which contextualisation is necessary is the profile of the students. Training materials should take the learning needs and personal circumstances of students into account, even though entry requirements might reduce the need for renewed contextualisation for every group of students. Even so, it is always a good idea to contextualise at least learning event plans for different learning groups.
In closing, evaluators of training materials must keep in mind that quality assurance procedures are also context-dependent. While it is important that all learning institutions must implement a common set of procedures, it is also necessary that there should be variation in the procedural content, reflecting the diversity of missions among learning institutions. This is important if the learning that we offer is to promote creativity and improve productivity.
Dr Hannes Nel, MD Mentornet