When does a qualification have depth? 19


It stands to reason that any qualification needs to have sufficient depth to ensure real learning on the level of the qualification. It, however, is not always clear what is meant by “depth”. This is how I see it and I would really appreciate it if you could add on to my flights of imagination.

A qualification shows depth when the contents of the learning programme are on an acceptable academic level and encourages the students to think cognitively. All learning consists of three main elements, namely theoretical knowledge; philosophy; and skills, or practical work. In the case of occupational and vocational learning the emphasis is more on acquiring skills than on theory and philosophy, although some theory and a little philosophy is mostly necessary in order to achieve at least foundational competence. In the case of academic learning the emphasis falls on theory and philosophy, although most academic learning also includes acquiring certain skills, in some cases rather specialised skills.

The title of the qualifications does not indicate the depth of the learning content. Take flower arranging as an example. You can have an occupational certificate in flower arranging, but also a bachelor’s degree or even a doctoral thesis on the same topic.

The qualification should be coherent. This means that the different modules or subjects included in a qualification should support and complement one another. In this manner students are given a good measure of depth in the purpose of the qualification. It also simplifies the learning process because what students learn in one module or subject provides theory that will help the student understand the contents and rationale behind other subjects.

The qualification should be well-structured. Subjects should progressively become more “difficult” as the student progresses from one academic year to the next. This means that first year subjects should prepare the students for second year subjects and so on until the final year.

The assessment should test the students’ knowledge and, perhaps, skills, at the right level. Some claim that multiple-choice questions only test low level cognitive skills. This is most certainly not the case. Multiple-choice questions, like most other types of exam questions, can be asked in such a way that they test comprehension and not just content. In fact, one can tests many elements of practical work by means of written or e-learning exams.

In closing, there might well be a multitude of other factors determining the depth of a qualification. Therefore it is important to specify what you mean when you claim that a qualification lacks depth.

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About Hannes Nel

CEO and owner of Mentornet (Pty) Ltd. Academic background: B. Mil.; BA Honnours; MBL; D. Com; D. Phil Published 10 books with two more in the pipeline.


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19 thoughts on “When does a qualification have depth?

  • Hannes Nel Post author

    Thank you for your assistance and generosity, Sylvia. Le me play around with the Mentornet group first before you delete it. I will come back to you. Would have put a kissy icon here if I knew how to!

    • sylvia hammond

      Hi Hannes, I appreciate the thought 🙂 – I have now reduced the groups from 90 to 68. I have not deleted them as yet in case anyone decides that they want something from a group – they are just hidden from view.

  • Guera Romo

    In business we measure the depth of knowledge in the ability to apply concepts. Assessment confirms how well the student memorized the work. It very seldom assesses application and this is where employees fail…degree and all 🙁

    The bigger problem is probably how the material is offered. I cringe when I see handouts in the form of powerpoint slides or photo copies or worse, links to webpages. Students do not absorb the content through doing.

    • Guera Romo

      Hi Sylvia,

      I just signed onto this universe. Yes, the home page and forum page make navigation a bit confusing. Also it seems my adding myself to groups showed as recent activity. There was nothing going on in those groups. One even had no activity for the last 6 years. Perhaps it might help to close those and keep no more than 10 main topics going with 1 entry point to stimulate active conversation.

    • Hannes Nel Post author

      I think yours is a good idea, Sylvia. I checked the one you opened for Mentornet – don’t think it works at all. No doubt it is largely my fault – too dumb to understand how I can benefit from it. You can just as well delete it and probably some others as well. In the “old” days when all discussed issues on one platform many might have received postings in which they re not interested, but somehow it was fun and sometimes you came cross really fresh ideas and arguments. You active and energetic participation is really appreciated. Also your guidance when you see that I am not using Skills Universe correctly.

      • sylvia hammond

        Dear Hannes,
        I also just checked the Mentornet group, and it is working fine -but there hasn’t been any activity for 5 years!
        I think that the confusion is – when you go to a group, it automatically opens to a Home page, and that is just a list of the activities on the group.
        To look at the discussions and make comment, you have to click on the Forum page of the group.
        I have just spoken with our technical guy, as this seems to be what is confusing to members. However, we did not create the software, so we are limited in what we can amend.
        So we have two alternatives if we can’t amend the software – to make it automatically open into the Forum, and to change the name Home to Activity List – or some similar wording. So we will work on some alternatives.
        I will delete it if you still want to, but it would be a way to promote Mentornet if you posted your articles there. So I suggest please go back and have a look again, and see if you can navigate the Home and Forum pages.
        I am also going to post a list of groups to be deleted – unless I hear otherwise from members.

  • sylvia hammond

    Hi Hannes & Des,
    I have been followng your comments. One of the problems which I think exists with the new site is that the discussion groups have a Home page and a Forum page. Members click on the Home page, which is just a summary of actions in that group, but then members can’t work out why they can’t comment. They need to click on the Forum page of the group. I have been thinking about asking our technical guy whether it is possible to remove the home page, so the group only has the discussion forum page.
    What do you both think?

    • Hannes Nel Post author

      Perhaps you should just keep “educating” us, Sylvia. Yours is a most valuable means of communication among private leaning institutions, which is why I am of the opinion that you are doing more than APPETD to fend for the interests of private learning providers. Also, no doubt you have your mission and vision with Skills Universe and, although one should adapt to change, I think you should stick to your dream as long as you believe in it.

  • Des Squire

    A lovely article Hannes – thanks for the insight. Wouldn’t it be great if all qualifications and training material were developed along the above lines.

    I trust all is well with you and the family?

    • Hannes Nel Post author

      It is treat to hear from you again, Des. Things have changed a lot in the two years that I was “out of circulation”. What happened to all the private learning providers? Why is even Skills Universe so quiet now? I can still remember how enthusiastically people discussed issues only two or three years ago. We could even organise breakfast workshops and easily have 100 plus people attend. Now I would not even try. I asked Sylvia more or less the same question. She is still happy and I think they have a different focus now. Do you experience the same or is my observation wrong?

        • Des Squire

          Hi Hannes, your observation is similar to mine. I get quite frustrated these days when all we see are adverts for assessors, moderators etc. Impossible to get a good discussion going any more. I miss all of the interaction we used to have and yes the social activities. Why did you stay out of action for so long- I hope all was well and that there were no problems. Great being in touch again.

          • Kate Sani

            Hi Hannes and Des, I concur. Des’ observation about the adverts for assessors, etc puts me off the site – the adverts are just too overwhelming to scroll through until one finds an interesting discussion to contribute to. I also find the site design very confusing to navigate. Anyway, thank you Hannes for keeping the ‘fires burning’. I really enjoy your pieces (when I fall across them).

          • sylvia hammond

            Hi Kate,
            Just responding to your comment about difficult navigating. The original concept we had was that the adverts are in the quick links on the side – with a link to be able to read and a link to be able to view. If you subscribe to those two links you will receive email updates.
            Then for the discussions, they are in Discussion Groups. If you join a group, and subscribe to the group you will receive an update also in email when a discussion is posted. As indicated to Hannes, I am in the process of reducing the groups. On the original site anyone could create a group, so many were created but not really used.
            Then the third area is the Reading Room, which is where Hannes posted intended for the more serious reading content. But as you see does also create discussion.
            So if you join groups and read the reading room content, you should never see the Adverts.
            Let me know if this makes some sense – and maybe I will do some further posting as I am sure you are not alone.