Benefits of clustering your training & assessment

Jun 15, 2020

The pros and cons of clustering units of competency for RTOs

Clustering. Some people love it and some people don’t know enough about it to love it. We explore the benefits of clustering delivery of training and assessment for RTOs.

It’s important to understand what clustering is. Clustering involves delivering and assessing two or more units together in groups, in a meaningful and purposeful way. This is to avoid duplication and repetition, or to create a logical flow or context to delivery. Think about the amount of times you need to teach and assess your students about the same piece of legislation, or industry codes of practice, in an unclustered course. You can quickly see how clustering might benefit. By clustering thoughtfully you can greatly increase student satisfaction and engagement, increase the quality of your courses, and save time and resources.

Benefits to students, trainers & assessors

One of the biggest benefits of clustering is the grouping of common themes across units and removing duplication of underpinning knowledge and skills. There are many units that have very similar skills and knowledge requirements that sit within the same qualification. In a unit-by-unit approach to delivery, these topics would need to be delivered and assessed again and again in each unit. Take for example, the CHC30113 Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care, nearly all of the units of competency include the knowledge evidence requirement:

How to access: The National Quality Framework, the National Quality Standards, [and] the relevant approved Learning Framework.

-Source:, accessed on 15th June 2020

In a course that has 18 units of competency, in a unit-by-unit delivery approach, the RTO would need to deliver this topic and then assess the knowledge 18 times. Students would need to read about the National Quality Framework, standards and learning frameworks 18 times and then likely have to answer some very similar questions about this in each of the unit assessments.

This is a simplistic example for the purpose of this article. But you can see how this may lead to students becoming disengaged or frustrated by having to go over the same information again and again and perhaps even answer the same questions from one unit to the next.

Similarly, the advantages to the student flow through to the advantage for trainers and assessors. For trainers and assessors, by clustering, they won’t need to spend time going over the same content again and again in class or online. They won’t need to mark the same questions over and over again.

In this simplistic example it might seem that the savings are minimal, however the benefits are actually quite large. When grouping three or four units into a cluster, you can often group it into about four or five assessment tasks that holistically integrate the assessment of all of the units across those four or five tasks. If you assessed four units individually, with each unit having a minimum of three assessment tasks, that would have been a total of twelve assessment tasks. That’s twelve assessment tasks compared to a possible five assessment tasks in the clustered example. The five assessment tasks may be larger project-style tasks, but they are often tasks that are more meaningful and more realistic to the real working world as well.

This is the impact on trainers, assessors and students. But what about the impact on the RTO?

Benefits to RTOs

There are two key benefits to RTOs that cluster their delivery and assessment.

The first being student engagement – one of the key quality indicators for an RTO. As covered above, clustering units helps to reduce boredom which will likely lead to increased learner engagement survey results. Increasing learner engagement will help your RTO increase positive experiences for students. They will then be far more likely to leave positive reviews, or recommend your RTO to their friends and family. Positive word of mouth and great testimonials from students go a long way in increasing your student numbers and growing your RTO.

The second big advantage is the cost savings to your RTO. With clustered assessments, your RTO is saving on marking time as there are fewer assessments to mark. There are fewer assessments to handle from an administrative perspective as well. Think about filing, processing in the student management system, learning management system and so on. This will keep your assessors happy with less paperwork and have a positive impact on your bottom line.

More advantages of clustering

Clustering training and assessment allows you to follow workplace processes and tasks in an order that replicates real workplace practices and processes. Rather than focusing on smaller pieces of the job that are often outlined in one unit of competency. The VET system is designed around qualifications and units of competency describing the skills and knowledge required to achieve vocational outcomes. A unit of competency describes only one function or requirement of a role in the Australian labour market. However, job functions often need to be demonstrated and performed at the same time as each other once the student is out in the workforce. By clustering your delivery, you are preparing them for the real world. You are grouping the units of competency together into larger groups that will more closely reflect how a student will actually need to work once they are qualified.

Going back to the early childhood example, the unit CHCDIV001 Work with diverse people – this is an ideal unit for clustering as you always work with diverse people while also performing other parts of your role. To assess these skills on their own is almost superficial.

Another great example can be taken from the Travel, Tourism and Hospitality Training Package, and the SIT40516 Certificate IV in Commercial Cookery.  Let’s consider the units ‘SITHPAT006 Produce desserts’ and ‘SITHCCC019 Produce cakes, pastries and breads’

SITHPAT006 Produce desserts requires the students to produce at least ten different desserts from common desserts listed, of which some fall into the category of cakes and pastries.

SITHCCC019 Produce cakes, pastries and breads requires the student to produce and decorate four cakes and four pastries (as well as four breads).

Both units require the production and use of sauces when preparing their dishes and require students to produce their dishes in consistent quality, size, shape and appearance, within commercial time constraints and so on.

By grouping these units together, because there is some cross over, but also because the content of the units go well together – Desserts, Pastries and Breads – it makes sense to deliver and assess these units together.

There will be time saved in the kitchen and fewer dishes will need to be cooked. All while students still get the required practice, experience and assessment.

In this example the RTO would benefit in many ways:

  • Saving on trainer and assessor time
  • Saving on resources (food for practical assessments)
  • Reducing the hours the students need to spend in a kitchen (potentially saving on rental costs if hiring a venue).

Clustering misunderstood

Why do RTOs shy away from clustering?

The benefits of clustering and how to do it properly is probably a major reason that clustering isn’t more widely taken up. There is no real training for how to cluster properly and what works and doesn’t, which is part of the reason for writing this article!

It’s true that it can be difficult to decide on the ‘right’ clusters for your course. Sometimes there are disagreements in the design process about units that belong together. There is no one size fits all approach and what one person comes up with may be different to the next. However, it is an art to master by working on it, developing it and refining it.

At Eduworks Resources our ‘cluster outlines’ often go through a couple of rounds of alterations before we settle on our final clusters (and our learning design team is experienced with creating clusters).

It’s important to understand that just because units are clustered together, it does not mean that parts of the units are not assessed. Looking at some clustered assessments available on the market, this is one area to consider when purchasing clustered assessments. Always make sure that all parts of each unit are covered. We have found that with some clustered resources some parts of the unit are not covered because the focus of the assessment has been on another unit and just glossed over another.

When we cluster our resources, we have a process to make sure nothing is missed. In our Eduworks Resources kits, we include a very comprehensive mapping document for each unit. Each unit goes through its own quality review where we look at the mapping for just that unit, making sure each requirement is covered within the cluster. This makes sure no requirements are left out in the cold!

We have seen some mapping documents that try to combine all units in one table together. This becomes over-engineered and difficult for everyone to decipher. Keep it simple so you know where you’re at. If you can’t understand the mapping table there is a high likelihood others in your team can’t either. Nor will an auditor. This can lead to non-compliances at audit because the auditor didn’t know what they were looking at.

Clustering downsides

What are the downsides of clustering?

Although we think the benefits of clustering outweigh the negatives it’s important to consider any downsides.

One reason many RTOs steer away from clustering is because of the worry about credit transfers. Many RTOs are concerned that students coming to them with previous credit won’t be able to get the credit recognised due to the clustering.

This is similar when a student is applying for RPL with your RTO for some units in a qualification.

While credits and partial RPL applications are a bit more complicated when you have a clustered model, there are plenty of ways around this. Its also important to consider if this downside that affects a minority of students is worth affecting the majority of students and your whole delivery model on the wider scale.

So how do you make sure you can easily grant the credit in a clustered model? Go back to the mapping. Look at the credit the student has received and go to the mapping for that unit. What tasks is that unit covered in? What is remaining in the cluster? It might be that you can tell the student they don’t need to complete Tasks 1 and 2 of that cluster due to their credit. This is a mapping document that can be set up at the start of your course for dealing with credits so you don’t need to do it on a student by student basis.

Government funding also comes into it

Some RTOs with government funding like to avoid clustering. This is because some government contracts put in some additional requirements around clustered training and assessment. However, when making the decision to cluster or not to cluster, it’s important to consider whether the downsides outweigh the benefits. The funding contracts often allow clustering with a few additional measures put in place to manage and report on funding and claiming.

So you might be asking, why all our resources at Eduworks aren’t clustered …

This is a decision we have had to make in order to offer a flexible product for our clients. Although we would love every resource to be clustered, sometimes it’s not practical due to the cross over between qualifications. Additionally, some clients just don’t want to cluster, despite our efforts at trying to promote the benefits. Our Business Services resources is an example.

In this situation many of the units appear in multiple qualifications and therefore need to be available as single units. For us this is a small price to pay so that we can offer our clients a wide range of elective choices. However, where we can we always prefer to cluster. If you’re interested in us clustering our business resources, we can also do this upon request!

The final word

There are many benefits to clustering your training and assessment. From increased student engagement, saving on resources including marking time, time required for practical assessments to a better flow for your courses.  However, getting clustering can be difficult as there is no right way to do it and it can take time to learn.

That’s why we’ll soon be releasing another article providing a more in-depth look at how to cluster your training and assessment resources.

If you’re interested in our Commercial Cookery resources, that we used as an example in this article and have been developed as integrated, clustered assessments, please click on the link above.

Additionally, if you’d like training for your team on how to effectively create clusters, we can provide this training in-house.