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What are the guidelines or rules for contextualisation of units of competency in Vocational Education and Training (VET)?

If you’re doing a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, you’ve probably been asked to describe the guidelines or rules for contextualising of units of competency.

The requirement to understand what contextualisation is, and the guidelines for it, appear throughout the Cert IV including in units such as:

  • TAEASS502 Design and develop assessment tools
  • TAEASS401 Plan assessment activities and processes

‘Context-ual-ise-ation’: Fancy word – simple meaning

What does contextualisation even mean? It’s quite the mouthful.

Let’s break it down:


Context means the circumstances or situation surrounding something (e.g. an event, statement, or idea). When you give context to something, it adds meaning.

The question “what is that?” has very little meaning without context.

But if I ask “what is that round green shiny fruit?” while pointing to an apple, I am adding context to the original question.


Now we know what context is, we can see that to contextualise something is the act of adding context.

When I added “round green shiny fruit” to the question “what is that?” I was contextualising the question.

So contextualisation is about adding details to something general, to give it a more specific meaning.

Here are some more relevant examples:

Generic Contextualised
Shut down the device Shutdown the iPad
Serve customers Serve park kiosk visitors
Operate the vehicle in accordance with relevant rules and regulations Drive the school bus in accordance with NSW road rules

Why do trainers and assessors need to know about contextualisation?

In Vocational Education and Training (VET) we mostly teach and assess students based on Nationally Recognised Training Packages. Or more specifically, the units of competency found within these training packages.

These units of competency are generic. They have to be, otherwise we couldn’t have a nationally recognised training system.

Example: AHCPGD207 - Plant trees and shrubs
AHCPGD207 Plant trees and shrubs is a unit of competency from the Agriculture, Horticulture and Conservation and Land Management Training Package. You would probably do a unit like this if you were studying a Certificate II in Landscaping.

If the unit of competency were called “Plant Eucalypts in solodic soil” then you’d probably also need a thousand other units of competency to cover other trees and soil types. This would make the national training system unviable and courses ridiculously complex.

If units are kept generic, it means local training providers can offer courses that are relevant to local and industry needs.

Students who do Certificate II in Landscaping in Perth WA get to learn how to apply their skills in the sandy soils of Western Australia, planting local species. Students who do the course in the New England region of NSW get to learn about working with rich basalt soils and higher altitude plant species.

So trainers and assessors with a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment will need to understand how to contextualise a unit of competency, to make it relevant to their student’s needs, and their students’ employer’s and workplace needs.

What are the guidelines for contextualisation?

The rules for contextualising are:

  • “The elements and performance criteria cannot be changed.
  • Specific industry terminology can be substituted for generic terms in the performance criteria as long as it does not change the competency outcomes.
  • Amendments to the range statement can be made to reflect local or organisational needs as long as they do not diminish the breadth or portability of the competency.”

This is according to Australian National Training Authority, Australia Department of Education, Science and Training, Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE Research and Development Department & Australian Training Products 2005, Contextualising teaching and learning: a guide for VET teachers, ATP, Melbourne.

You can download this guide here from NCVER’s VOCED Plus database. In it they include the steps in contextualising including:

  • Step 1: Get familiar with the unit of competency
  • Step 2: Know your learners
  • Step 3: Take into account the learning setting
  • Step 4: Develop learning and assessment activities

If you want to learn more about contextualisation this guide is incredibly detailed useful.

What does ASQA say about Contextualisation?

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) say in the user’s guide to the Standards for RTOs that when developing assessment materials, we should ensure that assessment tools “are contextualised (or can be contextualised) to the student cohort to produce valid skills that are relevant to the student’s industry or work context.”

Tips for Contextualisation

The following is a list of tips and ideas that are useful to keep in mind while contextualising units of competency:

  1. Look for generic words and consider what they might mean in the workplace. For example:
    • Device (could mean laptop, iPad, desktop, server)
    • Vehicle (could mean heavy-rigid vehicle, semi trailer, four-wheel-drive, bus, light passenger vehicle)
    • Plant (could mean Myrtle, Eucalypt, Weed, Tree, Grasses)
    • Food (could mean desserts, main courses, pastries, breakfast, soups)
  2. Check the Performance Evidence and Knowledge Evidence for critical things that must be addressed in the assessment no matter what
  3. Do not make the learning so specific that it reduces the transferability of the skills for your students