What is the “Student Experience Approach” to Auditing?

The regulator is moving towards using an audit model that is structured around the key phases of the student’s engagement with your RTO. The phases are:

  • Marketing and recruitment
  • Enrolment
  • Support and progression
  • Training and assessment, and
  • Completion.

Each of these key phases is mapped to the Standards for RTOs 2015 and of course the auditors will be reviewing your policies and actual processes and practices to determine whether or not you comply.

Is this a good approach?

What do you think about the regulator using the student experience to frame the approach to audit? We think it is a brilliant idea! In fact we have been conducting audits that way for years!! When we work with an RTO to help with self – assessment or internal audit, we find that it is much easier to understand the business model and the culture of the organisation by stepping into the shoes of the student, rather than taking a clinical journey through the Standards.

The student journey approach always provides us with information about:

  • student satisfaction and progress
  • the operations of the RTO
  • any other bodies or organisations that might contribute to the process e.g. industry associations, legislative bodies etc.
  • the culture and history of the RTO
  • the effectiveness of the RTO’s various teams and how they work together (or not) and,
  • what is most important for the RTO.

We can also determine quite quickly if the RTO maintains a compliant approach to their operations or whether they take the reactive and just in time approach to compliance management.

Is this a good approach for you?

What are you focussing on in your RTO?

If your answer is … the student experience and student outcomes, then my guess is that you are already tracking the student journey and will welcome the change in auditing approach. If not, then you may need to take some time out to critically reflect on how the new approach will impact your operations, what needs to change and to prepare your staff for the change from a Standards focus to a Student Experience focus.

Making the Change from a Focus on Standards to a Focus on the Student Experience

Making time to critically reflect on your RTOs operations and priorities for the future can be difficult to do but it should be an important part of your operational cycle. As you consider any changes necessary to ensure you are ready for the auditing change you should be gathering information from both internal and external sources that inform your practices around all aspects of the student experience and journey. To make your analysis is critical and to enable decision making you must move beyond the collecting, processing and reviewing of this data to critically question and reflect on:

  • what is taken for granted,
  • what has not worked,
  • what is working and
  • what is assumed about the way you operate.

To help you with this we are providing you with a framework for critical reflection that will help you move forward.

What is Critical Reflection?

Critical reflection can be defined as interpretation of experiences and data to create new insights and agreement on action.  This requires us to:

  • think about our practice and ideas and the data we have collected;
  • step-back and examine our thinking by asking probing questions to uncover assumptions and unpack the reasons behind our current practice;
  • speculate about the future; and
  • act on what we uncover.

Critical Incident Reflection Framework

The Critical Incident Reflection Framework consists of the following questions or stages:

        What is happening:
  • What is currently happening in your RTO? You may choose to take a broad look at the RTO’s performance or you may choose to focus on specific incidents or experiences. Use the data you have gathered e.g. stakeholder feedback that may relate to both broad and specific aspects of your RTO’s operations, to identify and outline the current situation.
    Why is it happening:
  • Ask questions about how you arrived at your current state. For example: What impact has RTO culture had? How has the RTO leadership and RTO structure impacted your current position? What are the spoken and unspoken rules and protocols? What assumptions are being made by finance and administration staff and the trainers/assessors about the operations of the RTO?
    So what:
  • This is where you make sense of the current situation and ask what the implications are for the future. This is time to unpack people’s viewpoints and emotions. It is important to identify the connections people have with each other, with the way tasks are currently performed and the routines of the RTO.
    Now what:
  • This is where you need to make connections from past experiences, processes, data and opinions with further actions and future needs. The kinds of questions to pose and answer are: What could we do differently? What are the key points we have learned from our analysis so far and what can we share with our colleagues about the need for change/improvement etc.? How will we do this? You may wish to use a scenario planning technique to brainstorm the way forward.

Applying the Critical Incident Reflection Framework: A Case Study

Read the fictitious case study below to help you consider how to apply this Critical Incident Reflection Framework in your own RTO.

A large, predominantly online RTO has a very strong focus on marketing and sales and sets very ambitious sales targets each month. The sales staff aggressively follow up course enquiries, hoping to convert them to enrolments to meet the targets. Whilst the College is compliant with the Standards regarding marketing i.e. compliance staff are constantly monitoring the website and the communication between sales staff and potential students; there is a poor understanding across the sales staff about compliance requirements. Many of these staff members ‘bend’ the rules to make sure they meet the targets. Following enrolment there is almost no contact between the RTO and the student until the student submits the first piece of assessment.

Data Gathered from Stakeholders:

The following information/data is gathered:

  • Only 10% of students commence the course within 6 months of enrolment
  • Only 15% of students progress beyond the first unit of competency
  • Student complaints about the quality of the learning materials have increased by 50% over the past 12 months
  • The learning development team has increased by 25% over the past 6 months with at least 10 improvement programs underway.
  • The management team has increased by 20%, including an additional two layers of managers and supervisors over the past 6 -12 months.
  • A restructure has taken place to centralise all compliance and student support functions
  • Turnover of support staff is increasing, with reports that stress is the main reason for staff leaving.
  • Trainers and assessors are all part time and on contracts.
  • Internal audit reports suggest that assessment is inadequate and employers are not satisfied with the quality of the graduating students.

Applying the Critical Incident Reflection Framework:

What is happening:
  • The support and progression of students post enrolment is neglected and the student support team is understaffed.
  • Documentation to support learning is inadequate and not compliant with aspects of Standard 1, i.e. the student is not provided with suitable learning and assessment resources or information.
  • The development projects have been held up by red tape because of the complex hierarchy of management.
  • None of the redeveloped projects are even close to being finalised and released.
Why is it happening:
  • The focus is on sales, marketing and enrolments. Because these are priority areas, they are heavily resourced leaving gaps in other areas.
  • Staff in the support areas are unable to provide the support required.
  • Students cannot be guaranteed access to the same trainer throughout their learning program because of the part time nature of the trainer/ assessor relationship with the RTO.
  • The centralised compliance function has removed the need for the various teams to develop compliance capability and standards are slipping
  • The hierarchy of management has slowed down response times and effectively halted improvement processes.
So what:
  • There is no effective leadership, just a complex hierarchy of management that if left unchecked will result in serious non-compliance with the Standards for RTOs 2015 and continued loss in enrolments.
  • The levels of stress and the turnover of staff are a result of the lack of leadership and the lack of willingness to review the reality of the situation and endorse improvements that will rapidly address the concerns of students.
  • The student experience is not the focus of the RTO and processes must be reviewed and revised to shift the focus.
Now what:

The RTO should apply the student experience model to their operations and reassess allocation of resources across the different stages of the student journey. It will then be time to plan, set targets and equip your team for the change. Some of the questions you might ask at this stage are:

  • What could we do differently?
  • What are the key points we have learned from our analysis so far?
  • What can we share with our colleagues about the need for change/improvement etc.?
  • How will we implement change?

We have provided a free tool: The Critical Incident Reflection Tool to help you to critically reflect on and improve your RTO’s practices.

How else can we help:

The Learning Community has helped many organisations to reflect, refocus, plan and change their approach to compliance and governance. Why not call us to ask us how we can help you. We usually start with an audit based on the student journey and experience. From there we can help you reflect and reframe. You will find details of our audit services on the RTO Audit Services page of our website.

We’d love to hear about your experiences or thoughts on this post. Please comment below.

Thanks for joining us,









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