Quality Improvement

Over the past few months we have been writing about critical reflection on your RTO’s practice in terms of the student experience, the learning environment and pedagogy or teaching practice. The reflection process is beneficial in itself if the RTO team is encouraged to contribute to reflection and review of current practices. But of course, the key purpose is to identify areas for quality improvement and to think about any required changes.

I don’t know what your operational culture is like, but in my experience many organisations struggle to get past the first benefit i.e. they acknowledge how wonderful it is to bring the team together and enjoy the ‘feel good’ sessions. However, after the planning and discussion is over, everyone goes back to normal and the identified areas for improvement are either put into the too hard basket or left to the Compliance Manager to implement.

If this is you and your RTO, then keep reading as we present some ideas to help you complete the quality improvement loop.

1. Apply a model of change

It is helpful to view change using a model such as Lewin’s Unfreeze – Change – Refreeze model.  This model describes 3 stages of a change process.  Imagine you had a large ice cube but you needed a cone shaped piece of ice.  One way to get the cone shape would be to carve the cube into the shape needed. If you did this there would be a lot of wasted ice. The other way to make this change according to Lewin’s model is first to melt the ice (unfreeze) then pour it into a cone shaped mould (change) and then finally, solidify the water into the new shape (freeze). That way there is no wasted ice but the desired outcome was achieved.

Applying the Model in your RTO

Let’s consider a case study to see how this model could apply in your RTO. Imagine that as a result of your analysis of the student experience you identified the need to move to a more sophisticated online learning platform that could provide a better learning experience for students. How would the model help to determine what was needed to successfully implement this change?

  • Unfreeze: Prepare your team, RTO and students for the change. This would require you to:
    • Explain the need for the change
    • Prepare the way forward – perhaps by launching a trial site for people to play with and get a bit of a taste.
    • Prepare people for the change by talking about it, explaining why it is important and why it is better
    • Remove access to the old training platforms. If you leave both systems operational, people often return to old ways of behaving and this can result in a failed change process.  Unless you ‘unfreeze’ the old methods, people will revert to using them.
  • Change: Implement the change. This requires clear communication, monitoring progress and refining processes.  In the case of a new learning platform this would involve:
    • the building and testing of the new platform,
    • the release of the platform,
    • training and information about the new platform
    • redevelopment of all the supporting documents that are part of the new platform.
  • Refreeze: Make the change permanent. The critical steps here are about embedding the change into everyday practice. This could involve:
    • writing new policies and procedures and training and assessment documentation,
    • linking the new learning platform with other systems you use in the RTO so the new processes work with existing ones
    • measuring and monitoring success.

In most cases this type of change process will not be a linear one, like our example of the ice cube. But all parts of the model are important to ensure successful and lasting change. For example, in our case study, you couldn’t remove the old learning platform until all courses had migrated to the new system. But it is critical that at the appropriate time you remove access to old ways or people will inevitably revert to the familiar and comfortable old methods.

2. Build a clear implementation process

Implementing goals for improvement: Any changes identified as part of the reflective process should be allocated to individuals and teams to be implemented. The implementation process should be adequately coordinated, resourced and monitored.

Monitor progress: Ensure everyone in the team is focused on and working together to achieve goals and that they are reporting adequately on progress. Gather feedback from key stakeholders and data on progress, including budgetary information, to determine whether you are on track.  Check external factors such as government funding changes (if relevant) and regularly revisit your reflective analysis to ensure that your plans are still relevant and realistic.

Provide Guidance: Determine whether anyone in the team needs support or resources.  Is there anything hindering people from achieving their goals, are there resources they need or roadblocks they are facing that you could assist with?

Align Activities: Review key tasks to determine whether you are all working toward achieving a common set of goals.  Communicating clear expectations and restating your goals may be necessary to keep everyone focused on the priorities.  As priorities change there may be a need to refine activities by re-allocating or postponing tasks.

Display Support: Show interest in the work of your team and support them in achieving their goals.  This interest and support can be a powerful motivator for team members and assist in creating an empowered team environment.

Recognise and Reward Progress: Taking time to acknowledge what has been achieved and celebrating or rewarding people for their contributions should be an outcome of reviewing and refining goals.

3. Schedule time for review and refinement

Reviewing and refining your goals is important for successful implementation of change. RTOs, like every other organisation, benefit from scheduling dedicated review time to consider progress against goals, how to resolve problems and subsequently how to build capacity across the whole RTO.

Reviewing and refining goals and the willingness to share this learning contributes to the development of a learning organisation.  Consider the following ways that this could happen in your RTO:

  • Develop open systems thinking: rather than viewing the results of your review from an individual perspective, consider what further learning could be gained by viewing the results from another department’s perspective or sharing the results across the RTO teams.
  • Improve individual and team capabilities: focus on professional development of team members and of others across the RTO. It is through teams that most goals are achieved.  So focus your development activities on the whole team rather than just on individuals or smaller teams within the RTO.
  • Update deeply held assumptions: be prepared to challenge the ways things have always been done. A learning organisation will be open to consider new ideas and directions.
  • Continue to cultivate a shared vision: consider ways to continue to involve all teams together to ensure quality operations and an openness to learning and improvement.

Are any of these steps missing from your approach to quality improvement in your RTO?

What could you do differently to close the quality improvement loop and ensure that good structured reflection leads to continuous improvement in your RTO?

If you need some help with your approach to quality improvement check out our Quality Improvement Pack.

This pack aligns with our ‘Good for Business Approach’ to RTO management and provides the tools to enable proactive monitoring of quality and compliance and continuous improvement. You can find this on our website here.

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

Thanks for joining us,







Karen                                                    Gillian

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