Getting the Simulated Environment Right

This article is part one of a three-part series: The Three Sides to a completing a successful VET Resource Development Project

In this post we will look at one of those sides: the simulated environment.

Not all VET courses will require a simulated environment. If your RTO has 100% of their students employed in a workplace that allows them access to documentation and resources (documentation and resources will depend on the unit but can include relevant policies, procedures, staff, budgets, forms, strategy documents, tools etc) then you won’t need a simulated environment. Access to sufficient resources is rare, and even if it is possible to access all resources needed, simulated environments can still be beneficial for training purposes, to meet dimensions of competency. That’s a topic for another post, but in summary I believe a vast majority of RTOs use, or could benefit from having a well-developed simulated environment as part of their training and assessment strategy.

Most RTOs are aware of the need for a simulated environment. Heck its even written into most units of competency (assessment must be conducted in either in the workplace OR a simulated environment). But very few RTOs give thought to choosing a simulated environment that meet the needs of their students. They also tend to underestimate the importance of getting the simulated environment right, or to put it another way, the consequences of getting it wrong.

Here are three simple tips to choosing an appropriate simulated environment for your RTO. At the end, I’ll also give an example of one tried and tested simulated environment that works.

1. The business model your simulated environment is based on must be simple and easily understood by students, trainers and whoever is writing your resources.

What do I mean by simple? I mean a business that every single one of your students, trainers and resource developers is likely to have interacted with, is familiar with and can relate to. This might sound simple, but it’s not. It is not about the business YOU or the person sitting next to you is familiar with. You need to check your business model is something that people from different cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, genders and ages can relate to. Here are some examples of actual simulated environments in RTOs I have come across:

  • A gym or fitness centre may not be relatable to students from a low socio -economic background or people from different cultures. Some students may have had bad experiences at gyms, be uncomfortable with their body image and disengage from the material.
  • A franchise operation is a complex business structure that few students, trainers or resource developers had actually experienced, resulting in prolonged development of training/assessment resources that were also complex and difficult for all stakeholders to relate to.
  • An entire city made up of different businesses that were all owned by the same company that pretty much confused the heck out of everyone.

 

2. The simulated environment must be realistic.

Again this sounds simple. But again it is really hard to get right.

I see realistic covering a few bases:

  • The business would have a reasonable chance of existing in today’s world,
  • The business’ interface and set up is similar or the same as an actual business’ set up.

 

Let’s look at each of these points in a bit more detail. What do I mean by reasonable chance of existing today’s world? Well first of all we need to keep rule one in place. So let’s not create anything too ‘out there’ that requires an entire training program to get your head around. In other words, a simulated environment based on SpaceX, Tesla or any other Elon Musk enterprises should probably be ruled out (although that would be fun for the engineering quals…hats off to you if you can pull something like this off!)

By realistic mean we aren’t creating a Matt’s Stationery Warehouse that sells rulers, pencils and notebooks as a single bricks and mortar retail store (based off a true story).  Because for such a business to actually exist, you would not just be selling to mum and dads driving to your store to purchase your product. You would need to have online sales, partnerships with corporates/schools etc for the business to have any chance of surviving.

It also means the budgets, organisational charts and policies and procedures you create could have a reasonable chance of actually being used in the industry. That means not having a marketing team, a HR team, a sales team, an operations team, an admin team, an IT team and a finance team for a small business. It also means giving thought to making the size of budgets appropriate to operations. Consider getting your infrastructure checked out by an SME or two (e.g. HR person to check the org chart, someone in finance to check the budget etc).

The other side to realistic is the interface. If you want any hope of your simulated environment taking off with your students, they need to be able to interact with it like they would a real workplace. This means training them to go to an intranet or central repository of information to find the documents…not handing it to them on a silver platter. As we all know…that’s not how business works. We need to be training people on how to find and source the information they need.

The consequences of not giving this thought are significant. If you are not training your students using industry relevant material, you aren’t preparing for them for life in industry. In other words, you are setting your students up for failure. Ouch!

3. The simulated environment must be consistent.

It takes a lot of energy to get used to a simulated environment. Think back to your first day starting in an organisation. You needed to be inducted, introduced to your team, taught how to use any equipment and understand who the key people in the organisation are.

Now imagine this information changed daily. You would be a mess. You would be unable to focus on your task. You would probably leave.

This is why you must have a strategy for how you plan to manage the development of your simulated environment. If you have two units being developed by different developers that both require an operational plan, unless there is a system in place you will get two very different operational plans, with different people in key positions, with different organisational strategies being implemented.

Not only is this a waste of resources but imagine being a student enrolled in both of these units and trying to complete them concurrently. It would be like trying to work across two different versions of the same organisation. It would do your head in. Because organisations aren’t like that.

It takes a lot of energy to keep things consistent. You need to have a plan on how you are going to communicate what has been developed, is under development or needing to be changed. And what happens if you have documents that are purposefully insufficient due to the assessment task requiring the student to make improvements? If someone wants to make improvements to the insufficient version, that could wreck the original assessment task.

Bonus tip: make it scalable.

Building a simulated environment is hard, expensive and time consuming. And it comes before you even start actually developing unit resources like assessments and learning activities/content. If you are going to develop a simulated environment properly, you will want to get value from it. So give thought to the qualifications you have on scope now (and possibly even those you may add to scope in the future) and choose a simulated environment that will go across all of them (or at least as many as you can).

In conclusion…

The three simple tips didn’t end up being simple at all. They sound simple, but the fact is building a simulated environment is hard work, expensive and has a lot to it. It is for this reason we build Campus, a model that we believe fulfils all three requirements above. And best of all its cheap. It comes free with the purchase of any of Leading Education Innovation’s units that uses Campus. Get in touch if you want to check it out. It is one way we hope to help RTOs deliver quality training and assessment outcomes.

You can preview Campus by watching below:

 

But for all those ambitious RTOs out there that want to dive in and create the next big simulated environment….

1. Keep it relatable.

2. Keep it realistic.

3. Keep it consistent.

And if you can…

4. Make it scalable.

What do you think? Did I miss anything? Get in touch and let us know!

 

Once you are done here, you may like to check out Part 2 in the VET Development Project Series: The Resource Developer Skill-Set or some of our other blog posts. Alternatively, give us a call or get in touch for more information about our training and assessment resources.