Case studies in TAFE curriculum [ Contents ]

Chapter 7
Cooperative initiatives in off-campus development and delivery

Geoff Ashurst
Victorian TAFE Off-Campus Network


With Australia's relatively small population, the degree of duplication and fragmentation in the education system is perhaps surprising to an outsider. However, it is an inevitable result of our State based education systems. Likewise, the historical development of TAFE saw an entrenchment of curriculum development within State borders. Indeed, with its decentralised system, Victoria has even seen within individual TAFE colleges, simultaneous curriculum development dealing with the same content area at the same time.

The lack of a comprehensive system of information sharing using modern electronic technology (and updated in real time as to who is doing what and when), perhaps together with the lack of incentive to find out, led to an entrenchment of the State based system. The few souls who tried to break out of the pattern by considering curricula developed interstate were defeated frequently by the "not made here" syndrome, masquerading as adherence to local standards.

In external studies courses, the need for cooperation is possibly even more persuasive because course development for external studies inevitably involves a team, usually with a coordinator, combining the skills of instructional design, curriculum development, educational technology, content expertise and writing of learning materials. Considerable coordination of skills is required when course development occurs outside the providing institution. The coordination required is magnified if the members of development teams are located in different States.

Two major issues currently facing educators are how to foster and implement necessary change and how to do more with fewer resources. Appropriate curriculum development has the potential to provide answers to both questions through cooperative ventures in off-campus development and delivery of study materials in TAFE. There are now examples of Australia-wide courses in TAFE external studies. Investigations are proceeding to examine the feasibility of off-shore operations as well. Nation-wide curriculum development in TAFE is already a reality. Curriculum development for an international arena is now a real possibility.

This chapter looks at some models of interstate cooperation in the development and delivery of curriculum materials. The models emerged from the findings of a nation-wide survey of the cooperative development efforts by TAFE external studies organisations. The paper points out the problems involved in cooperative efforts to develop TAFE off-campus curriculum materials; discusses the advantages to be gained from increasing such efforts; describes briefly four contrasting models of cross-State curriculum development and delivery; and identifies those factors which are considered essential and those which are important for the success of cooperative ventures. These were the main issues which arose from the research data.

Problems in cooperative development

The TAFE External Studies Authorities in the six Australian States1 have developed their own study materials largely independently of each other, so that six sets of materials in very similar curriculum areas have been developed within similar time frames. The six TAFE External Authorities have different structures and formats, different methods of operation and different strengths and weaknesses.

Consequently, while there has been considerable good will between the States and a willingness to cooperate for about 40 years, the complexities have encouraged policy-makers to place interstate cooperation in the too hard basket. The Head of the Victorian TAFE Off Campus Network (VTOCN) summed up the situation as being stymied by three syndromes: the "not made here" syndrome; the "I don't know what they're offering syndrome"; and the "I can't wait until they improve it" syndrome.

These problems are exacerbated by internal State problems of administration and authority. Most State TAFE systems operate centralised, hierarchical decision-making bureaucracies for planning and curriculum development processes. Moreover, some States see external studies as responsible merely for implementing an off-campus version of an on-campus course. Thus some TAFE external studies organizations are not in control of their own development. They find difficulties in contributing to a nationally based process which may not be on the Head Office agenda, even when they might be willing to do so. A related problem is that participation in national ventures might have to be at the expense of courses required locally. Very different development priorities operate at any one time between the six States.

While a climate of interstate sharing and cooperation first emerged in the 1940s and was strengthened in the 1970s following the Kangan (1975) and Grimwade (1979) Reports, the lack of a national TAFE focus or identity has retarded practical implementation of the concept. Since the 1970s, the most dramatic development for curriculum development in TAFE on a national basis has been the establishment of the Curriculum Projects Steering Group which has fostered the concept of national core curricula. Unfortunately, the TAFE external studies authorities, which develop more curriculum materials than any other, have no direct representation on the Curriculum Projects Steering Group. This apparent oversight has had serious educational and cost effectiveness consequences for TAFE.

The enthusiasm of individuals and project teams involved in cooperation, whether for intrastate or interstate developments, has been attenuated by two entrenched attitudes. The first is a tendency by curriculum experts towards minimisation rather than incrementalism. This occurs when curriculum experts, in reviewing learning materials developed in other States, concentrate on what is not common or acceptable, rather than on what is acceptable, even if some adaptation is required. It is easier to dismiss the whole, on the basis that it won't work, than to redevelop what is unsatisfactory. The other problem is the "not made here" syndrome. Curriculum developers working in narrow fields retain a surprisingly strong professional jealousy of their colleagues interstate. Unless they themselves participate in the development of a curriculum, they have no sense of ownership and resist its introduction. Evidence from this study suggested that these attitudes, while still prevalent, are breaking down.

Additional problems for vocationally-based courses

State based legislation, together with the fact that education and training in TAFE is also State based, make common syllabi across Australia problematic particularly in vocationally based courses. In the study just undertaken, practitioners in interstate cooperative developments constantly referred to different State legislative requirements as a barrier to more effective cooperation. One recent example of an attempt to overcome this difficulty occurred in the Certificate of Technology (Quarrying) cooperative development, where each State undertook to write a module covering legal aspects peculiar to their State. In this case, the core materials were developed by Victoria for implementation nation-wide. The development of the Certificate of Technology (Quarrying) is discussed in more detail later in this paper.

Consultation with the industry and/or professional bodies regarding any new vocational course is widely accepted practice within TAFE both for syllabus design and curriculum development. However, there were examples found in which the industry and/or professional body at the national level was not always in agreement with its own State counterparts. This makes interstate cooperative development more difficult. It is suggested that the most senior bureaucrats in TAFE should be prepared to stand firm in the face of industry pressure in cases such as these and should require consistency from industry prior to the commencement of projects. Curriculum development should not take place without a consistent and recognised industry position being in place.

In some States, there are legislative requirements specifying a minimum number of contact hours for a qualification. Alternatively, substantial differences in courses in the same content area from State to State may be based historically. Whatever the reason, this represents a substantial barrier to nation-wide development and creates problems for curriculum developers. For example, in Accounting, three major differences were discovered: only NSW assumes a system approach to introductory Accounting; only in Queensland are stages integral to Accounting courses; different class contact hours exist in Accounting (course requirements are 900 hours in SA and 1300 hours in NSW). Another example occurs in hairdressing: NSW integrates men's and women's hairdressing, while some other States treat them separately.

Ideally, syllabus documentation should result from a partnership between industry experts and consultants working with content and instructional designers and other educationalists to deal with educational strategy. Practitioners in the preparation of external studies materials, however, report a tendency to overkill by the experts. Both industry experts and project consultants, while making valuable contributions to the development process, have a tendency to argue for over-specialisation in the curriculum materials and an unrealistic expectation of the demands that should be placed on potential students of the course. Curriculum content often exceeds what reasonably ought to be asked of students.

In the preparation of external studies materials, practitioners often criticise the standard of syllabus documentation from which they have to work. In many cases, syllabus documentation does not even exist, yet it is expected that curriculum development will take place. In other cases where it does exist, the syllabus is not interpretable by intending writers of the course materials and has to be reinterpreted by the project team involved in the interstate cooperative venture.

It is recommended that a nation-wide TAFE project should be funded to expound a consistent approach across Australian Standard Classification of Occupations areas in the preparation of syllabus documentation. Of prime importance for outcomes would be guidelines which ensure a logical coherent structure to syllabus documentation and hence curriculum development.

Why interstate cooperative development?

Rather than six States each developing their own learning materials, it has to be more cost effective if one set of materials (with possible additional materials developed in each State to meet local idiosyncrasies) is developed for Australia-wide implementation. This is particularly important because all States' external studies organisations have development and delivery demands placed on them far in excess of the capacity of their budgets.

The time taken to develop materials is considerably reduced because each participating State contributes a part rather than undertaking the whole. As will be noted in a later section, the Banking and Finance development project divided the curriculum into five core areas, with each of five participating States responsible for one area. By this method the States each contributed about 20 per cent of the resources required for full scale development, yet still obtained a full set of appropriate course materials. Provided that the project is sufficiently well planned and coordinated, there is minimal disruption to regular activities. Some project team members have complained about being expected to undertake work on an interstate project in addition to a normal work load. A potential solution to this problem would be for interstate projects to attract specific purpose funding.

If all States make a realistic contribution overall, learning materials can be used by a State that may not have contributed directly to the development. Genuine national development would ensure that the needs of all States are met, whether they participate or not. Given the potential for marketing off-campus learning materials in other countries, an international dimension to this cannot be ruled out. If international ventures are successful, the revenue generated could provide one answer to the difficult question of resourcing. The more successful the courses are internationally, the more revenue will be generated.

Cooperative ventures in off-campus development and delivery between the six Authorities would draw attention to the differences between the six States in areas such as structure, format, method of operation and other strengths and weaknesses. It would lead to a cross-fertilisation of ideas and, one hopes, improvements in practice in each of the six Authorities. States therefore would learn from each other, adopting the best features from other Authorities as appropriate. Educational effectiveness would be enhanced by the involvement of a much wider educational community than can be used under existing procedures for normal intrastate developments.

The study revealed that members of staff who had participated in interstate cooperative ventures were enthused by the experience. It was described as professional development in action. The potential for the cross-fertilisation of ideas by staff working for different organisations and with possible different cultures and history was maximised. Those involved felt that the process could be taken a stage further by either staff exchanges on an incremental basis or job swaps.

Models of interstate cooperation: Four case studies

The logistics, resourcing and planning required for major accredited courses make them difficult ventures despite the fact that they enrol the greatest student numbers and they are in high demand in all States. The most feasible types of courses for transfer interstate without adaptation are short vocational courses or single subjects which are vocationally or industry specific and can be readily adapted for use in a State other than that of origin. In 1986, for example, NSW worked in the areas of Dairy Technology and the Coxswain's Course, both of which are examples of short vocational courses which are vocationally or industry specific and can be readily adapted for use in other States. Access area subjects, especially mathematics, basic sciences and English are easily transportable across State borders as well. WA, SA and Victoria cater for external studies in the hobby/enrichment area. Interstate cooperation in this area would be desirable between these three States. In fact, such courses often can be transferred from one State to another in their entirety, because they are not subject to State accreditation, and can be offered wherever they meet a need.

Multi-State developments, by contrast, require considerable pre-planning and commitment not only from the project organisers, but also from key figures in both TAFE external studies authorities and the Head Office hierarchy.

Cooperative ventures for curriculum development of large enrolment, vocationally specific, accredited courses are complex operations. While such ventures have considerable spin-offs in terms of cost and educational effectiveness, they are virtually in their infancy and development has occurred more on an experimental basis than as a clearly defined methodological direction. The situation has not been helped by an equivocal attitude taken by TAFE officers at senior levels. Support from senior officers appears strong in principle, but is more restrained when it is sought for specific projects. Four different models which were identified in the study, are illustrated by the representative case studies below.

  1. Banking and Finance
    As an example of multi-State development, the Banking and Finance project proceeded smoothly and developed successfully. There were a number of factors in its favour. These included the early involvement of the industry and agreement between the various sectors of the Bankers' Institute; agreement between the States on a common syllabus document format; and a shared perception of the curriculum development process whereby the core element was split five ways between the cooperating States. The individual State authorities involved were New South Wales (Financial Institutions and Markets), Queensland (Banking and Lending Practice), Victoria (Commercial Banking and Finance), South Australia (International Banking and Finance), and Western Australia (Financial Institutions and the Law).

    It was agreed also in the negotiation phase that each State would be able to develop additional material beyond the core for its own State to meet local State idiosyncrasies such as legislation and accreditation requirements. When actually developing learning materials, it was discovered that it was important to split the core in a way representing a relatively equally shared workload for the participating States.

    It was recognised that the organising State's deadlines were not necessarily going to be convenient, or possible, for those in other TAFE Authorities. This was resolved by the release of master copies from the State producing the learning materials to the other States as soon as they had been produced. Each State then assumed responsibility for printing its own materials to meet its own deadlines and administrative peculiarities.

  2. Quarrying
    An alternative model was the one-State development for national implementation used when Victoria developed the Certificate of Technology (Quarrying). Victoria agreed at the outset to release the materials to the other States if they wanted to deliver the course themselves. Advantages over the first model were that the logistics were reduced, coordination was less complex and completion dates easier to predict.

    Special circumstances did obtain in this case. In the first place, the Curriculum Projects Steering Group had asked Victoria to develop the on-campus course. A major reason for this was that operators in the industry needed the qualification to practise in Victoria. Another factor, from the off-campus point of view, was that the Institute of Quarrying matched internally generated Victorian TAFE Off-Campus resources to ensure that the venture was not only started but completed within the proposed time frame.

    Two major impediments to one-State development are that certain materials cannot be transferred readily across State borders and that a single State must find sufficient resources within its own budget to enable many ventures of this type to proceed.

  3. Trading Standards
    A third model involved the division of labour between States. This approach required that each of the participating States provide the necessary number of project team members, whether writers, consultants, industrial designers, educational technologists, curriculum developers, editors, etc. A detailed case study of this project appears in Chapter 5 of this volume.

    This approach can be less equitable because the most demanding activities centre around developing materials, especially the writing and editing. In-depth interviews with some of those involved in the Trading Standards project revealed that the logistical problems were increased beyond those experienced in Banking and Finance, since the project teams were based interstate and ready consultation was not always possible. Logistical and coordination difficulties were exacerbated. It was more difficult for the project teams to meet, and written and oral communication between project team members was made difficult by the distance problem despite modern communications technologies. Inevitably this had some adverse effect on the time taken and the level of disruption to normal activities. Project teams operate more effectively in a face-to-face environment.

    This approach therefore is not as effective as the other two, particularly when the overall costs in terms of financial and educational effectiveness are taken into account. For example, not all segments of the Trading Standards development were designed specifically for the course. Some segments were taken in their entirety from other courses and new covers placed on the printed learning materials. This clearly has an adverse effect on educational effectiveness.

  4. Accounting
    Following the preparation and adoption by the States of a national core curriculum in TAFE Accounting, the Curriculum Projects Steering Group agreed to the development of selected modules for use by all States. The project was coordinated nationally by the Department of TAFE, South Australia. Accounting seemed to be a logical choice for interstate cooperation. It is a course with a very high enrolment. Recent agreements meant that the new course would be implemented in all States. However, three major problems arose at the outset.

It was agreed that the most practicable strategy for joint development was for each State to develop materials separately for a single subject and that, on completion, the materials developed would be made available to all other States. Subjects were allocated as follows: Introduction to Budgeting to South Australia; Accounting Subsystems to New South Wales; Financial Reporting to Victoria.

Queensland subsequently agreed to develop Introduction to Accounting. Generally, the States agreed to develop topics for which they had available resource people. At present, despite having representatives participate in discussions, Tasmania and Western Australia have not indicated that they are developing a subject to contribute to the common pool. There is evidence of resentment by the participating States over the lack of contribution from these two States.

Each State has based its materials to some extent on previous versions of the subjects in development. In hindsight, it would have been more valuable for all or at least several States to exchange copies of existing materials to be used as source material in the new developments. This is one aspect in which communications between project groups suffered because of the "tyranny of distance" and the "do what you can when you can" aspect of this project as an additional load undertaken by the participating staff.

Whilst some degree of modification will be unavoidable, experience of the Victorian subject development suggests that the inclusion of interstate consultants in the development team (as opposed to local members who are more involved in day to day activities) could reduce significantly the need for States to undertake modifications of completed materials. Writing and consulting was contracted to Victorians. However, a second content consultant was employed as part of the development team to review the work of the writer from a NSW course perspective. A number of changes to drafts were made as a result of review comments made by the NSW consultant. As a result, the completed materials will transfer more readily outside Victoria than they otherwise would have.

Although most subjects devised within each State were broadly equivalent to subjects in other States, variations in content did exist. Consequently, it was agreed that small, topic-based modules of material would be developed to allow all states to combine modules applying to their particular syllabuses and to develop additional modules as necessary to make up complete sets of subject study materials.

Due to the emphasis on computers in the National Core Curriculum, this has meant a high commitment of resources by each State. No resolution of the incompatibility of computing facilities was achieved. Consequently, development of the computer content of the study materials remains as each State's separate responsibility. This has severely compromised the Accounting course as an effective example of interstate cooperation in the development and delivery of learning materials.

The task would have been simplified greatly if the TAFE Accounting course planners in each State had adopted the spirit and not just the letter of the National Core Curriculum and agreed upon a more uniform collection of subjects within the structure of the course. In the absence of any scheme for obtaining subject uniformity, the off-campus materials development project would have proceeded more smoothly with closer consultation between the States and greater centralisation in planning and management functions. This would have entailed the release of at least one person to devote the necessary coordination time to the project on a regular basis and an increase in the budget to allow greater interaction between the States in the planning and production phases.

These four case studies were an invaluable source of data for the next section, which identifies those factors which are considered essential and others which are important for success in interstate ventures in the development and delivery of learning materials in TAFE external studies.

Variables for success of interstate cooperative ventures

The study included brainstorming a variety of issues involved in interstate cooperative ventures. These were tested for their relative importance with a number of policy makers in TAFE Head Offices and External Studies Organisations. Virtually every person who had been involved at the implementation level in any interstate cooperative development was also interviewed. (For the purpose of the research, those at the implementation level were distinguished from the policy makers.)

Essential prerequisites
The result was that the following matters were considered to be essential prerequisites for success for interstate cooperative ventures.

  1. Action plans should have realistic time frames. While this may seem obvious, respondents often referred to this as a problem, citing the fact that many practitioners in learning materials development in external studies, let alone less experienced outsiders, inevitably underestimate the time required to produce quality materials. Some of those who had been involved most heavily in interstate cooperative development felt that an essential feature of the pre-planning phase was for project team members to be allocated either full-time or part-time to the project for a designated period using specific purpose funding.
  2. As far as possible, a common syllabus format and broad agreement on course content and objectives should be achieved in advance. These emerge as fundamental to curriculum development processes. Writers of course materials sometimes find a syllabus unintelligible as a guide to preparing external studies materials. Syllabus documents need to be drafted following a more consistently logical structure.
  3. A high level of input from industry and/or professional body is needed in advance. The industry and/or professional body sometimes can be used to help bring about consensus. One problem with industry experts can be their over-sophistication and over-specialisation of curriculum requirements. Their expectations of students can also be unrealistic.
  4. Accredited status for interstate cooperative developments is needed in each State. This is an essential process for vocationally based courses. State based representatives should not agree to proceed unless this is guaranteed. The research suggests that streamlining of this process would be a major advance.
  5. Coordination by an identified person at national level is needed. One person should be recognised as steering the project.
  6. Coordination by an identified person at local (State) level is needed. This item and the one above are seen as essential because of the complexity of the coordination involved and the logistical problems that develop without effective coordination.
  7. An initial face-to-face meeting of all project team personnel is regarded as essential.

If these prerequisite features are not in place prior to the action phase, it is recommended that the project not proceed. If a project does proceed nevertheless, one or all of cost effectiveness, educational effectiveness, time taken, responsiveness or the flow of normal activities will be compromised.

Other important factors for success
There were also a number of issues which respondents considered to be helpful, but not necessarily essential, for the success of interstate cooperative ventures.

  1. Determination of the instructional design in advance.
  2. Determination of the surface design (formatting, headings, etc.) in advance.
  3. Achievement of credentialled status for interstate cooperative developments in each State, including cross-crediting arrangements. This can be more difficult than is apparent at first sight - for example, one State offers Accounting at Advanced Certificate level, another at Associate Diploma level.
  4. Active support from both senior management (Principal, Deputy Principal and TAFE bureaucracy) and the immediate supervisor of the implementor(s) in each State.
  5. Regular face-to-face meetings and/or audio teleconferences preferably with fax facilities available to all project team members.
  6. Staff exchanges particularly at the level of those teachers/academic staff actually developing and delivering the learning materials. External studies operations and culture in the six States are quite different due to historical development. Staff exchanges help practitioners to understand and allow for these differences.
  7. A videotex-based clearing house system and an interstate networked computer system updated in real time. (The WA Coursefinder system appears to be the most useful at the moment in TAFE.)


Cooperation and sharing have been practised by educators for many years. In the TAFE sector the origins can be traced back to the 1940s. According to a literature search, educational institutions and systems have been more willing to practise sharing and cooperation in the delivery rather than the development of learning materials. Cooperation in the development of learning materials in TAFE is a recent phenomenon, perhaps occasioned by the exigencies of the times. This chapter has demonstrated that a variety of models is possible and has summarised the experience to date by reporting case study examples. It also suggests that there could be a bright future for the development and delivery of learning materials in TAFE external studies, provided that all those legitimately involved are prepared to be flexible and to learn from the experiences referred to in this chapter.


  1. The ACT TAFE sector does not offer external studies, while Northern Territory TAFE does not develop its own learning materials.


Grimwade, A.E. et al. (1979). Capacity for sharing resources in TAFE external studies. Melbourne: Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

Kangan, M. (Chair) (1974). TAFE in Australia: Report on needs in technical and further education. Canberra: Australian Government Printing Services.

The author acknowledges the support of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission's Standing Committee on External Studies without whose support the research on which this paper is based could not have proceeded.

Cite as: Ashurst, G. (1988). Cooperative initiatives in off-campus development and delivery. In C. McBeath, (Ed), Case studies in TAFE curriculum, p.50-56. Perth, WA: West Australian Social Science Education Consortium, Curtin University of Technology.

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