Conversation starters

ACAL state representatives have been considering aspects of adult literacy and numeracy that are presented in Conversation Starters. The papers are the views and perspectives of the author and the ACAL committee encourages you all to have a read and use this as both a means of professional development as well as an opportunity to start conversations. We hope they stimulate your thinking and provide an opening for discussions with others to explore the issues.

Conversation Starter 9

November 2023

Results of the FSK survey

Thank you to those who responded to the survey. The results have been summarised and a discussion provided to stimulate further conversation. Some of the questions raised include:

  • Are the three qualifications problematic because they do not align well with the intent to use the TP units to support vocational learners?
  • Is this compounded by aligning the qualifications to an AQF level when a) the individual units are not aligned to AQF levels and b) the qualifications and units are better aligned to the ACSF?
  • Should the packaging rules change to offer more flexibility and individual customisation to both industry as well as individual learning gaps? Alternatively, should the core units be expanded to cover at a minimum 1 of each learning area with customisation in the electives?
  • Under the previous skills service organisation structure, courses accredited by ASQA required SSO approval. Given the focus of the SSO and ASQA in replacing LLN accredited units with FSK units, is there now adequate access to alternatives to the FSK TP qualifications (e.g., accredited courses) to teach adults to read, write and learn numeracy?

Read the results and discussion here: link

Conversation Starter 8

March 2022

2 minute read on Andragogy 101

Have you come across the term andragogy yet? You have probably heard of pedagogy when we talk about teaching children. Andragogy is a similar term, but it refers to teaching adults. 

Why andragogy? Because there are important differences in how we teach adults!

Malcolm Knowles, an adult learning theorist, gave us six characteristics of adult learners: 

  1. The need to know – Adults want to know why they need to learn something. They may ask: ‘Why do I need to know this? or ‘Why is this important?’ Learning is valued when it meets their needs, is relevant, and helps them achieve their goals. 
  2. Learner’s self-concept – Adult learners want respect and to be seen as capable learners. 
  3. Role of the learner’s experience – Adult learners already know things. They can use existing knowledge and experience to underpin new learning experiences. An adult literacy learner has a lifetime of knowledge, experience and strategies that they bring to the process. 
  4. Readiness to learn – Adult learners are time poor and want to learn what they need to know to reach their goals. This is why we stress the importance of authentic tasks and real strategies. 
  5. Orientation to learning – Adult learners benefit from learning experiences that they can use immediately in their lives, either to apply in their current role or to reach their next goal. 
  6. Motivation – Adults have both external and internal motivators that help them stay engaged. For example, external motivators could be a better job or increased salary. Internal motivators could be increased job satisfaction, or increased self-esteem. 

Thinking about your practice in terms of andragogy is useful because it helps you create an adult learning environment that fosters respect and a love of lifelong learning.
Want to know more? There are many articles and videos online that you can access with
a basic internet search including:
11_ TEAL_Adult_Learning_Theory.pdf (

Andragogy: Adult Learning Principles – YouTube

Conversation Starter 7

February 2022

The TAE case for change – could Australia consider a different type of vocational education system?

If you weren’t in the vocational education and training (VET) system before Training Packages, do you know competency-based training (CBT) is not the only model that could be used? Can you conceptualise a different approach to VET? 

Whilst the sector continues to review and redo the training package to train the trainers, could we step back and consider if the whole system is problematic? Is competency-based training itself too risky, too unsound, and too entrenched? Is changing the TAE just putting a bandaid on a wound that needs surgery? 

To inform your thinking, here are a few papers that explore these issues. There are many more freely available online: 

Conversation Starter 6

September 2021

The Merry-Go-Round: Who is an LLN Specialist?  by Debra Urquhart

Conversations at a national level often come around to qualifications of LLN specialists. In the last month this has come up in both the parliamentary inquiry as well as in the work ACAL has undertaken in preparing for meetings with the Education IRC. This conversation starter brings a timely discussion about LLN in VET and how it impacts teachers and provision. Covering the FSK, workplace delivery, trainer qualifications, and digital skills, this 10 minute read will get you thinking about who shapes your role and what it means for your learners.

The merry-go-around continues in defining who is a Language Literacy and Numeracy (LLN) specialist in the adult literacy field. New conversations and debates around the skills, qualifications, and attributes of an LLN specialist have arisen once more as a response to the parliamentary enquiry, the upcoming evaluation of the National Foundation Skills Strategy for Adults (NFSSA) and the scheduled review of the Training and Assessment Training Package (TAE). 

Conversation Starter 5

June 2019

Policy or Perish: Future-proofing Literacy Provision by Debra Urquhart

For many years, there has been continued apprehension regarding the narrowness of literacy funding and the programs that can be offered. This disappointment commenced with the Australian Language and Literacy Policy (ALLP) of 1991, when those in the field saw a policy shift from a social equity perspective to a human capital approach. This angst has been sustained with the release of the National Foundation Skills Strategy for Adults (NFSSA) in September 2012. This ‘Strategy’, maintained the status quo; with no new programs proposed and no additional funding assigned to those currently in operation.

Conversation Starter 4

May 2019

‘Health literacy provision: Can health and adult literacy workers collaborate effectively in this increasingly important space?’ by Ann Kelly

As the average age of citizens has increased and diseases, such as diabetes, have become prevalent among many populations, governments and other stakeholders have committed to improving the ability of people to take control of their own health and, simultaneously, lessen the increasing national economic burden that is an outcome of this situation.

Conversation Starter 3

‘PIAAC The International Adult Literacy survey – should Australia take part?’ by Pam Osmond

Dec 2018

ACAL members across Australia have been considering the value of PIAAC. Pam Osmond, from NSWALNC provides a summary of the debate around PIAAC. We hope it stimulates your thinking and provides an opening for discussions with others to explore the issues.

Conversation Starter 1

‘VET Literacy Teachers: Our Unique Value Proposition’ by Debra Urquhart

Sept 2018

In her paper, Debra Urquhart, NSW State Representative, discusses the identity of adult literacy teachers within the vocational education and training (VET) sector. Debra examines this unique position through a debate on qualifications, professional development, curricula as well as regulatory frameworks.

Conversation Starter 2

‘The Deficit Model of Education – Impacts on Learners and Teachers’ by Rhonda Pelletier

Sept 2018

Rhonda Pelletier, Victorian State representative has prepared a paper on the deficit approach. This is timely indeed, with many speakers at the conference referring to issues around the deficit approach to adult literacy and numeracy. Rhonda has explored the history of the approach and considered how it is reflected in Australia today.