What is a short learning programme/short course?
It is easier to answer this question by
pointing out what a short learning programme/short course is not.
In South Africa any programme of learning that
is provided for on one of the qualifications sub frameworks and\or is at least
120 credits of study needs to be accredited and registered as a qualification.
Where it is accredited depends on the level. All other courses of study are
short learning programmes\short courses. Generally speaking if the study is
going to take at least a year it would not be a short course.
The purpose of a short learning programme is
to provide – normally already working – adults with new or upgraded knowledge
or skill in one particular area. The aim is to improve or update the ability of
the person to carry out a particular task or specialist skill.
Some short courses are of a recreational focus
(such as elements of digital photography) and are aimed at developing skills
which are for personal development reasons rather than related to career
Frequently – particularly after graduation with a full qualification – a short
learning programme is a quick and efficient way to get the skills you need to
do what you do (or want to do) far better than using up-to-date theory and
|1||Short learning programme|
Are short learning programmes registered and accredited?
There is no mechanism within the South African
regulatory environment for the registration or accreditation of short learning
programmes. When the NQF was first set up it was intended that all short
courses would be registered over time but there has never been capacity to do
this. In some unit standard based instances short courses that form part of the
learning pathway for a full qualification were registered as a part
qualification in their own right but these are few and far between and they
have no better status than any other short course.
Some short learning programmes are recognised
by professional associations or vendors - where this is the case it will be
Quality Councils (such as the Higher Education
Quality Committee) require that institutions accredited by them apply the same
quality assurance arrangements that apply to full qualifications to their short
courses and this is why it makes sense to do a short course/short learning
programme through a registered and accredited provider.
|2||Short learning registered and accredited|
Are short learning programmes credit bearing?
This is an area of frequent confusion and
miscommunication. The short answer is “no” but there are important nuances.
Credits are “pieces of learning” earned towards a qualification and therefore
one only gets credits in a qualification. However, sometimes the work covered in
a short learning programme matches the work required for part of a
qualification and one could then get credit in to the qualification for the
work done in the short learning programme. Therefore it is possible for short
learning programmes to help you achieve your qualification by enabling you to
get credit towards the qualification.
There is one area of exception – in the early
years of the NQF and in relation mostly to NQF4 and below the pieces of
learning for some areas were broken into units and standards written for them.
These unit standards were then registered separately on the NQF. In these
instances – and still normally as part of the process towards a qualification –
you can register with some institutions for one or more unit standards and get
“credit” for them but even in these instances that credit is really only to
enable you to make progress in a full qualification.
Therefore the value of a short learning programme is not determined by its
association with credits but rather by whether or not it enables you to achieve
what you want to achieve – new skills or knowledge or a step towards a
|3||Short courses credit bearing|
Who recognises short learning programmes or gives credit for them?
Institutions make their own decisions in
relation to the courses (and even qualifications) they will recognise for
admission and for credit. Because accreditation of full qualifications follows
a national standard process it is more likely that one institution will
recognise the learning associated with a full qualification for credit in to
their own qualification. It is rare for institutions to accept short learning
programmes from other institutions for credit because there is no way of being
sure of quality (as there is no accreditation). It is important to keep this in
mind when you see adverts that claim a credit value for short learning
programmes – you need to determine if you will in fact get credit in to a full
qualification at the same institution and whether or not other institutions
(find out exactly which ones) will give you credit.
We need to reiterate that it is not the credit value that adds value to the
short learning programme – so do not be misled in to assuming that because a
credit value is advertised that it is a better programme or even that the
credits have real value as if they are not recognised in to a full
qualification then in fact the credits have no real credit value and are only
an indication of the volume of learning.
Short learning programmes are not normally undertaken for the same reasons that
full qualifications are and they have significant value in their own right in
terms of immediate skill and knowledge improvement. Assess those on offer to
you on this basis – and not on the purported credit value.
|4||Who gives credit|
What about the NQF level and short learning programmes?
This is another difficult area - sometimes you
will be told the NQF level at which a programme is being presented. This
is a description of the complexity and depth of the content and does not mean the
short learning programme has actually been registered on that level on the NQF.
This indication is useful when assessing a
short learning programme as the NQF level describes the level of the content
and assessment – an NQF 5 short learning programme is therefore pitched at a
level higher than school leaving whereas an NQF 8 one contains content and
assessment normally encountered at Honours level. Remember that in terms of
short learning programmes the NQF level only tells you what level of content there
is and it does not tell you anything about accreditation or registration or
credit value as short learning programmes cannot be registered or accredited
It is also important to remember that the
level of learning does not determine the usefulness of the learning for your
purposes. If you need to learn to use a new version of an operating system or a
new payroll package the learning may only be at NQF level 5 whereas the impact
of having this knowledge on your career may be quite significant – even as a
senior manager already holding a qualification at level 9. In other words –
remember to assess learning on the basis of what you need to achieve.
|5||NQF and short learning|
What names are you allowed to use for short learning programmes?
There is very little guidance in the law in
this regard other than that providers should not mislead the public. Short
Learning Programmes do – from time to time – carry a similar name to that of a
full qualification (such as certificate or diploma) and this is not a problem as
long as the status (as a short learning programme and not a full qualification)
is absolutely clear.
You therefore need to be cautious about
institutions that list their short learning programmes on the same list as
their qualifications without making clear which is which as you may be being
misled in to the impression that a short learning programme is a full
qualification when it is not.
High quality providers make clear in their advertising, contracts, course
materials and certificates issued what the status of a programme is – if it is
unclear you should be cautious. This applies as much to qualifications as it
does to short learning programmes.
Remember that if you were able to complete the course of study in less than a
full academic year full time it is very unlikely to be a qualification and is
probably a short learning programme – be sure of this when you enrol. The
course of study may still be very well worth doing but it is not a
What is an endorsement?
If a short learning programme or a
qualification is endorsed by a professional association or any other entity it
means that the association is willing to make it known that the quality and
content of the programme meets their standards. Sometimes that is all an
endorsement is – a public confirmation that the programme is supported.
Sometimes an endorsement enables a student who successfully completes a
programme to achieve particular membership or credit with an association but
this is quite unusual. For some professions and skill areas endorsements are
important but in some areas there are no professional associations so the lack
of endorsement does not necessarily say anything about the quality of the
programme. In those areas where there are endorsements available having one for
the programme you are studying is an additional assurance for you of both
industry recognition of the course of study as well as the inherent quality of
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Short learning programmes and Skills Levies
The Independent Institute of Education is
accredited by the HEQC which is the quality assurance authority for higher
education. Part of our accreditation is linked to a commitment that we will
apply the same quality assurance standards to short learning programmes as we do
to full qualifications. As long as training done for staff is part of a
workplace skills plan and workplace training reports are being submitted it
remains possible to claim back spending on any short learning programme from
the skills development levy.
It is sometimes erroneously asserted that only SETA accredited courses or those
based on unit standards qualify for the refund but this is not accurate. For
particular training needs in particular occupations at particular levels a SETA
accredited or unit standard based short course may be the best training
intervention. Frequently though the increased flexibility in terms of content
and assessment that is possible through other short courses provides more
suitable, effective and immediately applicable training for a particular
organisational need. These short courses/short learning programmes do qualify
for claims against the skills development levy if properly recorded and
accounted for in plans and reports.