Are short learning programmes registered and accredited?
What you really need to know before you choose a short learning or part-time programme.
It is important to understand the differences between the different qualifications and accreditations. Short Learning Programmes are often used and designed to add to existing skills or to increase promotion opportunities. Below are all the questions and answers you need to make an informed educational decision.
What is a short learning programme/short course?
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.
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.
Are short learning programmes credit bearing?
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 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 – usually working – adults with new or upgraded knowledge or skill in one particular area. The aim is to immediately 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 that are for personal development reasons, rather than related to career progression.
Frequently – particularly after graduation from a full qualification – a short learning programme is a quick and efficient way to get the skills you need to improve your workplace performance, using up to date theory and methods.
Who recognises short learning programmes or gives credit for them?
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. It is therefore 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. However, even in these instances, 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 qualification.
What about the NQF level and short learning programmes
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 into 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 into a full qualification at the same institution and whether or not other institutions (find out exactly which ones) will give you credit.
It needs to be reiterated 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 as credit towards 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.
What names are you allowed to use for Short Learning Programmes?
This information is valuable 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 (see above).
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.
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) 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 of 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 year full time it is not a qualification and is a short learning programme – be sure of this when you enrol. The course of study may still be very much worth doing but it is not a qualification.