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Applied learning in VCAL

The Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) provides students with the skills, knowledge and attributes to enable them to make informed choices about employment and education pathways. Personal development, students’ interests and pathways for senior secondary students, in the context of applied learning, underpin the design of VCAL.

Applied learning in VCAL

Applied learning in VCAL incorporates the teaching of skills and knowledge in the context of ‘real life’ experiences. Learners apply what they have learnt by doing, experiencing or relating it to the real world.

Applied learning in VCAL emphasises the relevance of what is learnt in the classroom to the ‘real world’ outside the classroom, and makes that connection as immediate and transparent as possible.

Applied learning is about nurturing and working with a student in a holistic manner, which takes into account their personal strengths, interests, goals and previous experiences. Applied learning values skills and knowledge that may not normally be the focus of more traditional school curricula. It also means taking into account differences in ways of learning. This focus on a real-life application will often require a shift from a traditional focus on discrete curriculum to a more integrated approach to learning, as students focus on learning and applying the skills and knowledge they need to solve a problem, implement a project or participate in the workforce.

VCAL acknowledges that part of the transition from school to further education and employment is being treated as an adult. Moving students out of the classroom to learn also means helping them to make a shift to become more independent and responsible for their own learning. This means that applied learning needs to be student centred and applied learning goals and outcomes should be negotiated with students, as well as other stakeholders.

Applied learning also involves students and their teachers working in partnerships with organisations and individuals. These partnerships provide the necessary context for students to demonstrate the relevance of what they have learnt.

Applied learning in VCAL places equal importance on theory and application.

Knowledge and skills should be explicitly taught and applied within a ‘real life’ context.


Knowledge and Skills ↔ Context and Application

Benefits of applied learning in VCAL

Using an applied learning approach in VCAL has numerous benefits for students. These include:

  • improving student motivation, engagement and commitment
  • improving student self-esteem and confidence
  • providing a context for learning the generic skills that are valued in the workplace, for example, problem solving, working effectively with others and in teams, leadership and personal responsibility
  • improving the transition for students from school to work and/or further education
  • catering effectively for students with different preferred learning styles
  • providing a meaningful context for learning both theoretical concepts and practical skills.

Designing applied learning opportunities in VCAL

The following should be considered when designing applied learning opportunities in VCAL:

  • Start where the students are at.
  • Negotiate and engage in a dialogue with students about the curriculum.
  • Share knowledge – recognise the knowledge students bring to the learning environment.
  • Connect with communities and seek real-life experiences.
  • Build resilience, confidence and self-worth – consider the whole person.
  • Integrate learning so that it includes the whole task and the whole person. In life we use a range of skills and knowledge. Learning should reflect the integration that occurs in real-life tasks.
  • Promote diversity of learning styles and methods. Everyone learns differently. Accept that different learning styles require different learning or teaching methods, but value experiential and practical ways of learning.
  • Assess appropriately – use the assessment method that best fits the learning content and context.

Applied learning in action

Applied learning can be incorporated into a single task or a substantial project. Below are examples of how applied learning can be used in VCAL. These examples are only a snap shot of a broader task.

VCAL unit Level Learning outcome Explicit teaching of skills and knowledge Applied learning context/  application

Literacy skills reading and writing



Writing for practical purposes: ‘write an instructional text’

Students will need to know:

– what the features of an instructional text are

– how to structure an instructional text

Students who are interested in studying automotive could demonstrate their learning by writing an instructional manual on how to service a car.

Numeracy skills unit 1



Financial literacy: Make decisions and perform monetary calculations involving money in unfamiliar contexts.

Students will need to know:

– how to represent money in decimals

– how to perform monetary addition and subtraction calculations

– how to construct a budget

Students who are interested in building and construction could demonstrate their learning by creating a budget for the materials, fixtures and fittings of a newly built home.

Personal development skills unit 1



Plan and organise a simple activity.

Students will need to know:

– how to write a plan for an event

Students who are interested in hospitality could demonstrate their learning by planning a three-course meal.

Work related skills unit 1



Identify workplace safety hazards.

Students will need to know:

– the definition of a hazard

– how to conduct a risk assessment

Students who are interested in hair and beauty could identify workplace safety hazards for a hairdressing salon.