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Notional Time in Education and TrainingNotional time refers to the duration of a learning programme, not the actual time it takes to complete it. It is usually used to determine the number of credits an individual can earn when completing a course.

What is Notional Time in Education?

“Notional time” is a term in education that means how much time you’re supposed to spend on a unit. This is different from “actual time,” which is how long you really spend on it.

  • Imagine going to college for three years and getting credit for four!
    • That’s what notional time is all about. For example, a degree programme might have a notional time of four years, but you finish it in three.
    • You still get four years of credits, though. It’s like getting an extra slice of pizza, but for your education!”
  • The notional time is typically based on a set of learning objectives or outcomes that students are expected to achieve.
    • For example, imagine the learning objective for a unit standard is to be able to solve a particular type of creative problem.
    • The notional time might be determined by how long it would take an average student to learn the necessary skills and practice them to achieve this.
    • Some learners may take 5 hours, others 15 minutes. Notional time tries to accommodate a variety of learning paces without disadvantaging learners.
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Notional Time is flexible

  • Educators use notional time as a means to measure student progress and determine if they are meeting the expected learning objectives within the given time frame.

If the word ‘notion’ refers to an ‘idea’, then notional time is an idea about time. This means that it is a reasoned framework and essentially non-prescriptive. Some people can learn a concept in 20 minutes, while others require two days.

It’s important to note that notional time is only a guide.

  • Different students learn at different paces and may require more or less time to achieve the same learning outcomes.
  • Notional time allows for individual differences in learning and accommodates the needs of diverse learners.

How is Notional Time calculated in South Africa?

  • In SAQA (South African Qualification Authority) language, credit is a time indicator.
  • If a unit standard has 5 credits – the time allocated to implement and manage the learning experience is 50 hours.

Answer: Number of Credits multiplied by 10 = Notional Time

  • Each credit equals 10 national hours.
    • 2 credits = 20 notional hours
    • 160 credits = 1600 notional hours
  • One credit is therefore assumed to be completed within 10 hours.

Notional Time = credit x 10 hours

  • Notional time is represented in the number of credits an individual receives for completing a certain course or programme. For example, a student receives one credit for every 10 hours they spend on a course.

Notional time is also used to compare different learning programmes.

  • For example, a Master’s degree programme in a particular field may take two years to complete, but the notional time for the same programme may be three years.
  • This means that the Master’s degree programme is considered to be of a higher, more intense level than a Bachelor’s degree taking the same amount of actual time to complete.

Can learners make up for lost time?

  • Yes. Absence does not have to imply failure to complete course objectives. Make sure to read the reports carefully after your Portfolio of Evidence is assessed or moderated as they will indicate any outstanding work that needs to be completed. Your first goal is to negotiate a resubmission date and complete the list of outstanding work.
  • If there is workplace evidence that is required and you are no longer at a workplace, create an imitation workplace at your home and set up your imaginary business. If you need to show a budget, make up a budget but make sure the maths adds up.
  • Picture your business as a lean, mean, fighting machine! When you’re short on cash, it’s essential to be competitive. If you need equipment to practice, don’t worry about having the latest and greatest. Just downscale to what you need. Plus, with all the power outages in South Africa, it’s wise to find solutions that don’t need electricity. Remember, sometimes simple is the most innovative!

What can learners do if the amount of evidence fails to support notional time?

  • What can you do if you don’t have enough evidence? Use the mock office scenario described above to create suitable evidence such as a marketing strategy, floor plan or a retro off-the-grid lab set-up etc.
  • If you want to know more about creating evidence for reflective learning, read this post on assessment. This extra evidence can boost your POE and help a Competent assessment outcome.

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Leonie Hall

Leonie Hall, disruptive thinker and dynamic strategist, is an expert in education, development, quality management and innovation. She has spoken at local and international conferences; and currently works as an independent consultant and content developer. Contact Leonie for a consultation.

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  1. Leonie Hall

    Hi Thembakazi
    Look at the assessment criteria for each unit standard and the exit level outcomes. Create evidence to show you know how to meet them.

  2. Thembakazi

    How does one cover or make up for missed notional hours due to unforseen situations.


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What is Notional Time in Education?