by John Mason, Principal

Why study?

This is the first question you should ask yourself before enrolling in a course anywhere but how often do we really think that way.

Here are a few possible “broad” reasons for studying:

  • To develop a capacity to solve problems better.
  • To be able to understand a subject better.
  • To keep up to date with the changes in the industry
  • To have a basis for learning and remembering (eg. If you understand plant taxonomy, you will remember plant names more easily)
  • To communicate better with professionals (eg. Understand books, research articles etc)
  • To heighten awareness
  • To gain prestige through having qualifications (also a marketing benefit)
  • To be licensed or endorsed by government or some other authority


No one course will ever provide all of these benefits.


Often we simply do not have the luxury of time to do the sort of research and thinking necessary to make the right choices for our particular business.

And to make a complex situation even more complex different institutions not only teach different things in different courses, but DIFFERENT INSTITUTIONS AND TEACHING SYSTEMS WILL APPROACH TEACHING IN DIFFERENT WAYS.

How Often Do you Get what you Need and Want

Sometimes we can be lucky and get what we need out of a course which we have chosen without a lot of research. More often than not, however, the outcomes of the courses offered do not match the promises made by the learning organisation. This often leaves us disenchanted with training organisations.

For example, some institutions and courses are heavily focused on delivering courses in line with a particular accreditation system (eg. Most TAFE’s and Private Providers).

Other institutions (eg. ACS) may focus more heavily on a totally different set of criteria.

Hence my first question and the need for clarity “Why Study”.

Needs & Wants are not the Same

Before you start studying, you always have thoughts about what you need and want; but in reality, you will not have a full understanding of how a course can benefit you until after you complete it. The fact is, people always know what they want , but rarely know what they need to learn.


If you knew what you needed to learn before you started a course, perhaps you would already know a significant proportion of what that course was designed to teach you.


You Get What you pay For

Accreditation Systems (like training packages) do cost money to run. From our experience they can add as much as 30% to the cost of a course, and dealing with the government bureaucracy can place strains upon teaching staff which may impair the quality of service they give the student.

Consider this.

If the main reason to do a course is to get a formally recognised qualification, you have no option other than doing the “accredited course”.

If the main reason for studying is something more basic like “to identify plants” or broader (eg. To solve problems in nursery management), the best course might not necessarily be the accredited one.


Diverse Training is Best.

From my own personal experience, if you employ graduates who have come from different education systems, you will have a greater capacity to deal with issues in the workplace.

When people with 5 very different backgrounds are put together into a nursery, you will have 5 different perspectives on how tasks might be better performed. If a manager can manage a diversity in personnel resources, the potential for that nursery will exceed the nursery with 5 tradesmen who have all completed exactly the same course.


See samples of lessons from ACS here.

Everyone knows education is costly and frequently ineffective; but nevertheless very important.

Pressures from government, bureaucracy and free market forces have caused lots of changes in recent decades, but the desired result still seems to elude us.

The learning that many business owners did in the past was very different to the learning that is available today. For most of us we would have done our training in a traditional classroom with traditional textbooks and with very few options as far as our learning preferences were concerned. In fact, research has shown that until recently, because education systems were so averse to change, it often took up to twenty years for courses to reflect what was actually happening in the workplace.

For example up until a few years ago, most university marketing degrees did not even refer to the existence of direct marketing when in fact fifty per cent of the marketing dollar was being spent in this area.

Today we know that people learn in different ways and at different paces so we are able to provide a much wider variety of learning options.

As the world changes, the requirements of students change, and so do our options for meeting these requirements.

Be aware of these changes. They are already happening and they will impact on how people learn horticulture, whether you like it or not:

-Everything is going Global

eg. UK institutions are trying to sell courses overseas. Overseas institutions are selling their courses in the UK.

-With tighter funding, government funded education is increasingly pressured

Economics is an increasingly significant driving force. This is damaging traditional education. Non traditional, more economically efficient approaches are fast becoming the better options.

-Technology Impact

Every new technological tool that provides a new and better way of delivering education is putting pressure on established systems. It’s a bit like the industrial revolution, “Use the new machinery, or else perish”

-Rate of Change

The rate of change cannot be catered for by current planning and management systems. A totally new approach is needed.

Given the rate of change in today’s world, we are going to need a flexible and constantly changing approach to horticultural education in the future.

Approaches to Education

Basis for Education

Teaching Focus

Assessment Focus

Information Based Training

Learning information

Regurgitating facts

Competency Based Training

Learning how to perform tasks

Performing a task when assessed

Problem Based Learning

Problem solving and research skills related to the discipline studied

Broad based –assessment based upon not only the end product but the whole process the student worked through

Brain Based Training

Applying an understanding of how the brain works to learn things in order to achieve defined learning within the discipline

Broad based

Endorsement Based Training

Learning what is required through legislation in order to get “licensed” to do a certain job.

Commonly assessment of competencies at the conclusion of a course

Variety Based Training

Developing a very broad perspective on a discipline so as to be more adaptive and creative.

Can incorporate all of the above

To provide effective education, the basis for training needs to reflect the purpose of the education.

While this might sound like an obvious statement, I’m sure some of you have already experienced the lack of connection between the two.

See ACS student services presented at

A Key Issue

Universities teach how to understand things but not necessarily how to do things.

Vocational Colleges teach how to do things, but not necessarily how to understand them. Accreditation systems are very good at audits and rubber stamping, but often more focused on evidence that students have been assessed rather than evidence that they have actually learned. These are complex issues and need to be considered in relation to your particular needs and this takes some time and research. It is no longer the case that one size fits all.

There is a need to provide education that provides students with both understanding and practical capacity, as well as providing employers with the reassurance that their potential new employee has the skills they need. For many employers and students alike the education choices may be one, but not all, of the following:

  • A course that develops a broad capacity to solve problems and adapt to change in the horticulture industry;
  • A course that satisfies government licensing requirements.
  • A cheaper short course that develops highly specialised skills for the job at hand today; but which doesn’t necessarily give the student a capacity to adapt to change.

If you could only have one of these, which one would you choose?


1. Lots of flexibility

  • Students can study where and when they want.
  • Different ways of studying (not classroom lectures): online, video, e learning (on CD) or traditional distance education (with course notes).
  • Student learning preferences are built in to our courses
  • A greater variety of specialist courses than other institutions

2. Unique Support Services

  • Tutor support over the internet, phone, fax or mail is not limited (as is often the case in other institutions around the world)
  • Unique online resources, including student room, student directory, online library: even a garden ezine which was rated in Australia’s top 5 garden web sites by Computer User Magazine
  • Outstanding academic staff (most have 4 years or more of full time post secondary study, average of more than 15 years industry experience).

3. Courses that are being updated continually, and which are written to have an international focus.


One truth remains after everything else relating to horticultural education:

Employing educated staff is only valuable if it allows you to do a better and more efficient job in the nursery; and at the end of the day, make a profit.

Choose staff who have completed different types of training programs, with different schools, and under different (but reputable) systems and you are more likely to achieve this goal.



Use our free career and course counselling service.