Mech Eng Topical-Unit Matrix

Foundational Knowledge Blocks

Australian VET courses are built out of units. A unit is like a subject (except that it is industry focussed, not content focussed).

For example: MEM300012A Apply mathematical techniques in a manufacturing engineering or related environment

These units can be accessed at

Here, we use blocks to build units - particularly in the foundation knowledge areas. The definition of a block is much more strict than the definition of a unit, in order to avoid overlap, duplication and ambiguity.


A LEARNING block IS...

1. Assessible: Usually one assessment per block.
2. Unique: Overlap is bad. (That's the whole point of a block).
3. Modular: As universal as possible. (Use the same block in other units of similar level).
4. Useful: It achieves a specific skill, or topic of knowledge.
5. Small: Typically a single lesson or demonstration, similar to a chapter in a book.
6. Targeted: Specific depth and rigor based on the course level. Spanning Cert 2, 3, Diploma etc should not be possible.


Mechanical Engineering Content (By major topic groups)

Statics and dynamics
Strength of materials and solid mechanics
Material Engineering, Composites
Thermodynamics, heat transfer, energy conversion, and HVAC
Fuels, combustion, Internal combustion engine
Fluid mechanics (including fluid statics and fluid dynamics)
Mechanism and Machine design (including kinematics and dynamics)
Instrumentation and measurement
Manufacturing engineering, technology, or processes
Vibration, control theory and control engineering
Hydraulics and pneumatics
Mechatronics and robotics
Engineering design and product design
Drafting, computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM)

Topics vs blocks

Learning blocks vs Topic Areas. PDF

Application Areas

Acoustics, Air Psychrometrics, Basics, Combustion, Drawing & CAD, Dynamics, Economics, Electrical, Environmental, Fluid Mechanics, Gas and Compressed Air, HVAC Systems, Hydraulics and Pneumatics, Insulation, Material Properties, Mathematics, Mechanics, Piping Systems, Process Control, Pumps, Steam and Condensate, Thermodynamics, Water Systems






MEM07032B Workshop Mach
MEM05012C Routine MMAW
MEM18002B Power Tools  

Full time students take extra practical skills in engineering workshop.


MEM30012A Maths
MEM23001A Adv Maths
MEM12025A Graph/Stats

Applied maths with some engineering applications.
F/T group


MEM30005A Forces
MEM30004A 3D CAD
MEM30007A Sel Matls
MEM23061A Test Matls

CAD/Design class. Focus on 3D with CNC. Class harnessed to 1st year robot project outcomes.
Applied CAD + robot mech design + CNC fabrication.


MEM16006A Comms
MEM30025A Elect Sys
MEM30026A Time Ckts
MEM14082A Apl MTr pri
MEM23003A Prog ctrlers

Control, programming, sensors, electronics. Class harnessed to 1st year robot project outcomes.
Microcontroller + sensors + circuitry + procurement + debugging + contest.


MEM30006A Stresses
MEM30009A Contrib Dsgn
MEM23041A BSP-Dyn
MEM23041A BSP-Fluids
MEM23041A BSP-Thermo
MSAENV272B Enviro sus

Mech Eng fundamentals scientific principles.
Strength of Materials + Statics + Dynamics + Fluid Mech + Thermo.


MEM16008A Intract com
MEM30027A Basic PLC
MEM12025A Graph/Stats
MEM23001A Adv. Maths
MEM23051A Elect ctrl pri
MEM23062A Sel MTr Matl

Control, programming sensors, electronics.

Class targets industrial control programming + PLCs.

Advanced Maths (P/T students)


Advanced Diploma (Continued from above)





MEM09151A Comp.model
MEM23081A Apply sci pri ME

Mech Eng design. Iterative design methods. Speadsheet and app-based design tools.
FEA and CAD-based design. Theoretical design projects, class projects.


MEM22002A Manage Self
MEM23082A App sci pri MTr

Control, programming sensors, electronics. Class prepares for Mechatronics project hardware and control programming.


MEM14061A Plan des ME prj
MEM23071A Select apply ME
MEM23091A Apply M Des pri.

Mechatronics project and associated plan, research, documentation team-work, procurement fabrication, debugging, presentation.

National Instruments Robotics Challenge.


MEM22001A Perf eng activ
MEM14062A Plan/des MTr prj
MEM22004A Manage eng Proj

Mechatronics project and associated plan, research, documentation team-work, procurement, fabrication, debugging, presentation.

Example: (2011 student excellence award) Segway clone


Attributes of a Learning Block

1. Assessible

Ideally, there would be one assessment per block. Assessment is essential to allow portability between units and courses.

2. Unique

Overlap is a bad thing. (That's the whole point of delivering blocks towards building of units). Units suffer significant overlap of content due to an almost perfectly unconstrained and discipline-free development (i.e. random).

3. Portable

Each block is to be as universal as possible. (Use the same block in other units of a similar course level). Since content and assessment are constrained to the learning block, there is no aim to make the block useable at a higher or lower educational level. This complies with learning design principles and VET training levels (Cert 2, 3, 4 Dip etc).

4. Useful Asset

Each achieves a specific skill, or topic of knowledge. The learning block should start someplace and get the student to the next useful step. Since industry relevance is already inferred by the target unit/s, it is mostly a case of defining a suitable scope for the learning block.

5. Indivisible Content

Typically a single lesson or demonstration, or even smaller in the case of a simple foundational block. Small is better for portability. For example: "Trigonometry" is too big for a block, but "Pythogoras theorem" is more likely to work. In this way, units from many courses could incorporate the same "Pythagoras" learning block.

Generally speaking, low level (foundational or introductory) blocks will tend to be smaller, since they will get used in a wider variety of contexts. Higher level blocks will tend to be larger, since they are both more complex and more specialized.

6. Targeted Level

A specific depth and rigor based on the course level. It should not be possible to span different educational levels (Cert 2, 3, Diploma etc) because they should incorporate different student learning behaviours (obstensibly at least). However, in some cases, a block might be able to target another level by changing (or extending) the assessment, or by adding supplementary material to the block. This is dangerous though, supplementary material should more likely be a second block, keeping the original block clean and simple.

7. Clear-cut

The block must be un-ambiguous and not open to a wide-ranging interpretation. This is where units fall down spectacularly - particularly when comparing RPL and class-based assessment, where trainers can interpret the vague and nebulus "competencies" however they like. With a block, all students should be directly comparable - like a centrally set assessment.

8. Catalogued and Controlled

Every new block must fit within a comprehensive map. If new areas are identified and the map must be extended, a rigorous "change note" system must be adhered to, ensuring the new block is not simple a cut-and-paste of existing blocks. To facilitate this process, every block must be indexed to ensure it is easy to find.

9. Course Independent

blocks are supposed to be portable. Carpenters and sheet-metal workers should do the same Pythagoras block. The question arises as to the relevance of examples and assessment questions. Carpenters and sheet-metal workers use the same Pythagoras theory in different ways. Each question (within a large question bank) could be identified with it's application area, and only those relevant areas included in a particular block assessment. This encourages collaboration and expands the variety.

Example Catalogue: Mathematics


The image below is a snapshot of the MathsOnline catalogue of lessons. There are 1411 video lessons, starting from kindergarten to well beyond the scope of most (probably all) maths needs in VET training. In the example below, "Course" is the year/s of study, "Stream" is a classification of mathematics areas, "Topic" is like a chapter of that stream, and the final (4th) level is a list of the individual lessons - each with their unique identifiers. Assessment is at the Topic level.

If a year 12 student needs to revise 4253, they go back to year 9/10 and run it again. Duplication free.

Mathematics does lend itself to this system extremely well. It is organised by subject (rather than by industry), it is static (not undergoing major changes every few years), and it is foundational (widely used in many courses).


Subject vs Industry Context

An industry-based classification promotes overlap. For example, Pythagoras' theorem turns up in engineering, surveying, sheetmetal, building, plumbing, landscaping, concreting, blocklaying... and so on. Absurdly, learning objects have been developed to teach Pythagoras many times over in each context, diluting the available resources for each effort. While Pythagoras is probably simple enough to develop in context, even this simple chunk of learning is rarely presented and assessed as well as it needs to be for true turn-key online learning.


So, like the mathematics example above, blocks would be classified on a subject basis. If one group (e.g. surveyors) used a specialized trigonometry that no-one else uses, they would have their own blocks. But where everyone uses the same method, the one block is shared by all.

Overlap between Units

There is currently no facility for checking overlapping content between units. Therefore a new unit can be written and added to a training package despite being 90% identical to an existing unit. Likewise, a unit can be scrapped without first checking whether that content exists elsewhere.

The Prerequisite Problem

Prerequisite: "something required as a prior condition"

The educational model of prerequistes and pathways is foundational to schools, university and virtually all training. We even use the colloquialism "Lawn-mowing 101" to mean the beginner's lesson in lawn-mowing. "101" being the first of a line a subjects (102, 103, etc) in the pathways of lawn-mowing training.

Australian's vocational planning decided to reinvent the wheel. Instead of a round wheel, they arrived at the current vocation training system, where it was decided that prerequisites are a bad thing. They get in the way of industry selecting a random mix of units for their trainees. As a result, prerequisite pathways have been demolished and in the writing of new units, any prerequisite (other than the core units) are strongly discouraged. Why? Because they limit choices.

So how do we tackle advanced subjects? Simple. Just add the foundation material within them, instead of specifying prerequisites.

Case Study: Anti-Prerequisites in Action...

MEM23109A: Apply engineering mechanics principles lists the following additional foundational knowledge - besides the mechanics/dynamics content;

  • (MEM30005A) basic principles of statics applicable to mechanical devices and systems
  • (MEM30005A) application of force systems applied to bodies, frames and beams
  • (MEM30006A) stress and strain:
  • (MEM30006A) axial stress
  • (MEM30006A) shear stress
  • (MEM30006A) bolted and welded joints
  • (MEM30006A) torsional stress
  • (MEM30006A) bending of beams

Effectively, the author of MEM23109A has directly embedded two units MEM30005A Forces and MEM30006A Stresses in their entirety. In response, TAFE NSW gave a nominal time of 72 hours for this unit. Based on the non-embedded content only, this should be closer to 36 hours when the is compared to the size of embedded units MEM30005A and MEM30006A. OK, maybe 54 hours at the most.

So, in giving it 72 hours, perhaps they were trying to accomodate the additional material. Except that they didn't. The additional (should-be-prerequisited) material would make it a triple unit, requiring 54+36+36 = 126 hours. (or up to 144)

Instead, MEM23109A has only 1 official pre-requisite, MEM30012A (Maths)

Even more incredibly, the foundational subjects of forces and stresses do not serve as pre-requisites for ANY other subject, yet their content is more essential than mathematics for engineering analysis. Maths can be done by computer, but if you can't set up a Free Body Diagram, you are not ready to study mechanisms as an engineering technician.


Do it once - do it well.

By using self-contained, modular blocks the overlap is removed and the content dealt with properly. If something needs to be re-visited, revisit it in the pre-requisite block.


About Names...





Implies a building block approach Somewhat bereft of pedagogical connotations. But then again, we could say the same about "package" or "unit"...


Similar idea to the software object; modular, relational.

1. Confusion with existing learning object model, e.g. which is less strict (no compulsory assessment, no strict catalogue or hierachial map)

2. Confusion with software object, (as in Object Oriented Programming) which have some similar attributes and goals of modularity. However, in software, an object can be scaled to any size. This is not a problem for bloatware, where a borrowed object might be only be employed for 10% of its capabailities. But courses have a very strict (bordering on impossible) time limits. With no room to spare, the learning block must be small and lean.

Subject   Too broad, old fashioned (?)


  Taken (old name for a VET subject).


  Taken (current name for a VET subject)
Package   Taken (current name for a VET course)



Relevant pages in MDME
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