A system has an objective and creates value. An RTO’s objective as a system is to upskill people. It also creates value by increasing the pool of available talent, thereby helping grow Australia’s economy. Systems thinking is a very powerful construct for making sense of what is happening in an organisation. 

An RTO is an open, dynamic and self-organising complex system.


The external environment exerts influences that cannot be directly controlled by the RTO.

The COVID pandemic exerted a significant influence on the operations of RTOs that was beyond their control.


Systems maintain their stability by making adjustments based on feedback.

Falling enrolment numbers is a form of feedback that usually stimulates an increase in marketing activity.


Change is non-linear and can have unintended consequences.

Most RTOs had to make unexpected changes in response to COVID in order to steady the organisation.

A complex system such as an RTO has sub-systems.

Every system has an objective within a larger system.

The objective of an RTO’s training system is to prepare learners for assessment.

All of a complex system's parts must be present for the system to achieve its objective.

An RTO would find it difficult to achieve its objective without an enrolment system.

Dysfunction in one system will negatively impact on other systems.

If the learner support system is not effective, then this will negatively impact both the training system and the assessment system.

Nothing happens in isolation; everything is connected.

A system is only important in terms of how it contributes to the complex whole.

A smaller system by itself is fundamentally meaningless. ‘Systems theory reminds us that if you break up an elephant, you don’t have a bunch of little elephants.’ (McNamara).

Every system has boundaries. The output from one system will be the input for another system.

A learner who has completed training is the ‘output’ of the training system and therefore becomes the ‘input’ for the assessment system.

Operational challenges are frequently located at the interface between systems.

An RTO has a system for completing a learner and issuing certification, but it is difficult to do this in a timely manner if assessment results are not forthcoming on time.


Release of new Standards for RTOs is an external influence that may have a significant impact on RTO operations.

Yes or No.

Yes. An RTO is an open system, so it is subject to changes in the external environment such as legislative change.

A complex system is greater than the sum of its parts.

Yes or No.

Yes. The whole organisation benefits when smaller systems work well because of the multiplying effect.

If the assessment system is working effectively an RTO will function properly.

Yes or No

No. The assessment system is one part of the larger system. Every part must function for it to be effective.