Vocational Education And Training Research Paper

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We define ‘vocational education,’ as any set of learning activities aimed at developing individuals for personally and socially significant life roles; and ‘training’ as a confined aspect of vocational education, namely any set of learning activities aimed at equipping individuals with the knowledge needed for pre-defined tasks or roles. That is, vocational education and training is not just a particular sector of education, or particular activities preparing people for work, but also any other education, which recognizes explicitly the centrality of individuals’ life purposes (including work) and their social significance in an individual’s construction of meaning.

Our definition adopts Dewey’s (1916) inclusive idea of vocation, as personally significant life activities. It is consonant with the Latin derivation of the term, callings, and the Greek idea that all people have a telos. Thus, a vocation might involve such disparate pursuits as motor mechanic, doctor, parent, rock-star, athlete, or street vendor. Some societies afford higher social status to some vocations, especially those taught in universities (e.g., medicine) and call them professions, leading to the professional vocational distinction.

1. Classical Constructions Of Vocational Knowledge

Differentiations of kinds of knowledge (and their acquisition) can be traced to the ancient Greeks who divided society into:

… those who had to labor for a living [slaves, artisans and women] and those who were relieved from this necessity [free class worthy of liberal education] (Dewey 1916, p. 251).

Aristotle differentiated ‘five ways in which the soul arrives at truth’ (Thomson 1976, p. 206)—art or technical skill (techne); science or scientific knowledge (episteme); prudence or practical wisdom ( phronesis); intelligence or intuition (nous); and wisdom (sophia). He regarded art and technical skill as concerned with making or production, but as essentially different from prudence or practical wisdom ( phronesis), which is concerned with deliberating ‘rightly’ what is good and advantageous, thereby constituting action rather than production. Thus, vocational knowledge is often constructed in opposition to other knowledge, based on its supposed technical or applied nature. This segregation from ‘general’ knowledge reflects a social segregation of culture and utility, and of class. Separation of education for techne from more valued education (so-called general or ‘liberal’ education of the ‘person’) underlies the organization of education in Western industrial countries, with polarization of the constructions of liberal academic, and vocational knowledge.

Based on classical Greek ideas, later authors have differentiated knowledge in two ways: (a) theoretical vs. applied knowledge, and (b) a knowledge that enables control over causes vs. knowledge that enables ‘right’ action (to secure what is appropriate or good).

1.1 Theoretical vs. Applied

This distinction is sometimes caricatured as a division of head and hand. Ryle (1949) cautioned against such conceptualizations of thinking that attributed to knowledge of ‘how’ a form and structure additional to its intrinsic nature, arguing that the capacity to demonstrate expertise was a single phenomenon, not driven by separate internal processes. Separation of the theoretical and the applied in vocational education is exemplified in formal college or school supplementation of on-the-job apprenticeship/traineeship training in Western society. However, the German Dual Apprenticeship system attempts to develop both theory and practice in both school and work settings. Institutional separation of vocational education from ‘general’ schools and universities also reflects this differentiation of theoretical and applied concerns or of culture and utility. Consider also the construction of educational pathways, which involve personal choice, but at the same time labor market segmentation and class allocation.

1.2 Technical Control vs. ‘Right’ Action

Critical theorists emphasize the distinction between ‘technicist’ knowledge for technical control and ‘practical’ knowledge for ‘right’ action. Such concepts can generate views of occupational roles as atheoretical and non-moral; and vocational education as separable from individual and societal needs. They help legitimate movements like competency-based training, which separates technical mastery and control for workplace performance from individual construction of meaning and the critical development of society.

Popkewitz (1998) has argued that both Dewey and Vygotsky were social constructivists bringing ‘new democratic political rationalities into the governing of individual conduct’ ( p. 535). They, in a period of modernity, saw that ‘social sciences [education] would not only provide a cognitive knowledge but also discipline the capabilities, values, dispositions, and sensitivities through which individuals problematized their participation in the world’ ( p. 537). They compared their ‘problem-solving individual’ with the images and constructions of social determinism ( Popkewitz 1998) as the basis of state provision of vocational education and training, i.e., self- empowering education for democratic participation or technical/market control.

2. Psychological Ideas Of Training

The psychological idea of training has its origins in early behaviorist research on classical and operant conditioning. Often training referred to the shaping of animal behavior, construing systematic mastery of confined and pre-determined tasks. It places behavior in opposition to internal cognitive processes and externally determined goals in opposition to individual needs. This psychological idea of training has been extended to all work-related learning where learning goals are pre-determined, and individual behavior shaped towards those goals—hence workplace training, on-the-job training, etc. Moreover, the term has been further extended to any kind of learning for any kind of work e.g., teacher training, doctor training, presuming an equivalence between vocational learning and animal tricks.

Modern cognitive psychology views vocational knowledge in terms of expertise. These ideas challenge the separation of physical and intellectual skills, as both kinds of knowledge consist in the same kinds of cognitive representations. Routine action is accomplished through automatic execution of specific cognitive procedures, developed through extensive practice. Experts conceptualize unfamiliar situations in terms of principles, structured at various levels of abstraction, and linked to cognitive procedures, under the control of higher order cognitive procedures.

3. Social Patterning Of Vocational Knowledge

Cognitive and anthropological studies indicate that knowledge is highly situated. The idea of situated knowledge also challenges the tradition that there is vocational and ‘other’ knowledge (e.g., knowledge derived from academic disciplines). Rather, as in the tradition of Vygotsky, all knowledge is regarded as socioculturally based, with patterning of concepts and procedures arising from social interactions and social contexts.

Sociocultural considerations impel the idea of normative judgement also challenging mechanistic notions of vocational knowledge. The idea of normative judgement helps to explain why some expected cases of transfer do not occur—transfer in the work place depends on normative judgements about what is appropriate in the setting.

4. Life-Span Centered Constructions Of Vocational Education

Career theory addresses vocational education and training in terms of personal traits, values and goals, with such personal meaning constructs embedded in sociohistorical contexts. For example, in World War II, women were recruited into manufacturing, and farming and transport, re-defining vocational pathways and self-definition.

Life-span approaches argue that understanding any part of a life requires reference to the whole life course—lives vocations are constructed in a particular social and historical context. Vocation may involve several work and other social roles over the life-span, and the term ‘life career’ may better reflect such dynamic processes. A life-long learning philosophy of education and training has developed in recognition of changing contexts, individual aspirations and the potential of vocational education and training for human capital (see later) development.

Education is used as a precursor to vocational choice, and as a context for vocational orientation and training. Curriculum, streaming, assessment and various other processes allocate young people to vocational pathways and labor markets through credentials. This stresses the polarity of education for individual and social empowerment (democracy equity) vs. education for production class segregation (social differentiation). Vocational education and training become a form of state intervention in pursuit of economic goals. These state measures are evident in the contractual arrangements of apprenticeships and traineeships.

Adult learning theory can also emphasize humanist or socially critical perspectives on vocational education. In the first case, the learner determines the vocational nature of their own goals and the required knowledge. Critical theorists seek to empower learners in understanding how their vocations are constituted by society; how such forces can be oppressive, and how to take action. Thus, both constructions often see work-related discourses in opposition to the needs of the individuals or to society as a whole.

5. Economistic Constructions Of Vocational Education

In competency-based education/training, learning goals are set against industrial standards. The economic goal is cost-effective use of resources in shaping learner behavior towards pre-determined learning outcomes (Stevenson 1993). This perspective is less concerned with individuals’ callings, ways of constructing meaning, and socially appropriate practice, than with potential human capital.

Human Capital Theory assumes that education ‘helps develop skills of work, that is, improves the capacity of the worker to be productive’ (Sweetland 1996, p. 354). Such conceptualizations can confine human development to increasing workplace capital. The learning problem is human resource development, i.e., shaping individuals to increase their potential as economic resources. Such perspectives can separate work from life, reduce the time horizon of vocational education and training to immediate and predictable aspects of work, and give weight to those verbally expressible aspects of human capacities, which can be detailed in advance of learning activities.

6. Sociohistorical Influences On Constructing Vocational Education

The knowledge which counts as vocational differs across cultures and time. Where production consists in the application of knowledge handed down through generations (as in early agricultural economies or in contemporary non-western cultures), the knowledge is holistic and normative, and associated with forming one’s cultural identity. Even in Ford’s early factories, there was a sense of community, with housing provided for workers, just as in traditional Japanese enterprises. However, production assembly lines and associated boredom have produced a gulf between working and being human. This gulf extends to the requisite knowledge, giving rise to such confined vocational education curriculum development techniques as task analysis (Berryman 1993).

Social crises such as wars have seen recurring regressions to behaviorist/technicist notions of education (Stevenson 1996). These reversions have been resisted by humanist and socially critical movements, with distinctions being emphasized between educative processes and products, and between expressive, and other objectives. However, this resistance has not prevented the re-emergence of behaviorism in the 1980s in the form of outcomes-based education. Notwithstanding, the democratization of education is creating ‘greater freedom of choice and a fight against the socio-cultural determinism which predestines some for management positions prepared for through academic training and others for operational tasks requiring vocational training’ (Pair 1998, p. 23).

7. Contemporary Concerns

Contemporary concerns in conceptualizing vocational education and training arise from:

(a) (economic) changes in the nature of productive activity,

(b) (societal) changes in attitudes to the role of industrial development,

(c) (cognitive) changes in conceptualizations of knowledge,

(d) ( philosophical) changes in views about different ways of knowing and rendering that knowledge, and (e) ( pedagogical policy) changes in the organization and conceptualizations of vocational education and training as programs of pathways evolving over the life-span, with the need for bridges.

Economic constructions of knowledge are moving from narrow short-term capacities to those more characteristic of dynamic workplaces. Socioeconomic needs challenge the separation of individual development from social development and from the capacity for productive work; or, to use cruder terms, of culture from utility. Work, in a knowledge-based society, is clearly reliant on thinking skills, innovation, and capacities to displace time, space, and financial constraints on design, production, delivery, marketing, and sales. A new terminology for productive capacities has emerged: intellective and connective skills; mobile knowledge workers, symbolic analysts (e.g., Harvey 1989). Work has become more continuous with other aspects of life. The OECD (1980) listed ‘competencies’ for working life, which have now been replaced by key core competencies skills qualifications (see Hodgson and Spours 1997, Nijhof and Streumer 1998). Economic changes highlight further the arbitrariness of the separate denotation of high status vocations (e.g., medicine, law) as professions, simply because their preparation occurs in universities.

The idea that knowledge can be produced outside of ‘intellectual’ institutions has now also been advanced by Gibbons et al. (1994), who argue that (‘Mode 2’) knowledge exists within the situational and time characteristics of teams brought together to solve such problems as those generated in modern innovative workplaces

Social changes include increased participation of young people with plural characteristics, in schooling, creating the need to overcome pedagogical complexity in provision of education and learning pathways (Achtenhagen and Grubb 2001). Challenges also include renewed concerns about quality of life in and outside work, the environment, inter-personal relationships, and global harmony. These various social concerns call into question the ways in which educational provision is institutionally separated.

Concerns arising from cognitive psychological and anthropological research include understanding the relationships between tacit and expressible knowledge, situated and generic knowledge, dispositions, values and action, knowing and transferring, and apparently different kinds of intelligence. Philosophical movements challenging philosophical structuralism also challenge the hierarchy and polarization of knowledge developed from ancient Greek society.

8. Methodological Issues

In researching vocational education, an immediate problem is in defining the phenomenon. Discourses have traditionally polarized such ideas as knowledge and experience, theory and practice, life and work, and academic and vocational concerns. Such polarizations often confound knowledge with the capacity to render knowledge in verbal (declarative) form. This arises partly because declarative knowledge has uncriticized currency amongst researchers whose training comes from universities. For example, in researching vocational knowledge, due weight is not routinely given to nonverbalizable (undeclarable) knowledge conceptualized variously as knowing how, tacit knowledge, implicit knowledge, multiple intelligences, and non-verbalizable intelligence; or to the plurality of representational encoding and memory systems. Nor is weight given to conceptualizing training structures and contexts as the interaction of many actors in sociohistorical time (employers, unions, people, communities, public authorities, training and education institutions) (Pair 1998).

Theories, concepts, research approaches and research tools developed from research into early human development, schools and universities are often applied unproblematically to research in vocational education and training. For example, a high value is automatically assumed for verbalizable propositional knowledge in relation to capacities for expert performance. Recognition that knowledge is not to be confounded with verbalizable renditions places an onus on researchers to re-conceptualize theoretical developments that have been based on tools and perspectives that privilege the verbalizable.

Immediate research goals include the epistemological ones of determining the nature of vocational knowledge and its relationship with other ways of knowing; the illumination of the relationships among epistemological frameworks, research tools and methods; and the development of new approaches that capture and give weight to plural ways of knowing and rendering that knowledge, as well as illuminating nonverbalizable knowledge. These methodological developments are fundamental to reconciling different perspectives on vocational education and training and in researching such matters as the relationships among learning, personal choice, work, social change, institutional structures and learning pathways. Ifn addition, more work is needed on teaching–learning processes within vocational education settings. The pathways concept (Raffe 1998), in particular, may be a tool for research and a metaphor for travel over the lifespan. In particular the networks of interconnected pathways afforded by vocational and technical training, universities, and enterprises will be significant for innovation, flexibility and life-long-learning. How well various countries address such issues may well determine their economic competitiveness and their social democracies.

9. Future Directions: Addressing Polarizations

The directions of social, technological and economic change compel reconstructions of the ideas of the vocational and vocational education, in such a way as to reconnect ideas that have become polarized. Change will come from a number of sources: more continuities in the workplace between innovation and execution (e.g., flatter hierarchies, pace of change, working in teams); more continuities between being at work and other aspects of life (e.g., time and space displacement such as telecommuting); more continuities between the social regard for those in and out of work (fewer core jobs (Hirsch 1991)); greater continuities between industrial and wider societal needs (a resurgence of values for the environment, quality of life, global harmony); more pressure for innovation in training pathways and their interconnectedness (Pair 1998, Raffe 1998), and greater attention to socialization/exclusion through education and work (Poole 1992, Popkewitz 1998).

A view of knowing more connected with doing will arise also because few cases of doing will be confined to the routine execution of skills. The pace of change will highlight the necessity for the continuous construction and reconstruction of meaning based on changing experiences, reconnecting knowledge with the individual’s developing sense of vocation, and with productive/generative activity, in pursuit of vocation. Reconnections will need to link the educational needs of individuals, the development of society, and productivity and generativity in industrial, and other vocations. These links will be contextual, changing over the life-span. We suggest that theoretical conceptualizations will increasingly inter-relate the ideas of knowing, doing, feeling, judging, across the Aristotelian divides, and across the derived academic/vocational divide. We also suggest that the idea of generative/productive activity in all societal roles will serve as a basis to build a bridge across the cultural and utility divide, and that vocational constructions will be social/contextual and dynamic across the lifespan.


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