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Teaching and Learning for the World of Work: New Ideas for the Education of

VET and HRD Professionals

Graham Attwell, Institut Technik und Bildung, Bremen University

The paper discusses the initial outcomes of research being undertaken for a European

Community funded research project, EUROPROF, which is examining the education

of professionals in vocational education and training. The paper examines changes in

technology and in work organisation and considers the implications for teaching and

learning. Of particular interest for the idea of life long learning is the development of

professional competence and expertise in an occupational setting. The need to embed

the development of learning strategies, key competences and cognitive learning in an

occupational context has led to the development of theories based on work process

knowledge. The paper examines two aspects of the changing role of teachers and

trainers: the instructional activities required to promote the attainment of vocational

learning and expertise and the role of organisational learning in the continuing

development of competence. Finally, there is a brief examination of existing

provision for the education of VET professionals leading to a call for the

development of a new ‘expanded’ vocational pedagogy which includes both ‘general’

pedagogy and education and also the competences linked to work related process


The new emphasis being placed on lifelong learning has important implications for

almost every aspect of education and training including organisation, curriculum,

pedagogy and skills development. Notably it has led to increasing research in the

vocational sector, formerly the Cinderella of education and training. Whilst the

traditional role of vocational education and training (VET) has been training for

initial skills and managing or mediating the school to work transition, the new

expanded role includes retraining to counter unemployment and social exclusion. It

also encompasses the facilitating of work place learning and continuing training to

ensure the workforce have the skills required for new production processes and new

technologies. This new role has in turn led to a resurgence of interest in learning

theory and how effective learning take place in the workplace. At the same time there

has been a growing political and social dimension focusing on how different countries

are managing and developing programmes for skills acquisition and enhancement and

thus there has been a corresponding growth in comparative VET research. This has

been encouraged by the European Union which has recently launched two separate

transnational research programmes including vocational education and training.

This paper is based on the initial research undertaken for one of the new European

research projects - “New Forms of Education of Professionals for Vocational

Education and Training” (EUROPROF), funded through the Leonardo programme

Surveys and Analyses strand. The project, which includes partners from thirteen

different European countries, aims to identify new occupational profiles for teachers

and trainers involved in both initial and continuing vocational education and training

in vocational schools and in the workplace. These profiles will then be used to

generate a new programme framework leading to a Masters qualification to be piloted

in a number of universities in the different member states. Although the European

Commission has funded a number of previous ‘training the trainer` projects, it is the

view of the project co-ordinators, the Institut Technik und Bildung at Bremen

University, that these have often floundered because of the lack of basic research into

the new roles of trainers and an understandable desire to try to draw up demonstrable

outcomes quickly. Secondly, many of these projects have focused on pedagogical

skills for trainers whilst failing to consider adequately the centrality of work based

learning or work process learning in the acquisition of vocational skills and expertise.

This is seen as particularly important given the current emphasis being placed on

social innovation in furthering competitiveness and countering unemployment in the

countries of the European Union. Therefore, an early focus for the project has been to

look at the meaning and nature of work based expertise and skills, at how effective

learning can be encouraged and developing a shared understanding and definition for

what constitutes expertise for vocational teachers and trainers themselves. This paper

addresses some of these questions through a consideration of the changing economic

and social contexts of the European member states and a review of different concepts

of professional and occupational competence and expertise. The paper examines the

idea of work process knowledge and goes on to consider the implications of these

ideas for the future role of teachers and trainers. It also looks at two aspects of this

changing role: the instructional activities required to promote the attainment of

vocational learning and expertise and the role of organisational learning in the

continuing development of competence. Finally, there is a brief examination of

existing provision for the education of VET professionals leading to a call for the

development of a new expanded vocational pedagogy which includes both ‘general’

pedagogy and education and also the competences linked to work related process


The Economic and Social Context

The last two decades have seen heightened competition between the economies of

western Europe and the far east, especially with the new growing economies of the

countries of the Pacific Rim. At the same time Europe has gone through a series of

cyclical economic recessions leading to a review of economic and industrial

manufacturing organisation and strategies. The initial response to this new situation

was, commonly, rationalisation and downsizing which attempted to achieve higher

levels of efficiency and cost savings within a Tayloristic production framework. More

recently a trend has emerged, which has been described as a new production

paradigm, encompassing the following features:

• The creation of flexible production systems which can meet short deadlines and

solve problems as they arise;

• The implementation of new quality management systems;

• Shorter product life cycles;

• The introduction of new forms of work organisations.

The new methods of industrial manufacturing and work organisation are having a

dramatic effect on skills demand and occupational profiles and thus on the demands

placed on vocational education and training.

• Pressure towards better quality and shorter life-cycles of products increases the

need to develop more integrated strategies for new technology, work organisation

and skill formation. This is leading to a focus on key competences or core skills

such as teamwork, information technology, communications, decision making and

on shaping skills1;

• The rapid evolution of technologies is bringing about a fundamental change in the

role and structure of manufacturing companies leading to demand for new skills;

• There are fewer and fewer routine and low skilled or unskilled jobs left and

existing and newly created jobs tend to demand higher levels of skill. In this

respect, there are strong arguements in favour of multi-skilling and customer

orientated skills.

Professional and Occupational Competence and Expertise

„The somewhat unusual term ‘shaping’ means something like ‘self determined, independent design’
of work , technology, even life style“ (Heidegger, 1995, 3). It will be explained more fully later in
the text.

As economists have emphasised the increasing importance of human capital as the

unique factor in economic development and competition (Brown and Lauder, 1995,

21), so has the debate over the nature of professional competence and effective

learning of skills come to the fore. Traditional definitions and explanations of

professional competence or expertise have been based on theories of technical

rationality - on the assumption that learning can be applied in predictable and

repeated ways. Limitations in the epistemology of technical rationality and the

response to changing forms of work organisation have led to new definitions and

explanations of professional expertise which emphasise the importance of “reflection-

in practice” (Edwards, 1993, 49). Alan Brown (1994, 11) cites Mansfield and

Mathews (1985) who describe occupational competence as comprising three

interrelated components - tasks, task management and role or job environment whilst

Leat (1993, 507) defines competence as ‘the state whereby behaviour, cognition and

thinking are in sympathy’. New definitions have stressed the importance of

capability - of the ability of employees to learn new skills as the basis for future

performance (Eraut, 1993, 10). Alan Brown (1994, 12) goes on to look at the

requirements of major industrial companies in terms of the competence of their

workforce. British Telecom emphasise the value capability as ‘the outlook,

understanding and way of working that promotes innovation’. The German car

manufacturers, Volkswagen, have a similar forward looking definition of skill:

‘competence which is primarily concerned with current job demand does not cover

the whole field. It fails to respond to our view of long term company needs and of our

image of future employees’.

New forms of work organisation have challenged the traditional Tayloristic

separation of conception from execution and has led to a questioning of the divisions

between theoretical knowledge and practical skills. It has also led to an attack on

traditional behaviourist learning principles: on the ‘narrow technicist approach which

defines useful knowledge in the light of bureaucratic and corporate needs’ (Collins,

1991) cited in Hyland, 1993, 93). It has also led to an increased stress on the need for

broad based learning and skills and for the development of core skills or key

competences - team working, being able to communicate effectively, problem solving

and being willing to learn (City and Guilds, 1993, 4). Core skills and key

competences facilitate transferability of occupational competence and work related

skills to shape new work organisations and new technology. The technocratic

argument which occurs in most countries is that ‘learning to learn is fundamental if

workers are to be able to adjust to changing organisational structures, technological

innovation and almost constant change in work processes’ (Brown, 1994, 13).

Work Process Knowledge

The need to embed the development of learning strategies, key competences and

cognitive learning in an occupational context has led to the development of theories

based on work process knowledge. Traditional pedagogical practices ‘have rendered

key aspects of expertise and real professionalism invisible to students’ (Enkenberg,

1994, 204). The curriculum has been based on a ‘knowledge hierarchy of basic

science, followed by applied science and then the technical skills of day to day

practice’ (Ibid., 204). Enkenburg stresses the importance of learning being ‘situated’ -

knowledge cannot be separated from its source and context or its environment.

Knowledge is relative and learning occurs through a process of culturalisation as

concepts are understood through use. Knowledge is most powerfully adapted in

authentic activities, that is, if it is ‘coherent, meaningful and purposeful within the

social framework’ (Ibid., 206). Workers today have the need to plan, explore, reflect

and evaluate their own activities and practice. Expertise is based on conceptual,

procedural and situational (practical) knowledge. Work process knowledge

emphasises the importance of critical points which require actions based on holistic

expertise rather than simply academic knowledge. The development of expertise in

work process knowledge is dependent on three dimensions: on implicit knowledge,

tacit knowledge and on environment. The task for vocational education and training is

to integrate critical points into an experience-based learning strategy. Expertise is

domain specific and builds up through the refinement of preconceived notions and

theory during practical experience (Brown, 1994, 15).

Whilst reflection and pro-activity are two facets of developing expertise, there is a

developing consensus on the value of teaching thinking skills to aid problem solving

performance in an occupational context (Ibid., 20). Deep seated competence is

dependent on a balance between learning for work and learning at work and learners

need to gain the mastery of a substantive knowledge base as an important component

of the intellectual development associated with the development of expertise (Ibid.,

34). Such a knowledge base not only accentuates experts’ problem solving ability but

is central to the practice of shaping competences - that is, the ability to shape working

organisation and technology and skills in order to develop social innovation.

The development of cognitive learning skills and work based process knowledge pose

new questions and challenges for the organisation and practice of vocational

education and training. How can people be educated so that both domain specific and

more general wide area wide characteristics of expertise can be acquired within

learning settings? How can learning be designed in order that individuals may transfer

skills? Mjelde (1994, 198) says that ‘learning becomes real through a process of

interpersonal activities between persons and materials’. Individuals use their

experiences as a foundation for the personal construction of knowledge from internal

representations. Learners gain knowledge through a process of personal and co-

operative experimentation, questioning and problem solving through which meaning

can be constructed. ‘Learning is the articulation of schemata which incorporate

cognition, perception and action. Schemata are made meaningful by jointly carrying

out activities with an expert in such a way that the learner gradually masters

successively more difficult parts of the task through successively more complex

stages’ (Ibid., 198). The central aspect of vocational education and training is learning

by doing, gaining professional skills while interacting with materials, teachers and

fellow workers. The authenticity and transfer of knowledge and skills may depend on

the refinement of ‘intelligent instructional systems’ and on the design of learning

environments in which students are helped to construct knowledge themselves

(Enkenberg, 1994, 277). Within these learning strategies there is emphasis on the

development of inferential and metacognitive skills. Nieuwenhuis (1991, 8) proposes

the development of ‘cognitive apprenticeships’ as a strategy for the development of

higher order skills encompassing key / core competences. ‘Cognitive’ indicates that

the apprenticeship methods are not only focussing on the acquirement of traditional

apprenticeship skills, but also on acquissition of knowledge based skills usually more

associated with conventional education. ‘Apprenticeship’ indicates that the central

activity is learning and acquiring knowledge and skills and that learning is situated

and context dependent (Mulder, 1995, 3). Teaching and learning strategies include

modelling, coaching, scaffolding and fading, articulation, reflection and exploration

(Enkenberg, 1994, 212).

New Roles for VET and HRD Professionals

The demand for broader based learning, for the development of cognitive and

thinking skills and the acquisition of work based process knowledge is leading to a re-

examination of the role and competences of VET and HRD professionals. This paper

will look at two aspects of this changing role; the instructional activities required to

promote the attainment of vocational learning and expertise and the role of

organisational learning in the continuing development of competence. Whilst the first

may be associated primarily with initial vocational education and training (and thus

with vocational teachers) and the second with ongoing work place learning (and thus

with the role of HRD professionals), it is argued that there is a process of

convergence in the roles, competences and occupational profiles of both VET and

HRD professionals. Activities associated with human resource development may be

most effective when associated with mediated learning involving the intervention of a

teacher. Papadopoulos (1994, 175) asserts the need for teachers to become the

‘spearhead’ of change and progress in teaching and learning processes and sees a

crucial role for the training of teachers and trainers:

“In the case of teachers, a greater opening up to the world of work is

necessary. They must change their approach to teaching by placing a

greater emphasis on empirical learning - learning by doing - drawing on

lessons learned from the workplace. Trainers need to develop a capacity

for introducing abstract concepts into vocationally based learning, a

change necessitated by the growing information and knowledge

components of all jobs.”

Engeström (1994) points out that whilst there are many examples of productive

learning in everyday situations ‘investigative deep-level learning is relatively rare

without instruction or intentional self instruction. For that very reason, instruction is

necessary. Its task is to enhance the quality of learning, to make it purposeful:’

Teaching involves:

• organising the contexts and communities of learning;

• formulating organisational objectives

• structuring instructional contents

• guiding and monitoring the students advancement through the integral cycle of

investigative learning;

• interacting and conducting conversation with the students

• planning and assessing the overall instructional process

(ibid., original emphasis)

Some new and emergent forms of workplace organisation and production systems

have been labelled as ‘learning organisations’. Within the learning organisation,

Human Resource Development is integrated in the organisational functioning and, in

turn, the organisation influences the content and form of the HRD activities

(Tjepkema and Wognum, 1994, 3). The ongoing development of individuals and the

organisation as a whole, form the central point of attention for HRD and VET. HRD

managers fulfil the role of learning facilitators and consultants, provide tools for on

and off the job learning and act as change agents to support and guide the

implementation of learning tools. Tjephema and Wognum identify a focussed

approach to HRD activities:

• Shift in area of attention from training to learning;

• Change in outlook - learning is the starting point, not training, with HRD

practitioners supporting and facilitating rather than selling courses;

• Position of HRD - no longer a separate department but embedded in the


(Ibid., 3, original emphasis)

HRD plays the role of promoting not only single loop learning through fostering

positive learning attitudes and creating conditions in the workplace which facilitate

learning, but also double loop learning through guiding the implementation of change

and fostering innovation. The tasks for HRD practitioners are (Ibid., 5):

• the development and execution of training;

• the facilitating of learning in the workplace;

• the provision of advice to management on learning strategies in the workplace.

Both VET and HRD professionals may be seen as playing common roles in creating

learning conditions, in structuring learning, in providing guidance and monitoring for

learners and in planning learning objectives and activities. In both there is an

emphasis on the provision of situational learning, encouraging learning through doing

and on guiding and facilitating the process of reflection (Ibid, 13).

The Reflective Practitioner

Many of the current debates in the training of teachers and trainers have been

generated by Donald Schön’s theory of the ‘reflective practitioner’. Building on the

earlier work of Kolb and Fry on their experiential learning cycle he outlined a model

for learning which would bridge the gap between academic theory and professional

practice by integrating the two into a cycle of learning (Johnston, 1995, 75). This

model brings together theory - defined as ‘the sphere of abstract knowledge or

speculative thought’ and practice defined as ‘the action or execution as opposed to

theory’ (Ibid., 75). Schön held that traditional schools of professional education had

concentrated on teaching the tenets of knowledge and practices of a particular

profession (Ibid., 75). In practice, these constituted the rules and models of that

profession. However, problems are more complex, frequently with a ‘values’

dimension and unyielding to professional formulae. New professional images are

required to deal with these complex dimensions (Elliott, 1991, cited in Leat, 1993,


1. Collaboration with clients (individuals, groups and communities);

2. The importance of communication and empathy with clients as a means of


3. New emphasis on holistic understanding of situations as a basis for professional

practice rather than a set of specialist categories;

4. Self reflection as a means of overcoming stereotypical judgements and responses.

Leat (1993, 504) quotes Corno (1989) who held that effective teachers are those who

employ metacognitive approaches to ‘model’ expert processes for pupils and Blagg

(1981) who recognised that high level control processes are responsible for the

selection and sequencing of many lower order skills in order to create purposeful,

cognitive strategies. Griffey and Hughes (1996, 8) consider that learning will be most

effective where ‘facilitators of learning such as tutor or coach, themselves engage in

learning to learn, facing problems, adapting to these in the practical context and

reflecting on problem formulation and problem solving strategies.’

Thus teachers need to be able to reflect on their own professional activities and

experience in order to create learning strategies and model expert processes for

students. For vocational education and training practitioners, such reflection has a

multi faceted direction; reflection on action as professional teachers, on didactic and

pedagogic processes, on actions as vocational experts and on the application of bodies

of vocational knowledge which finds representation as work process knowledge. This

demand has consequences not only for the competences required of VET and HRD

professionals but also for their education and training. The ability to apply work

process knowledge must be combined with pedagogic practice or teaching skills in a

holistic way. Education and training programmes for HRD and VET professionals

must take account of the development needs of both aspects of professional identity

and competence.

New Profiles for VET Professionals

New forms of basic and further education for VET professionals have to refer to this

new perspective. This is true for the trainers and teachers who actually carry out the

initial and further vocational education and training of young people in classrooms

and in enterprises and for the consultants, managers and planners responsible for the

design and support of the VET process. A new professional profile for VET

professionals based on new perspectives, roles, responsibilities and competencies will

necessarily be multi dimensional and will entail the integration of different expertise

and skills. The new expertise of VET professionals should encompass VET itself, in

so far as it relates to specific occupational skills and experience, and more general

aspects of Human Resource Development but should also include work related

knowledge and practice.

It is recognised that such an agenda stands in contrast to the practice prevalent in

many European countries. Two particular models may be noted: The English

speaking countries assume that vocational teachers have already acquired

occupational competence and provide a context free pedagogic training programme,

usually through part-time provision whereas Germany’s full time university based

education programme concentrates on subject based learning in addition to social

pedagogics. Neither model, it can be argued, provides VET professionals with

expertise in the critical area of work process learning. Of course this is not to deny

that there exist many attempts at developing new and radical programmes and

practices in the education of VET professionals, and it will be these innovative

examples that the Leonardo project will seek to identify and build upon.

Nethertheless it remains our contention that there are serious problems and

deficiencies in the way European countries are currently approaching the education of

VET professionals and that this may have a considerable detrimental effect on the

ability of the workforce to initiate and sustain the level of social innovation necessary

for future economic success.

An Innovative VET Research Culture

A main aim of the project is to foster, by mutual learning in a Pan-European context,

an innovative research culture in vocational education and training. The project

requires an interdisciplinary approach which can bring together the different

traditions of vocational pedagogy, educational sociology, human resource

development, educational technology and education theory2 and in a new integrated

methodology for research and development. Such an approach must also take

account of the different national research traditions and different traditions of VET in

Europe. The aim is to develop a new ‘expanded’ vocational pedagogy which includes

both ‘general’ pedagogy and education and the competences linked to work related

process knowledge. The intention of the project is to establish the basis for post

graduate programmes in universities in Europe based on this ‘expanded’ vocational

pedagogy as a step towards the ‘professionalisation of professionals’ and to support a

new VET culture of research and teaching.

Further related disciplines include: technology, economics, psychology of work, psychology of
learning, personality research

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Biographical Note

Graham Attwell is a researcher at the Institut Technik und Bildung, Bremen

University. He is currently director of the Leonardo EUROPROF project

investigating New Forms of Education for Professionals in Vocational Education and

Training. Prior to moving to Germany at the end of 1995 he had gained wide

experience of training and research at all levels and sectors of education and training

in his home country, Wales.