Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pedagogy in vocational education

Over the last year or so, I have been grappling with how to best frame a study of ‘how apprentices learn to become’. A 2002 report , as an initial literature review precursor to the large number of projects commissioned by the UK Teaching and Learning Research Programme. The report review of the research, indicated a large amount of work still needed to be done in the vocational education/training and workplace learning sectors. A decade further along, there has been a great deal of work undertaken by the TLRI. However, from my point of view as a voc.ed. practitioner, there is still much work to be done to try to understand how to improve learning for vocational education students.


My catch up on reading over the last six months have focused on the more difficult to quantify aspects of learning trade skills. In my thesis, these have been things that encompass how people 'learn by becoming' beyond the skills and knowledge described in competency-based standards. Including dispositions (diligence, resilience, openness to learning etc.), soft skills, tacit knowledge, intersubjective understanding/distributed cognition, maxims or tricks of the trade etc.

Through exploration of the anthropological and neuropsychological literature, a few likely paths to explore have turned up.  These are:
  • Marchand’s work on ‘embodied cognition’ through ethnographical studies as a student of joinery. Describing the ways in which bodily activity / interactions beween people, is similar to vocal communication with it's many nuances, socially derived perspectives to interpret messages and cultural connotations.
  • Collins and Evans (2008) on interactional expertise and embodiment in the book ' rethinking expertise'. Here, as with distributed cognition, expertise is seen to not only originate from individuals but through interactions between people, teams and the shared decisions made to innovate, improve practice.
  • Nielsen’s (2007) paper on encouragement to understand practice on it’s on merits and not as a dichotomy between theory and practice (with theory usually being perceived as at a higher level).  There is also the observation of the use of ‘circumspection’ as a mode of ‘reflection’ on practice involving the way in which people ‘look around’ when engaged with work (using tools, machinery, bodily movements) and understands the interconnections.
So my sense is to embark on a close observation and comparison between expert and novice and to try to figure out the role of interactional expertise and circumspection in attaining embodied cognition using work video as a means for data collection, as with previous projects.