An extract ‘From the Society for Education and Training newsletter InTuition’ a recent report from the National Foundation for Education Research highlights what technical and vocational education should look like and how it can be understood and applied. What can we learn from it?
The importance of technical and vocational education has been the subject of much recent commentary. Bodies such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Association of Colleges (AoC) have long called for improvements in these important areas of education and training, citing fears that to neglect them would place Britain’s productivity and competitiveness at risk globally.
But what technical education should look like has been open to debate. To date, there has been little research on what form it should take and there has been a tendency to define it within the context of vocational learning, rather than as a distinct entity.
WHAT MAKES GOOD LEARNING AND TEACHING?
The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) report 'A Review of Technical Education' published at the end of 2015, examines what makes good learning and teaching in this area, and highlights a number of key points. Good vocational and technical education, the report said, shares key characteristics with other forms of quality teaching and learning. It needs to encompass, among other things, purposeful and stimulating learning; a culture of aspiration and achievement; an environment conducive to learning; appropriate learning support; and interactive approaches to teaching. And, in addition to being open to innovative approaches, teachers also need strong subject knowledge and confidence in their ability to impart this to learners.
However, what was absolutely key was the importance of contextualising the learning and teaching in the selected area of work or occupation on which the course concentrates. This means the course content and the teaching approaches need to support the recontextualisation of learning for the learner in their chosen field of work. The literature also suggested that vocational and technical learning requires sequencing of learning to enable learners to process information more easily. Learners benefited most from being taught by people who combined professional with pedagogical expertise in an industry standard setting.
With this in mind, the NFER has developed a model, presented in the form of a layered, or ‘onion’, diagram (see link to report below), to show how technical teaching and learning can be better understood and applied. At the core of the layers is the learner as the primary recipient and beneficiary of teaching and learning. The next ring shows the characteristics and traits of good quality learning in general, which are acquired during students’ secondary education to ensure progression to more specialised technical or vocational learning later. This includes a personalised and flexible approach to study, using innovative approaches; establishing a good rapport between learner and teacher and a purposeful and stimulating environment. The outer layer represents the characteristics of technical and vocational education specifically, and outlines aspects such as meeting the diverse needs of learners; access to industry standard facilities and resources; contextualisation; sequencing of learning; communities of practice; and employer engagement. Learners should be able to see how their studies have an impact on the development of skills for the workplace and distinguish clear pathways towards higher-level learning.