Managing a vocational education organisation: Part One – Conceptual Frameworks


copyright-symbols-and-rules-you-need-to-know-04 2015

Intellectual Property of Dr. Bruce D. Watson, DEd Melbourne, and attributed authors as noted.

For Private individual use. All rights reserved.


Be patient.

Take time for the full journey. 

There is no rush.

Do it in stages.

Ask questions.

They do not not know how to imagine the implications or significance of a textbook chapter.

This is what the much maligned Educationists (i.e, a specialist in the theory and methods of education] and Academics mean when they say, “Some VET Practitioners don’t know how to make meaning” – a probable symptom of the limits of Competency Based Training as will be shown.

Some VET Practitioners who come to the VET System with a consumerist attitude are lost.

This is because they are hoping their most basic consumerist desires will be stimulated because that’s how people are massaged into doing stuff they don’t want to.

Consumerist VET Practitioners come to the VET System waiting to be entertained, waiting to see the summary, waiting for the answers, waiting for the quick fix and waiting to be ‘hand fed’ to avoid any individual cognitive effort.

What they usually encounter, however, are rooms filled with VET System Competency Based Training products.

Learners are not products, educators don’t produce, education isn’t a possession, nor a product or service. That is why much of the VET System is in difficulty.

This intermittent series of Posts aims to serve a dual purpose.

They aim to equip vocational education organisation managers with knowledge about their business, not business or management techniques, and they aim to create the best opportunities and outcomes for vocational education organisation managers, trainers, learners/trainees.

The Posts are designed to be read start to end (cognitivist, contructivist and connectivist approach) – not for dipping into the content here and there (fragmented approach)

Valuable book knowledge and business acumen go part way in educating vocational education organisation managers about the actual workings of the business.

As for any business, though, to have an edge it is imperative to understand what the business is about – as distinct from how to run it.

At first it is typical to think about a business case, strategic planning and the like, however, there is something far more fundamental for vocational education organisation managers to understand first – before even starting a vocational education organisation business.

A vocational education organisation is first and foremost about vocational education.

Some might add “training” because some people like to separate “education” and “training”. I think this harks back to the age old, and unhelpful, separation of theory and experience, as though one can exist without the other. As theory and experience are both stored in the brain, and interact through thought processes, it is somewhat meaningless to separate the two. Especially in the case of vocational education and training.

Separating “education” and “training” also harks back to outdated understandings of education, teaching and learning. For example,the Behaviourist Model/Theory, common place from 1920 to 1950.

Behaviourism (still the primary theoretical position on which the Australian VET System definition of Competency Based Training is based) was the primary education paradigm between 1920s to 1950

Behaviourism is outdated and largely disregarded by educationists – specialists in the theory and practical methods of education.

Behaviourism (the primary theoretical position on which the Australian VET System definition of Competency Based Training is based) was the primary education paradigm between 1920s to 1950 and is based on a number of underlying assumptions regarding methodology and behavioural analysis:

Behaviourism is primarily concerned with observable behaviour, as opposed to internal events like thinking and emotion. Observable (i.e. external) behaviour can be objectively and scientifically measured. Internal events, such as thinking should be explained through behavioural terms (or eliminated altogether).

* People have no free will – a person’s environment determines their behaviour

* When born our mind is ‘tabula rasa’ (a blank slate).

* There is little difference between the learning that takes place in humans and that in other animals. Therefore research can be carried out on animals as well as humans.

* Behaviour is the result of stimulus – response (i.e. all behaviour, no matter how complex, can be reduced to a simple stimulus – response association). Watson described the purpose of psychology as: “To predict, given the stimulus, what reaction will take place; or, given the reaction, state what the situation or stimulus is that has caused the reaction” (1930).

* All behaviour is learnt from the environment. We learn new behaviour through classical or operant conditioning – e.g., Pavlov’s Dogs.

Theories of learning and development are now influenced by a combination of  Cognitivism, Contructivism and Connectivism theories of education. The differences are shown below.

Behaviourism Cognitivism Constructivism Connectivism
How does learning occur? Black box – observable behavior main focus Structured, computational Social, meaning created by each learner (personal) Distributed within a network, social, technologically enhanced, recognizing and interpreting patterns
What factors influence learning? Nature of reward, punishment, stimuli Existing schema, previous experiences Engagement, participation, social, cultural Diversity of network
What is the role of memory? Memory is hardwiring of repeated experiences – where reward and punishment are most influential Encoding, storage, retrieval Prior knowledge remixed to current context Adaptive patterns, representative of current state, existing in networks
How does transfer occur? Stimulus, response Duplicating knowledge constructs of “knower” Socialization Connecting to (adding nodes)
What types of learning are best explained by this theory? Task-based learning Reasoning, clear objectives, problem solving Social, vague (“ill defined”) Complex learning, rapid changing core, diverse knowledge sources

Source:  Ireland, 2007

In  VET System situations, some VET Practitioners will go so far as to call into question whether it even makes sense to think of theory and theories as corresponding to external reality (“Instrumentalists”) and they often quote from a Constructivist point of view that says that people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world. The limitations of this position are clear in the Table above. Take a moment to compare and contrast.

Both are positions, Instrumentalism and Constructivism, lock VET System trainees/trainers/managers out of access to fuller disciplinary knowledge, and belie the obvious advances in understanding vocational education and training as requiring a combination of Cognitivism, Contructivism and Connectivism, as demonstrated by the Table above.

Remarkably, it is well known, that Educationists were explicitly excluded from the original VET System development process. A decision that I think  Policy Makers may now regret.

It appears this was a way to largely bypass the irrevocable interrelationship of theory and practice in a skewed world view of ‘anti-academia’ and a purpose constructed ‘inauthentic’, atomised, workplace task education model.

As Wheelahan (2009) says, “Competency Based Training translates knowledge from being general and principled knowledge to particularised (work task oriented) knowledge, because its selection and usefulness is determined by the extent to which it is relevant in a particular context. Students [VET trainers, trainees, managers] thus have access to knowledge in its particularised form, but are not provided with the means to relate it to its general and principled structure and system of meaning.”

Take time to know your vocational education organisation  business – guided reading

Section One – Vocational education

Extracts and adapted from: Philosophical and Sociological Overview of Vocational Technical Education in Nigeria, By Kennedy, Odu Oji, College Student Journal , Vol. 46, No. 2 , June 2012

Vocational Technical Education is any kind of education which has the main purpose of preparing one for employment in recognized occupation, it is not limited to the VET System as universities and professional colleges 9e.g., medicine) also offer vocational education and training.

The foundation of vocational technical education is based on philosophy which was mainly established for self-employment and self-reliance of the individual(s) who partake in it.

Vocational technological education has remained a subordinate discipline in terms of societal recognition, adequate funding and parental/children choice.

Vocational technical education is defined by different authors in different ways. Okoro (1999) defined vocational education as all those experiences whereby an individual learns to carry on successfully, any useful occupation. These experiences may be organized and institutionalized or unorganized and haphazard. Simply put, vocational education may be looked at as a series of controlled and organized experiences arranged to prepare a person for socially useful employment. The statement explains that all education is vocational as far as the individual may serve happily on the job and prepares for satisfactory living.

In the views of Thompson (2002), vocational education aims at the development of human abilities in terms of knowledge, skills and understanding so efficiently in carrying on the activities in the vocational pursuits of his choice. Winer (2000) in his contribution opined that vocational education is designed to develop skills, abilities, understanding, attitudes, work habits and appreciation encompassing knowledge and information needed by workers to enter and make progress in employment on a useful and productive basis. It is an integral part of the total education programme and contributes towards the development of good citizens by developing their physical, social, civic, cultural and economic competencies.

For vocational education to be self-reliant and productive, it needs not to be operated in a vacuum. It has to be hooked into factors that will help learners and all stakeholders in vocational technical education to be practical and not only theoretical in their approach to making vocational technical education meaningful and life-long. These factors according to Ezekiel and Usoroh (2009) are:

Vocational education – practically and theoretically – should address:

i) appreciation of dignity to work;

ii) utility and culture in vocational education;

iii) democracy in vocational education;

iv) plights of school dropouts;

v) economics of vocational education;

vi) needs of youths and adults;

vii) needs of the society; and

viii) basic rights of the citizenry.

Section Two – philosophy for work education

Extracts and adapted from: The Role of Philosophy in Education-for-Work, Bruce Todd Strom, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,

Philosophy has been defined as “a system of principles for guiding practical affairs” (Stein, 1980). Philosophical query asks why practitioners conduct practice in the manner they do, in order to (a) provoke reflection, (b) systematically analyze and evaluate procedures, and (c) determine the appropriate philosophy or philosophies to back or drive the practice.

Miller (1994) argues that educational activities involved in education-for-work lack a coherent philosophic foundation to guide practice.

He contends that philosophy is a means for building a vision for education-for-work in terms of purposes and practice. Education-for-work must identify philosophic foundations for practice, using them to prepare a workforce that will meet the needs of the workplace of the future. The philosophic foundations or principles that underlie practice in vocational education, human resource development (HRD), and adult education can be used by education-for-work practitioners to guide reflection on existing practices, establish new practices, and create visions for future practice.

Miller (1985) identified three primary philosophies of vocational education:

  • Essentialism: The educator or trainer is the focal point of the learning process; mastery of subject matter is important; development of skills through drills, repetition, conditioning, and development of desirable habits; a desire to influence the behavior of the learner.
  • Existentialism: The learner is the focus of the learning process; truth is relative; and personal growth and development are key to the process.
  • Pragmatism: The educator and learner are both important to the learning process; reality or real-world situations are stressed; context and experience are important; and the educator is progressive, and open to new ideas. (1985, pp. 196-198)

Miller (1994) stated that philosophy ought to provide the framework for establishing practice. Education-for-work practitioners should develop world views from which practice can be analyzed (McKenzie, 1991; Miller, 1994). Utilization of philosophic views gives education-for-work practitioners perspectives from which to view their roles in education.

The philosophies that have been identified here represent ways education-for-work practitioners can develop world views or modes of thinking about practice. Education-for-work practitioners should be able to explain why they conduct practice the way they do in terms of philosophic foundations or principles.

Education-for-work needs to adopt or develop well-defined philosophic principles that will guide, support, or create practice in changing workplaces. In order to meet the needs of the workplace of today and the future, education-for-work practitioners must build on the philosophies that promote both technical-vocational needs and personal development. Education-for-work must identify philosophic foundations for practice and use them to prepare a workforce that will meet the needs of the workplace of the future.

Section Three – philosophy for vocational education

In his book, Principles and a Philosophy for Vocational Education, Melvin D.Miller, is directed towards inferring a philosophy for vocational education. A philosophic position is derived through an inductive process results.

The issues and concerns that surrounded the early development and expansion of vocational education are first discussed. The preferred practices–the principles–are then developed in three categories.

“Principles and People” includes the topics of guidance, lifelong learning, needs, open to all, placement, sex bias/stereotyping, special needs, student organizations, teachers, and work ethic.

“Principles and Programs” presents these principles: career education, comprehensive education, curriculum, families of occupations, innovation, job entry, safety, and supervised occupational experience.

“Principles and Processes” includes the topics of advice seeking, articulation and coordination, evaluation, follow up, legislation, planning, and research. Basic philosophic concepts in education are reviewed and summarized–the essentialist, the pragmatist, and the existentialist viewpoints.

Each philosophy provides a generalized response to four fundamental questions regarding the nature of the learner, teacher’s role, curriculum, and role of schooling.

The same questions are used to derive a philosophic position for vocational education. The principles of vocational education are used to provide a response to these issues, and the responses are compared.

A philosophic position derived through inductive processes results.

Public access to full text:

Section Four – conceptual frameworks

Extracts and adapted from: A Conceptual Framework for Technical and Vocational Education and Training, Jay W. Rojewski, in International Handbook of Education for the Changing World of Work: Bridging Academic and Vocational Learning, Springer, 2009

Because of differing views about the nature of VET, a conceptual framework must accomplish several goals to be effective and useful, including:

(a) explaining the general purposes of VET:

(b) reflecting the underlying beliefs
and perspectives of its constituents; and

(c) shaping current activity and future
direction—it cannot be developed in a vacuum.

Many constituencies must be involved to provide a comprehensive view of VET and its applications in classrooms, boardrooms. living rooms and factory floors.

A conceptual framework contains:

(a) principles or generalizations that state preferred practices and serve as guidelines for programme and curriculum construction, selection of instructional practices, and policy development`; and

(b) philosophy which `makes assumptions and speculations about the nature of human activity and the nature of the world [and] helps vocational educators decide what shouldbe and what should be different` (Miller. I996. p. xiii).

Conceptual frameworks should accomplish several things, including:

(a) establish the parameters of a profession by delineating its mission and current practices;

(b) account for historical events by allowing understanding of how we got to where we are;

(c) establish the philosophical underpinnings of the field and underscore the relationships between philosophy and practice; and

(d) provide a forum for understanding directions of the field. A conceptual framework does not necessarily solve all problems or answer all questions. but it should provide a schema for identifying critical issues and allowing for solutions.

Frameworks should be fairly stable, but have the capacity to change
over time and adapt to external factors. Any conceptual framework for VET must be flexible enough to allow for differences in secondary or post-secondary programmes and accommodate changes in various economies and countries. but at the same time identify underlying assumptions, beliefs and values that are consistent for all types of programmes and are not readily subject to change. Not a small order!

Section Five – Case Study

Extracts and adapted from: Townsend, Robert A (2004) Philosophy, people and process: a case-study of vocational education and training in a community development context. Coursework Master thesis, Victoria University

The Glassy Waters case-study reflects that although change is occurring on the edges of the vocational education and training (V.E.T.) sector in terms of the key tenets of national vocational education and training (V.E.T.) reform, the actual communities that are the target of these new services are a long way from being receptive of new learning cultures in either a theoretical or practical sense. The concepts of learning communities/regions and learning organisations are still just concepts and many individuals, communities and organisations are struggling to implement new principles of learning within long established community

Therefore, there is evidence that it is timely for governments and local communities to review the philosophy, people and processes of national vocational education and training (V.E.T.) reform to ensure that all stakeholders, including governments, industries and communities are on the same track.

There is also evidence that communities want government resources to be
allocated toward the kinds of community development projects and programs that address the philosophy, people and process of vocational education and training and not just products and outcomes.

Please ask questions and comment below.

I will do my best to respond.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s