Three ‘kinds’ of vocational education


Guided reading and extracts from: How to teach vocational education: A theory of vocational pedagogy, Bill Lucas, Ellen Spencer and Guy Claxton, City & Guilds Centre for Skills Development (CSD), December 2012. Complete report:

Generic outcomes for which vocational education

In attempting to theorise about the role of knowledge and its contribution to decision-making (and dealing with the non-routine, with troubleshooting, and with all the many unexpected situations which learners encounter in the real world of work contexts) we offer a very broad specification of the kinds of capabilities we argue should be central to vocational education in the 21st century. Six outcomes are critical to understanding working competence. We call these:

1.  Routine expertise (being skillful).

2. Resourcefulness (stopping to think to deal with the non-routine).

3. Functional literacies (communication, and the functional skills of literacy, numeracy, and ICT).

4. Craftmanship (vocational sensibility; aspiration to do a good job; pride in a job well done).

5. Business-like attitudes (commercial or entrepreneurial sense – financial or social).

6. Wider skills for growth (for employability and lifelong learning).

Different approaches

Different kinds of vocational education call on different approaches. For simplicity’s sake  we suggest clustering the vocations into three groups, according to their central focus:

1.  One group has a focus on working with certain kinds of physical materials:
wood, pipes, electrical wire and fittings, foodstuffs, hair, etc.

2.  The second group has a predominantly people focus, involving working with
people: the elderly, small children, adults with learning difficulties, students of many kinds including musical and sports.

3.  The third group work predominantly with symbols: words, numbers,
text, accounts, spreadsheets, digital software, etc. While these groupings are necessarily overly clear-cut we think they begin to help us to make sense of the kinds of pedagogies that can be appropriate in different vocational domains.

Complexity involved in different vocations

While none of these kinds of categorisations adequately capture the complexity involved in different vocations, they may help us ‘narrow the odds’ in terms of taking the best kinds of pedagogic decisions. So, for example, we can make some generalisations about learning methods which work best:

1.  Physical materials – for example, imitating, practising, trial and error as part of real-world problem-solving.

2.  People – for example, feedback, conversation, simulation, especially including role play.

3.  Symbols (words, numbers and images) – for example, learning through thinking critically, and via virtual environments.

As shown below, many vocational courses involve much more of a mix of the three media.




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