Managing a vocational education organisation: Part Eleven -“PD” isn’t necessarily “PL”

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Professional Development strategies are needed to assist with the processes of energising teaching and training approaches applied in the VET sector.

Professional Development (PD) strategies are needed to assist with the processes of energising teaching and training approaches applied in the VET sector.

The definition of Professional Learning (PL) has been further defined as any PD that subsequently translates into applied learning and effective outcomes for the participant involved in the learning process.

A PL experience rather than a PD experience is a more effective outcome for  [organisational learning].

Without continual enlightenment of educators’ skills and knowledge in both the technical competency of their chosen discipline and in their teaching competencies, educators will become stagnant and fall behind in their professional practice.

Guided reading and extract from: Williams, K. (2009). Exploring Professional Development Practices for Vocational Education and Training Practitioners. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 34(4).http://ro.ecu.edu.au/ajte/vol34/iss4/1/

The national approach to vocational education and training in Australia has created a call for professional development (PD) on a nation-wide scale (Mitchell & Young, 2001). PD activities maintain proficient industry currency and should be considered to be a fundamental component of any professional’s career path.

Lifelong learning is perceived to be a key requirement for all, and especially for those who are key stakeholders in the educational development of the next generation. For growth, prosperity and success to occur contemporary organisations have recognised that on-going training and development of their staff is essential. The VET sector is no exception.

The challenge of tackling the enormous diversity of the VET workforce must be addressed before effective and long term strategic PD can be implemented at a national level. The challenge faced by VET systems is how to ensure that there are adequate and effective PD practices available to all educators over the duration of their teaching careers. Harris, Simons, Hill, Smith, Pearce, Blakeley, Choy and Snewin (2001) and Smith (1997) affirmed that it is vital for VET educators to maintain and update their skills and knowledge to tackle the continual changes in the world of work, ongoing reform and increased competition in the VET training sector.

The problems of how to provide adequate and effective PD to educators are reflective of concerns experienced by technical educators on a worldwide basis. Loveder (2005) discussed a range of factors impacting on staff development for technical educators: “These factors include changes in clients, recent advances in technology, the growth of the knowledge economy, flexible approaches to teaching and learning and work intensification” (p. 2). Loveder’s factors are also a predicament faced in the Australian training arena.

Adult Learning Theory

Understanding adult learning theory and principles is essential to fully appreciate the challenges attributed to PD. John Dewey, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago in 1894, was one of the first to explore educational philosophy and adult learning. He developed a number of key concepts of education. The central concept was learning comes from experience. Experience provides a platform for problem solving and solving problems leads to growth and change. Burns (2002) recalled that Dewey perceived a teacher to have a specific role when facilitating the learning of others:

• Being aware of the capacity, needs and past experience of those under instruction

• Using environment and experiences as a basis for learning

• Taking a guiding and cooperative role

• Ensuring learning experiences are constructive to growth (p. 240).

The educator is an instrument to assist with the learning experience and is not the font of all knowledge. Learning for adults is obtained from past knowledge which is adapted and transformed to move forward to newly acquired knowledge.

Professional learning

Professional learning (PL) could be considered as an effective extension of PD. PL occurs when a participant is able to implement and make changes to their work practices on a continuing basis. In many cases the terms PD and PL can be interchanged but for this paper, there is an important difference between the two. The definition of PL has been further defined as any PD that subsequently translates into applied learning and effective outcomes for the participant involved in the learning process (Caciattolo, Cherednichenko, Eckersley, Jones, Kruger, Moore, Mulraney, Watt & Cosgrove, 2006).

In the case of an educator, Professional Learning (PL) may also enhance the learning outcomes of the educator’s students. A PL experience rather than a Professional Development experience is a more effective outcome for a learning organisation. A successful learning organisation needs to concentrate on achieving PL experiences for the employees, not just PD experiences.

It is essential for VET educators to maintain and update their skills and knowledge and to be able to tackle the continual changes in work caused by ongoing reform and increased competition in the VET training sector (Harris et al., 2001, Smith, 1997). Therefore, it is essential that any form of PD is effective and realises the quantifiable objective outcomes. Harris et al. (2001) indicated that “currently most staff development is conducted ad hoc with little or no consistency” (p. 23). There is a need for greater emphasis on specific programs that will provide educators with technical competence as well as their professional teaching/training competencies.

Basu (1997) recommended that “PD programs require some flexibility in content, duration and place of study” (p. 41). The learner should be able to select the content according to their individual job requirements in order to gain maximum motivation and participation in the program and obtain a PL experience. Hill and Sims (1997) advocated that an educator’s PD should be much more than education and training. PD can embrace the development of educators at the professional, personal, entrepreneurial and general levels. PD can provide educative experiences that are not just restricted to current or future roles, but which cater for the reality that the nature of work is in a state of considerable change.

PD can assist an educator to keep up to date with current teaching and learning strategies, industry trends and increase motivation and (where necessary) rejuvenate the educator.

Educators, who participate in worthwhile PL can enhance their future value in the employment market place.

Teaching in the Tertiary Sector – VET Educators/Educationists in the VET sector

Teaching in the Tertiary Sector – VET Educators in the VET sector provide delivery and assessment in vocational competencies. The current profile of a VET student is predominately a student who has come straight from the secondary school. Their ages range from late teens to early 20s.

The VET educators’ role is to equip these students with the skills and knowledge to prepare them for a career in their chosen vocation. These students are now considered to be studying in a tertiary “adult learning” environment (Knowles, 1984). There is still a number of issues concerning these students that need to be addressed by a VET educator and their employer.

These issues include understanding different approaches to teaching, overall classroom management including handling challenging behaviour, counselling skills, and current legislative and compliance requirements.

The educator is required to manage the learning environment and possess the appropriate skills and knowledge to perform their teaching obligations to a satisfactory standard to maximise effective learning for all student participants (Armitage, Bryant, Dunnill, Hayes, Hudson, Kent, Lawes & Renwick, 2003).

PD activities undertaken by a VET educator need to include training about how to deal with these issues.

Constructs and Teaching Competencies

PD strategies

PD strategies are needed to assist with the processes of energising teaching and training approaches applied in the VET sector.

Without continual enlightenment of educators’ skills and knowledge in both the technical competency of their chosen discipline and in their teaching competencies, educators will become stagnant and fall behind in their professional practice.

These concerns need to be taken into consideration when developing future PD strategies at a local and national level.

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