Work-Based Learning through the Lens of Vocational Education and Training

The process of learning is multisided and performed through various teaching methodics, developed on the basis of a wide range of theories and approaches. It depends on a number of factors, which teaching framework will suit best to a specific scientific or practical area. In some cases, teaching strategies should be concentrated on theory, whereas in other ones, teacher’s work regarding students’ education ought to be focused on practice mostly. Moreover, certain approaches in learning are work-oriented. Specifically, such teaching techniques require either generated or stimulated real-work atmosphere, in order to ensure efficient acquirement of the necessary skills and knowledge by the learners. This learning concept is called a work-based learning (WBL) and provides students with an opportunity to attain professional competencies, related to the chosen workplace. Hence, the aforementioned approach is quite acceptable for the Vocational Education and Training (VET) programs, since the latter aim at developing high-level skills in their apprenticeship. The proposed by WBL workplace learning may result into successful outcomes for VET-students, if implemented properly.

Thus, this paper will pay the most attention to discussion of the work-based learning, its relevance and significance, as well as ways of its implementing in teaching strategies of the VET practitioner.

The Work-Based Concept as a Theory of Learning

Knowledge in this or another field of study can be acquired in different ways. However, when this process provides a learner with a possibility to learn within conditions closely related to the actual workplace environment, such an approach may be called among the most successful and efficient ones. This implies to the work-based (WBL), or practice-based (PBL), learning – a teaching strategy that can be used for both children and adults, or so to say, common learning. This framework concerns learning through practicing simultaneously. In this way, theoretical stage of this process seems kind of invisible. As Tovey and Lawlor (2008) state, the analysed concept is sometimes called ‘a dual system,’ namely ‘learning while a person is employed,’ and this activity is generally grounded on the person’s own needs, regarding getting a higher qualification degree (p. 161). Unwin and Fuller (2003) offer a more generalised definition of the WBL, emphasising that this term involves the multi-type learning: ‘on-the-job training, informal learning and work-related off-the-job education and training’ (p. 7). Nevertheless, these scholars also agree that the needs of the workplace are pre-conditions to the work-based learning applying.

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As an automotive lecturer, I understand the importance of PBL for apprenticeship. For example, the cognitive theory manifestations are evident within the training package: evidence guides and range statements among others. In addition, a VET practitioner may use the given data to create a flexible and logical plan of broadening the students’ knowledge in accordance with the specified working environment. As a result, course-based learning will be acquired through practice, as ‘interaction between different people and their surroundings,’ i.e. both social and psychological process (Illeris, 2002, p. 83). WBL transforms a lecturer into a mentor. It takes me out of the central position of learning process, and involves into the planning the professional experience through mentoring, in order to improve and facilitate reflective learning.

Cooperative Learning and WBL Implementation

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Lave and Wegner (1991) assert the main purpose of learning is being related to activities which make sense. What is more, the researchers stress that if students work under the guidance of persons well-experienced in the field, they will perform with no assistance afterwards. This type of learning – cooperative – is one of the crucial factors for the WBL implementation. While learners cooperate in groups, try to reach both their learning and community goals autonomously, without teacher’s supervision by through interpersonal exchange of information within the group, the process will be more successful than the traditional one.

Billet (2003) defines the purpose of VET tutor as guiding ‘the learners active construction of the knowledge required to perform competently and extend such learning beyond its initial use via observing, listening and interacting with others’ (p. 232). In this regard, students enrich their knowledge not through the ordinary consuming of facts, but in the context of disputes with other learners. Moreover, their communicative and cooperative skills develop during this process, and solving complex tasks is achieved by understanding relationships (Graesel & Gruber, 2000, p. 161). Besides, it is to be emphasised that cooperative learning as a necessary condition for PBL enables a comprehensive development of students’ personalities. Specifically, it aids in enhancing communication, personal responsibility, trust, and decision-making. Furthermore, facility and social environment factor are also important. Thus, the workplace familiar to the learner is another aspect for effective cooperative, as well as work-based, learning (Billet, 2003). In my practice, I always try to support the workshop in accordance with automotive industry standards, tools, and equipment.

Traditional learning theories (e.g. cognitivism) assume that positive outcomes of cognitive learning are in well-managed and resolved conflict between the participants of the process. In this way, a variety in opinions and distinguishing features between people creates the most favourable conditions to modification of knowledge of every person (Cohen, 1994, p. 161). In accordance with constructivist approach, cooperativeness is one of the vital components, constructing individual knowledge (Renkl & Mandl, 1995). Namely, knowledge is constructed, so as to say compromise between parties of learning: common meanings of terms and notions appear when various viewpoints and meanings interact (Dillenbourg, Baker, Blaye & O’Malley, 1995). What is more, through the learning dispute, besides expanding knowledge, such positive characteristic of the process is developed as motivation of the students (Grasel & Gruber, 2000).

On the other hand, cooperative learning, as well as PBL, is a kind of challenge for both learners and teachers: it tests prior knowledge, skills, and experience of the former and professionalism and qualification of the latter. Hence, it depends on the teacher to organise sustainable conditions for students’ knowledge and learning activation and successful cooperation, while learning, which should be guided by practitioner from the outside. This process can be illustrated by the work in small groups. When I divide the class on groups, I always watch those who consist of no more than four people. This way, students get an opportunity to communicate and interact closely, without interrupting the work and communication of neighbouring groups. As Stevenson (2003) asserted that expertise is the ability to do something well, and group work provides such a possibility. Since individuals are active, meaning makers from different social backgrounds, this circumstance impacts on the group work positively (Billet, 2000). Besides, I use this characteristic of learning process when it comes to solving problems.

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WBL vs. VET Practice

As it has been mentioned above, PBL is a useful tool for the VET practice. Besides, WBL is already a part of my teaching strategy. For instance, in the classroom, students discovered how an air-brake system works. Under the lecturer’s guidance, they have covered the interaction of different valves, and clarified for themselves what, how, and when happens next during the process. Afterward, theory has to be practiced, but the situation in the workshop is rather different from that of class. Specifically, each truck braking system differs, and in addition, valves are not always the same. What is more, the location of components is not clear. Thus, the task of the group, in this case, is to identify those components. As a rule, students with a better experience and skills start the process and others follow their example. As a result, the whole group is discussing the issue and looks forward to achieving the goal. My position in the teaching process is changed: I am not a lecturer who teaches, but a mentor who assists them with guidance. I do not present them theory only, but supervise their practice and guide their ideas. According to Valsiner and van de Veer (2000), the aforementioned guidance ‘is not the transmission of knowledge from a guide to the guided because of “interferences” like how the learner interacts with the pre-existing knowledge and social settings like workplaces and social environment’ (Billet, 2003). The same concept in constructivist theories is called an active meaning maker.

Group work in the WBL helps to develop a positive-directed interdependence between its members, since all group mates are equally responsible for the general success of the team in terms of achieving the learning goal. Another positive effect of the PBL is cultivating of individual responsibility. Namely, every participant of the group is to do one’s share of the group work, whereas in such a way each of those may approve the progress of one’s knowledge and skills and apply them on practice at once. Moreover, Johnson and Johnson (1999) emphasise that when group parties reflect on their ‘shared learning and working process,’ the group will always evolve, as well as each member within it, developing own ‘technical, methodological, social, and personal skills step by step’ (p. 69). Hence, if come back to the given example, any of the group members will identify the problem easily when I will swap the valves.

Consequently, WBL can be called an extremely useful component for the VET practice, which is evidenced by the indicated illustrations from both literature sources and my practice as an automotive lecturer. What is more, in terms of the discipline I teach, it is essential to apply PBL approach in educating students, since they will get an opportunity to learn learning. To be more precise, group work and collaborative learning within the real-workplace conditions as ways of implementing WBL are of great importance for acquiring high-level skills and knowledge in automotive study. Although I have listed few examples on how I apply this teaching, or rather say mentoring, technique in my current practice, there are various ways on how to adopt and improve the learning process in this direction. Besides, PBL may be combined with other theoretical teaching backgrounds. For instance, when students in the work-based environment are tasked with finding different ways on how to replace brake pads, various learning theories can be seen in action. In this case, constructivist approach is relevant: apprentices accumulate the new acquired knowledge on the existing one, since they already know some methods of solving the issue demonstrated by the lecturer. However, learning to do it in the workplace atmosphere is a bit different, but can be dominant and most relevant and effective in practical perspective. Thus, being divided in groups, students share their ideas regarding solving the issue, as well as develop their interpersonal and professional skills. Therefore, WBL is a significant element to be implemented in the teaching strategy of the VET practitioner because it is linked to educating well-qualified specialists directly. In this way, apprentices get training on the simulated workplace, and it will definitely be easier to them to adapt to the real one.

To sum up, the work-based learning, its relevance and significance, as well as ways of its implementing in teaching strategies of the VET practitioner have been discussed in the paper. It has been clarified that this practical teaching methodology is very useful for the Vocational Education and Training, especially in the automotive field. Indeed, this simultaneously learning through practicing may give apprentices the opportunity to acquire their knowledge and skills on the real-workplace basis. This framework can become the quickest way to achieve learning goals in the aforementioned field of study, as well as the easiest way to adapt to the future working conditions. The major conditions leading to effective PBL implementation in the teaching practice are cooperative learning and small groups’ work. What is more, in the WBL process, the lecturer becomes a mentor and does not explain how to solve this or another task, but just guides one’s students and directs their activities aimed at achieving the learning goal. Although I apply some elements of WBL in my teaching strategy – small group’s work, cooperative learning, etc., I will try to maintain the broader use of this approach. Since it relates theory to practice in maximum and this aspect is one of the most necessary to efficient automotive learning, I will further adopt and implement WBL in my teaching.

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