02 SES 06 B, Learning in the Workplace: Language and Skills Transfer
Development of professional competencies in Initial Vocational Education and Training programs is a process built in the conjunction of two contexts: the school context and the workplace context. It is expected that what students learn at the school context will be further developed at the workplace context. However, each context has their own dynamics and not always what is learnt at the context of the school is useful or can be further developed at the context of work. This problem can be described as a transfer of learning problem, which is attributed to the cultural gap between formal education and the workplace (Eraut, 2004). Many researchers remain interested in understanding the mechanism that influences transfer of learning into the workplace (Gessler, 2009; Hinrichs, 2014). Several studies have been conducted to understand the transfer process and have supported models in which transfer is influenced by several variables at different levels of analysis: individual, training design and workplace environment (Baldwin & Ford, 1988; Holton, 2005). However, these studies usually define transfer of learning as an application of knowledge or skills. Moreover, some authors argued that transfer involves not only application of knowledge or skills into a new situation but also a transformation of the skills and knowledge being used (Hager & Hodkinson, 2009). Consequently, it has been proposed an alternative way to address the problem of transfer of learning as a boundary crossing between contexts (Särljö, 2003). This conceptualization takes into account the individual’s multidirectional movement from one organization to another, for example, from school to work and back.
Regarding this background, our research question is: which factors from the school context and the workplace context influence the construction of learning and development of professional competencies in IVET programs. In order to conduct this study, we draw on two main theoretical backgrounds to identify school-based factors and work-based factors that influence the development of professional competencies in initial training.
On one hand, the study is built on the workplace learning approach. There is a general agreement on the benefits of the workplace learning approach within IVET (Gonzalez Soto, 2013; Marhuenda Fluixá, 2012). Moreover, there is a growing scientific literature on learning at workplaces (Billet, 2011). Organizations are increasingly interested in providing adequate working conditions in order to foster learning among their employees. Educational institutions and educational administrations are also concern in offering vocational education students learning opportunities in real workplace contexts. Research on learning at the workplace suggests that there are some objective features of workplaces that enhance or hinder learning (Fuller, Munro, & Rainbird, 2004).
On the other hand, the study is built on the teaching approach and the practice module design. Research shows that student’s perception of their learning environments are related to the quality of their approach to learning and learning outcomes. It has been argued that when student perceive their teaching to be of a higher quality, they are more likely to adopt a higher quality approach to their learning (Trigwell & Prosser, 2004). Moreover, it has been shown that when teaching is practice-oriented, application of learning into the workplace practice increases (Ballesteros-Rodríguez, 2008). Research also shows that supervision and feedback influence learning and transfer of learning (Velada & Caetano, 2007). In the practice module design in IVET programs these functions are carried out by school tutors and workplace tutors who work together in collaboration. Fuller and Unwin (2003) argued that when there is a mutual collaboration between companies and educational institutions it is easier to achieve better learning outcomes from the workplace experience in apprenticeships programs.
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