02 SES 06 C, Motivating Learners
Ireland needs a highly skilled workforce to be both competitive and innovative into the future. Apprenticeships use a powerful mixture of course work and practical on the job learning that offers a tried and tested method of developing highly skilled workers. The Irish Government’s ‘Generation Apprenticeship’ initiative is linked strongly on reform of the apprenticeship system leading to the expansion of industry and apprentice participation, and to new industry-led apprenticeships up to a maximum of 120 by 2025.
Key features of these changes include quality teaching, and the integration of transversal skills believed to be critically important to success in school and beyond (UNESCO_TVET). In vocational education they include literacy, numeracy, mathematics, science and ICT in addition to intra and inter-personal skills, and critical and innovative thinking. Of particular importance to the study is to explore how apprenticeship programmes can best be designed to meet the emergent needs of a new generation who face some of the most urgent demands in Irish society today.
This study sheds light on a) apprentice engagement in learning in higher education, b) transformative learning spaces; and c) how Institutes of Technology (IOT) departments involved in undergraduate vocational teaching can think about new ways of encouraging high quality student learning.
Key research questions that guide this study:
- How can we identify apprentices’ difficulties with learning or the learning process?
- How can we engage apprentices in the process of displacing their own misconception, myths or misleading ideas about learning?
- How can an improved teaching-learning environment be developed for apprentices that will serve to improve their learning, examination attainments and educational outcomes?
Engagement is conceptualised by Kahn (1990) as an internal state of being, with the psychological domains of meaningfulness, safety and availability. Each of these are affected by the presence or absence of external factors (Shuck, 2011); and determine whether individuals bring their ‘preferred self’ to their role (May 2004; Tuckey, et al 2012). Role positionality (Saks, 2006) may identify a distinction between an apprentice in their workplace and in their role as student (Lave & Wenger, 1990; Harpe & Radloff, 1999). The concept of engagement (Balain & Sparrow, 2009) will shed light on apprenticeship educational issues including role confusion (Barley, Bechky and Milliken, 2017), learner autonomy, disengagement and low academic achievement (Easton, 2008; Harris, 2008), and trade/vocational identity (Aspøy & Nyen, 2017).
‘inner’ Teaching-Learning Environment (TLE). Constructivist research into enhancing teaching-learning environments (TLEs) suggests that students perceptions are strongly determined by a set of overlapping contexts that comprise of four elements of a conceptual map: course contexts; teaching and assessing content; staff-student relationships; and aspects of the students and student culture within a particular programme (Biggs, 2002; Biggs & Tang, 2011; Entwistle, 2003;Entwistle & McCune, 2009). This ‘inner’ TLE map acts as an organising framework when considering how to encourage students to engage more deeply with their subject matter and achieve a high quality of learning
Mezirow’s (1991, 2012) transformative learning theory defines learning as a meaning making activity. Perspective transformation in particular, depicts ways individuals identify and challenge underlying assumptions, prompting changed perspectives that lead to new roles and actions. These changes in thinking lead to new worldviews and new perspectives on personal and professional lives (Cranton, 2006; Graham Cagney, 2011; Tennant, 2012). Described as a shift in consciousness that alters in both a dramatic and permanent way our ‘being in the world’; it changes how we know. It leads to a different kind of thinking and being that enables individuals to become more open to revisiting their interpretations of the meaning of their experience: in turn guiding future action (Cranton, 2006; Tennant, 2012).
This was a qualitative, interpretivist study that used a mixed methods design. Methods used included: workshops (4), semi-structured interviews (8), learning styles questionnaire and document analysis. Purposive sampling (deMarrais, 2004; Roulston, 2010) was used. Participants were selected on the basis that they were IOT students, had progressed to either Phase 4 or Phase 6 in their apprenticeship programme and were employed by a local firm in the South-East of Ireland. Four workshops took place at the IOT in total. There were two Phase 4 student workshops, one Phase 6 student workshop, and a final combined Phase 4 & 6 student workshop. Each workshop had an average of 14 participants (53 total) who were facilitated in a discussion on learning experiences, and approaches to studying while in college. A short questionnaire on learning styles was administered that provided participants with an additional opportunity to share their approaches to learning and learning histories. The workshops enabled the research team to engage in a meaningful way with participants in order to gain a broader understanding (from an apprentice perspectives) of their experiences and views on personal learning and engagement, professional development, and apprenticeship identity self-states. Following initial analysis from the data gathered eight semi-structured interviews (Glesne, 2006) of approximately 30 minutes duration were completed. The research team wished to understand student perspectives in three areas: difficulties with learning and the learning process; personal learning and engagement, perspective transformation in relation to self-states and vocational identity. The interviews took place with Phase 4 students; it was not possible to interview Phase 6 students as they were studying for their final exams during that time period. To enhance the trustworthiness of the study and triangulate the interviews, supporting documentary evidence that provided further insights was collected as each student interviewee felt comfortable. Interviews were recorded with the participants’ permission and were fully transcribed. Participants reviewed their transcript and our interpretation of the interview and engage in a follow-up interview if deeper inquiry was beneficial as a part of our member checking process. Consistent with qualitative methodology, the data was analysed by the researchers with respect to the research questions using a mix of inductive coding and the constant comparative method (Charmaz, 2014; Glaser & Strauss, 1967) and the modified inductive Framework Approach (Smith & Firth, 2011). Analysis of themes within each category produced the initial findings that follow.
Initial findings to emerge from the study identify students’ experiences of the IOT teaching-learning environment:- i) Personal Learning and Perspective Shifting was supported by a personal transformative learning space comprised of direct and active learning experiences, informed dialogue, and in some cases an intention to develop a personal action plan ((Mezirow, 1991, 2012; Cranton, 2006). Students reported changes in their mindset occurred predominantly within the psychological (motivation and self-state), and epistemological (knowledge and knowing) habits of mind. They confirmed that the quality of learning and how it is influenced is not just by teaching and assessment, but also by the whole teaching-learning environment. ii) Professional Development: Work-based learning models and partnerships were important in support of apprentice learning in higher education (Husband, 2005). Critical insights made to kinking knowledge to practice, particularly in relation to depth of knowledge, skills and understanding of the technical subject area and processes, and abilities to communicate these. They linked formal college knowledge to their workplace practice. Thereby, improving their ability to communicate with others. Skotols’ (2006) notion of trans-disciplinary skills emerged as a unique insight. Critical insights were made to linking knowledge to their practice, particularly in relation to depth of knowledge, skills and understanding of the technical subject area and processes, and abilities to communicate these iii) Results on trade/vocational identity self-states are similar to those of other professional groups (Conway & Clarke, 2003; Hamman, et al 2010). Apprentice student possible selves evolved from being “task based” to “quality based”; and apprentice feared selves remained predominately task based. A strong relationship emerged between personal, professional and situational mediating factors. Some students demonstrated an improvement in the process of learning having experienced an eventful change (personal and professional) in their lives. Further research is identified on students engagement in vocational learning and career progression.
Aspøy, TM & Nyen, T. (2017). ‘Short-Term Benefits, Long-Term Harm? Alternative Training to Apprenticeships in Norway’, International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training, Vol 4, No.4, Balain, S and Sparrow, P (2009) Engaged to Perform: A new perspective on employee engagement, Lancaster, Lancaster University Management School Barley, S.R., Bechky, B.A. and Milliken, F.J., (2017). The Changing Nature of Work: Careers, Identities, and Work Lives in the 21st Century, Academy of Management Discoveries 2017, Vol. 3, No. 2, 111–115. Cranton, P. (2006) Understanding and Promoting Transformative Learning. 2nd Ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. deMarrais, K. & Lapan, S. (2004). (Eds.), Foundations for research: Methods of inquiry in education and the social sciences. NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Easton, L., B., (2008). Engaging the disengaged: how schools can help struggling students succeed. London: Sage Publication Ltd. Entwistle, N. (2003). Concepts and conceptual frameworks underpinning the ETL project. OCC. Report 3, Higher and Community Education, University of Edinburgh: School of Education. Glesne, C. (2006). Becoming qualitative researchers: An introduction (3rd Ed). New York: Longman. Glaser, B.G., & Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory. Chicago, IL: Aldine. Graham Cagney, A. (2011) ‘Finding the Red Thread’: The Role of the Learning Space in Transformative Learning in Executive Education. PhD Thesis, Trinity College, Dublin. Harris, L., A., (2008). Phenomenographic investigation of teacher conceptions of student engagement in learning. The Australian Educational Researcher, V. 35, (1), April 2008. Husband G (2015) The impact of lecturers’ initial teacher training on continuing professional development needs for teaching and learning in post-compulsory education, Research in Post Compulsory Education, 20 (2), pp. 227-244. Kahn, W A (1990) Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work, Academy of Management Journal, 33 (4), pp 692–724 Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1990) Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation (Palo Alto, CA, Institute for Research on Learning). Mezirow, J. (1991) Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning, SanFrancisco: Jossey- Bass. Mezirow, J. (2012) Learning to Think Like an Adult: Core Concepts of Transformation Theory, in The Handbook of Transformative Learning: Theory, Research, and Practice, (2012) Taylor, E.W., Cranton, P and Associates (Eds) SanFrancisco: Jossey-Bass. Roulston, K. (2010). Reflective interviewing: A guide to theory and practice. Los Angeles: SAGE. Stokols, D. (2006). Towards a science of transdisciplinary action research. American Journal of Community Psychology, 38, 63-77. UNESCO-TVET, Transversal Skills, http://www.unevoc.unesco.org/go.php?q=TVETipedia+Glossary+A-Z&id=577 Ireland’s National Skills Strategy 2025 Action Plan to expand Apprenticeship and traineeship in Ireland 2016-2020)
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