Promoting vocational learning using ICTs
Erin Shea, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Vocational education aims to prepare learners for working within a wide range of trades or occupations (Oguzor, 2011), however, according to Ellis, Dyer and Thompson (2014) many students have arrived to employers poorly equipped for the workplace. As a result, employers and researchers are beginning to question whether vocational education is actually meeting the needs of today’s students (Ellis et al., 2014).
According to Oguzor (2011), most vocational learners are taught using only a traditional classroom approach, which has often resulted in poor performance, as this traditional method of teaching only appeals to a small minority of learners. Lo, Fu and Chang (2013) propose that traditional classroom methods may in fact be ineffective for up to 70% of students in vocational settings.
The traditional teaching method often neglects factors that are essential for meaningful learning (Oguzor, 2011), without which, students lack ability to transfer knowledge and skills to a real world setting (Haverila & Marjatta, 2009). Collaboration, for example, is essential for effective learning (Haverila and Marjatta, 2009), however, Hamalainen and De Wever (2013) concluded that students in vocational learning settings were working individually more often than in groups. According to Hamalainen and De Wever (2013) this individual approach was also not reflective of the workplaces students were preparing for, where employees were often expected to work in team settings. Although the vocational education system purposes to effectively prepare learners for the workforce, it often lags behind the workforce as they change and adopt new technologies (Ellis et al., 2014). Students cannot be truly equipped to function in the workforce if the curriculum hasn’t introduced them to the equipment and skills that will be essential in their chosen field (Summak & Samancioglu, 2011).
Role of ICTs
Oguzor (2011) argued that vocational students are entering a workforce where computers and digital literacy are essential for success. Although the effectiveness of the traditional teaching approach in vocational learning has been questioned, Haverila and Marjatta (2009) suggested that online learning could combine the best features of classroom teaching and independent study, allowing students to experience the benefits of both. Lo, Fu and Chang (2013) recognized that with the wide array of topics addressed in vocational learning, the convenience and flexibility of e-learning makes it a meaningful learning tool.
Marsden and Piggot-Irvine (2012) established that writing was an essential workplace skill that was rarely targeted in automotive trades classrooms, and used student blogs to address this concern. Through the use of blogs students took responsibility for their own learning and increased the amount of writing they would typically do throughout the course; often choosing to work on their assignments on their own time (Marsden & Piggot-Irvine, 2012). Haverila and Marjatta (2009) reported that students involved in their study were disappointed when course work was not relevant to their careers or indicative of an actual work experience, but discovered that ICTs could be used to emulate a real-life work experience. Inayat, ul Amin, Inayat and Salim (2013) used a 3-d learning environment to allow some students to actively problem-solve and experience their workplace settings through the use of avatar clients who simulated real-life situations. Inayat et al., (2013) discovered that students who experienced the virtual exercises achieved higher exam results than the rest of their class.
Haverila and Marjatta (2009) assert that conversations are an essential learning strategy for adults, however opportunity for conversation could be minimal in vocational classrooms. Using ICTs such as emails, interactive messengers, chat rooms and discussion boards, students were able to converse and share ideas with a wide range of people including other students or people working in their actual field of study (Havarila & Marjatta, 2009). Robertson (2008) found that the use of wikis in vocational learning facilitated communication and collaboration through its simple access and ability to edit and confer with peers within a single document.
Oguzor (2011) reported that the use of ICT simulations and software could act as a cost-effective substitute for the expensive equipment that is often necessary to accurately emulate a workplace setting. Widespread use of these ICT tools across a vocational setting would help ensure equal access to educational tools and experiences (Oguzor, 2011). Konradt (2004) stressed the importance of the fact that ICTs allow a learner to participate in beneficial training courses or seminars without the expenses associated with travel and time constraints.
Although ICTs certainly offer new opportunities in vocational learning, there are many educators who have been skeptical or even disdainful about making changes to a technology-based approach (Marsden and Piggot-Irvine, 2012). ICTs have been used to emulate the workplace setting, however, Summak and Samancioglu (2011) argued that students cannot truly be prepared until they have been exposed to the actual equipment and skills they will use in their chosen field. Hamalainen and De Wever (2013) caution about placing too much significance on the use of virtual learning environments in vocational education, and stated that it is essential to remember that it is the student’s activity, and not the ICT itself that is the source of the learning. Haverila and Marjatta (2009) also proposed that the lack of face-to-face contact could be a concern, as vocational learning should imitate an actual workplace experience. Haverila and Marjatta (2009) recommended that educators allow for plenty of opportunity for conversation online to make up for the lack of direct contact. Robertson (2008) suggested that ICTs combined with practical experience proved to be an effective model within their study.
Vocational educators are typically trained in a specific field, which are often non-academic, manual trades (Oguzor, 2011); as a result they may have little technological experience and may lack the confidence or ability to support students with technology-based components of the course (Totter, Stutz & Grote, 2006). Kuskaya and Kocak (2010) suggested that when technology related investments are made for vocational learning, student and teacher training should be paramount.
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