Designing effective workplace learning: searching evidence for the development of Dutch VET

L.F.M. Nieuwenhuis, D.J. Nijman, M. Kat, M. van Vijfeijken, K. de Ries

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In the educational policy debate in the Netherlands, policy makers are in search for evidence based development. Referring to research practices in health and Medicine, innovations in education should be based on empirical evidence on the impact of educational measures. Vocational education and training (VET) moves towards competence based education, both in the Netherlands as well as in Europe (cf Biemans e.a., 2004). The European Qualification Framework (EQF) is the reference frame for national qualification systems. In the Netherlands, Vet is based on a mixed system: 2/3 of the students follow school-based courses, with internships in labour organizations; 1/3 of the students follow apprenticeship schemes, based on a labour contract. Work based learning forms in both schemes an important source of skilling experiences. Nijhof and Nieuwenhuis (2008) state that the belief in the skilling power of workplace learning is not always justified. The workplace is not always the most effective learning environment; in some instances the workplace is even a contested learning place (cf. Billett, 2003). Especially theoretical knowledge and learning to learn skills do need school-based support outside the workplace. On the other hand, work process knowledge, practical skills and social skills are well delivered through workplace learning. Within VET, workplace learning is programmed in all courses, without much deliberation.
The introduction of competence based VET, together with the actual political debate, has raised the need for more empirically based knowledge on the use of workplace learning in VET. For that purpose, the innovation body of Dutch Vet has challenged the first author to develop a practice based research programme, in which VET colleges and colleges for higher professional education, together with academic researchers investigate the impact of different work related schemes. Seven regional couples of colleges, including the Dutch Police Academy, have taken up this challenge and started the research project in late spring 2008.

The paper will present first results. The curriculum theory in use is investigated for circa 25 extended teams (teachers and company mentors). Through interviews and document analysis, a thick description is delivered of the professional choices made by these teams. Through observations and interviews with students, this description is checked in reality. During spring 2009, a betting debate will be organized on the effectiveness of the observed schemes. This debate will offer the fundament for comparative and experimental research, scheduled for autumn 2009 and 2010. In the concluding paragraph, an outlook on the empirical debate will be presented.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2009
Externally publishedYes
Event6th International Conference on Researching Work and Learning, RWL 2009 - Roskilde, Denmark
Duration: 29 Jun 20091 Jul 2009


Conference6th International Conference on Researching Work and Learning, RWL 2009
Abbreviated titleRWL6


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