Using Technologies to Integrate Vocational Learning in Multiple Contexts

Using Technologies to Integrate Vocational Learning in Multiple Contexts

Alberto Cattaneo (Swiss Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training, Switzerland) and Carmela Aprea (Swiss Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training, Switzerland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6046-5.ch050


Due to various influences and developments, learning nowadays must be conceived as a lifelong process that occurs within and among different formal, non-formal, and informal contexts. However, learning poses new requirements for individuals as it urges them to cope with diverse and dynamically changing perspectives, articulate these diversities, and reconcile them into a meaningful whole. In this chapter, the authors present theoretical and empirical evidence that accounts for the potential of technologies as facilitators for connecting and integrating learning across different contexts. Given the authors' specific expertise, they particularly focus on learning in vocational and professional settings.
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As previously mentioned, the need to cope with and integrate diverse learning settings has attracted the attention of many educational researchers. In this section, we would like to delineate three well-known models that consider these issues in particular: 1) the expansive learning model from Fuller and Unwin (2003); 2) the connective model from Griffiths and Guile (2003); see also Guile & Griffiths (2001); and 3) the integrative pedagogics model from Tynjälä (2005, 2008, 2009). In concordance with the application field that we concentrate on in this chapter, all three stem from vocational and professional learning, whether taking place within different workplace settings or within at least school and workplace contexts1, respectively.

As an example of learning taking place in the workplace, Fuller and Unwin’s model is one of the first attempts to conceptualize the benefits of different learning settings by specifically pointing out the affordances coming from participation in multiple workplaces. The model particularly stresses the fact that learners can profit from actively participating in different communities of practice (Wenger, 1998; Lave & Wenger, 1991), where they encounter differences that can be integrated through “«opportunities to reflect, explore and cross into new communities of practice» (Fuller & Unwin, 2003, p. 424). The authors define expansive learning as opposed to restrictive learning, with the latter referring to learning that is limited to only a few workplaces where a small number of tasks are performed and little time is available for reflection.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Experience: According to several educational approaches, a very important drive for learning to happen, although this is only the first step, as learning requires reflecting on experiences in order for it to occur. Technologies can effectively intervene to capture or collect experiences. In our examples, experience is then the first step upon which to design a learning scenario based on reflection. Mobile devices and writing tools are used to produce the starting objects to be exploited during the planned learning activities.

Vocational Education and Training: A learning context that is paradigmatic of the necessity for a learner to cope with different contexts and by integrating different kinds of knowledge. Especially in the German-speaking contexts, but also in other countries, such as Denmark, it is structured on a dual system, alternating between school-based and work-based learning phases. Sometimes, as in the Swiss case, the system becomes a trial as it incorporates a third institutionalized learning context called “intercompany courses.”

Boundary Crossing: The process an actor engages in when passing back and forth through different contexts. Applied to learning situations, this implies considering socio-cultural differences and being able to recompose different kinds of knowledge in a unique knowledge base. In our examples, vocational dual systems require apprentices to integrate explicit, theoretical knowledge coming mainly from the school context and implicit, practical knowledge coming mainly from the workplace.

Writing-to-Learn: Instructional approach taking advantage of writing as an effective mediating tool to promote learning across contexts. In our examples, writing took a collaborative format in order to facilitate confrontation and sharing among peers. Technologies readily allowed fir collaboration, such as through the use of tools like Weblogs and wikis.

Mobile Learning: Learning is characterized as “mobile” when it profits from affordances given by mobile technologies to create the conditions to overcome the barriers existing across contexts and also to put such contexts in reciprocal contact. In our examples, smartphones are used to capture examples of professional situations lived at the workplace under the form of meaningful pictures. Pictures could then be used at school to design learning activities.

Reflection: An essential process to facilitate learning. It can be applied both to individuals’ own and to peers’ experiences, respectively enabling individuals to make explicit their own knowledge and understanding of a specific situation and its components and to assume other points of view on their practice through confrontation and sharing. In our examples, learning scenarios are aimed at fostering reflection on professional experiences in both directions. The guiding role of educators (teachers, supervisors, instructors, etc.) is still central in this process. Prompts are often used in this sense to scaffold reflection.

Boundary Object: An artifact that can assume a more or less specific function to make bordering contexts interact with each other and then bridge one another. Boundary objects often facilitate the process of boundary crossing. In our examples, technologies—in the form of pictures, texts, and online environments—assumed the characteristic of boundary objects as they allowed a higher integration and interaction among different actors of the educational system.

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