Some issues in vocational curriculum literature
Serving two masters
Much has been written about the purpose of vocational training, whether it should be organised specifically and exclusively to serve the rapidly changing requirements of industry or whether the social, emotional and intellectual needs of the students should also be a TAFE responsibility. The goals of industry and those of education and society are often in conflict, and this continues to be an area of vigorous debate in vocational education. In spite of the undeniable responsibility for vocational and adult education to provide efficient and relevant training, based on the needs of the employment market, most TAFE educationists would find it difficult to surrender the principle, inherited from a long and rich tradition of educational philosophy, psychology and practice, of educating the student as a whole person. A number of writers identify both purposes as important in TAFE.
... general and vocational education should not be artificially separated. Most forms of general education are vocational for at least some students. Again all vocational education affects the learner as a person and therefore has some general educational effect. The implication for vocational education is that training in the narrow sense can be a serious disadvantage for the student, both in terms of personal development and in acquiring the basic understanding that is needed for continuing education, and for acquiring other vocational skills (Kangan, 1974, pp.7-8).
... there is the industrial manpower view which sees their main purpose ... as being producers of skilled manpower for the development of the economy; and an educational and social view, where the emphasis is on the individual's development of his or her potential (Broderick, 1981, p.21).
... the role of TAFE should encompass more options for the individual than merely job preparation. In reactions to this there can be detected the view that vocational education ... [is] somehow separate, and that non-vocational education is the icing on the TAFE cake. This is a view which the Kangan Committee would have rejected, as it rests upon a limited understanding of the concept of recurrent education (Hawke & Sweet, 1983, p.2).
There is a growing realisation that productivity in the workforce depends largely on the ability of workers to continue learning on the job ... there are many workers [whose] ... literacy is inadequate to meet the particular demands of new learning ... Productivity, safety, quality, promotional opportunities, and even the choice of job, may be affected by lack of necessary reading and writing skills (Radloff and Samson, 1990, p.283).
Even as the current mood of working closer to the needs of industry in TAFE curriculum development becomes stronger, there is also a growing argument in favour of a broad based general education component in vocational courses. This should not be seen as incompatible with industry need. Recent occupational analyses prove that industry and business leaders are finding that graduates of vocational courses are unprepared for today's world of work, not so much because they don't have the hands on skills but because they have not been trained in cognitive skills such as decision making, working without supervision, taking responsibility in an emergency, communicating effectively and managing their own work tasks. This is not a new concept in vocational education. People were writing about these things a decade ago and the following example is from the USA.
Contemporary jobs require much more than technical skills, the traditional approach of vocational education. Today's workers must be able to use their skills in a variety of settings, be willing to learn new technical skills, and be skilful at communicating and working with others ... The speed of technological advances, the shift to service-orientated jobs, new hiring policies, and movements for women, minorities, and handicapped persons all underscore the inadequate, exclusive emphasis on teaching technical skills in vocational education (Tjosvold et al, 1981, pp.9-10).
The writers say that business and industry in fact demand employees who are able to "co-ordinate their efforts with others, resolve conflicts, communicate effectively, find their relationships satisfying, influence others and be open to influence" (p.10).
... the fear is that students will be too narrowly educated and not prepared to participate fully in the broader spectrum of life (Elebash and Cutchen, 1983, p.151).
Elebash and Cutchen make a case for including "liberal" and "universal" skills in vocational courses, and claim that future employment will be enhanced if students have understanding and effective communication skills.
Underlying these traditional approaches to curriculum development are a set of assumptions, one of which is that the objectives of a course are to be derived from the needs of industry for a job or range of occupations. Student interests are assumed to be served by receiving training recognized by industry ... Students' vocational and educational needs ... include the need for education which can be the basis for job mobility, gaining employment and retraining (Pearson, 1983, p.19).
Multi skilling and broadbanding as part of the career paths of employees in the 1990s make it all the more important to include general education in occupational training. Current pressures from industry, however, may make us overlook the fact that new job skills can better be learned on the job, if a worker's general background is sufficient. Kennedy (1985) emphasises the point.
This is a salutary warning for TAFE since traditionally it has concentrated on preparing skilled people in single occupational categories with no reference to general education (p.55).
TAFE curriculum developers need to remember that they are serving two client groups, industry and students, and are morally obligated to, and financially dependent, directly and indirectly, on both.
Occupational data collection and analysis
In 1974 the Kangan report recommended the need for greater relevance in TAFE programmes, urging further research to facilitate "more frequent revision of curricula in light of technological, social and other changes" as well as "the redesign of courses to integrate social and communication skills ... with technical skills [to] give students a broad awareness of the social implications of technological and other emerging developments" (pp.39-40).
Before long, large occupational surveys based on the systems approach format and style were introduced, especially in Victoria, in an attempt to meet the Kangan recommendations on making courses more relevant. These early surveys were painstakingly thorough, based mainly on finding out what percentage of the industry performed which tasks, how often, and how important those tasks were in the work place. They produced a lot of valuable data and used up a lot of paper. Furthermore, they took too long. By the time the survey questionnaire had been written, implemented, analysed and translated into training objectives - sometimes up to three years - industry practice had moved on and the data was out of date.
A national workshop on occupational analysis held in Perth in 1982 identified a wide range of methodologies which could be used to obtain skill and task inventories, job specifications, job descriptions, competency profiles and process or decision charts (Clover & Goode, 1982). While these can all be loosely described as "occupational analysis" and all are useful for curriculum development, they yield different kinds of information for different developers to work with. Clover and Goode (1982) identified further problems.
In the very near future vocational education will be facing a major challenge to keep up to date with rapidly changing technology; for as the rate of change increases, the time lag which is intrinsic to the nature of reactive processes produces obsolete curricula (p.16).
Clover and Goode pointed to the increasing use of DACUM (an approximate acronym for Developing A CurriculUM) as a training needs analysis tool. DACUM is a group process method of involving industry personnel to establish tasks and skills lists within various job profiles. The DACUM method, they wrote, can produce reliable data in a relatively short period of time and can fulfil the need for TAFE to become proactive instead of reactive in relation to technological and industrial change.
A central problem in the early 1980s became how to react quickly to the educational needs which arise from technological change. Industry was becoming openly critical of the time and costs involved in many of TAFE's responses to problems requiring the analysis of occupational needs for curriculum development. In 1983 Anderson and Jones were commissioned to investigate curriculum research methods which might speed up the process of occupational analysis and curriculum development. They looked in detail at various group process models still relatively new to TAFE, such as the Search Conference Technique, the Delphi method, the DACUM method, Force Field Analysis, Brainstorming and so on. They reported on the effectiveness of these methods of collecting and analysing occupational data for course development in accordance with the Kangan recommendations. They were looking for techniques which promised "fast response" and "effectiveness" for the purpose of curriculum design and review. Their work was published in five volumes in 1986 and has brought about significant changes in the way TAFE now goes about industry survey and task analysis for training.
TAFE Authorities have evolved structures to bring industry groups closer to the curriculum development process. They are different in each state and territory but basically depend on the existence of industry advisory groups or industry training committees whose role it is to advise on and monitor training needs in the various occupational areas. However these groups don't normally do the occupational research. There is still an important role for TAFE to collect the relevant information needed to decide on the level, format and content of the courses to be developed.
Ideally an occupational survey and analysis should be able to collect, by questionnaire, interview, group process method or discussion, all information needed to decide on the objectives, learning activities, structure (length, level, method of attendance, etc.) and resources needed for a new course. With validated research data from industry, course planners and developers can design TAFE vocational curricula which are relevant to employment needs. This research data should also allow reasonably accurate estimates of the demand for the course as well as the need for alternative delivery methods or timetables. However it would be impossible to discover all necessary data from industry sources, and it is necessary to look elsewhere for equally important information about, for instance, the student market and any special needs potential students might have. This part of data collection is more correctly called needs analysis and it includes information from government departments and agencies, unions, TAFE policy makers, lecturers and their seniors within the colleges, and past, present and future students.
Any curriculum decisions made as a result of the occupational or needs analysis must be based firmly on the data collected. If a decision cannot be justified by the data, it should not be used in the curriculum product. Gone are the days when vocational curricula could be produced at whim out of the imaginations of curriculum developers (McBeath, 1990, p.248).
The concept of occupational analysis, at least at the level of task and skills analysis, fits most easily into apprenticeship and trade based training courses. It poses some difficulties however, for the para professional areas (civil engineering, electronics, child care, welfare, art, business studies, etc.). While it is essential that TAFE curriculum developers keep in close contact with practitioners in the para professional fields, there can be little occupational analysis in the traditional sense. A civil engineer is required to obtain satisfactory grades in subjects such as Mathematics and Physics, and practising civil engineers would strongly support this, but their use of these disciplines in the workplace is not as obvious to an observer as some other tasks would be. If occupational analysis is being carried out in para professional areas, survey instruments will have to be designed carefully to elicit relevant broad based information from the practitioners.
Access, equity and entry level
The Kangan Committee (1974) called for the provision of unrestricted access to post school education in TAFE institutions, in essence the "removal of barriers from and the ... encouragement of entry to technical and further education by all adults" (p.xxvi).
TAFE has since developed a very commendable reputation in this area, both at the level of school leavers, where young people choose to continue a non-university post school education in an area that appeals to them; and at the level of recurrent or adult education, where "slow starters", unemployed, redundant, underprivileged or minority groups are given a "second chance" or "just in time" entry to start again or to upgrade their marketability in the workforce. The PEP, Transition, NESA and LATA programmes of the 1980s bear witness to TAFE's ability to work with other government departments in successful labour market and reskilling programmes and devise appropriate curricula to suit the times.
New Opportunities for Women (NOW), Adult Literacy, Aboriginal Access, Adult Migrant English, the Traineeship programme and a range of pre-vocational courses sponsored by the Commonwealth Employment Service have carried this tradition into the 90s with fine colours. Pre-apprenticeships, devised originally when employers were not taking on enough apprentices, and now often preferred by industry to traditional apprenticeships, are here to stay. The Training Guarantee Act of 1990 has ushered in a new level of activity in generic and customised short courses for industry, on a user pays basis, where selection and assessment are out of the hands of the providing college.
These are areas where TAFE has been able to respond quickly and well to innovative curriculum development commitment for the sake of its role in the forefront of open access and equity education. Entry and access problems, however, have existed as a curriculum issue in the more traditional TAFE courses for a long time and will continue to pose a problem with the abolition of the binary system (the separation of universities and CAEs) and consequent incrementalism of TAFE entry standards.
The Kangan ideal of removing or easing entry barriers in traditional TAFE courses, according to Hawke and Sweet (1983), cannot mean "that access to vocational courses should not depend mainly upon factors such as prior educational attainment or previous occupational experience". They see the concept of open access including a "focus upon methods of selecting students for courses" (p.2).
The need for selection increasingly appears a harsh reality. As early as 1983 Hawke and Sweet point to "the pressure for accountability" and "competition between conflicting groups for ... resources" and these pressures have escalated since then. They reinforce the need for compromise between open access and recurrent education as recommended by the Kangan report, and the claims of financial stringency.
... systems have an obligation to ensure that students are equally provided with educational opportunities of a nature and quality suited to their individual needs, and an obligation to ensure that students enrol in courses in which they have a reasonable chance of success (Kangan, p.3).
There is a school of thought which removes such issues from the realm of curriculum development. Practice in Australia's TAFE Authorities, however, favours a wider context of curriculum planning. Hawke and Sweet's recommendation concerns developers and the curriculum decisions they seek from occupational data, both in the way courses are tailored to fit individual student needs and in the establishment of entry levels to courses, subjects (or modules) and learning units. These in turn will affect course design decisions.
Selection for apprenticeship courses has always been carried out by employers by virtue of the fact that they hire their own apprentices. The apprentice selection regulations that do exist are the province of the Industrial Training Commissions in each state and territory. Occasionally, colleges offer further selection procedures to employers in special circumstances, but there is no obligation for employers to use them. Selection and access issues are important in relation to all other TAFE vocational courses, and it is in these contexts that developers need to make entry decisions.
Mageean (1985) makes a distinction between threshold and entry level selection procedures. Threshold requirements, as she distinguishes them, should be seen as "the minimal requirements for performing in the course and on the job" and "should be established to cope with the demands of the course and ... the job". Developers should consider
... what mathematical processes, and at what level, are required; is physical strength required; what level of reading is necessary to follow class work and trade specifications; and what level of dexterity is essential (p 57).
Threshold considerations may include such factors as the ability to have passed a particular grade of mathematics and English. Physical problems, "such as epilepsy, deafness or colour blindness" may create safety risks to students in certain trades. Threshold level measures should be designed to "assess whether applicants possess the basic requirements to cope with the course and the job" (p.63). Entry level measures on the other hand, should
be designed which will enable selection to be made between applicants who possess the basic requirements (threshold level) in situations where there are more qualified applicants than there are available places (p. 63).
She looks at a number of important selection issues such as student profiles, the cost effectiveness of trainability tests, the need for test evaluation and equity of access. Her discussion concludes with the following recommendations.
- That those involved in selection have available to them a pool of selection methods which ensure a range of characteristics are taken into account.
- That feasibility studies be made before new selection methods are developed ...
- That Australian norms are compiled and continually updated.
- That selection methods be validated against both course results and later on-the-job performance, and that only ... valid predictors be included ...
- That all selection methods be carefully screened to ensure that they do not unfairly discriminate against any group.
- That all applicants for places on the course be selected by the same methods, to ensure there is no discrimination against any group (pp.64-5).
Alternative entry and exit levels are appearing in some newer study areas, such as hospitality and tourism. Furber (1988) describing the development of South Australia's award winning tourism course, wrote of its flexible structure as one of its "interesting features".
The structure provides a number of entry points to enable students with appropriate academic qualifications and/or experience to gain access to the course and to obtain skills and knowledge appropriate to their individual career aspirations (p.46).
The provision of subjects on both full and part time bases, choice of day or block release, on or off campus study, fleximode or open learning are all techniques used by TAFE providers to extend the opportunity for many more groups in the community to participate in post school education. Not only does the provision of such alternatives entail curriculum decisions to be researched and made, but there are important implications for the design of the curriculum, the materials that have to be produced and the way they are written.
Articulation and escalation
There are two aspects of the articulation issue that concern TAFE. One is the growing interest among TAFE graduates in articulating (or joining on to, as in an articulated vehicle) their qualification to a higher level, possibly degree course, to upgrade their career prospects. The second concerns what this might mean to the way courses are designed and written for TAFE students.
There were several large research studies commissioned by the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Council (CTEC) to enquire specifically into the articulation of students from the TAFE sector into higher education (Parkinson, 1985; Parkinson, Mitchell and McBeath, 1986). Parkinson (1985) found, in a survey of higher education institutions, that more than 15,000 students had entered higher education courses between 1980 and 1983 on the basis of a successfully completed relevant TAFE middle level qualification (or a TAFE Associate Diploma in today's nomenclature). His survey concentrated on official statistics and thus was unable to discover many details about this surprising number of students, how or why they had gained entry, for instance, or how successful they had been.
The 1986 study (Parkinson et al) surveyed TAFE colleges as well as higher education institutions and sought detail on attitudes and problem areas affecting or hampering articulating students. The study found that many higher education institutions were prepared to grant admission to qualified TAFE students if the qualification was analogous to the course they wished to enter, but that the transfer of credit or granting of status was not so common. Some individual institutions had entered into cooperative arrangements allowing credit and status, but the overall picture was bleak. In many instances a lack of knowledge about standards, prejudice and emotional bias on the part of both sectors stood in the way of change. The study concluded that a national body like CTEC, (or nowadays, the Department of Employment, Education and Training, or DEET) needed to bring pressure to bear on higher education institutions if a more equitable situation were to be brought about (McBeath, 1989).
Hermann, Richardson and Woodburne first struggled with this issue in the mid 1970s, and stressed the importance of ensuring that course planning offers "the opportunity for people ... to proceed to a more advanced course" (1976, p.190). There are always people, they point out, who select a less appropriate course due to lack of guidance or finance, because they are "late developers", or because they consciously plan to steer their training through several courses. Hermann et al describe as a major issue the choice of whether courses should be designed "on the escalation principle" or as "intrinsic entities".
... the elitist position formulated within the framework of a pyramidal conception of education gives priority to escalation. This position in a pure form increasingly is being rejected for the intrinsic entity position (p.189).
They also held that in science and engineering courses, practical courses should be preceded by basic theory subjects such as mathematics, physics and chemistry, but caution that
... there will be vast differences, however, in the amount of theory, depth of theory, pace at which theory is taught and degree of specialisation among trade, trade-technician, technician and technologist courses ... Attempting to make one course serve two disparate functions tends to result in schizophrenic breakdown (pp.189-90).
The problems associated with "academic class distinction" are highlighted by a report from the Commonwealth Education Liaison Committee (1967) in the United Kingdom.
The technician was ... educated through ... a course which endeavoured to provide both technician and professional qualifications. This not only produced a distortion of the curriculum, as far as technician needs were concerned, but resulted ... in only a minority of students reaching the professional level. Thus the image of the technician as the failed professional tended to emerge (p.79).
Important questions for curriculum developers, according to Hermann et al (1976) include
... should a technician course commencing after the completion of Grade 10, in addition to preparing students for a specified set of industrial functions at technician level, attempt [also] to prepare students for university by ... providing the equivalent of Grades 11 and 12 school subjects? Should a trade course be primarily designed to prepare students for a technician course, or should a technician course be primarily designed to prepare students for a professional course? (p.214).
They answer their own question with a quotation from the NSW Principles for Certificate Courses, stating that occupational courses "should be complete in themselves, and should not have their character altered to serve some other purpose" (p.222). They advise thoughtful articulation between "adjacent pairs" of courses, including relevant entry exemptions and bridging courses, along with the thorough validation of entry level knowledge and behaviour (p.190). The problem for curriculum development, according to Hermann (1971) is
... to formulate a balanced system which caters both for the majority of students who seek an industrially-relevant course at a specific level and the minority of students who desire to move from one course to another as smoothly as possible (p.4).
There is still room for substantial reform in this area and higher education, especially since the abandonment of the binary system, is slowly realising that it needs to be more generous and realistic in its recognition of TAFE qualifications and that the issue is not going to go away. Meanwhile TAFE curriculum developers need to make sure that they have their own course standards clear and their arguments supporting articulation consolidated.
Self learning, self pacing and individualised instruction
The Kangan Report (1974) recommended the dissemination of self learning facilities. Broderick (1981) describes the development of such facilities during the ensuing years.
Self learning is another feature of TAFE ... In the intervening years since the ACOTAFE [Kangan] Committee first reported on TAFE in Australia, the growth of the learning resource centres in TAFE educational institutions has seen some advances (pp. 24-5).
The literature on self learning can be confusing. Some take it to refer only to self paced learning, or to a particular formalised system of instruction. Others use the term synonymously with fleximode, individualised instruction, modules and learner activity packages. In the foreword to Macdonald (1984), Hermann defines the characteristics of self learning as
... increasing the student involvement in the learning process ... allowing students greater participation in determining the objectives and content of the course, ... learning strategies and media, ... the pace of learning and the specific techniques to be used (p.iii).
Pearson (1981) suggests a model which refines it further.
... what usefully distinguished one individualised instruction program from another is not the media used, not whether students learn at their own pace but rather who controls ... pace, objectives, strategies and assessment in a given program, to what extent (p.15).
Macdonald (1984) sees this as a particularly useful framework in which to consider individualised learning in TAFE "because the nature of many occupational programs ... means that total individualised learning is not always possible or desirable." The model, she says, enables a decision to be taken as to the degree of individualisation appropriate on each of the four dimensions - pace, objectives, strategies and assessment (p.vii).
She outlines five methods of implementing self learning: fleximode; providing for student choice at the subject level; self paced learning in the classroom; use of audio tape; and assisted independent learning. She recognises that there is wide scope for innovation and flexibility in the degree of individualisation, and that decisions on the four dimensions mentioned by Pearson can be taken separately or all together as appropriate to the situation. She also stresses that if curriculum materials are to provide good interaction between teachers and students, the decision to include self learning in a new course must be made early in the curriculum process.
A report on a national survey of individualised instruction used in TAFE colleges (Ansell, 1984) identifies the following arguments for and against the various self learning techniques.
- Less stress on students.
- "Better" results.
- More confidence in students.
- Students more motivated.
- Industry more satisfied with end result.
- Increased (and beneficial) "hands on" experience.
- More staff satisfaction.
- Industry happier with students' attitude.
- Staff could see less work in the long run - more pastoral/counselling role.
- Provision for diagnosis of individual student needs/problems.
- Student-based more meaningful.
- Different/better relationship with students.
- More flexible approach to class sizes, (ie, can be mixture of levels).
- Improved remediation.
- Decreased student drop out.
- Student takes responsibility for own learning and progress.
- Flexibility of programme.
- Time consuming for staff re preparation, assignment and assessment.
- Staff stress/fatigue due to diversity of student involvement.
- Insufficient time allocation for development of courses/materials, etc.
- Insufficient (or no) staff
- Resistance from staff to "new methods"; also fear.
- Fear of redundancy.
- General lack of staff awareness/support.
- Staff concern that self-pacing doesn't relate to pressures in the "real world".
- Keeping abreast of industry, especially as regards equipment for meaningful live work.
- Amount of curriculum development required.
- Constraints of time, resources, materials, buildings, staff. (pp.21-2)
Individualised instruction, according to Pearson (1981) is advocated because it is learner centred. It is claimed to
- better meet individual student needs
- allow for individual characteristics and learning styles
- improve motivation
- enable the student to be independent
- change the teacher's role from information giver to manager, guide, resource and tutor (p.44).
From her review of individualised instruction and self paced learning, Pearson concludes
... whether all, some or none of the above are features of any Individualised Instruction programme will depend on how the programme is developed and implemented. The appropriateness of the decisions made about organisation and presentation of context, assessment and management will determine whether a programme meets its aims, the needs of the students and is educationally effective (p.44).
Open learning, distance education and fleximode
The new demands of training for industry restructuring in the 1990s will require new flexibility in the design and delivery of courses. Traditional patterns of face to face classroom or workshop based teaching will be supplemented more and more with alternative delivery methods. In the same way as self paced and modular designed materials helped increase teaching and learning efficiency in the 1980s, so will open learning methods find their way into curriculum design and development in this decade.
Open learning is not a single method or technique, but the design and delivery of learning in any way that might be required by a learner, anywhere, at any time. It is an elastic concept, according to Lewis (1988), a prominent practitioner of open learning at the UK Open College. Paine (1988), also from the UK, writes
We prefer to define open learning as both a process which focuses on access to educational opportunities and a philosophy which allows the learner to choose how to learn, when to learn, where to learn and what to learn as far as possible within the resource constraints of any education and training provision (p.ix).
In the context of open learning provision for business and industry, Atkinson (1990) describes it as "a mode of delivery with attributes which overcome some important constraints often faced by corporate trainers" (p.43). He gives the following examples.
- when to learn. For learning done in company time, it is easier to release individuals or small groups than it is to release larger, class sized groups;
- where to learn. For organisations with state wide or nation wide operations, assembling staff into central or capital city locations for conventional classes may be impossible;
- how to learn. Open learning is not associated exclusively with independent study. A particular programme may mix methods, with different aspects being delivered by conventional classroom instruction, on the job experience, guided independent study with a range of instructional media or computer assisted learning, etc.
- what to learn. Typically open learning packages are modularised, with modules being wherever possible independent of sequence, which facilitates the selection of modules to meet company needs and individual learner needs. Modularisation also has other functions, for example in facilitating self paced learning (pp.43-4).
The main thrust of open learning is to make learning available to anybody who wants to learn for any reason. At its extreme it gives the student absolute control over the learning experience, allowing him or her to work with the learning materials, or the medium, at the time, pace, place or level chosen. One of the most familiar forms of open learning is contained in the simple recipe book. How many people have learned to cook by using a recipe book, going through the processes of reading the theory, planning the task, undertaking the practical experience, self assessment and evaluation - all without the benefit of instruction, demonstration, supervision or examination? Others have built model aircraft, French polished furniture, operated ham radio equipment, or mastered a computing program the same way. In all these instances, the learning is helped or hampered by the quality of the instructional message, or, from a curriculum point of view, the quality of the curriculum design and development.
Most TAFE training programmes will be more formal than these examples. They will usually require formal accreditation or at least public recognition. They very often lead to a transferable qualification and need to be of an acceptable and accountable standard. The principles of open learning, however, can be applied to formal courses and, as Atkinson implies above, formal open learning courses will be demanded more frequently by industry and business in their need for greater flexibility and efficiency in training.
Open learning does not necessarily imply the use of high technology systems but there is an obvious interdependence between open learning and technology. Open learning frequently separates students from the physical presence of a teacher and makes use of technologies of various kinds to communicate the learning message.
New technologies are making it easier to bridge the gap between the teacher and the learner or to link together a variety of media sources for increased interactivity, such as audiographics and radio-computer technology... The mix might include print material, distance learning and face to face teaching ... No two open learning situations are the same ... Whereas [sophisticated technological communications] ... may be ideal in certain situations, other open learning innovations may be better suited to well designed print material and nothing else (McBeath and Atkinson, 1990, p.3).
Foks (1988) recommends that the introduction of open learning strategies in TAFE should be based on, but not locked into, "existing face to face and distance education programs and arrangements" (p.2). Building on existing talent and expertise, the
... development of delivery strategies and learning resources should be co-ordinated ... This would involve various collaborative arrangements between TAFE providers, designated colleges, statewide centres of technical expertise, college open learning centres and ... a central co-ordinating and support unit, based on [the state external studies unit] ... but shifting from a distance education to an open learning emphasis (p.2).
Examples of open learning, based on the trial of video conferencing facilities at Adelaide and Light colleges in South Australia, was described by Mitchell (1990).
The Trials involved the transmission of 26 courses, for up to 25 hours per week, over a 12 week period. In any one week, up to 12 different courses were transmitted. As well as courses, the medium was used for numerous other activities such as staff development exercises; one-off Seminars, Workshops, and Conferences; administrative meetings; and a range of demonstrations and experimental activities.
... courses never offered before at Light College were delivered in fields such as Customer Service and Sales Techniques, Building Practice, First Line Management and Rural Property Planning. Some of the very successful applications of the medium were for cooking demonstrations; a practical session on engine maintenance; a course on French for Winemakers; and for courses requiring the transmission of computer screens. The most uplifting session of the whole six months was conducted by the Deaf Society of SA, in which the deaf participants communicated by sign language ...
In almost all of the 26 courses, video-conferencing sessions were supplemented by other learning modes, such as external studies materials, DUCT audio-conferencing tutorials or a local tutorial (pp.1-2).
Distance education is one of the earliest forms of open learning and has been part of the TAFE training scene for many years. Curriculum developers have been urged for a number of years to consider distance education as an alternative or supplementary delivery method for all courses. In 1983 the Heads of TAFE External Studies organisations recommended "the sharing of TAFE off campus tuition materials" with on campus instructors (National Heads of TAFE External Studies, 1983, p.6) and in the same year the Conference of TAFE Directors supported the principle that
... any approved materials development phase of an approved common core syllabus will be on an integrated basis where the materials are for both internal and external modes of presentation (1983, p.26).
The rationale was that it is more efficient to develop curriculum materials which are used both on and off campus, and preferably by students in all states and territories. Apart from a few isolated examples, however, this has not happened in TAFE, not even with many of the national curriculum development projects. There are still wide barriers between internal and external course development units and between the curriculum branches in each state and territory. It is possible that the new push towards open learning will renew awareness of the value of distance education in the design and delivery of vocational training.
Fleximode is a related concept which is gaining ground in some parts of the Australian TAFE system. Fleximode is usually characterised as a pre-planned combination of on and off campus study (Ashurst, 1986). It is seen as offering the student the independence of external study in combination with access to college resources and the opportunity to interact with college staff and students (Toussaint, 1990). The difference between on campus face to face teaching and external study, Toussaint writes,
is the type and degree of teacher-student contact, and the degree of control the student has over how he/she studies the material ... It is thus useful to see distance education ... and face-to-face teaching as related methodologies on two educational continua: one based on the teacher-student relationship and the other on the pace at which the student is able to proceed through the course (p.1).
Fleximode is being used in Victoria and South Australia and Toussaint's study evaluated its introduction to Western Australia as a possible new means of subject delivery, in terms of its potential for cost efficiency and extension of opportunity, as well as educational effectiveness. She found that its effectiveness depended on the degree of planning, or curriculum design, and the clarity of communication to students and teachers so that they understood and accepted what they were doing and why they were doing it.
The message for curriculum developers in preparing courses for delivery by open learning, distance education and fleximode is also about careful planning and clarity of communication. It works best if it is well designed and carefully written. The instructional message must be understood and accepted by students who might be working completely alone. Materials to be used by students without regular contact with instructors, whether they are printed workbooks, slide tape programmes, computer generated exercises and tests, or interactive video disc learning systems,
need to be written with the students firmly in mind, so that they are addressed to the student, in the right language and at the right level. They should be friendly and easy to follow ... They should be broken up with revision or recycling exercises to keep the student awake and to facilitate the learning process (McBeath, 1990, p.250).