Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Functional Vocational Cognition: Dimensions of Real-World Accuracy

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Functional Vocational Cognition: Dimensions of Real-World Accuracy

Article excerpt

The more depth and breadth that one has in a knowledge domain (a) the greater the memory for new material in that domain, (b) the more straightforward and facile are problem-solving strategies, and (c) the more expert the person is considered to be (Patel & Groen, 1993). A deep, rich, articulated knowledge structure within a domain facilitates information encoding, retrieval, and application (Craik & Lockhart, 1972). Thinking about occupations and associated dimensions such as training time, opportunity, earnings, physical demands, mental requirements, prestige, and personal liking (e.g., Chartrand, Dohm, Dawis, & Lofquist, 1987; Howell, Frese, & Sollie, 1984; Parker & Chan, 1986; Saltiel, 1988; Subich, Cooper, Barrett, & Arthur, 1986; Thomas & O'Brien, 1984) is rooted in what the person knows or has experienced. As people hear about, read of, and experience aspects of the world of work, schemas (frames) form and change to constrain and guide vocational thinking. In this research, people in formative stages of vocational preparation or retraining were tested to determine the accuracy of their vocational information. These vocational schemas were assessed within a matrix of 16 occupations (e.g., electrician) crossed with six dimensions (e.g., money earned).

Research in vocational schema representation has involved a matrix approach to characterize perceptions of respondents (Cullen, 1983; Gati & Nathan, 1986; Nevill, Neimeyer, Probert, & Fukuyama, 1986; Prediger, 1989). Although it is reasonable to argue that high differentiation between separate dimensions as well as integration of relationships across dimensions have value, functional vocational cognition quires an anchor in reality. This added constraint is necessary to separate vocational perception from vocational knowledge and is crucial to comprehensive, functional schemas. A person may understand that a dimension such as earnings or opportunity ranges from low to high, yet a framework for decision making is dysfunctional with only such rudimentary differentiation. Similarly, an individual may understand that high demand and low supply relate to the earnings dimension, yet without additional decision support that comes from accurate knowledge, such unreferenced integration is wasted. These understandings do, however, set the stage for functional cognition that hooks real-world accuracy into richly elaborated frames of thinking. Thus, when a concept such as "plumber" is activated, if appropriate links into relevant dimensions have been formed, that activation may spread into these dimensions via strong, functional connections (Collins & Loftus, 1975). When multiple exposures to information about occupations and their characteristics occur in context, generalized learning sets and flexible cognition result (Schell & Hartman, 1992). For vocational counselors, understanding ways of facilitating such integrated knowledge structures is an important step in removing barriers to career education and productive employment (Dahl, 1982; Humes & Hohenshil, 1985).

The literature of "situated cognition" holds that without real-world knowledge, the person's frame for thinking is artificial, unreal, and uncharacteristic of the situations with which the individual must interact to guide behavior(Norman, 1993). For example, the concepts of mathematics are most soundly anchored when learned in the context of real-world problems rather than as abstract relationships. The dynamic system that includes concepts like earnings, opportunity, plumber, and nurse is understood by a child or a work-experienced adult as interactions between themselves and other people and the physical environment (Greeno & Moore, 1993). In the absence of situated anchors, an investigator can report the nature of relations of concepts within an individual's frame of thinking and can show relations to the thinking of other people, yet can never relate such thinking to valid criteria. …

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