Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

Design Principles for Applied Learning: Bringing Theory and Practice Together in an Online VET Teacher-Education Degree

Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

Design Principles for Applied Learning: Bringing Theory and Practice Together in an Online VET Teacher-Education Degree

Article excerpt


In 2012, the University of Tasmania launched a new teacher-education course, a Bachelor of Education (Applied Learning). The course is designed for in-service Vocational Education and Training (VET) teachers and delivered in a fully online mode of study, enabling geographically dispersed students to combine work with study in a flexible manner. Currently, teachers employed in the VET sector in Australia are not required to hold a degree in education; rather, the minimum requirement to teach or assess VET qualifications is a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (Cert IV TAE) which is a relatively short course to complete. Many VET teachers are, however, keen to pursue a degree in education in order to deepen their knowledge and skills in learning and teaching and further their career. Pre-course consultations with VET teachers revealed that the majority of the incoming cohort would be 'non-traditional' students (Munro, 2011), being mature-aged, combining study with work and family commitments, and often the first-in-family to attend university. The new course aimed to respond appropriately to the VET teachers, recognising existing skills, knowledge and qualifications in their teaching area, encouraging a strong connection between university study and real workplace issues, and providing a supportive learning environment with active, engaged teaching staff.

The specialisation of the course, Applied Learning, is a pedagogical approach that is highly appropriate for the VET and higher education context, yet is represented by a scant body of literature. Applied learning is closely aligned with experiential learning (Dewey, 1938; Kolb, 1984) and is commonly referred to as 'learning with your hands'. It has the potential to go well beyond that, however, by integrating theoretical knowledge (knowing that) with practice (knowing how) and thus helping students to make meaning of what they are learning about. As such, it offers a valuable pedagogical approach in all sectors of education and has recently begun to attract the attention of the higher education sector through emerging research that highlights the potential for the 'kind of pedagogical principles and practices associated with engaged scholarship, communities of practice, civil engagement and critical pedagogy' (Schwartzman & Bouas Henry, 2009, p. 5).

In order to ensure an 'applied' approach to all the learning activities and assessment tasks and in the absence of any existing guiding frameworks, the Course Coordinator (who is also the researcher and author of this article) created a set of design principles to guide teaching staff as they developed and delivered the units of study. Drawing upon her experience as a VET teacher who completed an online undergraduate degree as a mature-aged student, as well as relevant educational literature, the design principles outlined the desired characteristics of the learning and assessment approach as well as the ways in which students would be encouraged and supported. Recognising the value of researching the effectiveness of these design principles, a doctoral study began in 2013 and continued for 18 months, investigating the experiences of students and staff within the course. This article will review the theoretical influences underpinning the applied learning design principles before identifying the major findings of the investigation accompanying their enactment in the course. It will conclude with a consideration of how the design principles might be adopted by others who are interested in ensuring an applied, authentic experience for their online (or on-campus) students.

Literature review

The impetus for an alternative approach to the course came from a desire to provide an authentic learning experience and a supportive online learning community for the in-service VET teachers. The review of the literature will therefore consider four areas that underpinned the design principles: authentic learning; online approaches in higher education; learning communities; and the needs and characteristics of non-traditional students. …

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