Change, work and learning: aligning continuing education and training

By Stephen Billett, Amanda Henderson, Sarojni Choy, Darryl Dymock, Fred Bevan, Ann Kelly, Ian James, Jason Lewis, Ray Smith Research report 11 April 2012 ISBN 978 1 922056 02 3


As part of a three-year program of research, the authors are investigating how the training system might be more effective in providing continuing education and training across workers' lives, since the tertiary education and training sector is currently geared to entry-level training; that is, getting young people ready to enter the labour market. This working paper sets the scene for the next stage of research. It provides a description of current models of education and training which offer a framework for understanding the continuing learning needs of Australian workers.


About the research

This working paper is the first publication to emerge from a three-year program of research investigating how Australia’s tertiary education and training system might best cater for continuing education and training requirements. The authors argue that the current training system is geared towards entry-level provision. They further contend that a range of training models are likely to be required to accommodate the diverse training needs across workers’ lives.

The paper sets the scene for the next stages of research. It provides a description of current models of education and training, in this way presenting a framework for understanding the continuing learning needs of Australian workers across their working lives.

The following are covered:

  • the purposes of continuing education and training — for the individual, employers and government
  • current education and training models
  • the various pedagogic practices that support the various education and training models.

The next stage of research involves engaging two industries — health and community services, and transport and logistics — with the aim of appraising how useful the current training and education models are to the continuing training needs of workers in those industries.

Tom Karmel
Managing Director, NCVER

Executive summary

Continuing education and training is an emerging priority for the nation's tertiary education and training system. Changing work and work requirements, an ageing workforce and longer working lives are some of the factors now shaping this priority. Yet, currently, most of the objectives and structures of Australia’s tertiary education system are focused on entry-level provision — preparing people for their occupational roles. However, this kind of provision may not always be compatible with the continuing education and training requirements that ensure the successful functioning of the twenty-first century workplace. It is important therefore to identify the elements — the objectives, structures and processes, and the types of provision — that constitute an effective national continuing education and training system.

The continuing education and training provision appropriate for the twenty-first century workplace is likely to be as much based outside educational institutions as in them and be supported equally by workplace-based practitioners and classroom teachers. In addition, training in educational institutions is likely to be integrated with work activities as much as based around study activities, with a stronger emphasis on individuals’ learning than on their being taught. It follows that, within the various models, that is, the different sets of arrangements for provision, the approaches to curriculum and support for learning (as in pedagogies) may well be quite different from those focusing on entry-level training. Furthermore, central to the effective provision of continuing education and training will be individuals directing their own learning in ways that meet their needs.

A national continuing education system that is responsive to individuals, their work requirements and their increasingly longer working lives may require the reshaping of the current tertiary education system; it may also demand a higher level of engagement by Australian workplaces across workers’ lives. It is important, therefore, that such changes are informed and facilitated by models and approaches that meet the continuing education needs of the twenty-first century worker and which can be enacted within the current system and Australian workplaces.

This working paper offers some early outcomes of a research project whose central aims are to identify and evaluate potential models and approaches to the provision of continuing education and training. The project is underpinned by the following research question:

What models and practices of continuing tertiary education and training can best meet workplace demands and sustain Australian workers’ ongoing occupational competence and employability across their working lives?

It is informed by two sub-questions:

  1. What models and practices can support on-the-job learning, allowing workers to acquire the kinds of experiences and expertise that are valued by industry?
  2. How best can workers be prepared as active learners to engage in productive learning in the workplace and meet the skill demands of industry?

The concern here is to identify how best the tertiary education and training system; that is, vocational education and training (VET), adult and community education (ACE), higher education and learning in the workplace, can sustain Australian workers’ employability across their longer working lives and maximise their contribution to the settings in which they work, and, collectively, to the nation’s productivity.

It follows that the focus of continuing education and training is likely to be ongoing development across a range of contexts (for example, work, home, colleges etc.) and by means of accessible activities that workers find engaging and meaningful. The approaches adopted are likely to differ according to the scope and extent of learning required by individuals and much continuing education and training provision is likely to take place outside educational institutions and in learners’ workplaces. Consequently, a range of models for learning of different kinds and in different contexts and an array of pedagogies to accommodate these diverse conditions are required.

The range of models and pedagogic practices previewed in this working paper constitute a starting point for considering the kinds of models and practices that suit particular continuing education and training needs and which can also be broadly embraced as part of a national provision. The usefulness and applicability of these models and practices is currently being evaluated in two industry sectors, with more sectors to be engaged shortly. A key concern of this evaluation is identifying how the models might assist individuals to maintain their employability across their working lives, including being able to respond to new and emerging workplace challenges, while developing the capacity required for individual advancement (for example, promotion).

The set of models advanced in this paper have the potential to meet localised needs and the capacity to be customised for particular groups of worker—learners, while meeting the needs of industry and training providers. The models are complemented by teaching practices that support learning and which, in different ways, facilitate workers’ ongoing development. These models provide an early framework for representing and understanding approaches to the continuing learning needs and requirements of Australian workers across their working lives.

The paper begins by presenting the purpose and focus of the research project being undertaken and then discusses the significance and purposes of continuing education and training in Australia. Following this, a range of curriculum models and a typology of teaching practices are advanced as starting points. To indicate ways in which the different needs and requirements might be translated into a system of continuing education and training, the paper concludes with a framework that takes account of global, national and situational factors that shape this important provision.


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