Quality is the key: Critical issues in teaching, learning and assessment in vocational education and training

By John Mitchell, Clive Chappell, Andrea Bateman, Susan Roy Research report 22 December 2006 ISBN 1 921170 30 1 print; 1 921170 36 0 web


This report identifies what individual learners and industry clients want from vocational education and training (VET) and proposes how these needs can best be met. It also identifies a tension between compliance and creativity which needs to be addressed in quality frameworks at the system level. In addition, providers need to reshape their structures and modify their cultures so they are open to creativity and flexibility but also able to meet compliance requirements. At the practitioner level, ongoing funding for the professional development of staff is needed so they have the time and space to develop innovative strategies for teaching, learning and assessment.


About the research

This research forms part of a wider program of research designed to assist vocational education and training (VET) providers to build their capability for the future. Through a literature review, discussion paper, consultations and field research, this project identifies critical issues in teaching, learning and assessment to inform and influence practice in the rapidly changing VET environment.

  • The VET sector is distinguished by complexity and opportunity. Many critical issues were identified by stakeholders under the banner of these two terms but, for the majority of VET stakeholders, quality is the most critical issue in teaching, learning and assessment.
  • The concept of quality provokes different responses from VET stakeholders. Some stakeholders focus on managing quality systems and quality indicators, while others focus on creating cultures to stimulate continuous improvement. Ideally, both perspectives are needed.
  • VET practitioners need to extend their existing skills to meet the challenges of the new VET environment, which includes a range of learning styles, new assessment practices, diversity of clients (from industry to individual students) with a diversity of requirements (such as customised service), and enhanced technologies. They need the time and space to do this.
  • VET practitioners will need to adopt a variety of methodologies to develop these new skills. Work-based learning takes into account new thinking about adult learning and learning organisations and can involve coaching, mentoring, industry release and work shadowing as well as participating in networks, communities of practice and professional conversations. It has been shown to be successful in supporting the achievement of high-quality teaching, learning and assessment.
  • All VET stakeholders will need to adopt innovative approaches to their various roles. For individuals, critical success factors include their adopting new work roles, such as learning manager or facilitator. VET organisations need to develop an agile, flexible, creative and innovative culture balanced, but not dominated, by the need to comply with systemic quality requirements.
  • Partnerships and networks support the achievement of high-quality teaching, learning and assessment by encouraging the exchange of information, ideas, techniques and approaches between VET practitioners, their clients and industry representatives.

Executive summary

The main finding from research conducted in 2005 into the critical issues in teaching, learning and assessment in vocational education and training (VET) was that ‘quality is the major issue’. While the research identified many issues—such as the need for providers to be increasingly flexible and responsive in meeting the multiple demands of industry clients and individual students—ultimately most parties want quality in teaching, learning and assessment, leading to benefits for individuals, enterprises and the nation.

This report was undertaken as part of the program, Supporting vocational education and training providers in building capability for the future, by a consortium of researchers during 2005 and 2006. The brief was to identify critical issues in teaching, learning and assessment, in order to inform and influence VET practice.

The project included developing a literature review and a discussion paper, holding focus groups and two mini-conferences, conducting field research in the United Kingdom and consultations with a range of stakeholders, investigating networks in vocational education and training, conducting an online forum and preparing 15 case studies.

Key findings

The environment for vocational education and training is changing, prompting the need for VET practitioners to extend existing skills and to develop new skills in teaching, learning and assessment. Changes in the VET environment include: skill shortages; new technology in industry; the structure of work; the needs of youth, the disadvantaged and mature-aged workers; competition between providers; and the expectations of industry and the community.

In this challenging environment, the critical issues in terms of addressing what industry clients and individual learners want include: meeting the increasing demand for the customisation and personalisation of training services; developing a deeper understanding of individuals’ learning styles and preferences; and effectively providing services and support for different learner groups, such as learners from equity groups and learners in the online learning environment. Other critical issues include: understanding the many different ways learning can occur in workplaces; and developing partnerships between practitioners in vocational education and training, providers delivering in enterprises, and enterprise-based managers and trainers.

Critical issues in terms of the skills and resources needed by VET practitioners include the following.

  • Many VET practitioners need improved skills in implementing training packages, despite their widespread availability in the sector, in some cases, for the past seven or eight years.
  • VET practitioners need skills to enable them to take advantage of the new digital technologies as they become available.
  • VET practitioners need skills and resources to provide effective support for learning that occurs in the workplace.
  • An increased awareness of the broad spectrum of types of learning (for example, formal and informal learning) means that new skills and resources are needed in the design of learning programs and resources. New skills are also needed to provide assessment services, for example, to conduct assessment in the workplace, to provide recognition processes (of current competence and prior learning), and to assess generic skills.

Our research suggests that, as the context in which vocational education and training operates changes, a notional ‘new practitioner’ is emerging whose role is to meet the increasing expectations of industry clients and individual students. The new VET practitioner doesn’t rely on the old certainties such as pre-set curriculum and classroom instruction, but develops attributes, attitudes, ideas and techniques to meet the needs of clients. The new practitioner looks outwards at market needs and seeks to meet those needs. The attributes of the new VET practitioner reflect a new hybrid mix of sound educational practice on the one hand, and contemporary business strategies on the other. This mix is understandable, given that VET practitioners are being encouraged to work more closely with industry and enterprises.

To address the specialised demands of each enterprise client and every student, the VET practitioner needs a raft of new skills, so many, in fact, that many practitioners need to be able to draw on the specialist skills and knowledge of colleagues and partners by working in teams or partnership arrangements. New skills are required by the full range of VET practitioners, from those employed by registered training organisations, either part- or full-time, to workplace trainers and assessors employed either by an enterprise or by a registered training organisation. New skills are needed by all VET personnel, from managers to frontline trainers and support staff, in both public and private registered training organisations.

Given the breadth of the range of new skills required in vocational education and training, practitioners will need to use a variety of techniques to develop these skills. Work-based learning, which takes account of new theories of adult learning and learning organisations, provides a proven methodology for skill building. It can involve coaching, mentoring, industry release and work shadowing, as well as participating in networks and communities of practice and professional conversations. Networks also support the achievement of high-quality teaching, learning and assessment. They encourage the exchange of information, ideas, techniques, approaches and tools between VET practitioners and also provide a mechanism for providers to interact with and obtain feedback from their enterprise clients.

In the context of innovation, the needs of individual practitioners and enterprises and industry differ. For individuals, critical success factors relating to innovation include their adopting new work roles, such as learning manager, facilitator, mediator, broker or strategist. For VET organisations, critical success factors include developing an agile and flexible culture that encourages diverse thinking and individual initiative. For the VET system, critical success factors affecting innovation include making changes to policy and facilitating practitioners’ development.

Ways to transmit good practice range from issuing publications of case studies, to supporting staff who are skilled in dissemination, to an array of staff development activities. The staff development may be either formal and structured or informal and unstructured or a mixture.

In preparing a discussion paper to stimulate public comment on this project, the researchers suggested that the two themes that best described the VET sector were ‘complexity’ and ‘opportunity’. Under the banner of these two themes, the researchers identified many different critical issues. However, in further research one critical issue emerged of equal significance to both governments and practitioners: the issue of quality.

The research shows that governments across Australia, England and Scotland agree that a vibrant, high-quality VET sector is needed, one capable of rapidly responding to new skill demands, new labour market conditions, new contexts for learning, as well as to the increasing expectations of clients. There is a heightened recognition by these governments that improving the quality of teaching, learning and assessment practice is essential if the sector is to respond to new challenges.

The report reveals that governments across three countries are focused on improving the quality of VET provision and outcomes. However, balancing this is an additional finding from two other components of this research—a study of networks in Australian vocational education and training and the preparation of 15 case studies of good practice in VET—which confirms that Australian VET practitioners are also focused on quality. Although most practitioners generally accept that the achievement of high-quality outcomes requires adequate inputs and a variety of strategies, they also recognise that there is no one solution and no ‘quick fix’.


Quality is the key: critical issues in teaching, learning and assessment in VET .pdf 627.5 KB Download
Quality is the key: critical issues in teaching, learning and assessment in VET .doc 227.0 KB Download
Discussion paper .pdf 261.7 KB Download
Literature review .doc 1.0 MB Download
Case studies .doc 806.0 KB Download
3 country comparison .doc 560.5 KB Download
VET networks .doc 1.1 MB Download

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