Practical knowledge and occupational competence Felix Rauner Institut Technik und Bildung (Institute of Technology and Education), University of Bremen Key words Didactics of vocational education, design of vocational education, domain specific research in vocational education, applied knowledge, working situation SUMMARY The work-oriented change in the didactics of vocational education (VET) identi- fies ‘significant vocational work situations and the associated work process knowl- edge as the pivotal factor in the design of vocational curricula and processes. What is dramatic about this change of perspective is not merely the departure from academic, discipline-based teaching methods, but also the formulation of vocational teaching methods for VET practice and VET design thatare predicated on development theory. As concerns the structurally oriented method of impart- ing VET, which underwentthis change early on, it is necessary to differentiate the category of knowledge, above all with respect to practical knowledge and prac- tical concepts, and also as a basis for domain-specific VET research. Competence development in vocational curricula and work situations Germany's tradition of discipline-based vocational school curricula is to be replaced by a system which prioritises the work and business process- es characteristic of an occupation as the focus for curricula structured around learning fields (KMK, 1996). The processes formulated as objec- tive requirements here nevertheless lend a subject-related quality to the curriculum at the same time. This is what is significant about the above- mentioned change of perspective. The 'learning field' concept is geared notto a systematic sequence offactual material, butto the idea of a mean- ingful setof relevant vocational work situations which trainees must learn to master increasingly well. Vocationally competent behaviour therefore becomes the subject of learning. By emphasising learning as a subjective process of construction, re- cent discussion of teaching methodology and teaching/learning re- European journal of vocational training - No 40 - 2007/1 - ISSN 1977-0219 Practical knowledge and occupational competence Felix Rauner 53 search have highlighted more clearly than ever before the fundamental difference between knowledge-centred instruction and knowledge as acquired learning (cf. Wittrock, 1990). The pedagogical trends implicitly pursued by the KMK (German Standing Conference of Education Ministers) via the learning field concept corre- spond to theories based on the development of competencies. Vocational curricula can be systematised not only technically but also as a develop- mental process from beginner (novice) to reflective mastery (expert) (cf. Dreyfus; Dreyfus, 1987; Rauner, 1999). F rom a developmenttheory point of view, the objective side - i.e. the one presenting the learning require- ments to the subject - still remains. This reflects the idea of someone being confronted by developmental tasks (Havighurst, 1972; Gruschka, 1985 t 1 )) but not yet having solved them: what a person cannot yet do - for want of the requisite competence - he learns to do by confronting the task, which fosters in him the development of competence. On accountof this developmental/methodological basic model, the concept of develop- mental tasks lends itself particularly well to the structuring of vocational learning processes. We ( 2 ) referto 'paradigmatic' work tasks typical of vo- cational work (Benner, 1997) whenever the work contexts characteristic and typical of an occupation at the same time promote the development of occupational competence. The identification of such tasks presup- poses an analysis of the objective circumstances constituting a given oc- cupation: the artefacts, tools, methods and organisational forms of vo- cational work, as well as the (competing) demands made by vocational work. The most successful way of reconstructing the most important work tasks for the development of occupational competence is on the basis of 'expert workers' workshops' (cf. Norton, 1997; Bremer; Roben, 2001; Kleiner, 2005). The expert workers' accounts of their work, training and projections are arranged in such a way as to match increasing stages of occupa- tional competence development and the formation of occupational iden- tity. Two difficulties which can only be overcome by qualification researchers with a degree of experience should be pointed out in this connection: 1) The identification of work tasks can rapidly stray to the level of abstract abilities which reveal very little aboutvocational expertise and the com- petencies it incorporates. (') Developmental task theory was first taken up in Germany in the college project on course evaluation. Blankertz refers in his introductory contribution to the symposium 'Didactics and identity formation in young people’ (8th DGfE Congress in Regensburg, 1982) to the breadth ofthis approach: 'what I find interesting about the recourse made to Rousseau and Spranger is simply the high value being attached by a subject theory to teaching methods that are ap- propriate to systematic education ata young age, [...] Indeed, syllabuses, textbooks, curric- ular materials and classroom teachers at secondary II level often refer by way of illustration to individual disciplines and industrial technologies, without systematically taking into ac- count the developmental tasks faced by pupils (Blankertz, 1983, p. 141). ( 2 ) 'We’ means a fairly large group of academics who have addressed ourselves in the past few years to the concepts and theories of task orientation in qualification and curriculum research (cf. ITB, 2002). European journal of vocational training 54 No 40 - 2007/1 2) Work tasks which operate with the same artefacts and tools, and more- over superficially appear very similar, often prove to be extremely di- verse in terms of the requisite occupational competence (cf. Stratmann, 1975). Both of these difficulties can be overcome by means of vocationally oriented studies directed at analysing vocational work processes and tasks in situ (Lave; Wenger, 1991, p. 33; Roben, 2005). Interpreting and re-evaluating industrial work processes and tasks therefore means taking into account the interpretation model emerging in the context of commu- nities of practice. Theo Wehner has coined the term local interpretation models' here. These are on the one hand imbued with social significance, but on the other hand they develop only in places where communities of practice operate (Wehner et a I., 1996, p. 79). More specifically, what this means for qualification research is that the researcher must decode the work processes in situ as an interplay of work artefacts, tools and meth- ods, and must decode the work organisation in its functionality, in its gen- esis and structurability as a technological and social process. Figure! Vocational competence development 'from beginner to expert' Practical knowledge and occupational competence Felix Rauner Bremer (2001) refers to the consequences of this fora work-oriented didactics of vocational education. Fora trainee atthe beginning of his vo- cational education, the new tasks and situations mark the start of a devel- opmentof occupational identity and technical competence. This develop- mental process necessitates three elements: (1) vocational learning, (2) vocational work and (3) cooperation at work. Developmental tasks have two didactic functions. First, they are used as an evaluation instrument to demonstrate the formation of occupation- al competence and identity at the (as yet unidentified) critical thresholds of occupational competence development (Bremer; H aasler, 2004). Second, developmental tasks are atthe same time a didactic tool for establishing and designing vocational curricula as well as learning and working tasks for structurally oriented VET (vocational education and training) (cf. Flowe etal., 2001). The five stages of competence development identified by Flubert L. Dreyfus and Stuart E . Dreyfus, and the four corresponding developmen- tal learning areas (Figure 1), have a hypothetical function for the identifi- cation of thresholds and stages in the development of occupational competence and identity; they also have a didactic function in the devel- opment of work-related and structurally oriented vocational courses (Rauner, 2002 ). Expertise research also attaches crucial importance to developmen- tal tasks, or their functional equivalents, for competence development. Regarding the development of occupational competence in nurses, for instance, Patricia Benner notes the paradigmatic significance of work sit- uations in the step-by-step achievement of occupational competence in ac- cordance with Dreyfus and Dreyfus' developmental model. Benner relates these developmental tasks to 'paradigmatic work situations' in the sense of cases which promote the competence of nursing staff (Benner, 1997). Benner and G ruschka favour a change in the empirical access to real learning paths. Blankertz regards this change as dramatic not only owing to the departure from the discipline-based structuring of vocation- al curricula, but also in that competence development is governed by struc- tures of meaning which demand a change of perspective in the trainee: 'he must anticipate his specific occupational role and identify with it - oth- erwise no competence development would be feasible' (Blankertz, 1983, p. 139). Along with the subjectof learning, i.e. the person whose skills are be- ing developed from the level of deficient to competent, the analytical fo- cus is also directed at learning processes beyond the pedagogical and or- ganisational continuum of systematic instruction. The subject learns in sit- uations whose quality becomes crucial to the learning outcomes. In a much more general pedagogical context, Lave and Wenger pointoutthatlearn- ing as a path from inability to ability is accomplished as a process of inte- gration into the community of practice of those who already demonstrate expertise (Lave; Wenger, 1991). 56 European journal of vocational training No 40 - 2007/1 It has taken almost two decades in Germany to translate into didac- tic concepts the impetus generated by the attempt to explain competence development in VET in terms of development theory (cf. Bremer; J agla, 2000; Rauner, 2004). Dimensions of practical knowledge In the context of the change in VET didactics concerning work and work processes, work process knowledge is regarded as a central cate- gory of knowledge: it is knowledge which arises from reflective work ex- perience and is incorporated in practical work. Work process knowledge is a form of knowledge that guides practical work and, as contextualised knowledge, goes far beyond non-contextual theoretical knowledge (cf. Erautetal., 1998). Picking up on the discussion about work process knowledge initiated by Wilfried Kruse (Kruse, 1986), this key category has been identified and explored in numerous research projects as a form of knowledge fundamen- tal to vocational learning (cf. Boreham etal., 2002; Fischer; Rauner, 2002). Work process knowledge can be characterised in an initial approxima- tion as a combination of practical and theoretical knowledge (Figure 2). The European 'Work Process Knowledge' research network bases its investigations into the subject on a working definition whereby work process knowledge is 'knowledge which • is directly necessary in the work process (as opposed for example to discipline-based knowledge; Figure 2: Work process knowledge as a combination of practical and theoretical knowledge and of subjective and objective knowledge Practical knowledge Theoretical knowledge Contextualised and implicit (tacit) Contextualised, guiding action and explicit Context-free, guiding action, academic, justifying action Work process knowledge subjective - knowledge - objective Practical knowledge and occupational competence Felix Rauner • is acquired in the work process itself, e.g. through experiential learn- ing, but does not exclude the application of theoretical knowledge; • encompasses a complete work process, in the sense of designing, planning, performing and assessing one's own work in the context of workplace processes' (Fischer, 2000, p. 36). The category of practical knowledge will now be examined in more de- tail. This is especially crucial for VET, since what is directly at issue here is the relationship between work experience, knowledge and ability. We should refer at this juncture to the current discussion about the founding of a theory of social practice, as put forward for example by Andreas Reckwitz from a sociological perspective. From the point of view of VET research and pedagogy, it is interesting to note Reckwitz's reference to the implicit logic of practice, as expressed for instance in the artefacts of the working world and in the knowledge, interests and functions they rep- resent. According to Reckwitz's theory of practice, practical knowledge com- prises: 1. 'knowledge in the sense of interpretive understanding, i.e. a routine assignment of meaning to objects, persons etc.; 2. methodical knowledge of 'script'-based procedures, or how to perform a series of actions competently; 3. motivational/emotional knowledge: an implicit sense of what one ac- tually wants, what is at stake and what would not be feasible' (Reckwitz, 2003, p. 292). This definition omits a dimension of practical knowledge which is rel- evant to VET research and pedagogy. The materiality of practice, as iden- tified by Reckwitz, for example reduces technical artefacts to the dimen- sion of the technical as a social process, in the theory of practice just as in established technical-sociological research. Curriculum theory requires a broader concept of the technical, encompassing the technical dimen- sion of knowledge itself. In examining paradigmatic work situations and tasks for nurses, Patricia Benner attaches constitutive importance to practical knowledge for occu- pational competence and takes up the cognitive theory positions substan- tiated by Schon in his 'epistemology of practice' (Schon, 1983). The six dimensions of practical knowledge identified by Benner (Benner, 1997) have gained currency in qualification and curriculum research. In qualifi- cation research, Bernd H aasler inter alia bases himself on this category- based framework for practical knowledge and confirms its usability in an empirical analysis of the extentto which manual work can be objectivised (H aasler, 2004). (1) Sensitivity to fine qualitative differences (sensitivity) A distinctive feature of practical vocational work is that, with increas- ing occupational experience, trained professionals develop ever greater sensitivity to fine and extremely fine situative differences in the percep- European journal of vocational training 58 No 40 - 2007/1 tion and mastery of work situations. For example, a competent tool- maker, when removing the protruding parts of steel surfaces that have to be particularly flat, must possess exceptional technical sensitivity go- ing beyond both the theoretical description of the requisite knowledge and expertise and the analysis of flat surface measurements and the machin- ing algorithm to be derived therefrom. Experienced tool-makers are able, without lengthy reflection, to select correctly from thousands of tiny points on the steel surface they are shaving down which ones need to be re- moved, and can do so without being able to articulate the algorithm or rules they apply (Gerds, 2002). (2) Shared understanding (contextuality) Another aspect of practical vocational work is that, with increasing work experience beginning at the VET stage, members of occupational com- munities of practice possess an increasing body of similar and shared ex- periences. Their vocational work tasks are largely identical or similar. The language, stress, social norms and embedding of the specific vocational work in the process of social work constitute occupational traditions which lead to the emergence of comparable patterns of behaviour and appraisals. This ultimately results in an intuitive understanding that goes beyond ver- bal communication, enabling those concerned to work side by side even in very complex work situations without the need for many words (cf. Wehner et al., 1996). (3) Assumptions, expectations and attitudes (situativity) Practical knowledge comprises assumptions and expectations about typical work situations and work procedures. The interplay of experiential assumptions, attitudes and expectations, which leads to perceptual aware- ness (Holzkamp, 1985), on the one hand, and situative behaviour on the other constitutes an extremely fine differentiation of plans for action, go- ing far beyond theory-driven activity. The narration and description of typ- ical work situations initiated in technical discussions serves two purpos- es here: a contextualised account of work activity as an expression of sit- uative assumptions, expectations and attitudes, and the decoding of their genesis. Furthermore, this contextualised access to practical knowledge ultimately makes it possible to differentiate more clearly between explicit and implicit work process knowledge. (4) Paradigmatic work tasks (paradigmaticity) Benner and Wrubel (1982) introduced the term 'paradigmatic cases' for the purposes of their vocationally oriented qualification research in the field of the nursing professions. Paradigmatic work tasks only include ones which are subjectively experienced as especially challenging and objec- tively afford new or additional work experience, but which are at the same time mastered on the basis of previous experience and previous knowl- edge in such a way that prior knowledge makes it possible to create prom- Practical knowledge and occupational competence Felix Rauner 59 ising plans for action. Paradigmatic developmental tasks have an objec- tive side, inasmuch as vocationally oriented qualification research has shown which work tasks are typical of each developmental stage in the occupational progression from beginner to reflective mastery (expert) and whose accomplishment demands or promotes superior and more differ- entiated knowledge. One pre-requisite for curriculum developmentfound- ed on development theory is the identification and analysis of vocational work tasks which have the quality of paradigmatic or developmental tasks. (5) Communication in the community of practice (communicativity) Experts develop highly economic forms of comprehension in a broad spectrum of verbal and non-verbal communication within their communi- ty of practice. The subjective significance of information communicated within a community of practice is largely coherent. The degree of techni- cal understanding lies well above that of communication outside the en- terprise. In vocational work processes it is necessary on the one hand to be extremely precise when using defined concepts, codes, norms and rules, which allow no - or virtually no - scope for subjective interpretation. On the other hand, practical knowledge and occupational competence are reflected in contextualised language and communication whose full sig- nificance is apparent only to members of the community of practice. Access to the practical knowledge of a community of practice presupposes that one understands its language (Becker, 2005). (6) Unpredictable tasks and meta-competence (perspectivity) Practical vocational activity takes place in work situations and contexts whose predictability varies from one occupation to another. New individ- ual and collective practical knowledge arises constantly in such work sit- uations, even though it is not possible to solve the fundamental problem of work situations that are in principle unpredictable. Related to this is a specific form of work-related stress, resulting from what can systematical- ly be described as a knowledge gap (Drescher, 1996, p. 284). Thus work process knowledge is always incomplete knowledge, which is experienced subjectively in the case of unpredictable work tasks and constantly has to be bridged and completed in a given situation. In highly complex networked automated systems there is an additional unknown factor related to con- ditions and causes of faults. Faults of uncertain origin and temporary break- downs make complex networked work systems even less transparent. Mastery of unpredictable work tasks - fundamentally incomplete knowl- edge (knowledge gap) in relation to non-transparent, non-deterministic work situations - is characteristic of practical work process knowledge. Wherever this is a feature of vocational work, meta-competence can be created, namely the ability to cope with the knowledge gap when solving unpredictable tasks and problems in vocational work. The differentiation of the practical knowledge category as a dimension of the work process facilitates research into domain-specific knowledge, European journal of vocational training 60 No 40 - 2007/1 which sheds more light on work process knowledge and in turn also prom- ises to reveal more about the imparting of work process knowledge in or for vocational work processes. However, it provides only a partial answer to the overriding question of whether the loss of actuality of work process knowledge caused by accelerating change in the working world funda- mentally devalues this knowledge as a point of reference for the develop- ment of occupational competence. A widely held popular thesis maintains thattechnical competence is devalued by the loss of actuality ofvocation- al knowledge. Thus the technical dimension is in a sense shifted to a meta- level, where all that matters is to have appropriate access to technical knowledge documented in comfortable media, databases and knowledge management systems. Accessing the 'knowledge' required for specific work tasks - knowledge management- would be sufficient. Technical com- petence would vanish as a form of domain-specific method compe- tence. Yetthis thesis has been rejected by comprehensive studies on the transformation of skilled work and on skill requirements, above all in the field of diagnostic work. Some pertinent vocationally oriented studies, and expertise research too, have confirmed the opposite thesis, namely that the vocational work process knowledge underpinning technical occupa- tional competence has in fact gained in significance (cf. Drescher, 1996; Becker, 2003; Rauner; Spottl, 2002; Gerstenmaier, 2004). VET practice, expertise research and vocationally oriented qualifica- tion research in the field of personal services and industrial work have unanimously concluded that domain-specific (technical) competence is the cornerstone of occupational competence (3). (To the extent that it is possible to put empirical curriculum research back on a firmer footing thanks to domain-specific qualification research, the diffuse formula of key qualifications takes a back seat.) Expertise and qualification research at the same time supports the concept of vocational learning in the context of meaningful work situations and hence the key programmatic idea of a curriculum structured around learning fields. The orientation of vocation- al learning according to (occupational) work and business processes - from a structurally oriented perspective - implies that work activity has a rationality of its own beyond the one-dimensional scientific rationality typ- ical of the discipline-based curriculum. This finding has unleashed anoth- er controversial discussion in VET pedagogy about the connection be- tween discipline-based and casuistic learning (cf. Fischer; Roben, 2004). A widespread pedagogical belief in the specialised nature of vocation- al knowledge ties in with the German Educational Council's requirement thatall training must be academically oriented, and assumes that special- ist academic knowledge is the highest form of systematic knowledge, in which social knowledge is stored. T ade T ramm for instance does not in- ( 3 ) Cf. on this pointthe proceedings of the HGTB and GTW conferences (Pahl; Rauner; Spottl, 2000; Eicker; Petersen, 2001; Petersen; Rauner; Stuber, 2001), Gerstenmaier, 2003 from an expertise research perspective, and Gardner in his substantiation of multiple intelligen- ce theory (2002). Practical knowledge and occupational competence Felix Rauner 61 terpretthe KMK's reference to work and business process orientation in its hand-out on the development of learning fields (KMK, 1996) as a pro- grammatic reference to an extended notion of competence, but links it to the discussion about inductive forms of learning, which in VET are ul- timately always directed at 'opening up access to systematic knowledge and conceptual awareness, and hence moving from the pragmatic con- text to economic insights [in the field of business and administration, F. R .] and interpretations' (T ramm, 2002, p. 58). This assumption, widespread in VET pedagogy, thatdiscipline-based knowledge represents a kind of shadow occupational activity that- in pro- cedural terms - guides occupational expertise, derives from a funda- mental mistaking of categories, as is demonstrated inter alia by Neuweg (2000) and Fischer (2002) (cf. on this pointalso Heritage, 1984, p. 298 ff). Our interim conclusion would therefore be thatthe development of occupational competence occurs in a process of reflective practical ex- perience. According to Schon, the development of occupational compe- tence is based on an extension of the repertoire of individual cases with which the learner is confronted in the developmental process. Schon, how- ever, underestimates here the contribution made by school-centred VET, if it is successful in turning work process knowledge and its communica- tion in activity-oriented forms of learning into the cornerstone of curriculum development and course design. Thatthen means systematising teaching and learning content along developmental lines, since occupational com- petence can only be developed in thatway - and notalong discipline lines. The notions of practical knowledge and 'reflection on and in action' correspond to Klaus Holzkamp's notion of practical concepts (Holzkamp, 1985, p. 226 ff.). He maintains thatthe concepts which people use sub- jectively are basically practical, in that their elements, scope and fields of meaning (i.e. the sum of their elements of meaning and their context) are affected by the individual developmental processes. Scientifically defined concepts, however, represent only a fraction of the elements of meaning of practical concepts and hence determine (occupational) competence to only a very limited extent. Members of different communities of practice have their own domain- specific practical concepts, in which the domain-specific connotations of objects form specific semantic fields (Wehner; Dick, 2001). The semantic fields of practical concepts become blurred at the edges, change their scope with every new experience, are in themselves quite contradictory, and their elements of meaning are often associated with other practical concepts. The significance of individual elements of meaning can only be clarified (in a domain-specific fashion) by taking into accountthe skill pro- file of an occupation. Subjective interpretations of elements of meaning are exposed to a continual process of change, embedded in the process- es of competence development. It is therefore necessary to investigate in more detail whether and how the semantic fields for the same concept overlap in different occupations, how the elements of meaning correspond European journal of vocational training 62 No 40 - 2007/1 to one another and in what way they are linked to other semantic fields. P ractical concepts not only regulate ongoing work activity at a given time; they also underpin communication within and between communities of practice by symbolically representing contextualised circumstances. These processes of forming practical concepts that guide action and facilitate communication in communities of practice take place above all as situ- ated learning. It is the task of technical and vocational didactic research to investigate beginners' prior understanding - or their subjective se- mantic fields for technical concepts - and experts' occupational seman- tic fields for key technical concepts. Only then will it be possible to devise teaching and learning strategies which enable the semantic fields and structures of everyday concepts and theories gradually to be transformed into occupational semantic fields. Conclusions The traditional comparison made in pedagogical discussion between discipline-based and casuistic learning is misleading. The didactic con- cept of activity-led acquisition of discipline-based knowledge is predicat- ed on a scientistic misconception of the relationship between knowledge and competence. The importance of specialised technical curriculum con- tent for the process of developing occupational competence is greatly overestimated. In the area of industrial and technical VET, some elements of the work-related semantic fields are denoted with definitional knowl- edge, even if it is acquired through inductive teaching and learning meth- ods. By contrast, the domain-specific practical concepts (Holzkamp, 1985, p. 266 ff.) acquired in the process of occupational competence develop- ment and the related subjective theories, as well as the understanding of the work process context, serve to guide action. This process cannot be dissociated from that of integrating into the community of practice. Empirical VET research must therefore investigate in a domain- specific fashion, for each profession or occupation, what prior understand- ing and what experiences impacton the relevant vocational concepts and subjective theories of learners. Moving on from there, the steps and stages in the developmental communication of work process knowledge must be explored didactically. To this extent, the developmental systematisation of working and learning situations, e.g. in the form of case-work and proj- ects, is an appropriate form of systematic VET where there is an oppor- tunity to acquire extensive, meaningful and action-guiding concepts and theories, as well as behavioural strategies, embedded in and supported by the process of vocational identity-building. The topicality of this discus- sion arises out of the European project on the introduction of modular cer- tification systems for vocational education as well as the opposite trend internationally towards the re-establishment of dual training models (e.g. in Malaysia, Oman, Italy, Holland and Scotland). Practical knowledge and occupational competence Felix Rauner Bibliography Becker, Matthias. Diagnosearbeitim Kfz-Handwerk als Mensch-Maschine- Problem. 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