Noted VET research Professor Stephen Billett shines a light on the way VET can play an important part in enabling individuals’ life pathways.

It embraces the idea of personal curriculums. Don’t know what that means? Read on!

The project

The presentation at NCVER’s recent No frills conference reports on an Australian Research Council funded project that has mapped 30 workers’ ‘work life’ histories has sought to identify the transitions they negotiated across their working lives; the changes initiated and addressed in those transitions; and the learning required to negotiate them.

Personal curricula are shaped by a combination of their own personal capacities, interests and intentionalities and their ‘Education’, that is: their access to, quality of and outcomes of educative experiences and their community.

What is this research telling us?

Stephen is arguing for the importance of thinking about ‘personal curriculums’ as a notion of an individual’s pathway through life. They represent “the totality of activities and interactions constituting individuals’ progression along their lifelong learning pathways.” They are shaped by “experiences afforded through education institutions, workplaces and communities, and selectively engaged with and appropriated by individuals.”

He points out that curricula may be categorised by what was intended and what happened, but it is the experienced curriculum that really matters: that is: it requires that we understand and engage with learners’ readiness, capacities and interests to actually learn.

The research found that the “changes that initiate, shape, and represent work life challenges” are principally associated with personal/lifestyle and occupational changes. Less significant, but still important, is employment status.

To successfully negotiate these changes five key areas of learning are required: (1) new language and literacy, (2) understanding cultural practices, that is “knowing the norms, forms and practices associated with political, social, or educational systems, institutional, and occupational requirements.” Third, the world of work needs to be understood. Stephen argues that this involves individuals understanding “the requirements for engaging paid employment, e.g. productive, dependable, reliable, working with others, solving problems, responsive to employer, clients etc.” You know, the soft skill stuff!!

Naturally, people also need occupational skills (4): the “capacities to effective practice occupations individuals are employed in or seeking employment” and finally (5) the ability to learn about work life through “Work life engagement”. This “involves individuals’ responses to, and engagement in, work as their circumstances change or are changed.”

So, what does this mean for VET?

Amongst other things, Stephen argues that “program designs [needs to] go beyond being ‘ends in themselves’, but account more for learners’ earlier and subsequent trajectories.” In addition, there needs to be more of a focus on developing adaptability, and a better alignment between the VET programs’ designers/sponsors and students’ actual intentions.

In enacting this, Stephen suggests (1) a greater need to provide counselling and guidance before and after their studies, (2) emphasising engagements outside of educational programs and institutions, and (3) using curriculum and pedagogic practices that generate adaptability. He also suggests that there is a need to privilege educative experiences over educational imperatives.

And so, he suggests personal curricula are important because: (1) “knowing individuals’ developmental pathways informs how communities, workplaces and governments can afford guidance, support and interventions; (2) existing conceptions of curriculum cannot capture or inform lifespan development, including adults’ transitions across working lives; and (3) there needs to be a shift in focus from privileging educational provisions to emphasize individuals’ engagement with those provisions and community across working lives.”