Dual Qualifications
Key issue
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Higher order learning skills

Discussion of the DUOQUAL Partnership in Flensburg, 8 October 1999
Chair: Stamatis Paleocrassas
Notes: Elly de Bruijn
(see also discussion on this issue at the topic workshop in Lisbon, 26 November 1999)

Starting point
Final note

Starting point 

For starting the discussion, Stamatis presents a classification (one of the many) of core thinking skills for knowledge-based labour markets:

Core thinking skills

Focusing Skills
Defining problems
Setting goals

Information Gathering Skills
Formulating questions

Remembering Skills

Organising Skills

Analysing Skills
Identifying attributes and components
Identifying relationships and patterns
Identifying main ideas
Identifying errors

Generating Skills

Integrating Skills

Evaluating Skills
Establishing criteria

Source: R. J. Marzano et al

These higher order generic skills seem to be more and more important for the 21st century and their development in school-based learning environments will require instructional designs, which are based on cognitive psychology (Dewey, Piaget and «constructivism»). Curricular models and pedagogical strategies have to be transformed in order for students to acquire these skills.  Key features in such models would be:

  • the use of learning-centred learning methods instead of teaching-centred learning methods;
  • a focus on constructing knowledge by students (knowledge is constructed and reconstructed for learning to take place): students should be engaged actively, exploratively and constructively with  subject matters;
  • contents are no longer at the centre of the learning process but play a secondary role; according to the concept of `situated learning’ context takes over this central role (see diagram below); problem solving in various contexts and learning how to learn and using knowledge become more important goals.
Higher Order Learning Model: 
Bringing cognitive events into relation with the technical activity

Instructional strategies

Process functions  ------------------------------------------> Technical activity

Specific content

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Following these introductory remarks on the higher order learning concept there was open discussion:

Stamatis: Maybe we can learn from the pilot projects on dual qualifications in Austria and Germany how educational environments and processes, which focus on higher order learning skills, look like. For instance, in Austria soft skills are integrated in the curriculum. Also, high achievers might be more attracted by training which emphasizes the acquiring of higher order learning skills. One of the problems in implementing new curricular models, transforming educational processes, are the competencies of the teachers. They know their subject but they do not know how to motivate students in learning to learn, problem solving, etc.

Monika:  In fact, apprenticeship training operates on the basis of `learning by doing’. Many aspects of the constructivist paradigm present in apprenticeship training, such as learning within authentic contexts, to a certain extent may focus on problem solving, on learning instead of teaching. Trainers have a `natural way’ in guiding this learning for apprentices. In courses for trainers there is no special attention for the `constructivist way’ of learning and guiding and the importance of acquiring higher order learning skills. The general feeling is «if you tell them, they will loose their natural way of guiding trainees in this respect». 

Elly: Classical apprenticeship does not cover for all essential elements of the constructivism. One aspect is indeed the active way of learning by students, a constructivist way of learning. The other feature of these learning processes is a reflective way of learning, articulating of learning processes and outcomes, integrating `new’ knowledge to `old’, transferring to other contexts, abstracting from specific contexts. Only both aspects together make learning processes that are aiming at acquiring higher order learning skills. Collins, Brown & Newman define this as `cognitive apprenticeship’. 
Research in the Netherlands focusing on long mbo/ BOL 4 courses which try to implement a problem solving approach, show that in particular the latter aspect –a reflective way of learning- is lacking, whereas implementing the first aspect – a constructive way of learning- is more often a success.

Knud: In Denmark  we developed a training course for teachers to learn how to teach/guide within curricular models which focus on problem solving. The teachers in training actually engaged in a progression of problem solving learning/teaching situations. This meant a radical change in teachers’ identity. In fact some teachers suffered of severe identity crisis. This shows how problematic and radical the transformation is. 

Teresa: We are talking about a mass transition. Constructivism is not a new paradigm. We did not succeed for a century to implement it, to translate it into a curriculum. The question is how to integrate the various sources of knowledge (for instance Internet), how to integrate contents, skills and to organise this in a curriculum.

Gerald: The idea of taking the concept of `workprocess knowledge’ as the leading principle of organising learning and teaching also means more attention to learning within contexts instead of working through a book of contents. Nation-wide comparability of the qualifications acquired remains important. So tests/exams are required. A radical change of educational concepts will then also be a problem because of the nature of tests and exams. Tests/exams focus on contents very much and thus will be a huge obstacle.

Petr: The question is as old as pedagogy itself. Every time new issues are raised we wonder which subject matters are the most relevant. The real problem, however, is separation between general and vocational subjects.  General subjects which are relevant for vocational education deal with basic  knowledge which is useful in applied subjects. These subjects and their corresponding knowledge should be connected to each other. Teachers must work together. 

Claudia: The classification of Stamatis and the discussion till now tend to define higher order skills as cognitive. However, we must not forget the emotional aspect, social competence is very important. Social competencies are even more difficult to assess, to evaluate.

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From the discussion that followed the two main obstacles for a radical change of the teaching-learning process in order to focus on the acquisition of higher order learning skills were defined in the following terms:

# One major obstacle is the content and format of tests and examinations. Traditional tests focus on content. Assessing higher order skills, problem solving takes tests/ exams that focus both on declarative knowledge (why and what) and procedural knowledge (how and when). Assessment should then concentrate on outcomes or rather competencies. There are only few examples of such kind of evaluation. Within the apprenticeship systems testing means practical performance, but real problem solving  seldom is being assessed. A possible example is using a logbook during the learning process; the student has to articulate learning routes, learning outcomes, decision making, reflections, etc. Another example is an examination method in which students must do the exam/test at home and are asked to reflect upon this (reflecting is the real exam).

# The other main obstacle is the teacher. The teacher has to change into a trainer and a teacher is very reluctant to change. A 'constructivistic' and reflective way of teaching and learning asks in fact for a identity change. In several countries there have been training courses for teachers to learn how to be competent trainers from a 'constructivistic' perspective. In many cases change was only minor and in some cases teachers suffered from identity crisis.

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Final note 

In the Norwegian case study for the project INTEQUAL students' attitudes about learning were discussed. 40 answered an open ended questionnaire (two schools), but also respondents from a third school showed about the same results: One student stated very clearly her preference for  teachers lecturing, the rest were positive about project work. Disagreements were about the number of projects, most said two or more would be fine. 
    Their awareness about what and how they learned, clearly matured from the first project to the second, reporting learning outcomes like cooperation, listening, planning, managing, sharing, taking responsibility, etc., but also composing, searching for information, developing a product, scanning etc. Students commented on other methods as being motivating, like ordinary group work, problem-based work in class, discussions, dialogs, working with tasks individually and getting responses from teachers and others. The 'core group' (28 students) were also clear about how they best learned techniques and skills: by doing exercises and being tutored by teachers. 

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 First set up 08/12/1999
Latest update: 24/04/2000
 Contact: Sabine Manning