Education-line Home Page
Ethan Frome

Situated Learning and 'Re-integration Initiatives' for Young People: Policies and Practices

Round Table conducted by partners in the Re-enter project

convened by Karen Evans (University of Surrey) and Gerald Heidegger (University of Flensburg)

At the European Conference on Educational Research, Lahti, Finland 22-25 September 1999

The session will examine the place of situated learning and effective measures to improve the transitions of school leavers to vocational education and training. It is based on work-in-progress in an EU-funded surveys and analysis programme involving research partners in Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Finland, and England. The focus is the teaching and learning contents and methods applied within re-integration initiatives for young people who leave educational systems (mainly lower secondary education ) without adequate preparation for vocational education and training (VET). The main methodology uses secondary analyses of existing studies, supplemented by a meta-analysis with regard to situated learning and key competences. The outcomes should show examples of practice for European and national planning in this field, including suggestions for practitioners which can be realised immediately in their practical work within these initiatives. In this way the project aims to support educational reform with regard to these initiatives both at the macro level of educational planning and at the micro level of individual initiatives.

All European countries have introduced initiatives to facilitate the 're-entering' of young people into the 'normal' educational and career pathways. These measures have often, in various European countries, shown to be rather ineffective, for similar reasons.

  1. The measures are sometimes neither adequate to the social characteristics of the young people involved nor their social circumstances and experiences.
  2. The measures customarily have a remedial function with respect to 'basic skills', including numeracy and reading/writing. All too often the students experience failure equal to those experienced previously because the teaching/learning arrangements are similar to the ones in school.
  3. The measures very often include courses for training basic manual skills in fields like, for instance, metal or wood work, without making the sense of it comprehensible to the students.

What is missing in many cases is not only a combination of the two last mentioned components, but an integration in the sense of 'situated learning' (Lave, 1998). Research in the field of VET as summarised and analysed with special regard to European comparisons by the Eurotecnet project and by the CEDEFOP project (Kämäräinen and Streumer, 1998), shows the overwhelming importance of an adequate representation of key competences/qualifications or core/key skills, their definition depending on the respective national culture. What is meant here is a rather broad definition which transcends the above mentioned narrow abilities. Within the debate about improving VET, the National Vocational Qualifications adopted for England and Wales, for example, include Communications, Problem–Solving, Improving own Leaning and Performance, Working with Others, Application of Number, and, in addition, Information Technology (Green, 1997). However, for these 'core or key skills'' to be accepted as legitimate by most learners in post-compulsory education it seems necessary that they should be rooted in concrete but rather 'holistic' working tasks (Oates, 1991).

As a consequence of this research, it is proposed that learning as a preparation for VET should better realise these characteristics of 'situated learning'. By the same token communication should be seen as a means of sharing common knowledge and distributing tasks according to personal abilities, by that producing effective teamwork.

The innovative aspect of this project consists in the evaluating reintegration initiatives with respect to these key (core) competence/skills/knowledge in the context of situated learning and the concepts of 'communities of practice'. The difference from other approaches lies in the way a perspective 'backwards' from VET to re-entry initiatives (and even compulsory schooling) is adopted.

A 'Round Table' presentation is proposed at which representatives of the partners will discuss the work-in-progress and interim findings.

This interim paper argues that work-based learning has a valuable part to play in the initial education and training of young people. The view that the broad-based skills required by the future economy can best be delivered through extended schooling and mass higher education ignores the potential of a work-based route. There is a cultural and institutional legacy of work-based training in countries such as Britain and Germany. This form of situated learning potentially plays a part in countering the social and economic exclusion of a growing minority of young people Potential of work-based learning :

The workplace can be a creative and motivating place for learning, if an integrated and holistic approach is taken, enabling young people to combine on- and off the job learning experiences in a way which creates an ‘upwards’ spiral of learning through activity and perception. The concept of a ‘community of practice’ provides a useful model for considering how the different partners who come together in creating the work-based learning experience might complement each other. At the centre of the community are the young people who combine theoretical and practical knowledge with skills. Both workplace and off-job learning are organised in such a way that young people can demonstrate as well as acquire new skills and knowledge, and gain in confidence through demonstrating their potential as workers and learners. The ‘pedagogy of work’ (Unwin and Fuller)is practised in a way which develops meaningful links between learning, production and the organisation of work. This is an expansive approach to situated learning, which incorporates, but goes far beyond , the practice of key (or transferable )skills and encourages the questioning of workplace practices. The main departure from previous approaches is in the move away from predominantly individualistic conceptions which have underpinned policy development in the last decade. The new work-based learning is neither predominantly individualistic in conception nor predominantly collective, but a involves a combination of individual and mutual learning.


Figure 1: Concept Map

Source: Hoffmann B and Evans K Re-enter/Tacit-Key Work in Progress, University of Surrey, UK

Key Skills and Situated Learning

Key (core) skills have played a central part in the debate about improving VET and the work relevance of learning programmes in all sectors of education in the UK. The first major attempt to identify key(core) skills and develop ‘situated’ means of assessing these in work-based learning is recorded in Evans et al 1986, which evaluated the national Government-funded Core Skills Development Programme within the context of youth training schemes.

While core skills necessary to effective work performance could relatively easily be identified (Number, Communication, IT, Problem-Solving and Practical Skills) their assessment was highly problematic, as their existence had to be inferred from situated performance. Attempts to measure levels of performance consistently and with validity produced a byzantine complexity of lists, specifications and formats. Questions surrounding the assumptions of transferability and the conditions for successful transfer were obscured rather than resolved by the repeated attempts to produce measurable specifications. In learning at and through the workplace , the most important questions now focus on the processes, both cognitive and social, which underlie the ability to learn and to transfer skills.

Evaluations of the part played by core skills in Vocational Qualifications have suggested an overemphasis on the mechanics of recording achievement in them, in ways which are sufficiently reliable and consistent for formal accreditation, may obscure their powerful function as diagnostic and developmental tools. Simple recording/profiling of key skills as a means of identifying scope for further practice and development can be used as a means of continuous enhancement of work performance at all levels. They apply from school leaver to senior professional, such is their pervasive nature.

Evidence does support the shift towards more holistic approaches to learning and assessment : For example, Soden (1993) showed that, in the keyskill area of problem solving, that ‘good problem solvers have internal representations of fundamental principles relevant to their occupational area and these representations are connected to each other and to broader relevant knowledge.’ (p12) . This and similar evidence has supported a re-emphasise on the theoretical knowledge-based aspects of learning in the development of occupational competence. The reflexive nature of learning extends beyond occupational competence. Dalin's (1984) examples of an LBP( Learning By Participation) model in action proposed a cycle of learning for school leavers which has considerable resonances with the situated learning approach, in the place it gives to conceptualisation and the development of theoretical understanding, in the cycle of doing, reflecting, learning and doing again.

There is direct work relevance as well as good pedagogical reasons for using a group basis for project work and action learning given the prevalence of team and group working in contemporary workplaces and its significance in many life and work situations. While assessment methods for collaborative group activities continue to be underdeveloped, there is much scope for the promotion of key skills through mutual learning and group work. In transitional programmes for school leavers, group work linked to experience and activity can be a powerful motivator, as some community programmes and outdoor education schemes have shown. For these effects to be sustained, these experiences need to be built into the long-term programmes with consistency in the approaches to competence and wider aspects of social learning adopted.

Essential components and criteria for programmes

Analysis of evidence in relation to the principles and desired functions outlined above suggests the following criteria, which are offered for discussion in relation to the contrasting national contexts:

Conditions for success: structures /regulations


BLOOMER, M. and HODKINSON, P (1996). The Experience of the Learner in FE. Unpublished report to the Further Education Development Agency.

EVANS, K. (1998). 'Shaping Futures: Learning for Competence and Citizenship’ Ashgate, Aldershot ( ISBN 1 85628 973 7) (see also British Journal of Education and Work, Vol. 8No.1, pp. 14-27.)

EVANS K, HODKINSON P, KEEP E, MAQUIRE M, RAFFE D, RAINBIRD H, SENKER P and UNWIN L (1999) Working to Learn, Institute of Personnel and Development, London.

FULLER, A. and UNWIN, L. (1 996). 'Reconceptualising the Work-Based Route: the potential of the Modern Apprenticeship'. Paper presented to the inaugural conference of the Work and Learning Network, 14 November, Division of Education, University of Sheffield.

KEEP, E. and MAYHEW, K. (1996). 'Evaluating the assumptions that underlie training policy' in A. Booth and D. J. Snower (eds), Acquiring Skills. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 305-334.

LAVE, J. (1991) 'Situated Learning in Communities of Practice' in Resnick, L., Levine, J. and Behrend, S. (eds) Perspectives on Socially Shared Cognition. Washington DC, American Psychological Association.

RAFFE, David and SURRIDGE, Paula (1995). More of the Same? Participation of 16-18-Year-Olds in Education, (New Series) No. 6. National Commission on Education, London.

UNWIN, L. and WELLINGTON, J. (1995) Young People's Experiences of Modern Apprenticeship. Sheffield, report to the Department of Education and Employment.

Additional Bibliography

de Jong J (1992) Structured on the job training in the Netherlands. In T Plomb, J Pieters and A Feteris (eds). European Conference on Educational Research, Enschede: University of Twente.

Simons R-J (1990) Transfer-ability (Inaugural Lecture), Nijmegen: Quick Print.

Brown A (1994) Review of the characteristics of effective learning programmes for the development of occupational competence, Guildford: University of Surrey.

Engstroem Y (1994) Training for a change: new approach to instruction and learning, Geneva:ILO.

Heidegger G and Rauner F (1989) Berufe 2000. Berufliche Bildung fuer die industrielle Produktion der Zukunft. [Jobs in 2000: Occupational knowledge for industrial production in the future], Duesseldorf: Ministry of Employment, Health and Social Affairs North-Rhine Westphalia.

Achtenhagen F (1992) How should research on vocational and professional education react to new challenges in life and in the worksite? In T Plomb, J Pieters and A Feteris (eds) European Conference on Educational Research, Enschede: University of Twente.

Landa L (1984) How do we teach novices to perform at expert level, Contemporary Educational Psychology, 9,3, 235-245.

Soden R (1993) Teaching thinking skills in vocational education, Sheffield: Employment Department.

Blagg N, Ballinger M and Lewis R (1993) Development of transferable skills in learners, Sheffield: Employment Department.

ANNEX 1: Evans K and Hoffmann B, ECER, Lahti Sept 1999

Situated Learning and Communities of Practice:

Situated learning is a stance holding that enquiries into learning and cognition must take serious account of social interaction and physical activity. A unifying concept emerging from situated learning research is "communities of practice"--the idea that learning is constituted through the sharing of purposeful, patterned activity (Lave & Wenger, 1989). This idea stresses "practice" and "community" equally. Knowledge is seen as practical capability for doing and making. As a consequence, learning is seen as a capability for increased participation in communally experienced situations. Lave & Wenger situate learning in certain forms of social coparticipation (rather than defining it as the acquisition of propositional knowledge).

Learning "is embedded in a cultural-social context of everyday activities, implying, among other things that human learning as well as thinking and acting cannot be separated from its context. Learning always takes place in relation to people and their contexts" (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Learning is always socially situated and depending on people participating in different kinds of activities, which leads to a multi-contextual view of learning, and according to this view, the importance to have access to learning situations and interactions cannot be under-estimated and defines the concept of learning potential.


Learning, so Brown et. al (1989) argues is a process of enculturation: "The activities of a domain are enframed by its culture. Their meaning and purpose are socially constructed through negotiations amongst present and past members. Activities thus cohere in a way that is, in theory, if not always in practice, accessible to members who move within this social framework. These coherent, meaningful, and purposeful activities, then, are most simple defined as the ordinary practices of a culture." (Brown et. al, 1989; 25).


This document was added to the Education-line database on 17 December 1999