Transferring knowledge and skills

I have almost completed my updated Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (TAE40116) and it’s been an interesting experience. In my professional life I teach adults all the time, in clinical education and in the SES (emergency services). What fascinated me was the common ground between a) workplace education and training, b) higher education via the tertiary sector, and c) training in the VET sector. It was ostensibly for the latter that I undertook the Cert IV TAE. Every one of the three streams used the principles of adult learning, but in a different way, and it appears that teachers at each level regard their approach as ‘the correct way’. Being involved in all of them, I can see that the principles are always the principles, and learning occurs pretty much the same way any time adults are involved.

The Australian Qualifications Framework gives tertiary qualifications a higher number than VET qualifications, which could be interpreted as giving them greater value or worth. They can certainly cost more! The funny thing is that my Graduate Certificate in Clinical Education (AQF level 8) cost significantly more but was a lot easier to gain than my Cert IV in Training and Assessment (AQF level 4). Maybe this was due to my high level of familiarity with tertiary study, as the GCCE was my fifth tertiary qualification. I would have thought that my level 8 skills and knowledge would be easily transferred to a level 4 course, and was unpleasantly surprised to find it difficult. This started me thinking about why this would be.

I think it comes down to transfer of skills and knowledge from one domain or ‘life jurisdiction’ to another. A cooking analogy is one I use a lot, so let’s try it here. Say a person was an excellent pastry cook, and could turn out the most amazing cakes and slices seemingly without effort. Then they are asked to bake some bread rolls while the usual baker is away, and the result is significantly less appealing. After a few attempts, they get better at it, but everyone breathes a sigh of relief when the regular baker returns. In working towards my Cert IV qualification, I found myself trying to use cake baking principles to make bread, and being frustrated with the results. For example, I often had to resubmit assignments when my responses completely missed the point. I consistently over-thought the questions and answered them as it they were Masters degree questions (level 9). Sometimes I was frustrated by the way questions were worded, when I could see a lot of nuance and room for differing interpretations, meaning I was unsure how to answer them.

Does this mean that tertiary education skills and knowledge are not useful in or even a barrier to pursuing vocational education and qualifications? I certainly hope not! That would tend to invalidate one of my core beliefs that no education is wasted. In my case, the required step was to contextualise what I already knew from tertiary study and professional experience so it could be applied to vocational learning. It’s not that easy for a student comfortable with studying in a level 9 course to apply themselves to study effectively in a level 4 course. The trick for me was to remember that I was in a level 4 course, and to adjust my thinking and learning approach to suit. Once I did this, I was able to relax and enjoy what turned out to be a fun and useful course. I suspect my teachers found it less stressful too once I put aside the Masters thesis level thinking and stopped over-analysing everything.

One final question. Do we need to do thinking at all at the level of a Master’s degree or a PhD? Refer back to my core belief – no education is wasted. No, we don’t need to, nor should we, always think at levels 9 and 10. However, there are times when that is just what is required to solve a vexing problem or change the course of history. The rest of the time, we just need to apply the right amount of thinking for the circumstances. How much is the right amount, you ask? I have no idea, but one thing I can tell you is that going back to the recipe (training plan, learning outcomes) will help keep you on track.

In the end, I was able to transfer enough skills and knowledge from my Bachelor degree, two Graduate Certificates, two Master’s degrees, and professional experience as an adult educator towards my Cert IV studies. Even better, what I have learned in my Cert IV studies has already begun to impact on my work as an adult educator in the area of clinical learning. The disciplined structure and focus of training and assessment in the VET sector contains many lessons for those who also play in tertiary education and workplace learning. Even if you don’t work for an RTO (registered training organisation), undertaking the Cert IV TAE40116 will make you a better adult educator. That alone is worth the frustration and high cognitive load of trying to repurpose your thinking from what it is now to what it could be.

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