The Concept of “Homework” in Vocational Education

Kirra Smeaton Education, Flipped Learning, Vocational Education 0 Comments

The very thought of the word ‘homework’ makes most people cringe. It conjures up images of people of all ages burdened with piles of work that they must carry home and complete or face the consequences! But this word, that has followed me since my school days, is here to stay. Or is it? We still have homework in schools today – we carry work home with us from the office or when we undertake a course of study in higher education. As a trainer in the VET space, my learners (mostly professional adults) are also leaving with homework.

I know it isn’t ideal to be slapping yet another pile of homework on a person who already has stacks of their own work to complete.

If your schedule is anything like mine, then the chores seem to never end. If it’s not the day job (or shift work), then most are familiar with the routine of family commitments, kids, house work, errands, cleaning, cooking, paying the bills, networking, keeping up appearances, and the list goes on! I was advised to not further burden my adult learners with any more work in their already busy lifestyles by assigning them homework.

Since I run business communication and ESL focused short courses, my aim has always been to make the sessions really interactive and engaging and include a lot of practice. However, I have noticed that no matter how good and engaging the session, learners still need to continue practicing in order to work on their speech. Most of my learners have an ESL background, so practice is a very important part of their routine in order to improve pronunciation and articulation. There is no quick fix formula to improving spoken English. There will rarely be an improvement in language, unless regular practice outside the classroom forms a big part of the learning process.

I notice that my learners pick up the correct pronunciation in class, but once home they slip back to their original pronunciation as there is no one to correct them. Many learners have themselves seen the need for practice and have time and again inquired about what other measures they can take to improve their English. To address this need, I started giving my learners some weekly tasks to work on their English, to support the learning, and build consistency via regular practice. I was also shifting some responsibility on to the learners to work on their English outside of the training sessions. Some of these tasks included sentence construction, writing a dialogue using idioms, metaphors or phrasal verbs, practicing tongue twisters, limericks and speeches. Some of these were done via a tape recording of learners speaking, and via observations of the improvements made each week; other methods included Skype chats and role-play of dialogues with each other. I have noticed the improvements in spoken English for those learners that do practice. They ask more questions, and have become more self-aware of errors in their speech or what needs further improvement. They also want to keep practicing outside of the classroom.

So if, as I have observed, there are obvious benefits in homework and practice for vocational education and training, which show in assessments and learning, why do we still have the following questions:

1) Why is there is an aversion to the very mention of the word homework in the VET space?
2) What does homework really mean in the VET sector?
3) Is homework just the assignments, assessments, questions and answers from our learning, or a combination of any study and learning task we carry home with us?
4) Isn’t our learning environment today all about collaboration, practicality, flexibility and mobility? Does this mean that learners are not supposed to bring home any tasks with them from school, university or the workplace? Maybe the choice of the words ‘home work’ is inappropriate and we need to reconsider our choice of words.

Perhaps we should re-label, re-brand and describe vocational homework as one or all of the following words:

  • Additional learning
  • Self-work
  • Practice
  • Learning tasks
  • Learning methodology
  • Self-commitment.

The point I make is this – in order to complete the learning cycle, what a learner puts in to their own learning is their ‘homework’. It is the learning time you spend outside of work, the classroom, or the training sessions towards building your own learning.

If we consider the 70:20:10 model of learning, then we know that 70% of our learning actually comes from ‘self-learning’.

This learning and development model defines that our learning is comprised of:

70% – Informal, on the job, experience and practice-based learning
20% – Coaching, mentoring and development via others
10% – Structured workshops and formal learning methods.

So if what we retain most is the learning from the ‘doing’ then it looks like homework is here to stay. In saying this however, my definition of homework is not the traditional sitting and writing or typing up of answers to questions, essays and other assessments. If homework has a zero element of interactivity, collaboration and creativity, it will fail in engaging the learner. Social networking elements, gamification and collaborative features of learning offer a diversified experience in the learning process. Learning should include the creative aspects to learning, to write, speak, research, share, seek help and have debate. Any learner should possess the ability to create a piece of work that includes written text, books, videos, graphics, and links and also collaborate with others. So the learning will need to offer a technologically advanced model that is not only online, but also mobile. The accessibility to information, sharing and gathering must be easy, diverse and ubiquitous.

Ultimately, I would like to see the definition of homework change to SELF LEARNING. It is the ‘doing’ outside the educational facility (RTOs), training room or workplace that the learner undertakes to further enhance their learning or maybe to really learn. As Oscar Wilde puts it ‘nothing that is worth knowing, can be taught’. What the 70:20:10 above reflects is the need to be aware and conscious of the ‘how’ in the learning process.

Having a traditional approach to the learning process won’t necessarily provide the learner the outcome they are looking for, and learning will be perceived to be a chore. To address diversity in learner profiles, a good pedagogy will offer a smorgasbord approach. The higher the creativity, the more blended the approach, the greater the chance is of attaining student engagement and outcomes.

Each course of vocational study is of course unique, and requires individualised focus on the methods for generating maximum learner impact. There are valuable methodologies for assessments and measuring competence. Design principles can use constructive features and elements to provide an experiential learning contribution to the learning. The solutions need to be customised to each learning unit, subject or module and contextualised to suit the audience.

Lastly, in today’s climate of student-centred learning, the art of learning is more focused on the learner’s own total commitment and approach to their study. The RTO trainer/teacher is there to guide and set you on a path, with the onus is on the learner as to how much additional time they are prepared to put into the process of acquiring a particular skill.

Written by Jacqueline Xavier, a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment qualified free lance Trainer and Facilitator, delivering short courses at the Centre for Adult Education (CAE) in Melbourne CBD, as well as corporate training, focusing on business communication, ESL, sales, customer relationship management and Hindi language training.

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