Learning at work in Higher Vocational Education

  • Kerstin Littke Centre for Vocational Knowledge and Skills, Faculty of Education, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Per-Olof Thång Centre for Vocational Knowledge and Skills, Faculty of Education, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Keywords: vocational education, higher vocational education, learning in work life, post-secondary education, quality assessment


Higher vocational training (HVE) is a new form of post-secondary education that was introduced in 2009 in Sweden. The aim for HVE is to address the demands of a highly skilled Swedish workforce. Compared to other forms of adult and higher education it is less institutionalized and, based on Swedish standards, gives great opportunities for the provider to decide regarding the contents and design. The purpose of this study was to analyze a) the quality of the course, Learning at Work (LIA), and (b) to develop instruments and indicators to explore the quality of the student learning in working life as part of HVE. The design of research instruments was based on hypotheses to uncover the background, the learning process and effect parameters In LIA offered at 12 different HVE sites in Sweden within the areas of health care, computer science, technology and business administration. The survey data of forty-two students and thirty-six workplace supervisors were analyzed. The results of the study show that the quality of the learning at work (LIA) varies considerably between different programs and different students. In most programs, it has a significant development potential. A well-functioning LIA is characterized by adequate learning content, an open work climate between colleagues, accuracy and dedication, frequent supervisor feedback, and regular communication between the Program Director and the supervisors. It is important that the educational provider requires workplaces with capacity to offer the students relevant and qualified work content. LIA should offer qualified work content providing knowledge of breadth and depth. Knowledge gained from school-based training should be challenged and must achieve curriculum goals. An important finding is the lack of definitions and criteria for quality, and the risk of quality differences between educational providers. Another significant problem identified in the study is the unclear division of responsibilities between the educational provider and the partner from the world of work. Most of the supervisors, who were skilled workers or professionals, had a fragmentary understanding of HVE. They gave instructions, but did not stimulate their students to reflect theoretically on what they learned during LIA. Integration between school-based learning and experience of work life was limited. There was a shortage of instruments for assessing the quality of what was taught in the workplace. A large proportion (75 %) of the students was employed soon after graduation. For those who did not, their skills run the risk of rapidly becoming obsolete.


Achtenhagen, F. & Thång, P-O. (2002). Transferability, Flexibility and Mobility as Targets of Vocational Education and Training. Der Georg-August-Universität. Göttingen.

Adler, P. S. (2013). Den dynamiska interaktionen mellan kodifierad och icke-kodifierad kunskap. Göteborg: Tankeverksamheten.

Akkerman, S. F. & Bakker, A. (2011). Boundary Crossing and Boundary Objects. Review of Educational Research, 2011, 81:132. DOI: 10.3102/0034654311404435

Akkerman, S. F. & Bakker, A. (2012). Crossing boundaries between school and work during apprenticeships.
Vocations and Learning, 5, 153-173. DOI: 10.1007/s12186-011-9073-6.

Andersson, P. & Köpsén, S. (2010). Becoming Adult Educators in the European Area. National report
– Sweden. Department of behavioural sciences and learning, Linköping University, March 2010.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-Efficacy. The Exercise of Control. NewYork: W. H. Freeman and Company.

Boud, D. & Garrick, J. (Eds). Understanding and Learning at work. (1999). London & New York: Routledge.

Billet, S. (2006). Constituting the workplace curriculum. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 38:1, 31-48. DOI: 10.1080/00220270500153781

Billett, S. (2011). Workplace curriculum: practice and propositions. In Dorchy, F. & Gijbels, D. Theories of Learning for the Workplace, Routledge, London (pp.17-36).

Billet, S. & Sommerville, (2004).Transformations at work: identity and learning. Studies in continuing education. 26 (2): 209-326. DOI: 10.1080/158037042000225272

Broberg, Å. (2014). Utbildning på gränsen mellan skola och arbete. Pedagogisk förändring i svensk yrkesutbildning 1918-1971. Akademisk avhandling, Stockholms universitet, Institutionen för pedagogik och didaktik 31.

Brodie, P. & Irving, K. (2007). Assessment in work based learning: investigating a pedagogical approach to enhance student learning. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 32, no. 1:11-19. DOI: 10.1080/02602930600848218

Endedijk, M. D. & Bronkhorst, L. H. (2014). Students ́learning Activities Within and Between the Contexts of Education and Work.Vocations and Learning. DOI: 10.1007/s12186-014-9116-x.

Engeström, Y. (1987). Learning by Expanding: An Activity Theoretical Approach to Developmental Research. Helsinki:
Orienta-Konsultit. Ak. avh.

Eraut, M. (2004). InformalLearning in the workplace. Studies in Continuing Education. Vol. 26, No. 2, July 2004. DOI: 10.1080/158037042000225245

Forsberg, E. & Lindberg, V. (2010). Svensk forskning om bedömning: en kartläggning. Vetenskapsrådets rapportserie,

Fransson, A. (1978). Att rädas prov och att vilja veta. Göteborg Studies in Educational Sciences, no 24. Akademisk avhandling, Göteborgs universitet.

Garraway, J. (2010). Knowledge boundaries and boundary-crossing in the design of work-responsive university curricula.Teaching in Higher Education15 (2): 215-226. DOI: 10.1080/13562511003620035

Gee, J., Hull, G. & Lankshear, C. (1996). The new work order: behind the language of the new capitalism.

Griffiths T, Guile D. (2001). Learning through work experience. Journal of Education and Work. 2001; 14(1):113-131. DOI: 10.1080/13639080020028738

Jarvis, P., Holford, J., Griffin, C. (2003). The Theory and Practice of Learning. 2nd edition. London och Sterling VA: Kogan Page.

Kelly, G. A. (1955) The Psychology of Personal Constructs. New York, US: Norton.

Kemmis, S. & Grootenboer, P. (2008). Situating practice. In: Kemmis, S. & Smith, T. Enabling praxis: Challenges for education, Amsterdam: SENSE.

Kilbrink, N. (2013). Lära för framtiden. Transfer I teknisk yrkesutbildning. Akademisk avhandling. Karlstads universitet 2013:4.

Köpsén, S. (2014). How vocational teachers describe their vocational identity. Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 66:2, 194-211. DOI: 10.1080/13636820.2014.894554

Köpsén, S. & Nyström, S. (2012). Learning in practice for becoming a professional forensic expert. Forensic Science International, 222 (2012), 208-215. DOI: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2012.05.026

Lander, R. (1996). Djupa och ytliga studiemönster. Elevers förhållningssätt till studieuppgifter som
kvalitetsindik atorer. Pedagogisk forskning i Sverige, Årg. 1, Nr 4, s 211-229.

Lander, R. (2002). Professional cooperation around self-related measurements in school indicator instruments.
Journal of Classroom Interaction, Vol 37, No 2, pp 27-36.

Littke, K., Faurschou, K. & Thång, P-O. (2013) Lärande I arbete. En katalysator för yrkeskunnande. Tematisk kvalitetsgranskning 2013; Myndigheten för Yrkeshögskolan.

Luff, P., Hindmarsh, J. & Heath, C. Eds. (2000). Workplace Studies: Recovering Work Practice and Informing Systems Design. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511628122

Mezirow, J (1997). Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice. In Cranton (Ed.). New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. Transformative Learning in Action: Insights from Practice. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.

Munby, H., Zanibbi, M., Poth, C-A., Hutchinson, N. L., Chin, P. & Thornton, A. (2007). Enhancing Workplace Learning for Adolescents: The Use of Metacognitive Instruction. Education & Training, v49 n1, 8-24. DOI: 10.1108/00400910710729848

Gustafsson, J. & Thång, P-O. (2015 in progress)

OECD (2008). Malgorzata, K., Field, S., Hoffman, N. & Wolter, S. Learning for Jobs. OECD Reviews of Vocational Education and Training. Paris: OECD.

Prop. 2008/09:68. Yrkeshögskolan. Ministry of Education. Stockholm.

Raelin, J. A. (2008). Worked-based Learning. Bridging Knowledge and Action in the Workplace. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Raffe, D. (2008). The concept of transition system. Journal of Education and Work. Vol. 21, No 4 277-296. DOI: 10.1080/13639080802360952

Report K 2013:01 Skolinspektionen. (The Swedish School Inspectorate)

Schön, D. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner. How Professionals Think in Action. Jossey-Bass.

Swedish Schools Inspectorate (2013). Report K-2013:01. Stockholm.

Theliander, J., Grundén, K., Mårdén, B. & Thång, P-O. (2004). Arbetsintegrerat lärande. Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Thång, P-O. (2004). Om arbetsintegrerat lärande. I: Theliander, J., Grundén, K., Mårdén, B. & Thång, P-O. (2004).
Arbetsintegrerat lärande . Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Thång, P-O. (2006). Arbetslivetspedagogik. I: Holmer, J. & Simonson, B. Forskning om arbete. Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Tuomi-Gröhn, T. & Engeström, Y. (2003). Eds. Between school and work: New perspectives on transfer and boundary crossing. Amsterdam: Pergamon.

Unwin, L., Felstead, A. & Fuller, A. (2007). www.niace.org.uk/lifelonglearninginquiry.

Wahlgren, B., Hoyrup, S., Pedersen, K. & Ratleff. P. (2002). Reflektion og læring. Kompetanceutvikling i arbejdslivet. Fredriksberg: Samfundslitteratur.

Wahlgren, B. & Aarkrog, V. (2012). Transfer. Kompetance i en professionell sammenhæng. Aarhus universitetsforlag.

White, R. W. (1959). Motivation reconsidered: The concept of competence. Psychological Review, 1959, 66. DOI: 10.1037/h0040934

How to Cite
Littke, K., & Thång, P.-O. (2015). Learning at work in Higher Vocational Education. Nordic Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 5(1), 1-17. https://doi.org/10.3384/njvet.2242-458X.15v5i1a3
Peer-reviewed research articles