Author(s):Gabriela Höhns (presenting)

Conference:ECER 2016, Leading Education: The Distinct Contributions of Educational Research and Researchers

Network:02. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)


Session Information

02 SES 11 B, VET: Linking with the World of Work

Paper Session


Room:Vet-Theatre 115

Chair:Margaret Eleanor Malloch


A Typification of Relations between In-Company Training and the Outside World of Work

Educational success for all children highly concerns educational researchers and policy makers today. Most often, this is associated with school improvement. The arguments are still the same as in Howard Becker’s (1972) classic article, which compares the structural characteristics of schools and of on-the-job learning. Notwithstanding the  résumé that, due to inherent structural defects, schools are ‘a lousy place to learn anything in’, Becker argues that on-the-job-learning has still worse structural defects, as it provides, in its extreme form, only narrow skills (‘If a person can get a job doing one of the tasks of the bundle, he knows enough to be an acceptable member of the trade’ (Becker 1972, p. 102), whereas a school would teach the whole bundle). Moreover, on-the-job-learning depends ‘on contingencies unrelated to education or training’ (Becker 1972, p.99), such as ‘the press to do more important business’ (Becker 1972, p. 97). This presentation inquires into the modalities of organisation of on-the-job-learning and the effects they can give rise to, not by the example of Becker’s theoretical extreme case, but by the living example of the ‘dual system’ of vocational education and training (VET) in Germany with its focus on legally regulated in-company learning and with imaginary learners who value another than the deductive thinking transmitted in scholastic learning (cf. Höhns 2013, 2016). With concepts and models developed by the British sociologist Basil Bernstein and on the basis of empirical research, the presentation systematises interrelations between influences from the world of work and training in a company and so makes a contribution to a better understanding of in-company transmission.

The research presented here is part of a project to find out possible interrelations between experiences in German in-company VET and later career developments (Dorau, Höhns et al. 2009). Some of the structural defects Becker identified about on-the-job-training, such as narrowness of skills transmission, the ‘dual system’ tries to avoid by establishing in legal provisions a strong macro-social discourse (cf. Höhns 2016). Yet,as Bernstein points out, this macro-social discourse may well become distorted at the micro-level of transmission, in view of the permeable boundary between the transmission site ‘training-company’ and the world of work, so that Becker’s arguments against in-company learning would remain valid.  When external constraints prevent in-company teaching and learning, this may well lead to instable career developments after graduation. Therefore, researchers developed an instrument for the typification of phenomena emanating from the external world and interfering with in-company learning, which shall be presented here.

In Bernstein’s (1977, 1990, 2000) terms, the locus of control over these phenomena is called ‘external framing’. Bernstein’s structuralist-inspired theories usefully complement Becker’s reflexions about the structural assets and defects of transmission. Both authors use the same central concepts, such as transmitters/teachers, acquirers/learners, time and space of transmission, and Bernstein points to their interrelatedness. For example, pedagogic discourse for Bernstein is a specific interrelation of time, space and discourse, going along with particular assumptions about who transmitters and acquirers are and who they should become. Pedagogic discourse, in turn, for Bernstein is related, in a non-determinative way, to pedagogic practice, which, through the ‘code’, positions transmitters and acquirers, that is, it establishes a specific relation to other subjects and creates specific relationships within subjects (cf. Bernstein 1990, p. 10). ‘Framing’, alongside with ‘classification’, is part of Bernstein’s definition of ‘code’ and so contributes to learners’ positioning. ‘External framing’, referring to the control over influences from outside on the learning situation, here, from the world of work on the in-company transmission, also contributes to learners’ positioning. The presentation shows typologies of external framing of in-company transmission.


30 problem-centered interviews (PCIs) (Witzel, 1982, 2000; Witzel & Reiter, 2012) with graduates from the dual system about their training experiences and later career developments provide the empirical material about in-company learning. The PCI is an open interview with an interview guide serving as a ‘sensitizing framework’ (Witzel 1982, 2000 after Blumer, 1954) for the interviewer. Problem-centering means that the interview focuses on the objective pre-conditions of the respondent's actions and orientations, which have to be theoretically conceptualised in advance. Here, the elements of Bernstein’s concept ‘framing’ served as theoretical conception and were reformulated into everyday language questions. Further questions elicited narratives about crucial moments during training. Selection criteria for the respondents were: ‘3-5 years after graduation’ and ‘at least three different states after graduation’ (states such as: unemployed, new occupation, family work…). Respondents had acquired different kinds of occupations, such as cook, electronics technician, bank clerk, wholesale and foreign trade clerk, veterinary assistant, legal assistant, in differently organised companies, but all with part-time learning as trainee/apprentice in a company and part-time learning in a VET school.
To recognise Bernstein’s ‘external framing’ in the empirical material, characterised by strongly diverging surface phenomena, a team of researchers, following Bernstein’s (2000) suggestion, developed a second or external ‘language of description’ (the first being the language of the theory). Researchers developed second languages to investigate pedagogic practice in different learning contexts (for example, Gamble, 2004; Morais & Neves, 2001; Neves & Morais, 2001; Neves, Morais, & Afonso, 2004), and also to investigate ‘internal framing’ of in-company pedagogic practice in the dual system (Höhns, 2015, submitted), but not its external framing.
Second languages take the form of typologies and so lift the information collected through the interviews to a more abstract level. For this, researchers drew on Bernstein’s theoretical propositions on ‘external framing’, additional literature and the interview material. The systematic and theory-related development of typologies makes it possible to include not only the modalities of external framing encountered in the interviews, but also other, only theoretically feasible modalities.

Expected Outcomes

• The presentation starts with Becker’s (1972) arguments against on-the-job-learning, which apparently are not based on empirical research, but theoretically construct an extreme case.
• It then shortly mentions the macro-social provisions of the German dual system against some of the structural defects Becker had identified.
• It introduces Bernstein’s concepts ‘classification’ to remind of the boundary between ‘internal’ and ‘external’, and ‘framing’, that is, the ‘code’.
• The presentation’s main part shows the operationalisation of ‘external framing’ of in-company learning in the form of typologies with indicators drawn from Bernstein and further literature and with descriptors derived from the recognition rules for Bernstein’s concepts and the interviews.
Quotations from the interviews illustrate the descriptors.
• The typologies show a variety of positioning effects on acquirers towards knowledge and within a community of knowers, which the presentation eventually discusses.
The later use of such theoretically grounded typologies as a heuristic device for the interpretation of individual interviews will strengthen the external validity of the findings about interrelationships between experiences during training and later labour market entry trajectories.
From the point of view of educational research, the typologies turn a focus of attention towards the structural characteristics of the particular form of discursively regulated apprenticeship learning in Germany and of in-company transmission in general, where, compared to school-based transmission, different learners’ orientations are valued. They give food for thought about how to foster positive effects of in-company learning for certain social groups, while at the same time preventing negative effects of external contingencies of in-company training. This would be a contribution towards not only respecting the educational orientations and needs of certain social groups, but actually valuing their difference.


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Witzel, A., & Reiter, H. (2012). The problem-centered interview. London: Sage.

Author Information

Gabriela Höhns (presenting)
Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB)
2.2 Qualifications, occupational integration and employment