Category Archives: Writing

Converging Paths – A New Approach to Dual Credit and the Double Major

Setting the stage

As Canada enters the 21st century, we find ourselves facing an interesting dilemma and a labour market that has been markedly different from the past. With the looming retirement of the largest demographic cohort in the history of the planet and a birthrate that hasn’t kept pace, combined with economic growth and increased technological advances, our post-secondary education system is faced with new challenges, but also new opportunities.

There are more people leaving the Canadian workforce every year than entering it, so the current generation has unprecedented choices in terms of choosing a career path, and the same forces are creating the need to have our youth enter the workforce with the skills they need to be successful, but also with pathways that can lead to several different career destinations. Competition for young workers is encouraging them to step right into the workforce to high pay in some sectors and regions, particularly in Northern BC and Alberta, and shrinking graduating classes have put immense pressure on sustaining an education system that had grown to support a much larger population swell. With these pressures government is looking intently at how to create efficiencies and direct funding into pathways that lead to the highest likelihood of employment, and that investments in training are directed where there is the most need, but without increasing overall training budgets and maintaining fiscal restraint.

The Opportunity

The landscape of the post-secondary system has always had two streams: academic pathways leading to “professions”; and vocational pathways leading to careers in the trades and technologies. High school students are facing increased pressure to “choose a path” and are often influenced by a bias that working with your hands is somehow less of an accomplishment than a career founded on a university degree. In a world where most trades were mechanical and revolved around much hard and heavy labour, (as existed in the early part of the last century) there may have been some root in that bias, but in today’s world, the oft revered skills of academia – critical thinking, analysis and diagnosis, interpretation of complex scientific and mathematical information, and a strong ability to communicate effectively and concisely are exactly the skills needed to be successful in today’s trades.

In British Columbia, like many other jurisdictions nationally and internationally that face similar pressures, we see a movement of tradespeople moving into the next stages of their career as a project manager, executive, or educator and into a job that draws on a previous life as a tradesperson “on the tools”, but requires a degree as a pre-requisite, limiting the options for many talented and competent people. Many of the skills required have been developed in the workplace running a business or a jobsite, instructing apprentices and other employees, and managing the finances of a successful company, but had not been attained formally through a university degree.

This has led to a movement to assess and articulate prior learning in the trades towards university degrees to improve pathways for those individuals, but those options are not universally available, consistently clear, or widespread. A small pocket of innovative educators and advocates are at the forefront of these initiatives, but as of yet, we are primarily remedying sins of the past without addressing the challenges of the future.

As a certified tradesperson highly involved in the vocational training system, I have been returning to a single train of thought concerning the current climate. I have heard over and over again about how we need to convince the youth and their parents that choosing a career in the trades is as valid as choosing a to get a university degree, that choosing to work with one’s hands is no less noble than a white collar career path, that choosing a trade gives an equal or better financial outlook, but the questions we need to ask ourselves are:

Why must they choose one path or the other?
Why can’t we set up a system to allow them to do both?

• What about the student who excels at physics and math and loves to take things apart?
• What about the student who is passionate about food and cooking and wants to build a social media empire?
• What about the student who wants to make things out of wood but has an entrepreneurial spirit?
• Why can’t we create a pathway that converges vocational and academic education from the onset, instead of a remedial approach after years in the trade?

This is where opportunity presents itself if we as a community of industry and educators in both the academic and vocational worlds can see past our own historical biases and envision a newly unified system that integrates trades training and certification pathways and traditional degree-granting institutions. Of the industrialized nations, only Germany has fully integrated the vocational and academic streams into one system, and we have the opportunity to address our needs in a uniquely Canadian way.

In order to facilitate some discussion, let’s analyze how different (or not) our two streams of education are, and then discuss possible solutions.

The Current Systems

The academic system is built on a system of credits, with degrees being conferred upon those who have completed the credits required, including a set number of mandatory courses related to the field of study, and a set number of elective credits from additional areas of study to ensure the breadth of knowledge encompasses a fundamental set of critical thinking, communication, and problem solving skills. Some programs have a requirement of on the job experience related to the field of study, which also results in credits towards the degree. Courses may include a lecture, tutorial or lab component, and a minimum grade in the core subjects is required, with higher grades resulting in degrees with honours or distinction.

The vocational system is built around development of specific skills over time, with certification being granted upon the completion of the technical training (in-school) portion and the work-based training (apprenticeship) portion of the program, as well as national or provincially administered certification exams and in some cases practical assessments. Critical thinking, problem solving, math, and science are all built into the training and skill development in a contextual way, as they are directly related to performing the job at hand. Minimum grade requirements in the trades are generally higher than those required in the academic stream.

From a first glance these seem like two completely different approaches to education, being primarily “school based” or “work based”, but in closer comparison, are we really that far apart, or is it language and interpretation that confuses the issue?

Let’s take a closer look at the two pathways side by side and see how different they really are.

Certification Theoretical Training Practical Training Work Experience Duration
Bachelor’s Degree Lecture, in school or online coursework Assignments, Tutorials and Labs (sciences) Optional Co-op or practicum or post -degree 4 years
Red Seal Lecture, in school Shop, in school and on job site with supervision Mandatory hour requirement with qualified sponsor/mentor 3-5 years

In comparison, both streams offer theoretical training and some hands on practical activity that is evaluated. The apprenticeship stream has a mandatory workplace component, while the academic stream has co-op ad practicum options (which may be mandatory in some programs). Both take approximately the same amount of time to complete and require the development of critical thinking, analytical and problem solving skills to different extents.

The challenges we face are not that we can’t see how academic credits can be applied to the learning that goes on in the trades, but more about delivery and scheduling. Trades training is generally delivered in block release, and in levels than encompass a number of subject areas. Academic delivery is course-based over a longer period of time, with each course and subject having its own learning outcomes and credits. Even colleges that offer both academic training and trades programs run the two on slightly different schedules, making it near impossible to navigate for a student interested in completing both streams.

With a pro-active approach and some innovation, especially with the advent of flexible learning and online training options, proposing a solution is within grasp. The K-12 system, as they deliver both types of training to some extent, has started to address these issues to some extent, and we see a large number of dual credit courses that grant students credit for post-secondary training based on secondary school course completion. This is where the dialogue needs to happen as we explore a new form of “dual credit” for the trades in the post-secondary world.

The Proposition

I don’t think we are that far off, if we look at typical completion requirements for a few select degrees and what granting similar credit for the trades training that goes into apprenticeship could accomplish. Currently, Academic credits are based on the Carnegie model, whereby 1 academic credit is assigned for approximately 15 hours of contact time. In the community college system vocational programs are offered 1 credit for every 30 hours of contact time, based on the assumption that approximately 50% of the contact time is spent on guided practice or hands-on training. Credits for workplace experience in the academic model are generally assigned 1 credit for each 140-160 hours of work experience. Using these as the basis, consider the following examples:


Degree Academic Credits required Core Subjects Elective Subjects Credits for work experience (Co-op)
Bachelor of Science (UBC) 120 72 38 9 (additional) for ±1200 hours
Bachelor of Commerce (UBC) 121 79 42 9 (additional) for ±1200 hours


Qualification Potential Credits Technical Training Work Based Training Notes
Cook (Professional Cook 3) Apprenticeship 18-36 (academic) +

31 (workplace experience)

540 hours 5000 Hours Technical Training is currently 25% Theory
Carpenter Apprenticeship 28-56 (academic) +

40 (workplace experience)


840 hours 6,480 hours Technical Training is currently 65% Theory
Electrician Apprenticeship 40-80 (academic) +

37 (workplace experience)

1200 hours 6,000 hours Technical Training is currently 100% theory

Some schools, like Thompson Rivers University are allocating up to 60 credits towards degrees for certified tradespeople, but we have yet to look at a strategy to link the two worlds from the onset. By refining the credits to be allocated for trades training to both core and elective degree requirements could lead to the development of a new type of “double major” that encompasses both the trades and academic worlds. In real terms, this would likely take 5-6 years for someone to complete, but the impact could be meaningful.

Food for Thought

Imagine a system where a student can choose to work on a carpentry apprenticeship and a commerce degree concurrently, or the student who is supplementing their degree as a mechanical engineer with work as a millwright. How about the student who is completing their Red Seal as a cook and is a few credits away from a marketing degree?

Imagine the impact on the economy of graduating a class of degree holding, Red Seal ticketed individuals, students who not only are finishing their degrees, but have a marketable skill, a few years’ experience in the workforce, and have not needed to incur debt in getting there. Doesn’t that sound like a choice you want our kids to have? It does for me.

Constructivism: Building Meaning from Experience: Learning Theory Essay – PIDP 3100


Constructivism as a learning theory revolves around an assumption that learning happens when people “construct” meaning from their collection of experiences (Merriam & Bierema, 2014). This approach to learning and teaching is one I have always found most comfort with, and can be applied in many settings, both in the classroom and in the workplace. Constructivist instructors are more facilitators than traditional teachers, and learners need to be actively engaged and participate in their own learning. In this paper, I will illustrate three examples of constructivism in action, one from pop culture, one from the workplace, and finally one from the classroom.


Constructivism as a learning theory evolved from the works of Piaget, Dewey, and Vygotsky, and has laid the foundation for future approaches to education, particularly in personalized and experiential learning. Constructivists look to inquiry, reflection and experiential learning as critical parts of the learning process, and take an evolutionary approach. In other words, we build upon our previous experiences as we learn by taking in new experiences and then applying them to what we already know or creating new meaning from them, thus furthering our knowledge.

Piaget looked at how people gain knowledge and proposed that humans learn in progressively more complex ways, going through four different stages from infancy to adulthood, all of which draw on the principle that accommodation (adapting to create meaning from a new experience) and assimilation (adding new experiences to your existing frame of reference) are a part of the learning process, and build in layers as we continue our cognitive development.

Dewey added to this train of thought by introducing the concept of experiential learning. Experiential learning was part of Dewey’s progressive educational philosophy, and surmised that education and experience were related, but not necessarily directly. He posed that not all education comes about through experience nor or all experiences educational (Dewey, 1938), but that positive experiences encourage educational moments and experiences that are discouraging can have the opposite effect and lead to limiting future growth in that area. He further challenged educators to include both the teacher and the learner’s experiences into their teaching and stated “The teacher’s suggestion is not a mold for a cast-iron result but is a starting point to be developed into a plan through contributions from the experience of all engaged in the learning process.” (p.31)

Vygotsky introduced the concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) which concludes that by targeting learning experiences to that which is just beyond the ability of the learner to do unassisted, we create the opportunity for the individual to grow and develop. (Vygotsky, 1978) By identifying what the learner can do on their own, what the learner can do with assistance (the ZPD), and what the learner cannot do, educators can create meaningful learning experiences.

This was expanded upon to the concept of scaffolding, or a series of supports that help perform an action. Scaffolding in the educational context refers to the support provided by someone able to provide assistance to the learner, allowing the learner to focus on those aspects of the task that are within his or her range of competence (Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976, p.90) Together, the concept of applying meaning gained from past experiences to further one’s development with some guidance through instruction, mentoring, or other supports can be applied to many different learning experiences, both formal and informal.

Modern educators have further expanded on constructivist principles and many aspects of and approaches to modern education are based on the premise that education and experience are intrinsically linked.

Why Constructivism?

The constructivist approach resonates with me both as a learner and a teacher. I have always tried to relate any new experience to that which I already know, and in many years of mentoring apprentices in the workplace, always tried to encourage them to do the same. The process of accommodation and assimilation or taking meaning from every experience and applying it appropriately has always seemed to be the most natural way of learning, especially if you take the view that learning in its most holistic sense includes developing the capability to not only perform a task but to understand why and how it is done most effectively. This point of view encompasses learning in all three domains – cognitive, affective, and psychomotor, and is the basis for much competency based education and assessment.
Roles of the instructor and learner

The constructivist educator is a facilitator in a truer sense than a traditional “stand in the front of the classroom and share your expertise” teacher. Since the theory revolves heavily around the learner creating their own meaning through a combination of experiences and new ideas, the role of the instructor is to guide the learners and provide opportunities and activities that will allow that meaning to take place. This is not to say that the constructivist educator does not provide the learner with new information, concepts, or ideas, but rather that new information is presented in a way, and with a process, that allows the learner to absorb and adapt in his or her own way. The instructor also needs to be continually engaged in identifying how each individual is progressing, in order to keep challenging the learner to continue his or her developmental process, and is there to provide the support or “scaffold” as the learner heads into unfamiliar territory.

Since the constructivist approach assumes the learner will create meaning from experience and ideas, the classroom becomes a place of inquiry and exploration. Group discussion, peer to peer learning, collaboration, and latitude in terms of how new concepts are learned and evaluated are all part of the learning process. This requires the learner to be an active participant, and fosters independent thinking, creativity, and self-direction. While this may not work with all learners, particularly those who have limited experiences to draw from, such as younger students or novices in vocational programs, constructivism offers opportunities for individualized learning that other, more traditional educational approaches do not.


When reflecting on constructivist theory in action, a few thoughts come to mind that exemplify how leveraging and linking the learner’s prior experience to come to a new understanding can be an effective strategy. I always remember a moment from my youth that made me think about how we all have different ways of learning. In an episode of Happy Days, Potsie Weber decides to quit school after failing his anatomy final (1979).  Fonzie plays the role of the constructivist, and suggests that using music as a tool to remember the terminology and how the circulatory system operates might be an effective approach, which is proven when Potsie writes a song called “Pump your blood”, retakes the test (while humming the song to himself), and scores 100%. The teacher is so amazed by the result, that he accuses Potsie of cheating, as in his limited pedagogical view there is no possible way that Potsie could have learned and understood the material in such a short time.

The practical application of scientific concepts also works well with a constructivist approach. Theoretical concepts and explanations about what is happening at a molecular level are often hard for people to grasp in real terms, and being able to build understanding of the concept through a hands on activity can be helpful. When learning to cook, apprentices must be able to monitor changes that are happening as heat is applied to food and then translating that information into an understanding of the cooking process. Coagulation, such as when proteins cause custard to thicken as it heats, is a good example. Young cooks must learn to apply their understanding of how the heat affects the protein (in this case in the egg yolks) by look and feel in order to fully master the process, as the mixture needs continual stirring, making any formal method of checking for a target temperature nearly impossible. Similarly, mathematical concepts like fractions are sometimes better understood when portioning a whole item (such as a cake or pie) into equal size pieces.

In the classroom, creating opportunities for learners to develop their own knowledge not only engages the entire classroom, but allows for the collective experience of the group to be leveraged. Think of the classic exercise of having groups of students try to build the longest or strongest bridge they can using a fairly weak building material – spaghetti or straws. The students need to share their collective knowledge and experience, come up with some new ideas, and then through trial and error determine which type of design will yield the greatest success. I doubt that the average grade 7 student is well versed in the tensile strength of spaghetti or the principles of construction that make a strong bridge possible, but any group of students, given this task will come up with a wide range of possibilities, and with various degrees of success.


Although constructivism is more a collection of similar trains of thought around the role experience plays in learning than a single learning theory (Merriam & Bierema, 2014), it has greatly influenced the world of adult education. Constructivist approaches can be applied in a variety of settings, from informal learning and self study, to formal training and the workplace, and are the foundation of so many of the guiding principles that modern educators apply today. By creating environments where our students can turn new experiences into rich learning moments, each with their own context and frame of reference, we as educators can help them get from learning to understanding and from knowledge to capability.


Dewey, J. (1938) Experience and Education. New York: Kappa Delta Pi. Retrieved from:

Merriam, S.B., Bierema, L.L. (2014) Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Paris, J. (Director), Marshall, G. K. (Producer). (1979). Happy Days: Potsie Quits School (season 6, episode 27). Hollywood, CA: Paramount Television. Retrieved from:

Vygotsky, L.S., Cole, M (1978). Mind in society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press

WNET Education (2015) Concept to Classroom: Constructivism as a Paradigm for Teaching and Learning.  Retrieved from

Wood, D., Bruner, J., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. In Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (vol. 17), 89–100.

Trends and Roles Reflection: Conference with my Learning Partner

As  a topic for study in emerging trends in education, Linda and I settled on self directed learning, and particularly how that relates to online and blended learning environments. This was a natural fit for us both, as we have been working on providing opportunities and guidance to individuals trying to achieve certification in the hospitality trades. Given that most of the people we deal with have been outside of the formal education system for a while, many are recent immigrants whose first language is not English, and that every individual has had a different set of workplace experiences forming their knowledge base, having a one size fits all strategy was  never going to work.

We have been working for the last year and half on an approach to create individualized learning pathways using blended learning, and in doing so dove head first into the world of competency based learning, individualized learning plans, and wrestling with the challenges of leveraging existing learning resource material and content that was not designed specifically for that purpose.

So, back to the study on self-directed learning. Linda and I have the added benefit of working together every day, so a continual dialogue has emerged on the subject. From our first conversation and selecting the topic, we each went different ways in approaching the subject. Linda was able to bring forward a lot of background research on the the educational theory, particularly in the field of heutagogy, which has been extremely helpful as I have focused more on the application of self directed learning in relation to educational technology and online learning environments.

In the process, I have been able to share back some of the advances in adaptive technology that seem to be emerging, and we are both thinking about how we can use this newly discovered information to improve and adapt our approach to using technology to support our specific group of learners in their own individual journeys, as well as broader applications in the trades training system nationally.

This has been a great exercise, and provided a new context for us both to approach our work on a daily basis, as well as some new resources and ideas to incorporate as we move forward.


NMC Horizon Report – 2015 Higher Education Edition

Education in the Digital Age

Heutagogy Community of Practice

A World at Risk: An Imperative for a Paradigm Shift to Cultivate 21st Century Learners

For more on our gap training pilot and progress to date have a look at the following links:
Professional Cook Gap Training Program: Status Report
Top 8 facts about our Professional Cook Gap Training pilot program

Trends and Roles Reflection: Trends – Self directed learning in the digital age

Trends coming to the world of adult education are all seeming to centre around technology and the need for post-secondary education to adapt the varying needs of learners.  In fact in the NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition outlines the need for innovative and flexible learning environments as one of two key long term trends that their panel of experts agree on, and that technological advancements can potentially support those drivers of change (p. 1)

Most of my work in education is related to helping those who have gained most of their experience and knowledge in the workplace navigate a formal credentialing system that is:

a) based primarily on an assumption of formal training in the full scope of a trade, and

b) the reality that trades certification includes  a large must-pass multiple choice exam with no opportunity for the learner to express their knowledge and skills in other ways.

As there has been no readily accessible formal upgrading, we have been looking at the opportunity to use online and blended learning to address a group with a wide variety of individual needs when it comes to scope of training content.

This poses an interesting challenge. We are seeing  a transition to using online and blended learning environments to support training in the trades, but much of the material we have to draw from has been developed for traditional teacher-led training models, so therefore the temptation to build an online version of the face to face class room and lesson plan is prevalent. This is bound to fail, as we have to look at the online learning environment as an entirely new space and therefore build our content and teaching strategies around it.

One of the greatest challenges with online learning environments is building a link between a vast amount of available information (from a wide variety of sometimes inaccurate sources) and learners operating in a very much self-directed space. Traditional vocational education and instructional design flows around the respective roles of the learner and teacher, and a finite pool of information being used for content. In an increasingly changing world, we are able to put learning resources in the hands of the learner directly, or in many cases the learners are discovering their own resources. How do we make that environment an effective tool that doesn’t overwhelm, and create an effective environment that nurtures the learner experience without much intervention, or the need for the teacher to be accessible 24/7?

For me, this means a great deal of research, experimentation and analysis. I have always been a strong believer and supporter of taking a competency-based approach to the trades, as the industry always comes back to the premise that being able to perform on the job is more critical and valued  higher than having the certification, but I also an excited that there is a paradigm shift flowing through the education system today. That, as well as changes in educational technology, will bring us closer to a place where the two don’t have to be viewed as mutually exclusive.


NMC Horizon Report – 2015 Higher Education Edition

Education in the Digital Age

A World at Risk: An Imperative for a Paradigm Shift to Cultivate 21st Century Learners

Trends and Roles Reflection: Insights – Heutagogy

The term heutagogy (Hase and Kenyon, 2000) was introduced to describe the theory and practice of self-determined learning. This took the work on the concept of  andragogy one step further and looked to “the future in which knowing how to learn will be a fundamental skill given the pace of innovation and the changing structure of communities and workplaces” (Hase and Kenyon, 2000, p. 1)’

While andragogy focused on many elements that would transform education, including elements of self-directed learning, heutagogy  poses that the role of the teacher, rather than being the facilitator, is to develop the capability of the learner to direct themselves through formative evaluation and reflection.

This resonated with me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I have always been drawn to figuring things out for myself, and preferred to dictate how I learn. Any struggles I have had in my life in relation to education in general have been in situations that were largely teacher -centric and didn’t offer flexibility.

I think back to my worst-ever mark in Math, in Grade 9. Math was always one of my strongest subjects, and something I grasped quite easily.  Unfortunately that year, I had a teacher who insisted that all of her students do pages and pages of repetitive exercises as homework. I refused to do so, as once I had mastered a concept, felt that the repetitive homework assignments were a worthless exercise. I would continue to score in the high 90’s on tests, but with the zeroes I continually received for failing to complete my homework, I ended up with a final mark in the mid 60’s.

Secondly, I have always approached my work from a continuous improvement model, where reflection and honest questioning are critical to moving forward effectively. The Japanese refer to this as “kaizen”, most often associated with the manufacturing sector.

This is increasingly important as we look at ways to adapt our education system to a world that can provide a rapidly changing and  overwhelming amount of information to the learner and teacher, in ways that are accessible and flexible enough to meet the needs of a wide variety of audiences. The days where one would go the the library to research the one or two books available on a subject are far behind us, and being able to develop the capability to sift through all of the noise to access the critical and most meaningful information are skills our teachers are going to have to assist the 21st century learner in developing.

As I examine my own role in education, particularly in the broad sense of creating pathways and opportunities for skill development to happen in the tourism and hospitality industry, as opposed to being a direct participant in an individual’s learning process, I see the  wide range of roles that teachers, mentors, and individuals themselves need to be able to adapt to in order to meet the needs of an ever evolving world.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download


From Andragogy to Heutagogy (Hase and Kenyon, 2000)

Heutagogy Community of Practice

Education in the Digital Age