Research and Development Series

Development of Transferable Skills
In Learners

August 1993 Report No.18

A Technical Report published by the Employment
Department's Methods Strategy Unit

Project Team:

Nigel Blagg
Marj Ballinger
Rachael Lewis


A recent ministerially driven initiative has identified a number of skill areas which are 'core' across education, training and employment settings. These are: communication, problem solving, personal skills, numeracy, information technology and modern language competence. Currently, the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ) are engaged in an extensive pilot programme to develop a system of accreditation at five levels for each of these six Core Skill areas (see Appendix 6).

This project, funded by the Employment Department, was concerned to:

· produce criteria with which to identify best practice for enhancing the transferable skills implied by the NCVQ Core Skills specifications;
· identify current practice and know-how in all relevant settings including schools, colleges, employment organisations and other training providers;
· review, identify and illustrate best practice across education, training and employment settings.

In view of the extensive scope of this project and the short timescale (5 ½ months) we took a broad brush approach, relying heavily upon the opinions of acknowledged experts to guide both the literature analysis and identification of expert practitioners. The approach involved five basic elements: establishing an expert network; reviewing literature; designing a good practice survey; organising and running a consultative workshop; visits to experts / practitioners.

Over 70 experts were consulted (see Appendix 1) and an enormous quantity of research literature and practitioner reports were reviewed (see Appendix 2). In order to gather both quantitative and qualitative perspectives on Core Skills practice, a pro forma entitled 'Conditions for the Effective Development of Core Skills' (Appendix 3) was designed. This was based on examples of claimed good practice drawn from academic and practitioner literature. Experts used the pro forma as a flexible recording device to comment on the importance, ease of implementation and frequency of occurrence for each good practice item. 41 pro formas were completed and returned with representation from each sector and Core Skill area (see Appendix 4). Whilst the sampling was small scale, each expert gave a general impression about current and best practice. In general the feedback on the pro formas was remarkably consistent within each of the sectors and Core Skills areas.

Throughout the project we noted confusion and disagreement between practitioners and experts about Core skills and transfer issues. Section three attempts to clarify this complex area. The NCVQ Core Skill specifications represent a loose conceptual grouping of useful knowledge, information and skills. All of the Core Skill items have transfer value but some items are clearly more generic than others. We emphasise that possession of the transferable skills does not guarantee the ability to apply them in novel or demanding circumstances.

Thus, the NCVQ Core Skill specifications represent only a partial contribution to promoting in learners the ability to transfer. Nevertheless, the broader issues associated with teaching for transfer and the promotion of flexibility, adaptability and autonomy can be addressed successfully in the teaching / training context. Indeed, there is a growing consensus in both practitioner and research literature about the kinds of conditions and learning environments likely to enhance teaching / training for transfer.

As section four reports, current practice in relation to Core Skill development is somewhat depressing. There are many skilled practitioners and researchers doing interesting and innovative work. There is also a general consensus about what good practice involves. Nevertheless, within education, training and employment settings, there is a gulf between desirable and actual practice. Best practice is a rare commodity even though experts constantly observe that much of what is desirable is feasible to implement in most situations.

The survey identifies a number of reasons for this imbalance including: organisational / institutional constraints; a failure to appreciate how each of the various education and training initiatives fit together; poor awareness about the value of Core Skills; teachers / lecturers and trainers feeling ill equipped to deliver Core Skills because of a lack of mediation skills and or inadequate resources; widespread practitioner ignorance about the nature of transfer and the conditions likely to foster the ability to transfer.

Section five provides provisional guidance notes on critical aspects of good practice that are broad in scope, important and feasible to implement. The advice is divided into three main sections:

A Organisational Planning and Support;
B Teaching and Learning;
C Assessing and Recording Learning.
Each section highlights, justifies and illustrates key points in relation to various education, training and employment settings. Section B pays special attention to teaching / training for transfer. The ABC guide provides a framework for reflection and a basis for auditing current practice with a view to establishing priorities for development.

This report is designed for a restricted audience of national policy makers. It is intended to provide a starting point for subsequent documents and national guidance directed towards specific end users. A further report is in preparation outlining priorities for research and development on issues highlighted by this document.



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