Evaluating Continuing Vocational Training: An Activity Theory Approach
The evaluation, as an applied social research (Scriven 1995) that reduces the complexity of a decision by analyzing the effects of socially relevant actions, represents a strategic function for all economic activity. Furthermore it represents a fundamental process for people that are involved in "human systems" like the continuing vocational training. If Patton (1997) believes that the evaluation has value in itself, because it triggers a process of learning from those who are doing it, the constructivist approach (Stake 1975; Guba and Lincoln, 1987) identifies the success of the programs in the recognition that the stakeholders make during the implementation process. The paper describes the monitoring and evaluation of continuity vocational training process, by considering the evaluative methods and tools as context dependent and relentlessly subject to social, dynamic and contested mobilization of knowledge.
Activity Theory and the evaluation of continuing vocational training
According to this perspective the authors present the Activity Theory (AT) (Engestrom, 2000) as a suitable analytical framework for developing and evaluating the training effectiveness. The AT is considered useful particularly because it provides the researchers with tools to structure human activities in relation to the training outcomes within a specific context (Sannino and Engestrom, 2010). Specifically this theoretical framework permits to consider the training process as a complex entity where different relationship systems between the individuals, their communities of practice, and the objects of their activities co-exist and interplay. These activities are performed in compliance with a set of rules utilizing a variety of tools.
An empirical study: methodology and research approach
Since 2003, following the Law no. 388/2000, in Italy were activated the “Inter-professional Funds for Continuing Vocational Training”. These are associations promoted by the social partners (trade unions and business associations) who are called to manage a regulated system of continuing vocational training. The biggest inter-professional Fund in Italy is Fondimpresa, with 177.041 firms enrolled and 4.602.220 of workers. In the last year, this Fund has financed training programmes for about 285 millions of euro in Italy. The research is based on the analysis of training delivered through Fondimpresa in Lombardy, the most active region at the national level, with 26.642 firms enrolled (15% of total) and 1.060.351 workers (23% of total).
The main research questions are:
- How the Activity Theory can support the process of training evaluation?
- How an activity theory perspective can help to focus on key contradictions in order to provide sustainable and realistic knowledge for creating possibilities of development of the continuing training system?
- How the evaluation process can represent a process of learning and an opportunity for (re) defining the system of the continuing training?
In this framework, the empirical study is based on: (1) analysis of available data about the characteristics of companies, employees trained and training courses provided (2) interviews to 30 manager in charge of training and to joint territorial committees (3) case studies of 6 best practices.