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Running head; The value of Personal Professional Theories

The Value of Personal Professional

Theories for Vocational Education**

H. Schaap¹, E. de Bruijn¹, M.F. van der Schaaf¹ & P.A.


Kirschner¹ ²

¹Utrecht University, ²Open University of the Netherlands

Paper for the ECER Conference 2008, Göteborg, Sweden.

Draft; July 17, 2008.

Total amount of words; 6821

**This is work in progress. If you would like to make a reference to this paper, please contact
the first author for permission.
The value of Personal Professional Theories 2

Abstract

Vocational Education aims at developing professional competences. Professional


competence implies an integration of knowledge, skills and attitudes, where
knowledge refers to formal knowledge, work process knowledge, shared knowledge
in a specific occupational domain and beliefs towards professional behaviour.
However, how a student can internalise these different types of knowledge and
beliefs is still unknown. We therefore denote these specific types of knowledge and
beliefs with the concept of Personal Professional Theories. A Personal Professional
Theory is a personal knowledge base which directs on the one hand professional
behaviour and serves on the other hand as a frame of reference for interpreting (new)
professional situations and experiences. The development of a Personal Professional
Theory implies growing into an occupational domain, which means internalising the
shared knowledge of professionals and at the same time adapting to the collective
norms and values. In this article, the concept as well as the development of students’
Personal Professional Theories will be clarified. Also, some major learning aspects that
can stimulate the development of students’ Personal Professional Theories are
presented.

Keywords: Personal Professional Theories, Vocational Education, professional


development, beliefs, negotiation of meaning.

1. Knowledge in Competence Based Vocational Education

Vocational Education is subject to constant social changes, technical developments


and organizational demands. The increased use of for example new information-
and communication technologies and the changing perspective on employees as
flexible and employable professionals, have caused many countries to redefine the
key competences which are necessary for adequate professional behaviour
(Achtenhagen & Grubb, 2001). In the current knowledge-based societies and labour
markets professionals not only need specific technical and formal knowledge, but

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they also need well developed professional skills and attitudes for lifelong learning
(Maes, 2004). As a response to these changing professional and educational
demands, a competence based qualification structure is adopted in Vocational
Education and Training (VET), for example in the Netherlands, Germany, France
and Great Britain (Achtenhagen & Grubb; Nijhof & Van Esch, 2004; Weigel, Mulder
& Collins, 2007) but also in Australia (Billet, 2000).

The main aim of a competence based structure in VET is to reduce the gap
between training programmes in vocational colleges and the labour market. The
underlying idea is that in competence based VET students develop competences
needed in their (future) profession, but also in perspective of their lifelong learning
(Biemans, Nieuwenhuis, Poell, Mulder & Wesselink, 2004). Competences are
conceived as more or less organized wholes of knowledge, skills and attitudes (Lizzio
& Wilson, 2004; Van der Sanden & Teurlings, 2003), which are needed for the
adequate fulfilment of professional tasks in work related situations (Gonczi, Hager
& Oliver, 1990). In competence based VET the development of different professional
competences, concerning for example social competencies, reflection competencies
and competencies for lifelong learning, is central. Furthermore, competence based
VET is aimed to integrate authentic key issues and problems which are relevant
and representative for a specific occupational domain in the training programmes,
so that students learn how to deal with these problems (Guile & Griffiths, 2003).
Another feature is that the educational programmes are tailored to students’
specific developmental phases and learning questions.

However, a major problem in competence based VET is that it still remains


unclear how and when different kinds of knowledge should be integrated,
internalized and offered in the curriculum (Van der Sanden & Teurlings, 2003). For
example, for students in VET, explicit and codified knowledge are important for
working in a profession domain, while at the same time more situated and episodic
knowledge is important to work in specific professional environments as well as for
developing adequate professional behaviour (Guile & Young, 2003). Moreover, the
transfer of knowledge conceived in schools as well as in workplaces seems to be
problematic (Achtenhagen & Grubb, 2001; Boreham, 2004; Poortman, 2007).
Unfortunately, in competence based VET explicit links between different types of
knowledge and beliefs are still poorly elaborated. Also, it seems that in VET there is

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little explicit attention to the individual personification and internalization of these


different types of knowledge and beliefs (Van der Sanden & Teurlings, 2003). This is
remarkable, because knowledge is an essential part of professional competence and
an essential source in the process of making adequate professional decisions in
complex practical situations.

To increase the internalization of knowledge and beliefs, the concept Personal


Professional Theory (PPT) can be used in VET. A PPT refers to a knowledge base
which serves as personal frame of reference during professional behaviour (Argyris
& Schön, 1974; 1978) and during the process of professional development. It is
postulated that becoming a professional means for students in VET growing into an
specific occupational domain, through the internalisation of shared knowledge and
collective norms, values and notions of professionals from the same occupational
domain in a PPT. The emphasis on the internalisation of different types of
knowledge can be useful for competence based VET, because students often learn
the norms and values of an occupational domain in a more implicit way, while there
is no explicit attention to the internalisation of these shared knowledge and
collective norms, values and notions with more formal knowledge and work process
knowledge (Achtenhagen & Grubb, 2001). In this article, the definition, features
and related concepts of PPTs will be clarified by answering four leading questions:

1. What are Personal Professional Theories?

2. What is the value of the concept of Personal Professional Theories for


VET?

3. How do Personal Professional Theories develop?

4. How can the development of Personal Professional Theories be


stimulated?

In section 2, the nature and content of PPTs will be described. It will be


postulated that the nature and content of a PPT highly on the shared knowledge
and collective norms, values and notions of an occupational domain. In section 3,
the development of PPTs and the stimulation and facilitation of it will be described.
The article ends with a conclusion and a critical discussion about the definition of
the concept of PPTs. Also, some methodological implications of the concept will be
described.

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2. Personal Professional Theories: a conceptual analysis

A PPT is defined as a personal knowledge base which consists of (1) formal theories,
(2) work process knowledge and (3) beliefs concerning professional attitudes (Argyris
& Schön, 1974; 1978; Kelchtermans & Vandenberghe, 1994). A PPT has two
different functions; a PPT is a frame of reference through which professionals
acquire and interpret new knowledge (Levin & He, 2008) and a PPT directs
professional behaviour (Argyris & Schön; Beijaard & Verloop, 1996). Professional
behaviour is then the result of more or less sustainable deliberate
considerations. Research in the novice-expert domain shows that the extent in
which professional behaviour relies on tacit knowledge and routines increase during
professional careers (see for example Benner, 1984; Berliner, 1995). Since tacit
knowledge and routines partly develop by (professional) experiences, it is assumed
that experts in general will employ more tacit knowledge and routines in their daily
work than novices. In contrast we assume that especially novices base their
professional behaviour on more deliberate considerations. Accordingly, in the
remainder of the article we concentrate on deliberate considerations of beginning
professionals.

In this article, the concept of PPT is based on research on the professional


development of teachers and the development of professionals in organizations.
There is a large number of concepts that are closely related to the concept of PPTs.
For example, ‘craft knowledge’ (Beijaard & Verloop, 1996), ‘personal practical
knowledge’ (Clandinin, 1986; Zanting, Verloop & Vermunt, 2003), ‘practical
knowledge’ (Eraut, 1994; Beijaard & Verloop, 1996), subjective theories
(Kelchtermans & Vandenberghe, 1994), ‘theory of action’ (Marland & Osborne,
1990), ‘personal practical theories’ (Cornett, Yeoties & Terwilliger, 1990; Levin & He,
2008) and occupational action theories (Poell, 1998; Teurling & Van der Sanden,
2003) are used to describe underlying theories of professionals. These different
concepts and assumptions are used to elaborate the concept of PPT. However, with
the concept of PPT the internalisation of shared knowledge and collective norms,
values and notions of a specific occupational domain is more explicitly emphasized.

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In the previously mentioned concepts, this shared and collective perspective seems
to be less emphasized.

2.1 The nature of Personal Professional Theories

A defined in the previous section, a PPT is a personal knowledge base which


consists of formal theories, work process knowledge and beliefs concerning
professional attitudes. More in general, a PPT consists of knowledge and beliefs
(Argyris & Schön, 1974; Eraut, 1994; Kelchtermans & Vandenberghe, 1994; Van
der Krogt & Vermulst, 2000; Van der Sanden, 2004). Beliefs refer not only to
personal assumptions about adequate professional behaviour, relevant knowledge
and oneself as a professional, but also to professional values. It is through beliefs,
which can be more implicit or explicit, that a PPT directs professional behaviour
and also directs situational judgements (Beijaard, Verloop & Vermunt, 2000;
Pajares, 1992; Van der Krogt & Vermulst). PPTs contain individual or collective
views and indicate how professional behaviour should be conducted adequately,
what norms and values are appropriate, which professional attitudes are important
and why some specific behaviour is more suitable in specific professional
situations.

It is assumed that there are similarities between the PPTs of professionals


working in the same occupational domain. These similarities can be explained by
the Collective Professional Theory (CPT). A CPT consists of shared knowledge and
collective norms, values and notions of professionals, working in a certain
occupational domain (De Bruijn & Nieuwenhuis, 1994; Wilensky, 1964). A CPT
distinguishes a professional domain from other professional domains (Guile &
Griffiths, 2003). As a CPT reflect a certain consensus among the members of a
community of professionals (De Bruijn & Nieuwenhuis; Wilensky), a CPT can be
seen as the result of a collective process of negotiation of meaning (Wenger, 1998).
It has become widely accepted that knowledge, norms, values and notions are
shared by a community of practitioners at a certain time and place, and thus are
socially situated constructs. However, this combination of different aspects in a CPT
can only be formulated in a relative way. Within the CPT of a specific occupational
domain there is the possibility of several schools of thought. These different schools
of thought, which are appropriate in the same occupational domain, can occur for

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example between different organizations or between different regions (Wenger,


1998). However, without undermining the dynamic nature of professions -and
therefore the CPT of an occupational domain- we assume that there exist a CPT,
which refers to a shared understanding of knowledge, norms, values and notions
referring to collectively perceived adequate professional behaviour.

Another feature of the nature of PPTs is that a PPT can differ between novices
and experts. According to Van der Krogt & Vermulst (2000), experts or specialists
on a specific task or domain can have more systematised and well founded PPTs
then novices or non-specialists have. They “do not say that novices do not use these
theories, but that these theories can be assumed to be less explicit, less coherent,
less well-founded and less focussed on their specific place in the occupational
system” (p. 125). Experts work on the basis of relatively elaborated PPTs while for
novices it is less likely that they have such crystallised views on their professional
activities. However, it is assumed -as described in the previous section- that
experts’ PPTs have a more tacit nature. It is assumed that the PPTs of more
experienced professionals have a more tacit nature, and they have a more organized
and elaborated structure in their PPT (Van der Krogt & Vermulst, 2000). This is in
line with Buitink (2007), who assumes structure PPT is a good indication for a more
developed PPT.

To make these possible differences between the PPTs of professionals -which


can be for example between novices and experts but also between students in the
same professional domain- visible, four main variables will be clarified. The nature
category includes the variables (1) meaningfulness, (2) explicitness, (3) practicality
and (4) specification. These features are based on work of Buitink (2007), Huijts, De
Bruijn & Schaap (2008) and Van der Krogt & Vermulst (2000) and are described in
table 1.

-Insert table 1-

The way that a PPT directs professional behaviour and serves as frame of
reference, depends on the actual situation, the content of the interaction and the
social interaction itself (Van der Krogt & Vermulst, 2000). This implies that the way

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how a PPT directs professional behaviour and thus becomes explicit differs per
situation. Because of the implicit and sometimes tacit nature of PPTs it is assumed
that the development of PPTs is a relatively complex (learning) process, caused by
for example the process of internalisation of new knowledge and experiences in a
PPT, which can be seen as an explicit as well as an implicit process.

2.2 The content of Personal Professional Theories

The content of PPTs consists of three components. First, formal theories, which are
defined as explicit, coherent and systematic bodies of knowledge (Eraut, 1994).
Second, work process knowledge, which can be described as knowledge about the
organizational environment and the professional work context and work processes
(Boreham, 2002; 2004). Third, beliefs concerning professional attitudes refer to
personal perspectives concerning adequate professional attitudes and professional
values. The actual content of PPTs is highly domain specific. For example, students’
PPTs in the domain of Nursing contain different knowledge than PPTs of students in
the domain of Car Technique. The content of PPTs mentioned in this article is
described by means of different types or categories of knowledge (which will be
conceived as the different components of PPTs), without a domain specific
description.

The concept of ‘theory’ is used to enclose theoretical insights, experiences, the


connection and internalisation of both and the way how a PPT guides action in
professional situations (Kelchtermans & Vandenberghe, 1994). More concretely,
theory refers to the connection and internalisation of different components of formal
theories, work process knowledge and beliefs concerning professional attitudes.
From this perspective, a PPT refers to an integrated system of personalized
assumptions about adequate professional behaviour, relevant knowledge and
oneself as a professional. The connectedness of components implies that change in
one aspect of the theory entails changes in the theory elsewhere (Argyris & Schön).
A PPT depends on a set of stated or unstated assumptions concerning adequate
behaviour, required knowledge and conditions under which it can be expected that
certain behaviour leads to the desired outcome of that behaviour. According to
Argyris & Schön, “a full schema for a theory of action, then, would be as follows: in
situation S, if you want to achieve consequence C, under assumption a 1 ... a n, do

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A” (p. 6). The content of these schemas in a PPT depends largely on the CPT of a
specific occupational domain. To clarify the schema in a PPT, two different
examples of a PPT of two different professions will be described.

The first example concerns a part of an explicated teacher’s PPT:”When I want


to achieve that a student reflects on her professional attitude while working at the
workplace, I need knowledge about reflection as well as on how to stimulate
reflection. I have to keep in mind that it is difficult to stimulate reflection of this
student, because she didn’t see the relevance for reflection, although it is very
important in becoming an adequate professional to reflect on your professional
attitude”. The second example concerns a part of a car mechanics’ PPT: “I think, it
is not only important to know every technical detail of a car, it is also important to
be interested in costumers and to listen carefully to the wishes and preferences of
costumers, because a good relation with our clients is essential for our company. I
tell clients always what the alternatives and options are; I’ll try to be as transparent
as possible. I think this affects the satisfaction of clients. Also I think it is important
that I keep up with new developments and that I keep learning” (based on work of
Argyris & Schön, 1974). The examples show, from different perspectives, that
formal knowledge (theories of reflection, technical knowledge of cars), work process
knowledge (interaction with students and clients) and beliefs concerning
professional attitudes are components of a PPT. Therefore, beliefs refer to adequate
professional behaviour. For instance, the teacher thinks that reflection is an
important skill and activity in becoming a professional. The car mechanic believes
that not only specific technical knowledge is required in his work. This makes clear
that beliefs are relevant in professional behaviour (Argyris & Schön, 1978).
Furthermore, in both examples beliefs concerning adequate professional behaviour
can be recognised.

In the previous section it is described that becoming a professional means


adapting and internalising the shared knowledge and collective norms, values and
notions of a CPT (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998). This process results in an
own professional theory -the PPT-, which exists of a personal interpretation of these
aspects of a CPT. Consequently, the CPT of a certain occupational domain can serve
as the basis for understanding the content and nature of a PPT. The extent in which
a PPT corresponds with the CPT can be seen as an important indicator for the

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adequateness of a PPT. To identify the adequateness of the content of a PPT


evidence is needed that a PPT for instance sufficiently covers the domain and
constructs intended and that the content of a PPT is relevant for the domain.
Therefore, three variables will be clarified (see table 1). These variables are (1)
relevance, (2) representative and (3) richness (see Buitink, 2007). In table 2, the
variables will be described by clarifying the specific features per variable.

-Insert table 2-

The variables relevance, representative and richness can be used to analyze the
extent in which students’ PPTs are adequate, seen from the perspective of the CPT.
It is assumed that the more relevant, representative and elaborated a PPT is, the
more adequate a PPT is for the specific occupational domain.

2.3 Personal Professional Theories and Professional Identity


The development of a professional identity is related to the development of
PPTs (Levin & He, 2008), because a PPT intermediates between professional identity
and professional behaviour (see figure 1). An essential aspect of becoming a
professional is the development of a personal professional identity (Beijaard, Meijer
& Verloop, 2004). A professional identity is a dynamic equilibrium between images
of oneself, the available roles -or the perception of them- in a certain occupational
domain and the meanings attributed by others concerning the particular roles in
professions (Geijsel & Meijers, 2005). According to Kelchtermans and Vandenberghe
(1994), a professional identity is a socially constructed, relational and dynamic
concept, whereby a professional identity can be seen as the result of the continuing
interaction between the person and the environment (Eteläpelto, 2005).

-Insert figure 1-

PPTs are the explication of one’s professional identity (Beijaard, Meijer &
Verloop, 2004; Beijaard, Verloop & Vermunt, 2000). This assumption does not refer

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to the explication of a PPT in professional behaviour; it refers to the more internal


nature of a professional identity and to the more direct relation between a PPT and
professional behaviour.

The development of a professional identity is conceived as a learning process;


“it is not something that happens to you, but something that you try to construct
with the help of culturally available building materials” (Geijsel & Meijers, 2005; p.
424). This implies that a beginning professional must grow into an existing
discourse, in which concepts and more or less shared meanings are available in the
social environment (Bruner, 1990). Through negotiation of meaning a professional
tries to understand and interpret the language of a specific occupational domain.
The most important features of the process of negotiation of meaning will be
elaborated in the next section.

3. The development of Personal Professional Theories

In the previous sections, it is stated that the development of a PPT is important


in becoming a professional, because a PPT has two different functions; a PPT acts
as a filter through which for example beginning professional interpret new
information (Levin & He, 2008). Furthermore, it is assumed that a PPT directs
professional behaviour (Argyris & Schön, 1974; Beijaard & Verloop, 1996). However,
it is still unknown how the development of students’ PPTs can be stimulated and
facilitated in competence based VET. Therefore, in this section three relevant
aspects of a learning environment will be elaborated. These aspects are 1)
collaborative learning and negotiation of meaning, 2) coaching activities of teachers
and trainers and 3) reflection activities of students.

First, it is assumed that the development of an adequate PPT means


internalisation and personification of shared knowledge, collective norms, values
and notions –the CPT- which are characteristic of a specific occupational domain.
For the development of PPTs it is important to create a learning environment in
which students and more experienced professionals explicate (e.g. teachers from
school, trainers at the workplace, experts from a specific occupational domain),
confront and articulate their PPTs with each other, in the context of the CPT (Van
der Sanden & Teurlings, 2003). Through collaborative learning, students can

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engage in sustainable dialogues concerning required formal knowledge, work


process knowledge and the shared knowledge, collective norms, values and notions.
Therefore, a specific activity within the context of collaborative learning is the
process of negotiation of meaning, which refers to the process in which participants
learn through dynamic participation and mutual engagement in the occupational
domain. Wenger (1998) distinguishes three basic elements of negotiation of
meaning; (1) reciprocal interactions and mutual engagement, (2) a joint enterprise
and (3) a shared history of engagement. Through negotiation of meaning students
can explicate and confront their PPTs with the PPTs of other students or experts. In
the end this might lead to the understanding of and adaptation to the shared
knowledge, collective norms, values and notions of an occupational domain. It is
assumed that through the process of negotiation of meaning, which takes place in
for example group discussions, students learn from each others’ PPT. This
interaction includes for example learning from the implicit knowledge of experts,
which can be a teacher, a trainer or an expert from the particular occupational
domain, or confronting own ideas and conceptions with peers and/or experts.

Second, teachers and trainers in VET can stimulate the process of negotiation
of meaning -and therefore the development of students’ PPTs- by specific coaching
activities. Coaching of teachers and trainers seems to be important in the process of
development of PPTs, because coaching focuses on the integration and
internalisation of different types of knowledge in a PPT. Coaching includes giving
students direct suggestions, hints, reminders, specific feedback or more additional
information. The type of coaching activity depends then on the particular situation.
This implies that coaching can also include modelling and scaffolding activities
(Collins, Brown & Newman, 1989). For example, teachers and trainers can
stimulate the explication and articulation of students’ PPTs, by posing relevant and
critical questions, involving the way how students see themselves as professionals
and their own perspective of adequate professional behaviour. Furthermore,
teachers and trainers can stimulate the development of students’ PPTs by relating
professional behaviour of students while they perform at the workplace with the
PPT. The role of PPTs during professional activities can be explicated, prompted by
coaching activities. The main goal of coaching is that students become more aware
of the role of their PPT during professional activities and that students can reflect
on –the development of- their PPT (see for example De Bruijn, 2007).

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Third, besides collaborative learning, negotiation of meaning and coaching


activities of teachers and trainers, reflection is an important learning activity in the
development of students’ PPTs. Reflection is a meta-cognitive and affective learning
process in which students look critical to their own professional behaviour or the
professional behaviour of relevant others, i.e. peers, teachers and trainers. Students
think about their own role and influence during professional behaviour (Hatton &
Smith, 1995; Korthagen, 2001; Korthagen & Vaselos, 2005). The process of
reflection consists not only of structuring and restructuring new information, but it
also refers to draw conclusions concerning professional behaviour or to formulate
new (learning) goals (Eraut, 1994; Schön, 1983). Although the development of a PPT
can take place without explicit attention –since the development of a PPT can be a
more implicit process–, it is assumed that becoming aware and/or getting insight in
the own PPT is necessary for the development of an adequate PPT (De Bruijn, 2007).
In order to stimulate awareness of having a PPT, explicit attention to (1) an own
view on adequate professional behaviour, (2) personally perceived relevant
knowledge and (3) oneself as a professional is important in the process of
developing a PPT.

Taking these activities of students, teachers and trainers into consideration, it


can be concluded that awareness of students concerning the role of one’s PPT
during professional behaviour is an important aspect in the process of stimulating
the development of PPTs. Furthermore, it seems fruitful when beginning
professionals learn from professional situations to validate and adjust their PPT. In
this learning process, collaborative learning between relevant actors, negotiation of
meaning, reflection of students and specific coaching activities of teachers and
trainers are seen as the main activities in order to stimulate the development of
students’ PPTs.

4. Conclusion and Discussion


The concept of PPT is elaborated in response to the discussion concerning the
role of knowledge in competence based VET. In this article, it is assumed that each
(becoming) professional interprets and integrates formal knowledge, work process
knowledge and beliefs concerning professional attitudes in a PPT. The concept and
the development of PPTs are clarified by answering four main questions: (1) what

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are PPT’s, (2) what is the potential value of the concept of PPT’s in competence
based VET, (3) how do PPTs develop and (4) how can the development of PPT’s be
stimulated?

A PPT is defined as an own theory concerning adequate professional


behaviour, in which formal theories, work process knowledge and beliefs concerning
professional attitudes are internalised. A PPT is built upon personal professional
experiences and is seen as an explication of one’s professional identity. The function
of a PPT is twofold; a PPT (1) serves as frame of reference for interpreting (new)
professional situations, information and experiences and (2) directs professional
behaviour. The development of a PPT means growing into the CPT of a specific
occupational domain, which exists of shared knowledge, collective norms, values
and notions within an occupational field. This implies that despite of the personal
nature of a PPT there are similarities between the PPTs of different professionals
from the same professional domain. To become a professional one has to internalize
the shared knowledge, collective norms, values and notions of a specific
occupational domain.

Taking the above into account, three relevant notions of learning processes to
stimulate the development of students’ PPTs are elaborated: 1) collaborative
learning and negotiation of meaning, whereby collaborative learning includes
interaction between students (peers) and in which teachers and trainers have an
important role in guiding these interactive processes and whereby negotiation of
meaning refers to the confrontation and articulation of PPTs, whereby students
internalize and personalize new knowledge and professional experiences, 2)
coaching activities of teachers and trainers in order to help students to explicate
and articulate their PPT and 3) reflection activities of students.

Though we thoroughly explained the concept of PPTs some remarks can be


placed by the concept of PPT that needs further research. A first remark concerns
the internalisation of knowledge and beliefs. The way how the internalisation of
formal theories, work process knowledge and beliefs concerning professional
attitudes takes place is still unknown (Eraut, 1994). A second remark concerns the
relation between PPT and professional behaviour. It is assumed that a PPT directs
professional behaviour. However, we know that interactive cognitions influence the
role of PATs in the actual behaviour of a teacher (Meijer, Verloop & Beijaard, 2002;

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Zanting, Verloop & Vermunt, 2003). Subsequently, Argyris & Schön (1974) have
described that there is a difference between the ‘theory in use’ -which is comparable
to the concept of PAT- and the ‘espoused theory’ of a professional. In further
-theoretical- research to the development of PPTs it seems to be relevant to pay
more explicit attention to these remarks.

The use of PPT seems to be fruitful for VET. However, it is still unclear which
methods which can be used for the measurement of PPTs in VET. A number of
issues are then worthy to mention. Developing and using valid and reliable
measurement and assessment tools in VET is crucial but complex (Baartman,
Bastiaens, Kirschner & Van der Vleuten, 2007; Biemans et al., 2004). Firstly, in
assessing PPTs, there can be a dilemma between on the one hand national
standards for assessment and on the other hand to specific, local work
environments. Secondly, to develop appropriate measurement and assessment tools
it is important to involve experts, which represent different professional
stakeholders. The decision of who are the experts that should participate in the
development process is not straightforward. Thirdly, to grasp the different
components of a PPT, it is necessary to use a multi-method approach in which
several methods are used and triangulated to elicit different types of knowledge and
beliefs (e.g. Meijer, Verloop & Beijaard, 2002). Examples of different suitable
methods are concept maps, stimulated recall interviews, interviews (i.e. Beijaard &
Verloop, 1996; Meijer, 1999) and more narrative self descriptions (i.e. Kelchtermans
& Vandenberghe, 1994). Fourthly, there can be a discrepancy between what
(beginning) professionals say about their PPT and their actual PPTs, for instance
because PPTs remain partly implicit. For further research it is recommended to
develop adequate methods which can be used to assess the development of
students’ PPTs.

Concerning the practical relevance of PPTs, mainly for students in VET, it is


important that they learn what is it means to become and to be a professional in a
particular profession. Therefore, this article underlines that not only formal theories
are important; to become a full-fledged professional it is necessary to grow into the
specific culture of a professional domain and to internalise the shared knowledge
and collective norms, values and notions of professionals in a specific occupational
domain in an own theory; the PPT.

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Figure 1 The relation of a Personal Professional Theory with Professional Identity


and Professional Behaviour

Professional Behaviour

Personal Professional
Theory

Professional
Identity

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The value of Personal Professional Theories 23

Table 1 The nature of the Personal Professional Theories

Variable Features (‘extremes’) Description

1. Meaningfulness Superficial Personal meaning The variable meaning refers to the amount in which a
beginning professional attach the knowledge and
experiences to him or herself. A PPT can be highly personal;
a professional has then a strong personal view of adequate
professionalism, which has personal meaning for the
professional. This view is considered as the outcome of the
process of negotiation of meaning.

2. Explicitness Implicit Explicit This variable refers to the extent in which the beginning
professional can explicate his or her PPT. It is assumed that
a PPT is an implicit concept, which becomes explicit in
professional actions.

3. Practicality Practical Theoretical The variable practicality refers to the extent in which the PPT
is based on more theoretical or practical assumptions.

4. Specification Situational General This contains the situational and general features in a PPT;
it refers to the extent in which a PPT in pointed to specific,
more practical situations or to more general assumptions.

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The value of Personal Professional Theories 24

Table 2 Features of the content of Personal Professional Theories concerning adequateness.

Variable Features (‘extremes’) Description

1. Relevance Not relevant Relevant This variable refers to the extent in which the knowledge
and beliefs are relevant for the specific professional
domain.

2. Representative Less Covered The variable representative refers to the extent in which
representative the PPT sufficiently covers the shared knowledge and
collective norms, values and notions which are
representative and distinctive for a specific occupational
domain.

3. Richness Simple Elaborated The richness considers the relatively simple or just
complex and comprehensive structure of a PPT. The
richness of a PPT refers to the variety of different types of
components in a PPT, i.e. the dispersal of a PPT over
formal theories, work process knowledge and beliefs
concerning professional attitudes. A relative complete,
dispersed and multifaceted PPT is an indication for a more
adequate PPT.

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