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IV. THEORY

This chapter is aimed primarily at practitioners in the field of guidance. It will look at the development of various theoretical approaches to guidance, starting with the underlying assumptions of early traditional theories. There will be some discourse on modern theories and conclude by examining the impact of new technology, primarily web-based tools on both client and practitioner.

 

IV.1. The distance challenge

The danger in developing the use of new technology in the workplace is that the new technology is used to do the same old thing but in a new way.  The challenge is not how to incorporate new technology into existing practice, but to develop the practice itself in the light of the possibilities that new technology offers.  The aim is to use the experience of both practitioner and client to add value to the guidance process by developing skills for both parties to make best use of what new technology has to offer.  The problem is that we don’t always know what the technology can do; but we can try to work out what the client would want.  The client can be seen as a customer in a sales context, and the customer encounter can itself be used as a learning process (Chattell, 1998).  To create value in a digital age is to change our perception of what is possible.  This does not mean huge innovation, but a gradual shift in expectation on the part of the customer in the light of value added to the product or service so that the customer sees things differently.

 

Just as new technology challenges the individual, so the challenge extends to organisations which employ careers practitioners.  The skills challenge for individuals as they adapt to working in new ways and with new technology is bound up in the challenge for organisations to make effective use of new technology for competitive advantage.  For some organisations the goal will be not to gain advantage, but to survive in a competitive market, be it at the mercy of market forces or political decisions.  Innovation and learning in the context of organised work is at the heart of current debate on strategic management.  Time, money and energy can be invested in innovation, with no certainty that there will be any sure return, still less any sure return within a given period of time.  In uncertain times, the only certainty is change: the need is to anticipate change and ensure that individuals and organisations alike can adapt, or face the consequences.

 

IV.2. Relevance of theory

Often the theories underpinning web-based tools are not transparent and few tools explicitly identify the theoretical constructs on which they are based. As practitioners who are making informed use of these resources it is valuable to be aware of the range of theories relating to guidance practice and how clients approach decision-making processes.

 

When using web-based tools it is important for practitioners to be conversant with their scope and limitations. One should feel confident about evaluating the resource and using one’s professional expertise to consider how the various web-based tools fit into your guidance practice.

 

IV.3. Theories & web-based tools

Although one might find a lot of guidance programs when using the world –wide- web, at a closer look many of them are basically databases.  Whilst it is very useful to be able to check out where to study plumbing or how to teach a foreign language, information on its own is not really guidance but supports the guidance process. Many of the web-based guidance tools use a ‘matching’ process which equates a person’s interests, skills and abilities to jobs which are broken down into categories such as skills and ability, thereby ‘matching’ you to a job.

 

Traditional approaches to career decision-making tend to be rational, assume choice by the individual as well as stable labour market conditions. Differential or matching approaches have continued to exert a significant influence on the practice of careers guidance and also related policy initiatives.  They lie at the root of many computer aided guidance and Internet-based instruments used within guidance practice. There have been developments in both theory and practice emphasising the client as a more active participant in the career process and this is also reflected in the development of computer based tools. New theories have emerged that take account of contextual issues and offer different perspectives. For example Savickas (1993) discusses the general move towards ‘a multiple perspective discourse‘(p.205) and suggests that changes in career counselling re-define the practitioners as co-authors and editors of career narratives. Instead of diagnosing, assessing and matching, they authorise careers by narrating coherent stories; invest career with meaning by identifying themes and tensions in the story line and help clients’ learn the skills necessary for the next episode in the story. 

 

Law (1981, 1996, 1999) in particular has turned his attention to the use of biography in career management.  By reviewing and reframing both internal experiences and experience of the outside world, we can frame and reframe our career thinking and our career feeling. Using the ‘modelling’ properties of computer programs permits the individual to re-visit old ideas, and try out new ideas.  Such a process permits the user to move from the planful to the playful in managing career.  It is important to consider how new thinking can be accessed through web-based tools.  The newer thinking can then harness new technology. 

 

IV.3.1. Differential (Trait & Factor or Matching)

These theories (Rodger, 1952; Holland, 1966, 1973) evolved from early studies of individual differences and developed closely with the psychometric movement.  The key assumption is that individuals have unique patterns of ability and traits that can be objectively measured and matched with the requirements of the job. It is assumed that the provision of information about the client and the world of work will result in behaviour change and outcomes such as increased certainty of choice and improved decision-making skills.

 

As indicated earlier, this approach tends to assume choice and autonomy for the individual, and we can question this as a reasonable assumption for some client groups.  Matching individuals to particular environments assumes that individuals do not change, whereas in reality, individuals constantly change and develop. Theory development has also taken account of the significant labour market changes and the way in which occupational environments are becoming more fluid. Web-based tools based on this perspective clearly have a valuable role to play in providing information and providing useful starting points for individuals who wish to explore options. At the same time it is necessary to be aware of their limitations.

 

IV.3.2. Humanistic (Client Centred)

The relationship between a practitioner and client arising from the client’s career concerns creates a psychological climate in which the client can evolve a personal identity (Rodger, 1952). The aim is to help clients to become self-reliant, identify the vocational goal that is the fulfilment of that identity, determine a route to that goal and feel empowered to implement that plan. This raises questions about how the web-based resources can be designed to ensure empowerment and ‘client-centredness’ and also highlights one of the limitations of web-based resources which is the value clients place on the one-to-one exchange.

 

IV.3.3. Developmental

Various accounts of development theory involve different numbers of stages through which individuals move (Super, 1957, 1980, 1990; Ginzberg et al, 1951). The process helps a person to develop and accept an integrated and adequate picture of ‘self’ and his/her role in the world of work, to test that concept and to convert it into a reality, with satisfaction to self and eventual benefit to society.

 

IV.3.4. Behavioural (Social Learning)

People acquire their preferences for various activities through a variety of learning experiences. They make ‘sense of’ their activities because of ideas they have been taught or have learned through experience. They acquire beliefs about themselves and the nature of their world through direct and indirect educational experiences. They then take action on the basis of their beliefs using skills that they have developed over time. Krumboltz (1990) emphasises the importance of learning experiences (e.g. skills and work roles) and their effect on career decision-making process.

 

 Krumboltz suggests the goal of practitioners is to foster client learning and to generate ‘learning experiences for clients that involve a wide array of personal as well as career issues’.  This can be relevant to the opportunities afforded by Internet-based tools, which potentially offer rich possibilities for extending people’s knowledge of possibilities, the reality of learning or work opportunities. This also leads to a shift in the role of the practitioner to a learning facilitator.

 

IV.3.5. Sociological Approaches

The approaches described so far take a more individualistic perspective, largely rooted in psychology.  Many web-based tools are based on this starting point and are unable to view the person in their context. Other approaches, such as Roberts’ Occupational Allocation (1977, 97) challenge this individualistic perspective and emphasise the fact that individuals are constrained in their choice of occupations by social variables, outside their control such as class, gender, ethnicity and age

 

The link between learning and career decision-making was reflected in the work carried out by Law and Watts (1977) in the development of DOTS model, which centred on learning about Self, Opportunities, Decision-making and Transitions. Work carried out by Law suggests the most significant factors in occupational choice are interpersonal exchanges that occur in local settings (Law, 1981, 1996). Most significant are the personal exchanges which occur between individuals and others such as family, neighbourhood, peer groups, ethnic group and teachers at school, with whom they are routinely in contact. 

 

Law has developed the model, coined New-DOTS (1999) to emphasise that career learning occurs in the context of ‘community interaction’ and also that individuals can be helped to gain confidence and make progress in career-development activities. He put forward the SeSiFu model that emphasises a developing repertoire of capacities that move from more basic gathering information to sensing, sifting, focusing and understanding. Such approaches challenge the notion of ‘autonomous and rational decision-making’ as a sole method for career decision-making (Savikas, 2000:62).

 

This perspective has impact on web-based tools, which aim to help people consider more carefully what are the constraining factors affecting their approach to decision-making and highlight the value of building on information gathering to develop more active career learning.

 

Theories are now developing that attempt to meet the needs of specific client groups, such as minority ethnic groups (Pedersen, 1994) or girls and women (Coyle and Skinner,1988). Multiculturalism assumes each client, careers counsellor and the presenting problems are shaped by different culturally defined relationships and therefore approaches to practice must acknowledge cultural factors and cultural values (Sue, 1995). 

 

In addition to the development of newer theories concerned with addressing individual difference, theories are being developed that offer alternative ways of working. These include Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT), Constructivist theories, Solution Focused Theory, amongst others.  In such approaches the client is encouraged to be both introspective and actively engaged in understanding career issues and moving forward. The emphasis is on collaboration and joint action (Sampson, 1998). The individual’s uniqueness is emphasised as well as the opportunity to become more actively involved and also to engage all senses, including creativity and imagination.

 

IV.3.6. Constructivist career counselling theory

Constructivist theory (Peavy, 1995; McMahon & Tatham, 2002) developed in response to the realisation that clients’ lives are increasingly influenced by social transformations: for example the deterioration of family and community networks, uncertainty and conflict, acknowledging the impact of his environment or worldview on the career development of the individual. It is a holistic framework from which to work rather than a set of techniques.   Constructivist career counselling is described as a method of life planning where new knowledge is incorporated into an individual’s existing frameworks. It has been described as the client ‘constructing’ himself through the interpretation he makes of his societal conditions and the actions he subsequently takes. This means that depending on the conditions the individual will be in turns resistant or creative in relationships and work.

 

Both practitioner and client are experts in counselling and on him/herself respectively, and both try to identify ‘patterns of influence’ that shape the client’s thinking and acting. Influential relationships are seen as more influential in career development than traditional career counselling activities e.g. psychometric testing. The client and practitioner work with the client’s life experiences with the counselling process seen as a method of influencing rather than initiating change.

 

IV. 3.7.  Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT)

Like many of the emerging theories SCCT appreciates cognitive variables as an important aspect of the career making process, with the notion of the client as a personal agency having an important position. SCCT attempts to offer a unifying framework for different but related theories where standpoints can complement each other (and perhaps converge to a new synthetic whole), being situated between the Krumboltz´ social learning theory and the constructivist view. SCCT look upon the self as a dynamic and situation-specific. Thus, to synthesize: while the constructivist theory conceives the individual as a producer of the self and its behaviour and  Krumboltz, on the other hand,  imagines the individual as a product of social factors, the SCCT suggests that a person is both a producer and a product of the social environment with a potential for self-regulative activities.

 

The input of SCCT to the web-environment could be that it illuminates the Internet as a general service-supplying tool in contrast to specific intervention sequences with face-to-face encounters that can deal with complex patterns of social circumstances. It can also put some focus on the web service as a social-cultural product in itself as one of the mediating tools that a client could come across in the career development process. A tool or working method mirrors the developers and practitioners’ cultural inheritance and the social codes in practice. Another point to be made with SCCT in mind is the possibility with communication between peers on the Internet that could be seen as a supportive complement to self-regulative activities.

 

 IV. 3. 8.  Solution Focused Theory

This theory or set of methods assume that each person is unique and should be treated that way. The career problem can mostly not be separated from the personal life. These two domains are intertwined.

 

In solution-focused theory the emphasis is on the high degree of client engagement in the process of guidance, where an essential element is the documentation of the process - not only written words but also with all sorts of visual effects. Various methods in this kind of setting are using qualitative assessment exercises where the client is really involved in the pursuit for solving a problem or dilemma. This is an approach that relies heavily on the users’ intellectual capacity and structural thinking, putting a special emphasis on the communication skills of the client.

 

The usefulness of this approach in the context of Internet based guidance and the creation of adequate tools could be seen as relying upon three main arguments:

  1. There is a high degree of client activity that complies with the dominant pedagogic ideas of today and which points out the advantage of a learning strategy that will not settle for memorizing simple facts. A medium such as the Internet is broadly seen as one tool to make this happen.
  2. The imagination and creativity of the users can be assisted with possible multimedia effects on the web; furthermore, the solution focused approach have a promising prospect on visualising the users thoughts about career with different exercises, e.g. simulating different work opportunities to see what happen when you are choosing one solution over another.
  3. This approach only deals with client’s future possibilities and does not focus on past difficulties. This reductive attitude can be questionable as an approach in a traditional counselling environment with face-to-face encounters, but this reductive way of thinking can be quite suitable when guidance tools are constructed on the Internet. An Internet product - where a client is on his/her own - should not stimulate any negative feelings that cannot be cared for. 

 

* * *

While these approaches are starting to have an impact on web-based resources there are few sites that deliver resources based on such principles directly to clients. In relation to web-based tools and learning styles, such approaches rely on a high level of client activity.  At the same time the client can have the opportunity to observe their personal development, gaining the feedback that may encourage taking more personal responsibility. Multimedia options offered by the web offer the opportunity to enhance creativity and simulation exercises, e.g. considering impact of different choices can contribute to the process. Documentation may include visual images in addition to words.  This approach also relies on users’ ability to think in a systematic manner and requires support for those who have less confidence. Very clear signposting and introductions are essential for such tools to be used purposefully.

 

IV.4. Impact on the role of the guidance practitioner

Web-based tools are already out there and as practitioners we would do well to embrace them as added value to the guidance process. In fact one might say that it is the responsibility of the practitioner not only to be aware of the range of the resources available, but to be able to evaluate their usefulness.  For example what are the websites offering and where do they fit during intervention?  Because these sites are easily accessible for the main part they could easily have been used by the client as a preparatory tool prior to seeing the adviser, testing out possible career ideas. At the same time it may very well be used by the practitioner as well outside actual interview time to pursue other lines of thinking and hyperlinks, not possible within the usual time constraints of the one to one interview. Thus, one important task for practitioners is to build learning situations on the Internet that with some degree should be based upon self-regulative means. The developer and provider of career services on the web need to focus on how the user could be an independent learner, with appropriate support regarding different target groups.

 

Where traditional theories see the practitioner as the expert, modern theories see the role of the practitioner as one of facilitator - clients are invited to take ownership of their career awareness and development. Both practitioner and client are able to make sense of the situation and can provide opportunity for the client to work autonomously. Moreover, using web-based tools can prove financially efficient. The user can invest as much time needed outside the interview to sift information or explore options leaving the shared (but limited) time available during the one to one interview for actual guidance expertise.

 

If the development of career guidance will include the Internet as a strong element in guidance as a whole then this could imply a somewhat different role for the practitioner. The term facilitator would apply where guidance practitioners are moving towards the educational field in the sense that more attention will be turned to the insights from the pedagogical, instructional and cognitive sciences field in order to create learning environments on the web. With the development in the e-learning field it can be argued that both the guidance practitioner and the teacher are adapting more of a mentor/facilitator role for the users’ learning process.

 

Some questions arise with regard to the evolution of guidance practice: “How far can we go in delivering services through Internet?”, “Is web-counselling possible?”. Many practitioners are reluctant to accept the notion that a guidance practitioner could successfully carry out a counselling session at a distance. But there are practitioners who already have challenged the received wisdom that client interaction must be  face-to-face to notice subtle body language and other features important for the outcome. There is another aspect that should not escape our attention here: that the Internet can and should be viewed also as a communication tool which gives practitioners greater possibilities to share information with each other, regionally, nationally and internationally, thus further empowering the profession and developing good practice.

 

IV.5. Checklist


 

Criteria

Questions

Notes

1.   

Information

What is the purpose of the information on the website?

Is this a database of information or intended to support the guidance process?

2.   

Role

What is the role of the practitioner?

Consider the context of the client and the theoretical approach/s used by the practitioner; consider also the maturity of the client in relation to own career development.

3.   

Intervention

At what point of guidance intervention is the tool useful?

The client may already have accessed this site; or may not be comfortable with modern technology

4.   

Threat or opportunity

How can these tools be used to add value to the role of practitioner?

Embracing modern technology for added efficiency; role of practitioner moving on to that of facilitator/mentor; the opportunity to explore different ways of working.


 

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Last update:  16:00 18/06 2004

Foreword
Abstract
I. Users
II. Delivery
III. Design / Developing
IV. Theory
V. Ethics
References
Annex 1
Annex 2
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GRUNTVIG - European Cooperation Projects in Adult Education
This project has been carried out with the support of the European Union in the framework of the Socrates program
The content of this project does not necessarily reflect the position of the European Union, nor does it involve any responsibility on the part of the European Union