The aim of any research design is to plan a proposal of methods and processes of data collection relative to the area of study and foresee as far as possible any practical emerging constraints which could hamper the achievement of a finished result (Hakim, 1987). Design planning is of course essential in order to ensure that a research is structured to the utmost of clarity which allows both the designer and the researcher, to identify clearly the 'key elements' of the study. Furthermore a through preparation of a design plan will prevent distractions from the central theme of study as it implements a guided structure, ensuring a continual process between the research problem, the question, purpose, sample population, data collection techniques, information analysis and reporting, in a manner that allows for all these key elements to be amalgamated coherently. It is within this structure that according to Maxwell (2004) the design plans out the structure of the research proposal thus setting out to validate the research question.
The context element of the investigation plays a fundamental role as to which direction and methodology will be applied throughout the study. The inquiry into Workplace Pedagogies will adopt a two-fold approach (De Vaus, 2001); in which first research application is descriptive, aiming to explain what pedagogical strategies are implemented within the workplace; while the second is more explanatory within its nature and aims to understand why the choice of such pedagogies and how these are achieving the learning outcomes.
1. The Research Question
Workplace pedagogy strategies towards achieving learning outcomes
A Case Study of Apprenticeship Training in Malta
Choice of subject area emerges from the following concerns- Apprenticeship training provides an alternative educational path to those students who do not wish to continue their studies within the more traditional educational institutions. It allows for the students to learn and work concurrently, therefore earning an income while enhancing their skills and knowledge within the industrial place of work (Malta Qualifications Council, 2011a). Within the current economic climate apprenticeships could be more attractive to both the student and industry, for this allows the students to earn money while also providing an input into the production and services of the industrial training provider (Employment and Training Corporation, 2004). However apprenticeship training in Malta is currently in dire need of an educational reform, wherein workplace learning needs to be revised extensively. As yet workplace mentors are given no specific training prior to being assigned the responsibility of student mentoring; industrial settings are not legally bound to follow workplace pedagogies; the selection of industrial settings for learning is highly dependent upon the willingness of the setting to accept a student rather than on the quality of learning it will offer; the course syllabi lack no clearly established learning outcomes which assess a range of different levelled competences, relevant to workplace learning (Malta Qualifications Council, 2011b); there is very little bridging between the school-based theoretical providers and workplace learning providers; workplace assessors are not specialised professionals within the subject area being assessed but follow a generic format of assessment.
The first part of the research question is aimed at achieving an understanding of the workplace pedagogical strategies: this part will focus on providing a description of the pedagogies being applied. The second part will provide a descriptive evaluation of the current student learning requirements within workplace learning. The third part of the study will explore and explain the effectiveness of the current workplace pedagogies in relation to the students' achievement of the current learning targets.
Data collection will provide for an evaluation of the following: the quality and style of pedagogical strategies towards achieving the current learning targets - do these reach the required level of the course implementation; are the current pedagogies adapting to the individual's learning styles; are students learning effectively and to the maximum of their capabilities; how effective is the current apprenticeship workplace learning.
This assessment will allow for the provision of a number of concrete proposals as to how policy makers can work towards reforming and improving the current training levels of apprenticeship learning in a manner that is equitable to the standards of National Education Framework and that of the European Union (Employment and Training Cooperation, 2004).
2. The type of study
2.1 The study will be of a qualitative epistemological case-study seeking to explore workplace pedagogies within apprenticeships. Therefore aiming to explore and explain the relationship between workplace pedagogies and how far are students achieving their utmost of the set learning outcomes. In the above case the application of a qualitative epistemological study is the ideal research design as it focuses upon answering questions of a social nature, which also present a contemporary phenomenon within a real-life context (Maxwell, 2004).
2.2 The study will follow the process of a cross-section of multiple mini-case studies conducted across various local training institutes offering apprenticeship schemes within a variety subject areas.
2.3 The mini-case studies will then be analysed collectively to create a central tendency across to create a collective case study focusing upon local apprenticeship training. This collective analysis will allow for a comparative interpretation of information allowing for the development of a number of variables applicable to various points derived from the data collection.
3. Data collection techniques and the sample population
The mini-case studies will be developed around a structure of mixed-techniques for data collection allowing for a triangulation of data evidence.
3.1 Interviews with workplace mentors across a variety of apprenticeships to understand how workplace pedagogies are delivered.
3.2 A focus group with workplace assessors to understand how current learning targets are set and assessed - understanding which methods of assessment are currently applied and understand why the choice of the respective assessment method.
3.3 Focus groups with learners following different subject area apprenticeships to assess the learner's perception of the quality of learning in relation to workplace pedagogies and assessment.
3.4 In-depth interviews amongst a cross-section of students following different apprenticeship courses to assess for quality of learning in relation to workplace pedagogies - questions pertaining to individualised learning styles.
The overall outcome of the study is three-fold: firstly it aims to provide essential information required towards conducting the necessary pedagogical reform; secondly it aims to target enhancing VET seeking to achieve a parity of esteem when compared to other higher educational pathways; thirdly to explore how VET to attract a higher student population aged 18-23 thus reducing early school-leavers (National Council for Further and Higher Education, 2010).