The development of professional knowledge by students enrolled for senior secondary vocational education

Classroom situation

In her PhD research, Wenja Heusdens studied how students develop professional knowledge when enrolled for senior secondary vocational education. The objective of her research was to understand the nature of professional knowledge and the thought processes that students use to develop this knowledge.


Individuals do not become competent professionals just by learning a multitude of different facts. The important thing is to establish links between the different pieces of knowledge and apply them in a professional context. This is a learning process too. Exactly how does this process work? What do students need to be able to establish links between the knowledge and insights gained with the interests of their vocation in mind? Which demands does this put on trainers?

Given the limited academic research conducted within senior secondary vocational education, the objective of this study was to contribute to learning theories, focusing in particular on the cognitive processes that lead to the development of professional knowledge.


During the course of the research project, conclusions and learnings were published in core publications and were also presented in a webinar . Both can be used to adapt or improve education, because of which this research contributes to the various theories on learning in general and learning in vocational education.

The research provides an insight into the thinking activities of students enrolled for senior secondary vocational education. As a result, it is now clearer how students develop professional knowledge; in other words: all of the knowledge that professionals need to practise their professions. Therefore, the way in which students learn when seeking to gain entry to a specific profession can be used to improve the guidance they receive and also ensure that vocational education responds better to the thought processes of students who are learning at the interface between school and professional practice.


01 January 2011 - 25 August 2018


The researcher conducted her research with two ways of thinking in mind: the first - contextualisation - involves the application and specification of theoretical models into concrete tasks. A student deduces how concepts are to be applied from a certain professional situation. The second - conceptualisation - involves the abstraction of situation-specific experiences into theoretical models. In this way, students connect actions with their underlying knowledge. They learn to look beyond a single, specific professional experience.

HU researchers involved in the research

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