InTuition taster: Embodiment in vocational learning

Colleagues may remember the heyday of curriculum development when lesson planning was based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, which identified the cognitive (knowledge/understanding), the affective (feelings/values) and the psychomotor (manual/physical skills) domains of learning and development.

Arguably, these domains – though prominent in all the key texts on learning/teaching in further education – were never extensively used in the FE curriculum. However, they did serve the purpose of indicating that learning was not just an intellectual matter but also involved people with bodies and emotions.

Fifty years on from Bloom’s categories, our curricula – from school to university – are dominated by the idea that learning is a purely intellectual process which has little to do with embodied humans with values and feelings. Moreover, such impoverished conceptions are even present in much vocational education and training (VET), a sphere in which the affective and psychomotor aspects of learning would seem especially relevant and crucially important in the perennial struggle to enhance vocationalism against more favoured liberal/academic studies.

Such intellectual prejudices result from what John Dewey called the medieval conception of education, which falsely divided theory and practice, and body and mind. Dewey’s recommendations for holistic learning, which integrates thinking and manual skills, are being increasingly endorsed by VET practitioners and researchers in acknowledging the crucial place of the body and its senses in all aspects of learning.

The domain of craftwork – inspired by the writings of Matthew Crawford and Trevor Marchand – can be viewed as central to a vocational pedagogy in which mental and manual skills are conjoined to produce rich and deep learning experiences. Embodiment is now influencing programmes from basic craft to graduate medical education. In her study of carpentry apprentices in New Zealand, for example, Karen Vaughan reported that learners’ progress was based on getting to grips with an increasingly sophisticated interplay between their minds, bodies, cross-trade interactions, and their physical environment of climate, tools and materials.

FE teachers, trainers and managers would do well to take heed of this and ensure that the psychomotor aspects of learning are acknowledged and incorporated in all aspects of course planning, teaching and student support.

By Terry Hyland.


  • Hyland, T. 2019. Embodied Learning in Vocational Education and Training; Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 71(3): pp. 449-463.
  • Hyland, T. 2017. Craftworking and the “Hard Problem” of Vocational Education and Training.
  • Open Journal of Social Sciences. 5(3): pp. 304-325.
  • Vaughan, K. 2017. The Role of Apprenticeship in the Cultivation of Soft Skills and Dispositions. Journal of Terry Hyland is emeritus professor at the University of Bolton and lecturer in philosophy at the Free University of Ireland in Dublin
  • Vocational Education and Training, 69(4): pp. 540-557.


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