This research paper is the first in a series produced as part of the Cedefop project The changing nature and role of VET (2016-18).

The aim of the paper is to review scholarly attempts to define or explain vocational education and training and to develop a theoretical model to analyse national definitions or conceptions of VET and how they have changed over time.

VET takes many forms and is, perhaps, the least unitary of education sectors. Based on a literature review of previous attempts to characterise VET, the paper suggests using a multi-perspective framework which combines:

  1. an epistemological and pedagogical perspective;
  2. a system and institutional perspective;
  3. a socioeconomic and labour market perspective to analyse VET.

These perspectives can help to identify appropriate learning approaches, institutional solutions and forms of cooperation to work towards.

In Volume 2 of this series, the approach is empirically tested and the different understandings of VET in 30 European countries are illustrated.