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Looking back at three years of Learning Layers – Part One: Challenges and responses

October 25th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

At the moment the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project is preparing documents for the review of the Year 3 – an interim review to pave the way for the final year. In this context we have a chance to consider the development of the project and our activities in a new light. Now we have more perspective to reflect, how we have encountered the challenges and to what extent our responses have brought us further. In this first post I will focus on the challenges of of the early phase and on the role of participative design processes and capacity building initiatives.

1. Challenges met in the beginning of construction pilot (Year 1)

In the beginning phase of the Learning Layers project the application partner organisations (Bau-ABC Rostrup, Agency and Network for ecological construction work -Agentur/NNB and the construction companies) had difficulties to see, how to use digital media, web tools and mobile technologies as support for working and learning. Partly this was due to a scattered picture of single tools and apps, many of which had been designed for laymen users and only few for construction specialists. Partly this was due to general doubts that mobile devices at training and working sites provide distraction, safety risks and data privacy risks. Partly this was due to prior negative experiences with earlier generation of ‘new technologies’ (mobile offices based on laptops, faxes etc.) that did not bring the expected efficiency but added to the workload.

As a response, the research partners and the application partners started looking for solutions that would provide more transparency to training, learning and instructive activities as well as facilitate accessing, sharing and reusing digital contents. In a similar way the apprentices in Bau-ABC that participated in a User Survey  indicated that they were already using mobile devices to support learning (but had very limited awareness of relevant web tools and apps).

2. The importance of participative design activities and capacity building initiatives (Year 2 and Year 3)

After an initial search phase in the co-design activities the emphasis was shifted to the co-design and co-development of Learning Toolbox as a framework for using digital media, web tools and apps via mobile device. Here it is worthwhile to note the shift of emphasis from particular design idea (digitisation of learning materials and/or reporting documents) to a flexible framework with which users can shape their own digital working and learning environment. In this way the design idea transformed into a an integrative toolset that needs to be linked to complementary apps, tools and web resources. In order to achieve this, the project had to start capacity building measures that contributed to users’ awareness and skills.

As a response, the research partners ITB and Pontydysgu organised during Y2 a series of Multimedia Training workshops that helped Bau-ABC trainers to start working independently with their own blogs, edit video materials and use other digital tools. Based on this experience, Bau-ABC trainers produced a series of videos, in which they (together with apprentices) demonstrated potential uses of Learning Toolbox at training sites and in actual construction work situations.

In the next phase the Bau-ABC trainers continued the training as peer learning sessions and developed a new flexible training model – the “Theme rooms” – to spread the training across the whole organisation. At the same time the co-design sessions with Bau-ABC trainers have turned into co-development exercises in which they have created their own stacks to provide access to training materials and other resources (user instruction manuals, maintenance manuals etc.) that are relevant in their trades.

I think this is enough of this issue – the implementation of the Them Rooms in Bau-ABC and the reporting on parallel developments in the construction sector pilot is a matter for the reports. I wanted to highlight here the fact that our application partner (Bau-ABC) and the trainers are taking initiatives to give Internet a major role as the fourth learning venue (alongside workplace, school and intermediate training centre) and they are becoming owners of the innovations.

More blogs to come …

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