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Wrapping up the Learning Layers experience – Part Three: Showing impact

October 30th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my two latest blogs I have  started a series of posts to wrap up the experiences of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. Currently we are preparing contributions for the concluding deliverable of our project. One part of this exercise is writing “Impact Cards” to demonstrate, what kind of achievements we have reached in the sectoral pilots in Construction sector and in Healthcare sector as well as in the supporting activities (development of  tools, software and infrastructure). In general, I have welcomed the idea of preparing such impact cards. They present in different contexts a) the situation before our project activities, b) the interventions that we have carried out and c) the situation/developments  after our interventions.

However, such cards have also their limitations. Whilst they are good tools for demonstrating particular achievements in specific contexts, it is difficult to keep the big picture visible with such tools. Thus, we may have details but loose sigh on the overall developments to which these achievements contribute. Also, we may fail to see, what kind of challenges we have had to meet during the work to show any impact whatsoever. This, to me is important when we discuss the theme ‘digital transformation’ and consider, how our project has contributed to changes in working and learning processes. From this perspective I will discuss below the picture that we have given on the Construction pilot by reading across the impact cards we have prepared. For practical reasons I focus now on the cards that deal with the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup.

The situation before the Learning Layers project

Here it is worthwhile to emphasise that the general atmosphere in Germany concerning the role of mobile devices as support for learning – and in particular for workplace learning – was mainly sceptical and restrictive. The use of mobile devices during work was forbidden in most companies and in the training centres. The use of smartphones was considered as distraction and in the worst cases as a risk factor (concerning hazards at work or concerning data privacy in work contexts). Furthermore, the companies that had been involved in early pilots with digital tools had made negative experiences with ‘infant diseases’ of specific tools and compatibility problems with stand-alone tools and apps. The trainers in Bau-ABC had been monitoring tools and apps that were advertised for their trades, but not many of them had proven appropriate for professional use or as support for apprentice training. Moreover, the apprentices had not learned to know tools or apps relevant for their learning and most of them had used smartphones only for private hobbies.

However, having said all that we started our cooperation with Bau-ABC trainers and management in good spirit and the apprentices were keen to join in the activities when there was a chance. All parties were interested in looking, how to bring mobile devices, digital media and web resources into learning and into work processes. All parties informed us of communication gaps and practical difficulties in which they saw the possibility to bring in digital tools to facilitate work and learning. However, the important point was that the new technologies should offload them, not add to their workload. And regarding apprentice training, the new technologies should empower them as self-organised learners, not provide easy shortcuts that reduce the learning effect.

The training interventions as capacity-building

When starting our co-design process with Bau-ABC trainers, we soon realised that we (all of us) needed to raise our awareness on existing tools and apps as well as of processes of using, co-creating and co-developing. From this perspective it was great help that our Pontydysgu colleagues – in particular Jenny Hughes – had a lot of experience with the TACCLE courses in getting teachers familiarise themselves with such technologies for their own use. Moreover, those courses had brought the teachers together to make their own plans for using web resources in their teaching. This provided the background for the first training interventionthe early Multimedia training workshops in Bau-ABC. This training encouraged some of the participants to create their own WordPress blogs and to use them as repositories for making their training materials publicly available (see Zimmererblog, Maurerblog, Tiefbaublog and Brunnenbauerblog).

Based on this experience the Bau-ABC trainers proposed at a later phase the Theme Room training model to raise awareness and to promote digital competences across the organisation. This provided the basis for the second training interventionthe Theme Room training campaign in November 2015. This time the whole organisation participated, whilst partners from LL project worked together with the advanced trainers as tutors and mentors. Here again, the emphasis was on creating an overview on the themes (social media, digital learning materials) and to work together to get an idea, how to use the web-based and tools in apprentice training.

The co-design and pilot testing of Learning Toolbox (LTB)

In the early phase of the LL project the Bau-ABC colleagues proposed as a major design idea the digitisation of the White Folder of Bau-ABC (the collector of training materials, worksheets and reporting documents in their apprentice training). Already at this phase we got a lot of feedback, how the use of the forthcoming tool should enhance the learning of apprentices (instead of providing easy shortcuts to answers before reflecting the task). During the  process the design idea got transformed from digitising the materials to developing an integrative toolset to facilitate the work with web-based resources and real-time communication. In this way the co-design process took the course to developing the Learning Toolbox (LTB). And due to their intensive participating in this work and in Multimedia Training the Bau-ABC trainers were supporting this idea. The strongest evidence for this were the videos that Bau-ABC trainers produced in August 2014 on potential use of LTB in different training and working contexts. In a similar way the ca. 80 apprentices that participated in the Demo Camp workshops in June 2014 were very inspired by the idea of getting such a toolset to work with.

In the final phase of the project when the LTB was ready to be introduced for piloting in the apprentice training (with several few trades and selected training projects) we were pleased to witness a relatively smooth take-off. In spite of some technical problems we got positive feedback from trainers and apprentices. The trainers who were leading these pilots had found their own ways to use the LTB (building their own stacks, screens and tiles) to provide access to learning resources. Some of them provided a wide range of information resources (for problem-oriented searches), some preferred to open the acess to wider resources as a step-by-step procedure (based on learning progress and interests). The apprentices also found their own ways to make use of the LTB and gave their own views as feedback. In a similar way, the separate introduction of AchSo  (video annotation tool) in some of the trades was taken as an enrichment (although there was some confusion, whether it can be integrated into LTB or remains as a stand-alone tool).  Altogether, the experiences with piloting were by and large positive.

– – –

I think this is enough of the situation before the Learning Layers activities and of the interventions that we have carried out during the project work. The impact cards do contain an assessment, how the situation has developed after the interventions and on what points we can show impact. However, from the perspective of the theme ‘digital transformation’ these points would be very detailed. Furthermore, we are still looking forward to having concluding discussions with Bau-ABC trainers and with the management. Therefore, I will not go into the details here. However, I need to emphasise that in our final reporting we have a further task to interpret the impact and achievements in conceptual and future-oriented terms – with Learning Scenarios. I will discuss this task in my next post.

More blogs to come …

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