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‘Methods’ or process innovations in Learning Layers research – Part One: Reflections on accompanying research

November 15th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

During the last few weeks we have been preparing our contributions to the final deliverable of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. And obviously, my recent blogs have included a lot of ‘loud thinking’ on these contributions. Due to the fact that we have had a complex innovation process in the Construction pilot to report, I may have been repeating some issues when discussing in different posts our various deliverables (Impact Cards, Learning Scenarios and Research Methodology documents). Also, I have noticed that with several iterations in writing I have got the message clearer. Thus, I have been able to highlight the characteristics of the innovation processes and the way different parties worked together to make them happen.

In the final phase I have been working with the question, how to present our research work as a contribution to the innovation process (that we have gone through with our application partners):

  • Can we claim that we have applied a ‘method’ that triggered an innovation process into movement and guided it into good results? Can we present this ‘method’ as the legacy of our project?
  • Or – is our project experience to be interpreted as a more complex process innovation in which we played a part – as active contributors, moderators and conceptual interpreters, but yet as part of a common story? Shall we present such a story of research & development dialogue as our legacy?

Below I will present the answers that I have given to these questions in our document “Accompanying Research and Participative Design in the Construction Pilot in Germany“.  I hope that the extracts from the longer report text give a clear idea, what our answer is and why.

The starting point: relatively open user-initiated co-design process searching for solutions

“This document presents a picture of the collaboration of researchers, technical partners and application partners in the construction pilot of the Learning Layers as a multi-channeled research & development  (R&D) dialogue with an emphasis on the following points:

  • The co-design activities started as a relatively open search for solutions to match the user-initiated design idea (digitisation of learning contents and reporting processes).
  • Research partners were engaged as accompanying researchers with co-shaping roles to support application partners in a complex iterative process, during which the initial design idea was transformed into shaping of Learning Toolbox as an integrative toolset.
  • The R&D dialogue was maintained with several parallel activities – joint work process analyses, shared training events, co-design workshops and joint outreach activities. In this way the process could overcome periods of rupture and uncertainty.
  • The research interventions consisted of empirical studies and conceptual inputs that gave insights into vocational learning and learning in organisational contexts as contexts in which the Learning Toolbox promoted digital transformation.”

Reflections on the process: Multi-channeled R&D dialogue with many interventions and iterations

“In the light of the above it is apparent that the work of accompanying researchers was not a process that would have guided by one single ‘method’ or pre-defined methodology. Neither was it a case of classical action research. As has been indicated earlier, the ITB team built upon earlier experiences with accompanying research in innovation programmes but adapted its approach to a more open co-design process. Also, it is worthwhile to note that the co-design process was not primarily about social shaping of work and (production) technology or about pedagogic development of vocational education and training. The project was based on interventions to introduce digital media and web resources via mobile devices to (informal) learning at workplaces.

From this perspective it is important to understand that the co-design activities in the Construction pilot were not primarily a tool-centred and design-driven process. Instead, in the early phase the accompanying research partners and application partners were supported by technical partners with intermediate role (but not that of software developers). Under these circumstances it was important to generate a multi-channelled R&D dialogue that included work process analyses, co-design sessions and shared learning activities. In this context the partners could agree on a radical transformation of the design idea, which meant a shift from digitisation of learning content to shaping a flexible digital toolset for accessing and sharing learning resources.”

The experiences of researchers and practitioners – working towards, with and for the innovation (‘Learning Toolbox in practice’)

“In this – essentially transformative – process of R&D dialogue, in which all partners involved have to face new challenges, the role of ITB researchers can be characterised as agile accompanying research. By learning together with application partners, how to work as change agents, ITB participated in the process, documented the process and supported the continuity of the process. In the final phase the peer tutoring by accompanying researchers was crucial for spreading the use of Learning Toolbox among application partners.

For the application partners – in particular for trainers in Bau-ABC – participation in such R&D dialogue has provided a chance for becoming in real terms co-owners of innovations. In the shaping of the Learning Toolbox this has not been merely a matter of receiving the end product that was the originally expected outcome. In this co-design process the trainers have firstly reshaped their own informal learning processes in the context of the training interventions of the project. After the successful piloting with the Learning Toolbox they have the chance to continue as innovation leaders in their own trades and as multipliers of innovation in their wider networks.”

– – –

I guess this is enough of the position and contribution of research in the process we have gone through. However, the picture would be incomplete if I wouldn’t discuss the role of training interventions as a part of this R&D dialogue experience. Only by looking at both key elements of our process history we can really understand the legacy of our project. I will deal with this in my next post.

More blogs to come …

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