Archive for the ‘Lifelong learning’ Category

150 blogs on Learning Layers project – 200 altogether on Pontydysgu site

August 4th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

I have come back from my summer break – but not back to work and normal business. During my holidays I had to run through a series of medical tests/investigations and now I am on sick leave for some time. I do not want to go into details – some investigations are yet to come – but I know enough that I have to take a break from my normal work. This gives me a reason to spell out some thoughts on my blogging on this site. It so happens that I have reached the milestone of 150 blogs on our ongoing EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project and altogether the milestone of 200 blogs on Pontydysgu site.

In general, such numbers are not great achievements – veteran bloggers count their posts in thousands, not hundreds. And indeed, during my first years as a blogger I was not so successful in finding my approach and ways to work forward. With my first blog “I-Europe” I tried to stimulate a debate on European initiatives to promote vocational education and training (VET). Unfortunately, these entries were not so well grounded and attracted little attention. With my second attempt – with  my new blog “Working & Learning” – I tried get closer to the work of European projects and educational debates. Yet – for some time this remained at the level of irregular scraping. Some of the projects of that time were perhaps not that inspiring or they required blogging (or similar writings) on other platforms. Therefore, I had made some experiences but had not really found my own way of blogging.

This all changed with the start of the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project in 2012. The project has required us (ITB – research institute with focus on VET and learning in the context of work) to face new challenges. It has not been merely a matter of introducing new learning technologies and new learning concepts to the field (and study the impact). The project has been far more innovative in terms of exploring different options, involving users in co-design & co-development and in engaging us as VET researchers in different roles as co-developers, co-tutors and co-testers of new tools. From this perspective I have had the challenges and the opportunities to produce a more or less regular flow of blogs on new project activities, observations on parallel developments, links to inspiring research or to policies that have an impact on our work. And, moreover, the flow of blogs has not merely been recording of events, debates and happenings – they provide insights into our learning processes as research partners, developers and application partners. In particular they provide insights into our transformation from explorers to change agents and interpreters of the changes.

Having said all this I feel sad that I cannot continue with the intensive observation and documentation of field activities in the same way as I have done so far. From now on I have to take the role of listener and thinker. Perhaps that is also a positive turn in its way – after all, the rich project experience needs to be digested and interpreted in conceptual terms. And surely, our experiences as accompanying researchers differ from the traditional patterns of doing such research. But, as I said in the beginning, I have to take some time out of regular project work to get myself fit. Nevertheless, I will be around.

More blogs to come …

Skills shortages and skills gaps

June 15th, 2016 by Graham Attwell



The London School of Economics politics and policy blog is well worth following or anyone interested in Labour Market information and Intelligence. A recent article by Scott Hurrell looked at the outcomes of the 2015 Employer Skills Survey ESS), run by UKCES.

Scott explains “Two of the most important indicators measured by the ESS, are skills shortages and skills gaps, collectively known as skills deficits.  The former exists where an employer reports at least one vacancy that is hard to fill because applicants lack the correct skills, qualifications and/or experience. The latter exists where employers report that they have at least one employee who is not fully proficient at their job. Skills shortages are thus a barometer for skills supply in the labour market whilst skills gaps reflect employers’ internal skills needs. Six per cent of employers reported skills shortages in the 2015 ESS, whilst 14 per cent of employers reported skills gaps. The survey revealed that skills deficits consisted of a range of soft (e.g. social and interpersonal) and hard (e.g., technical) skills.”

The problem is making sense of such a survey. the article discusses research into skills gap often based on differences of perceptions by those answering the survey, usually HR specialists. In my own (limited) experience employers are rarely aware of the range of skills employees possess. In the MatureIP project we introduced an APP allowing staff to recommend the skills of their co-workers. I was very dubious that this would be accepted by the staff but was proved wrong – they were happy and excited to recommend others for their skills and knowledge. Sadly the pilot was in a careers company in England that was closed down before we could test the app for an extended period and since then I have nots seen anyone else take up the idea.

One big issue is what employers do over identified skills gaps. One problem within hierarchal work places (which still dominate employment) is the lack of opportunity for autonomous decision making and for practising new skills. I suspect many skills deficiencies could be overcome by informal work based learning but that would require changes in work practices and an element of designing the work environment to support learning – a move still radical in todays austerity coloured world.

A final note – despite the caveats over how the survey is interpreted it is a valuable tool for exploring further. UKCES is now being shut down due to the withdrawal of  government funding and it would be a pity if the ESS disappeared along with it.

The future of work and changing occupational identities

April 24th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

The debate over the future of work, long running in research circles but kicked into public consciousness amongst others a Oxford University study titled ‘The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation’ suggesting over 40 per cent of jobs are at threat in the next 11 years due to technology, emgineercontinues. In truth there is little agreement from economists and labour market specialists. Some claim techn0logy is leading to more jobs, some that it is destroying jobs and still other that it is neutral. Some claim technology is leading to jobs being deskilled, others the reverse.

I like a recent blog post entitled ‘More on digitalisation and skills: What happens within occupations?’, by Guillermo Montt on the OECD Skills and Work web site. The article says that “as technology enters the workplace, the tasks related to a job and an occupation change” citing  Alexandra Spitz-Oener (2006) who found that in Germany, occupations in the 2000s require more complex skills than in 1979 and that this change is more pronounced in occupations that adopted computers. Although something of a simplification, that finding is largely born out in analysis of the USA O*NET data. The article also draws attention to research by James Bessen published in his recent book ‘Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages and Wealth‘. “He follows the evolution of occupations over time and claims that accelerated technological change has implications for inequality within occupations with more and more occupations becoming winner-take-all markets.” Essentially, as new technology is introduced pay and opportunities in occupations bifurcate with a few taking high high, pay levels and more taking home lower pay. “In occupations requiring above-median computer use, the 90th to 50th percentile wage ratio has risen by 0.2% per year but has remained stagnant in occupations with below-median computer use. Workers who stay ahead of the curve, those who learn by doing, reap the wage benefits of technological change.”

This has major implication for training and continuing professional development. CPD has traditionally been organised through courses. But as we have already found in in the EmployID project working with employees in European Public Employment Services, traditional course delivery is both too slow to respond to change and even more problematic is unable to deliver the volume of training required. The approach adopted in EmployID is both to look at using new technologies for learning and for promoting informal learning in the workplace but also to center on changing occupational identities. For instance there is a very different occupational identity associated with a print graphic designer than todays web designer. But the ability to change occupational identities may be shaped by previous learning experiences and by motivation as well as the ability to reflect on both individual and group learning. Within EmployID we are exploring how Learning Analytics can bets be deployed to assets people in reflection (Reflection Analytics) and to assist in transforming identities to deal with such change. I am presenting this work next week at a LAKs pre conference workshop in Glasgow and will publish by slides on this blog.

Recognising competence and learning

November 16th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

As promised some further thoughts on the DISCUSS conference, held earlier this week in Munich.

One of the themes for discussion was the recognition of (prior) learning. The theme had emerged after looking at the main work of Europa projects, particularly in the field of lifelong learning. The idea and attraction of recognising learning from different contexts, and particularly form informal learning is hardly new. In the 1990s, in the UK, the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (as it was then called) devoted resources to developing systems for the Accreditation of Prior Learning. One of the ideas behind National Vocational Qualifications was teh decoupling of teaching and learning from learning outcomes, expressed in terms of competences and performance criteria. Therefore, it was thought, anyone should be able to have their competences recognised (through certification) regardless of whether or not they had followed a particular formal training programme. Despite the considerable investment, it was only at best a limited success. Developing observably robust processes for accrediting such learning was problematic, as was the time and cost in implementing such processes.

It is interesting to consider why there is once more an upsurge of interest in the recognition of prior learning. My feeling was in the UK, the initiative wax driven because of teh weak links between vocational education and training and the labour market.n In countries liek Germany, with a strong apprenticeship training system, there was seen as no need for such a procedure. Furthermore learning was linked to the work process, and competence seen as the internalised ability to perform in an occupation, rather than as an externalised series of criteria for qualification. However the recent waves of migration, initially from Eastern Europe and now of refugees, has resulted in large numbers of people who may be well qualified (in all senses of the word) but with no easily recognisable qualification for employment.

I am unconvinced that attempts to formally assess prior competence as a basis for the fast tracking of  awarding qualifications will work. I think we probably need to look much deeper at both ideas around effective practice and at what exactly we mean my recognition and will write more about this in future posts. But digging around in my computer today I came up with a paper I wrote together with Jenny Hughes around some of these issues. I am not sure the title helped attract a wide readership: The role and importance of informal competences in the process of acquisition and transfer of work skills. Validation of competencies – a review of reference models in the light of youth research: United Kingdom. Below is an extract.

“NVQs and the accreditation of informal learning

As Bjørnåvold (2000) says the system of NVQs is, in principle, open to any learning path and learning form and places a particular emphasis on experience-based learning at work, At least in theory, it does not matter how or where you have learned; what matters is what you have learned. The system is open to learning taking place outside formal education and training institutions, or to what Bjørnåvold terms non-formal learning. This learning has to be identified and judged, so it is no coincidence that questions of assessment and recognition have become crucial in the debate on the current status of the NVQ system and its future prospects.

While the NVQ system as such dates back to 1989, the actual introduction of “new” assessment methodologies can be dated to 1991. This was the year the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ) and its Scottish equivalent, Scotvec, required that “accreditation of prior learning” should be available for all qualifications accredited by these bodies (NVQs and general national qualifications, GNVQs). The introduction of a specialised assessment approach to supplement the ordinary assessment and testing procedures used when following traditional and formal pathways, was motivated by the following factors:

1. to give formal recognition to the knowledge and skills which people already possess, as a route to new employment;
2. to increase the number of people with formal qualifications;
3. to reduce training time by avoiding repetition of what candidates already know.

The actual procedure applied can be divided into the following steps. The first step consists of providing general information about the APL process, normally by advisers who are not subject specialists, often supported by printed material or videos. The second and most crucial step includes the gathering and preparation of a portfolio. No fixed format for the portfolio has been established but all evidence must be related to the requirements of the target qualification. The portfolio should include statements of job tasks and responsibilities from past or present employers as well as examples (proofs) of relevant “products”. Results of tests or specifically-undertaken projects should also be included. Thirdly, the actual assessment of the candidate takes place. As it is stated:”The assessment process is substantially the same as that which is used for any candidate for an NVQ. The APL differs from the normal assessment process in that the candidate is providing evidence largely of past activity rather than of skills acquired during the current training course.”The result of the assessment can lead to full recognition, although only a minority of candidates have sufficient prior experience to achieve this, In most cases, the portfolio assessment leads to exemption from parts of a programme or course. The attention towards specialised APL methodologies has diminished somewhat in the UK during recent years. It is argued that there is a danger of isolating APL, and rather, it should be integrated into normal assessments as one of several sources of evidence.”The view that APL is different and separate has resulted in evidence of prior learning and achievement being used less widely than anticipated. Assessors have taken steps to avoid this source of evidence or at least become over-anxious about its inclusion in the overall evidence a candidate may have to offer.”We can thus observe a situation where responsible bodies have tried to strike a balance between evidence of prior and current learning as well as between informal and formal learning. This has not been a straightforward task as several findings suggest that APL is perceived as a “short cut”, less rigorously applied than traditional assessment approaches. The actual use of this kind of evidence, either through explicit APL procedures or in other, more integrated ways, is difficult to overview. Awarding bodies are not required to list alternative learning routes, including APL, on the certificate of a candidate. This makes it almost impossible to identify where prior or informal learning has been used as evidence.

As mentioned in the discussions of the Mediterranean and Nordic experiences, the question of assessment methodologies cannot be separated from the question of qualification standards. Whatever evidence is gathered, some sort of reference point must be established. This has become the most challenging part of the NVQ exercise in general and the assessment exercise in particular.We will approach this question indirectly by addressing some of the underlying assumptions of the NVQ system and its translation into practical measures. Currently the system relies heavily on the following basic assumptions: legitimacy is to be assured through the assumed match between the national vocational standards and competences gained at work. The involvement of industry in defining and setting up standards has been a crucial part of this struggle for acceptance, Validity is supposed to be assured through the linking and location of both training and assessment, to the workplace. The intention is to strengthen the authenticity of both processes, avoiding simulated training and assessment situations where validity is threatened. Reliability is assured through detailed specifications of each single qualification (and module). Together with extensive training of the assessors, this is supposed to secure the consistency of assessments and eventually lead to an acceptable level of reliability.

A number of observers have argued that these assumptions are difficult to defend. When it comes to legitimacy, it is true that employers are represented in the above-mentioned leading bodies and standards councils, but several weaknesses of both a practical and fundamental character have appeared. Firstly, there are limits to what a relatively small group of employer representatives can contribute, often on the basis of scarce resources and limited time. Secondly, the more powerful and more technically knowledgeable organisations usually represent large companies with good training records and wield the greatest influence. Smaller, less influential organisations obtain less relevant results. Thirdly, disagreements in committees, irrespective of who is represented, are more easily resolved by inclusion than exclusion, inflating the scope of the qualifications. Generally speaking, there is a conflict of interest built into the national standards between the commitment to describe competences valid on a universal level and the commitment to create as specific and precise standards as possible. As to the questions of validity and reliability, our discussion touches upon drawing up the boundaries of the domain to be assessed and tested. High quality assessments depend on the existence of clear competence domains; validity and reliability depend on clear-cut definitions, domain-boundaries, domain-content and ways whereby this content can be expressed.

As in the Finnish case, the UK approach immediately faced a problem in this area. While early efforts concentrated on narrow task-analysis, a gradual shift towards broader function-analysis had taken place This shift reflects the need to create national standards describing transferable competences. Observers have noted that the introduction of functions was paralleled by detailed descriptions of every element in each function, prescribing performance criteria and the range of conditions for successful performance. The length and complexity of NVQs, currently a much criticised factor, stems from this “dynamic”. As Wolf says, we seem to have entered a “never ending spiral of specifications”. Researchers at the University of Sussex have concluded on the challenges facing NVQ-based assessments: pursuing perfect reliability leads to meaningless assessment. Pursuing perfect validity leads towards assessments which cover everything relevant, but take too much time, and leave too little time for learning. This statement reflects the challenges faced by all countries introducing output or performance-based systems relying heavily on assessments.

“Measurement of competences” is first and foremost a question of establishing reference points and less a question of instruments and tools. This is clearly illustrated by the NVQ system where questions of standards clearly stand out as more important than the specific tools developed during the past decade. And as stated, specific approaches like, “accreditation of prior learning” (APL), and “accreditation of prior experiential learning” (APEL), have become less visible as the NVQ system has settled. This is an understandable and fully reasonable development since all assessment approaches in the NVQ system in principle have to face the challenge of experientially-based learning, i.e., learning outside the formal school context. The experiences from APL and APEL are thus being integrated into the NVQ system albeit to an extent that is difficult to judge. In a way, this is an example of the maturing of the system. The UK system, being one of the first to try to construct a performance-based system, linking various formal and non-formal learning paths, illustrates the dilemmas of assessing and recognising non-formal learning better than most other systems because there has been time to observe and study systematically the problems and possibilities. The future challenge facing the UK system can be summarised as follows: who should take part in the definition standards, how should competence domains be described and how should boundaries be set? When these questions are answered, high quality assessments can materialise.”

Refugees and the challenge for education in Germany

November 5th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

One of the big talking points at last weeks DISCUSS conference in Munich was the current influx of refugees into Germany and the challenges for public services. It seems up to 5000 refugees are arriving daily at Munich’s main railways station.

Most participants at the conference would agree with Marcel Fratzscher, the head of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), who is reported in today’s Guardian newspaper as saying  the hundreds of thousands of newcomers this year as well as the hundreds of thousands more expected over the coming years, are a major opportunity for Germany and that its strong financial position makes it ideally placed to welcome them.

“In the long run the refugees are an incredible opportunity for Germany,” Fratzscher said. “Because of the surplus in the public budget, and a labour market that’s doing incredibly well, there’s probably never been a better moment in the last 70 years for Germany to deal with the challenge.”

But the concerns expressed by participants in the DISCUSS conference were more short term. Germany has an incredibly well structured and functioning state and local government bureaucracy. But at a time when under pressure it is proving insufficiently flexible to deal with new demands, a position made worse by the rigid hierarchies common in European public services. Furthermore there is little communication between the different services involved in supporting the refugees, resulting individuals being sent from department to department and back again.

For education one of the longer term challenges will be developing infrastructure for instance the need for more kindergartens. In the short term the major challenge is developing provision for language learning and skills and knowledge for employment. Traditionally, refugees have attended language learning courses, prior to enrolment on work orientated programmes. instead now a new programme is being developed called “Living and Working in Germany” which will integrate language learning within work orientated education and training. This programme is designed to last for eight months, with five hours a day of attendance. However, at present the curriculum is still being developed (I only talked with researchers from two German Lander, or regions, and provision may well be different in other German states). Responsibility for the programmes is with the adult education services, often allied to the universities. But they clearly do not have enough teachers for these programmes. In response to this the requirement for teachers to have a special qualification for teaching German as a foreign language is being relaxed. A major pedagogic issue is that the refugees are being treated as a homogeneous group, with well qualified graduates in classes alongside those lacking basic education.

The challenge of ramping up provision is considerable. It was estimated that at the moment less than five per cent of newly arrived refugees are enrolled on courses. Just who gets a place on the courses seems to be somewhat random and this is leading to tensions. Whilst their asylum applications are being processed refugees are not allowed to work in Germany and boredom is seen as a major issue.

One of the learning cafe session groups at the conference focused on the challenge of providing education for the refugees looking for ideas for immediate initiatives and projects. Ideas included the need for better careers advice and occupational guidance, traditionally in Germany integrated in the education and training system. Another idea was to involve Meisters, qualified trade crafts people and owners of Small and Medium Enterprises, in the training programmes. A further idea was to develop mobile applications for language learning and vocational orientation. Although access to computers is limited, many of the refugees have smart phones which are critical to keeping in touch with families. A big issue is how to identify the skills and competences of the refugees and how to recognise or accredit these (I will write a further article on this). It was also pointed out that the European Commission has funded many projects for working with refugees but the results of these projects has all too often failed to be sustainable or properly disseminated.

If anyone would like to be interviewed around ideas of how to deal with these challenges or indeed about the immediate responses, please get in touch by Skype or email. My skype address is GrahamAttwell.

Recognising Prior Learning

November 3rd, 2015 by Graham Attwell

I greatly enjoyed the DISCUSS project conference in Munich last week at which I spoke together with Steve Wheeler. After the morning speeches, there was a cafe type session in the afternoon looking at four key challenges the project has identified for education in Europe. All were interesting and given the venue tended to be reflected through the lens of the present refugee crisis.

One of the issues was the recognition of prior learning. Interestingly, this seems to have been the subject of more European funded projects in education and training than any other subject. Needless to say there was considerable discussion and some divergence of opinion on ways forward on which I will report my view tomorrow.

But Randolph Preisinger Kleine has dug out something I wrote on a previous project, which seems to make some sense of why we have such misunderstandings. (Mind, you can tell how old it is when I say that the UK has a comprehensive system of careers guidance!).

Informal Learning

There is increasing recognition in most European countries of the importance of informal learning. Informal learning can provide a bridge between formal subject based learning and occupational practice. Furthermore, informal learning may be important as a tool for the continuing or lifelong learning seen as economically important in a period of rapid economic and technological change. And informal learning is viewed as a way of assisting socially excluded and under-qualified individuals to re-enter formal education and training or gain access to the labour market.

Integration of informal learning
But if there is increasing recognition of the importance of informal learning, there is less convergence in terms of how informal learning is integrated in vocational education and training practice. The differences may be ascribed to the different histories of vocational education and training, to different cultural practices and to different institutional and systemic structures within different countries. This short article will look at activities in Germany and the UK to illustrate different possible approaches to recognising and valuing informal learning.How can we recognise that learning has taken place? The most general measure is taken to be a change in behaviour. In vocational education and training that change in behaviour or acquisition of new abilities is usually expressed in terms of competences. Competences refer to the practical ability to perform an occupational task or tasks. Whilst the word competence exists in most European languages, our understanding of the meaning of competence differs widely.

Different understandings of competence
So, whilst in Germany, competence is generally linked to beruf (a word untranslatable in English) and refers to the internal, holistic ability to act as part of as profession or occupation, in the UK competence refers to the ability to perform externally prescribed and more atomistic tasks.This, in turn, affects the recognition and perceived role of informal learning. In Germany informal learning is seen as an intrinsic part of formal vocational education and training, especially through the Dual System which brings together school and work based learning. In the UK, informal learning is regarded as an external adjunct to formal training. This might be seen as a somewhat abstract description. But these differences take stark structural forms.In Germany apprenticeship is generally age bound, being undertaken as part of the transition from school to work. Although in the UK some young people do undertake vocational courses, (including apprenticeships) on completion of compulsory schooling, vocational courses are open to students of any age and it is quite common for older students to pursue a vocational training programme. For those students who may have failed to gain initial qualifications or those who have some substantial work experience despite lack of formal qualifications, the UK has evolved formal measures for recognising informal learning. This is known as the Accreditation of Prior Learning.

The labour market
There are also important differences in terms of the relation of vocational education and training to the labour market. Germany has a relatively highly regulated labour market. This means for many occupations formal vocational qualifications are required as the basis for employment. There are far fewer regulated occupations in the UK and the role of the trade unions in enforcing regulation is much weaker. Academic qualifications have usually a higher prestige than vocational qualifications and the numbers of those possessing formal vocational qualifications is less. Thus employers are more inclined to look at academic qualifications plus proof of informal learning as the basis for employment.

In both the UK and Germany, as in other European countries, there has been increased interest in informal learning as a means of reintegrating socially excluded and unemployed people in the labour market, although once more this tends to take different directions and forms in the different countries. Indeed, both Germany and the UK are characterised by a considerable number of projects, programmes and experiments, making it difficult to provide more than a general overview of trends.

Recognition of informal learning in Germany and the UK
In Germany, there is little room for formal recognition of informal learning, because of the strength of the regulatory system. On the other hand, the very strength of this system has mitigated against the development of a formal careers guidance system.This has become problematic with high levels of employment and rapid structural economic change. Thus, the identification and recognition of informal learning is increasingly being used as a means for career and occupational guidance, as a mechanism for recognising aptitude for further vocational training or work experience. This is especially seen in the so called one euro job schemes. Recognition of informal learning may also be used as a way of promoting social and civic integration, regardless of employment opportunities, for instance with long term unemployed or ethnic minorities. In the UK, with a well developed, albeit structurally somewhat incoherent and under-resourced, careers advisory service, there has been more focus on the direct recognition and certification of informal learning. This has taken the form of both supplemental qualifications, often as a precursor to entry to more advanced education or training, or as direct recognition of informal learning for part certification of a formal training course, or rarely, even for a complete qualification.


Catching up with the Learning Layers news – Part One: Working with the Story of Year 3

August 20th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

My latest post on the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project was written just when I started my summer holidays. This year the holidays in North Germany (and in our application partner organisations) started relatively early. Therefore, when I/we were already on holidays, there was this and that happening at the consortium level and in other fields of work (in particular in the healthcare sector in UK). Therefore, it is appropriate to do some stock-taking to make sure that our fieldwork is fits in the plans of the consortium and takes into account the progress in the healthcare sector. With this post I try to summarise the recent discussions at the consortium level – mainly on the preparation for the Year Three review and the implications for our fieldwork. In the next post I will have a look at the recent progress of the LL work in the healthcare sector.

The first steps of the recent discussions were already taken in the Consortium meeting in Tallinn (in June 2015, see my earlier blogs). Already there we agreed that we should try to make our contributions for the Year Three review meeting more coherent. The plan was to put integrated stories of LL work in both pilot sectors (healthcare and construction sectors) into the centre. In a similar way we should make visible the progress in tool development and implementation with integrated demonstrations (linked to the stories). Parallel to this we should reduce the number of deliverables into five thematic reports (and indicate, how the work of eight work packages is represented in them).

During the summer meetings these plans have been developed further and they have some implications for the tool development and fieldwork in the construction sector:

1) Concerning integration of technologies we have the challenge to show how the infrastructural solution (“Layers box”) and the integrative tool set (“Learning toolbox” – LTB) can be implemented in application partner organisations (such as the training centre Bau-ABC and the Agentur).

2) Concerning the integration of tools we have the challenge show, how the integrative tools set (LTB) enables us to use different LL tools and apps (and third party apps) in working and learning contexts (such as the Bau-ABC training projects).

3) Concerning the context-specific use of tools we have the challenge to make progress with trainers and learners so that they are able to create their own LTB-stacks to guide and implement training projects.

4) Concerning capacity building we have the challenge to make progress in implementing the Bau-ABC training model (the “Theme rooms”) that caters for organisation-wide engagement of staff to become well-informed and active users of LL tools in their work.

5) Concerning evaluation activities we have the challenge to arrange the collection of real-time evaluation data and reflection on the processes during an intensive field test phase.

Obviously, we have all agreed on the general direction and there has been progress along these lines both at the level of tool development and in user engagement. Yet, we can see that there are technical issues, coordination issues and time constraints that we need to take into account when we start working with the field activities. But, knowing what has already been achieved, gives us a good starting position.

I guess this is enough on this topic. In my next post I will look at the progress in the healthcare sector.

More blogs to come …


Learning from Finnish campaigns for sustainable development – Part 2: Sustainability of apprentice training in discussion

April 8th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I discussed with some length a topic that is seemingly remote to our EU-funded project Learning Layers (LL): The Finnish campaigns to promote sustainable development via sustainability commitments. I promised to get back to the relevance of such commitments to the LL project in a later blog. In this post I will discuss the sustainability issue from the perspective of apprentice training – using the different situations in Germany and in Finland as a starting point and then proceeding to campaigns to promote the sustainability of apprentice training Then I will discuss the importance of LL pilots in construction sector – both in Germany and in Finland – in this context.

1.  Sustainability issues in apprentice training – the cases of Germany and Finland

Apprentice training in Germany (the dual system of apprentice training) has traditionally been the flagship model of vocational education and training (VET). This tradition has been deeply rooted in economy, educational policy, labour market relations and working culture. In particular in the construction sector Germany has opted for high-skilled workforce, to be obtained via apprentice training. This, however has been challenged via academic drift (young people opting for studies rather than career as skilled worker) and by competition from semi-skilled or low-skilled workforce (external companies, migrant workforce etc.). Therefore, already for several years the educational policy debates have been concerned about the sustainability of apprentice training (and the reliance on skilled workforce). This has given rise to different initiatives and support measures to promote the sustainability of apprentice training (see below).

Apprentice training in Finland has had a relatively marginal position vis-à-vis the dual system of apprenticeship in Germany. Mainly this is due to the late and rapid industrialisation in Finland in the post-war reconstruction era (after the World War II). During that period a wide network of school-based vocational education institutes was built in different parts of Finland to attract expanding industries and services to all parts of the country. In this context industries tended not to engage themselves with initial vocational education but to cater for (formal or informal) continuing training. In the 1990s there was a shift in emphasis to enhance the role of workplace learning in initial VET and revitalise apprentice training (mainly as an option for working adults without formal qualifications to obtain them via on-the-job-training). Quite recently these hitherto separate policies have been combined in pilot projects that enable flexible transition from school-based VET to apprentice training (within the same curricular framework – see below). Also in this case there is an issue, whether the Finnish VET system can compete with the academic drift and ensure such quality of young workforce that can compete against low-cost companies  that tend to rely on lowly skilled workforce.

2. Campaigns for promoting the sustainability of apprentice training

Centralised campaigns for providing sufficient apprentice training opportunities in Germany: Since apprentice training is the main model of VET in Germany, there is a constant concern, whether there are sufficiently apprentice training opportunities and whether these opportunities have been utilised by young people. During the last decade the federal policy makers have introduced new kinds of campaigns in the form of central agreements on apprentice training opportunities (Ausbildungspakt) between government bodies and the Social Partners (= employers’ confederations and trade unions). These agreements (usually for a three-year period) cover a range of nation-wide measures to be taken by public authorities and by the Social Partners to provide better frameworks and possibilities to meet current bottlenecks in the training markets. Yet, there is quite a distance between these measures and the actual implementation in local, regional and sectoral contexts.

Targeted campaigns for raising awareness of apprenticeship as an option: Since the role of apprentice training in the national VET system is not so prominent as in Germany, the central government and the Social Partners have not engaged themselves in such measures. Instead, the campaigning has been a matter for the local/regional agencies for apprentice training (that function as brokers between young people, industries and vocational schools). Their campaigns have been efforts to raise awareness of apprenticeship as option for particular target groups and for interested employers (and to engage the vocational schools). Altogether, this has been more a matter of finding the niche areas and interested partners than contributing to the sustainability of the whole system of VET.

3. The contribution of the LL pilots to the sustainability issues in construction sector

In the light of the above it is interesting to compare, how the pilots of the LL project in construction sector fit to this picture of sustainability issues of apprentice training.

The contribution of the German pilot with Learning Toolbox (LTB) to the sustainability issue in the German construction sector is related to the following questions:

  • Can the LTB help the apprentices and skilled construction workers to master their tasks, mobilise their knowledge resources and communicate effectively in problem-situations?
  • Can the use of LTB help them to become better aware of their know-how, learning progress and challenges yet to meet?
  • Can a wider use of such tools help to overcome some negative images of construction work and to highlight the aspects of knowledge work in the construction trades?

Altogether these questions are related to a general effort to enhance the learning, know-how and co-participation of skilled workers as a part of the sustainability of highly skilled  workforce in construction sector.

The contribution of the Finnish pilot with the video annotation tool AchSo! is a narrower pilot regarding the entire set of issues indicated above. Yet, it focuses on the documentation of learners’ progress in workplace learning – which has so far been the Achilles’ heel in all collaboration between school-based VET and workplace learning. And in the current situation the effective use of LL tools can increase the trust of all parties on the flexible transition from school-centred to apprenticeship-based vocational learning.

I think this is enough at the moment. In my next post I will discuss the relevance of the Sustainability Commitments for the development of apprentice training and for the scaling up of LL pilots.

More blogs to come …


Back at work – facing the challenges of the new year 2015

January 22nd, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

So, after a lengthy holiday break I am back at work. As usual, when being one of the last ones to return from the holidays, you get overwhelmed by things that are on the move and you have to jump into running trains. With the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project we are doing the homework that we got from the Year 2 review meeting – preparing a Critical path Analysis. Partly within this process and partly alongside it we are finalising our plans for the year 2015.

The Critical Path Analysis was recommended by the reviewers to clarify our priorities (what is taken on board in the critical paths) and to specify our approach to less critical activities (sandboxing them as reserve activities). In many respects this has pointed out to be useful since this is not merely a routine updating of the work plan. Instead, the analysis has pushed us to become more aware of the key activities for the whole project and to find synergies between them. Due to this task we are getting clearer about the synergies at the level of software development, technology packages, linked services and framework tools etc.

While we are working with this task we are preparing proposals for conferences and plans for field activities. Furthermore, it is one of the key features of the LL project that we are looking for opportunities for transfer projects and opportunities to exploit the results alongside the project work. So, this all keeps us busy at the moment.

More blogs to come …

The challenges of open data: emerging technology to support learner journeys

September 1st, 2014 by Graham Attwell

It is the end of the holidays and time to return back to work. And of course with September starts the autumn conference season. This week I am at the ALT C Conference at Warwick University and then at the European Conference for Educational Research in Porto. More on The ECER conference later.

At Alt C we are organising a workshop on the UKCES open data project (abstract below). And we will also have an exhibition stand. So if you are coming to the conference make sure to drop by the stand – No 16 in the Arts Centre – free coffee and sweets! and say hello.

The challenges of open data: emerging technology to support learner journeys

People make important decisions about their participation in the labour market every year. This extends from pupils in schools, to students in Further and Higher education institutions and individuals at every stage of their career and learning journeys. Whether these individuals are in transition from education and/or training, in employment and wishing to up-skill, re-skill or change their career, or whether they are outside the labour market wishing to re-enter, high quality and impartial labour market information (LMI) is crucial to effective career decision-making. LMI is at the heart of UK Government reforms of careers service provision. Linking and opening up careers focused LMI to optimise access to, and use of, core national data sources is one approach to improving that provision as well as supporting the Open Data policy agenda (see HM Government, 2012). Careers focused LMI can be used to support people make better decisions about learning and work and improve the efficiency of labour markets by helping match supply with demand, and helping institutions in planning future course provision.

A major project, funded by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, is underway led by a team of data experts at the Institute for Employment Research (University of Warwick) with developers and technologists from Pontydysgu and Raycom designing, developing and delivering a careers LMI webportal, known as LMI for All. The presentation will focus on the challenge of collaborating and collecting evidence at scale between institutions and the social and technological design and development of the database. The database is accessed through an open API, which will be explored during the presentation.

Through open competition developers, including students in FE, have been encouraged to develop their own applications based on the data. Early adopters and developers have developed targeted applications and websites that present LMI in a more engaging way, which are targeted at specific audiences with contrasting needs.The web portal is innovative, as it seeks to link and open up careers focused LMI with the intention of optimising access to, and use of, core national data sources that can be used to support individuals make better decisions about learning and work. It has already won an award from the Open Data Institute.

The presentation will highlight some of the big data and technological challenges the project has addressed. It will also look at how to organise collaboration between institutions and organisations in sharing data to provide new services in education and training.Targeted participants include developers and stakeholders from a range of educational and learning settings.

The session will be interactive with participants able to test out the API, provide feedback and view applications.

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    Peer Review

    According to the Guardian, research conducted with more than 6,300 authors of journal articles, peer reviewers and journal editors revealed that over two-thirds of researchers who have never peer reviewed a paper would like to. Of that group (drawn from the full range of subject areas) more than 60% said they would like the option to attend a workshop or formal training on peer reviewing. At the same time, over two-thirds of journal editors told the researchers that it is difficult to find reviewers

    Teachers and overtime

    According to the TES teachers in the UK “are more likely to work unpaid overtime than staff in any other industry, with some working almost 13 extra hours per week, according to research.

    A study of official figures from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that 61.4 per cent of primary school teachers worked unpaid overtime in 2014, equating to 12.9 additional hours a week.

    Among secondary teachers, 57.5 per cent worked unpaid overtime, with an average of 12.5 extra hours.

    Across all education staff, including teachers, teaching assistants, playground staff, cleaners and caretakers, 37.6 per cent worked unpaid overtime – a figure higher than that for any other sector.”

    The future of English Further Education

    The UK Parliament Public Accounts Committee has warned  the declining financial health of many FE colleges has “potentially serious consequences for learners and local economies”.

    It finds funding and oversight bodies have been slow to address emerging financial and educational risks, with current oversight arrangements leading to confusion over who should intervene and when.

    The Report says the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and the Skills Funding Agency “are not doing enough to help colleges address risks at an early stage”.

    Skills in Europe

    Cedefop is launching a new SKILLS PANORAMA website, online on 1 December at 11.00 (CET).

    Skills Panorama, they say,  turns labour market data and information into useful, accurate and timely intelligence that helps policy-makers decide on skills and jobs in Europe.

    The new website will provide with a more comprehensive and user-friendly central access point for information and intelligence on skill needs in occupations and sectors across Europe. You can register for the launch at Register now at

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