Join me with “Working & Learning”

    November 9th, 2007 by Dirk Stieglitz

    I am Pekka Kämäräinen from Finland. From 2005 on I work as a senior researcher at Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB), University of Bremen.  With my blog I want discuss European innovations in vocational education and training (VET) and in workplace learning.

    Working & Learning

    Shaping digital tools for continuing vocational training in construction sector – the DigiProB workshop in May

    May 23rd, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

    Last Friday (19th of May) I visited a workshop hosted by my ITB colleagues for yet another follow-up activity of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. This time the German-funded DigiProB project had a workshop on preparing digital tools for continuing vocational training (CVT) in the construction sector. The participants (in addition to my ITB colleagues) were training managers from the training centre Bau-ABC, guest lecturers of their CVT schemes and the software developer supporting the project. I have had several encounters with the DigiProB project but this time I could witness that the participants were making progress in shaping digital tools to support their training activities. But let us first recapitulate what the project is about and what it tries to achieve.

    The DigiProB project – Pedagogic challenges for CVT trainers and participants

    The aim of the DigiProB project is to support the successive CVT schemes in construction sector (Vorarbeiter, Werkpolier, Geprüfte Polier) with digital tools. In this context the project has to cope with several pedagogic challenges:

    a) Limited presence training time: The above mentioned CVT schemes are supported by very short course periods with face-to-face training. Most of the learning has to take place as self-organised learning alongside the work of the participants in construction sector. (These schemes are targeted as upgrading schemes for skilled workers in construction sector and prepare them for management responsibilities at different level.)

    b) Subject-based curriculum framework vs. action-oriented learning goals: The main pedagogic challenge for developing the above mentioned CVT schemes was the tension between the subject-based curriculum contents and the action-oriented learning goals. Thus, the presence training is based on subject areas covered by guest lecturers that have been invited as subject specialists (e.g. for construction processes, construction techniques and personal management). Yet, a central role in the curriculum has been given for complex learning tasks and an integrative project report.

    c) Providing support for self-organised learning by dispersed part-time lecturers: A further challenge was the fact that the lecturers were recruited individually to cover their subject areas during the course period. Thus, they did not have a collective responsibility on promoting the participants’ learning beyond the course period. Yet, the lecturers were interested in providing further support inasmuch as they possibly could. Therefore, they were interested in working with digital tools for themselves and for their participants.

    The DigiProB workshops – finding ways to provide support for integrative projects

    During the last few months the DigiProB project has managed to establish a working group of active lecturers who serve as a pioneer group for developing integrative learning projects (and for introducing digital tools to support action-oriented learning in the CVT schemes). This working group has come together on monthly basis and now had its fifth meeting. I had visited their meeting only once – quite some time earlier – so I could now see the progress that the group had made. Below I try to sum up key achievements and working issues of this working group:

    1. Working on two tracks to develop digital tools: Already at an early phase the working group took the course to two-track development of digital tools: a developmental platform for lecturers and a user-interface for participants. In this way the group avoided the risk of rushing to a ‘one-size-fits-all’ or ‘one-design-fits-all’ in introducing digital tools. For the moment the group is working primarily with the developmental platform to shape an integrative project that serves as a model for shaping further projects (and complex learning tasks). The shaping of user-interfaces can draw upon the progress with the work with this platform.

    2. Shaping a model project to cover a wide range of content areas in an integrative vocational learning environment: Instead of using the developmental platform as a mere collector of training materials for different content areas the group has worked towards more integrative solutions. As a model project the group has chosen the construction of  a motorway service area (Autobahn Raststätte) with different sub-projects (including construction of  a kiosk-building with toilets, construction of special parking bay for trucks and lorries etc.). With such an overarching  theme the lecturers were challenged to incorporate their training contents as contributions to sub-projects of the whole project. Moreover, the real challenges in coordinating such project became transparent in the mutual adjustment of the sub-projects. This led to cross-cutting questions like the following ones: “Can the construction of the kiosk-building be started before the groundwork for the parking bays has been completed?” “Can the building materials for the kiosk-building be stored properly at the construction site when the groundwork is still going on?”

    3. Working towards project-related and integrative learning goals: In general the digital learning platforms tend to shape such learning environments with reference to (atomistic) content areas and (atomistic) learning goals. The working group took a course towards project-oriented and integrative learning goals. In this respect the lecturers maintained the curriculum document and its main learning areas (construction techniques, construction processes and personal management) as reference points. Yet, instead of proceeding to a patchwork-like layout of learning units, the group insisted on keeping the projects and sub-projects transparent on the platform. Furthermore, the group insisted on formulating such learning goals that link the above mentioned learning areas to each other.

    Interim observations and reflections

    I guess this is enough of the main themes of the workshop. In addition, some lecturers presented their own ideas on specific apps (to be found on the learning platform H5P) as support for individual learning. Others introduced ideas for serious games that could be used in the context of these training schemes. Altogether, these ideas envisaged to support the self-organised informal learning of CVT participants (before or after the limited course periods).

    Furthermore, the process in the working group reminded me of the Multimedia training schemes that were implemented during the Learning Layers project in Bau-ABC. This working group was going through a similar learning process as the voluntary Bau-ABC trainers in the earlier phase of Multimedia training. However, the Bau-ABC trainers could focus on the project-based learning periods and vocational learning tasks in their trades – and use their blogs as repositories for training materials. They were not challenged to develop integrated projects. For the working group in the DigiProB project it was essential to bring different content areas together in an integrative project – in order to make progress with shaping digital tools for the CVT schemes. Just as it was in the Learning Layers project, it is important that this pioneering group makes progress with the model project – then to be able to share experiences and know-how with other colleagues.

    Finally, the process reminds me also of the introduction of the Learning Toolbox in the apprentice training in Bau-ABC (as a user-interface for vocational learners to support work process-oriented learning). Just as in the Learning Layers project,  the shaping of user-interfaces for the CVT participants needs to draw upon the pedagogic idea that are being developed by the DigiProB working group – then to be put into practice in the CVT schemes. From this perspective the earlier work in the shaping of the Learning Toolbox (for the apprentice training) serves as an advanced preparatory phase for the user-interfaces to be developed for the CVT participants.

    – – –

    I think this is enough of this DigiProB workshop. To me the participation as a visitor was a rich learning experience. And here I mean both regarding the development process of the DigiProB working group (as such) and the general picture of the learning Layers follow-up activities in construction sector (altogether). We (ITB and our partners) are building on the legacy of the Learning Layers project and its construction pilot. And we see new tasks and opportunities coming into picture.

    More blogs to come …

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    Introducing Learning Layers tools to construction companies – Insights and working issues

    May 17th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

    Once again I am taking a look at some of the follow-up activities of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project in the construction sector. As I have mentioned in my earlier blogs, my ITB-colleagues and the developers of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) have started cooperation with some German construction companies to launch company-specific pilot activities. In the first phase they agreed to start with feasibility studies. Last week the LTB developers were in Bremen and made some field visits to different sites of our partner organisations with ITB colleagues. At the end of the week we had a wrap-up meeting with one of the companies in ITB (and thus I could attend as an observer).

    The approach

    In the “Exploitation report” of the LL project we (in ITB) had already outlined our approach to such feasibility studies in the following way:

    “Development of a framework for ‘Betriebsbezogene Analysetage’ for identifying company-specific points of intervention (for introducing tools and web resources), working interfaces (for identifying staff involved) and feedback processes (for specifying the benefits of tools etc.) to be supported with Learning Toolbox and affiliated tools and web resources.”

    For me the point of interest was to learn, what kind of insights these field visits would bring into discussion regarding

    1. the use of digital media and web tools (in general) in the companies and in their trades, in particular
    2. as support for organisational and cross-organisational cooperation (specific to their trade) and
    3. as means to enhance process optimisation, learning and knowledge sharing across the organisation.

    Getting an overview

    Our counterpart in this discussion was the medium-sized company H. that is a major regional player in pipeline-building (Rohrleitungsbau) especially supply circuits (Versorgungsleitungen) and service pipes (Hausanschlüsse). It works together with the major electricity providers, water and gas suppliers and telephone and cable providers. Given the wide regional range of activities the company has in addition to its main office several branch offices and installation teams allocated to these offices. The company has framework contracts with its clients that include ordinary orders as well as procedures for emergency repairs. As a result, the company had adopted a ‘federative’ lean organisation that gives a lot of autonomy to the branch offices and to the teams that are working in the region. However, a major constrain for the organisation was to get the reporting of the work of the installation teams (and the clearance of ‘mission completed’) arranged in a smart way.

    Given this complexity the LTB developers and my ITB colleagues carried out a series of interviews with the manager and the central IT specialist (in the central office) and with representatives of branch offices and skilled workers at different sites. With reference to the interview grid they then prepared a flow diagram that made transparent the work processes (including working interfaces), information flows (including interfaces with different forms for work orders and reporting) and points of intervention (where use of digital tools and web resources can contribute to process optimisation)

    Insights and working issues

    In the wrap-up meeting the representatives of the company H. discussed the preliminary findings with the LTB developers and my ITB-colleagues. Here I do not want to get into very specific details but highlight some of the main results:

    a) Readiness to use digital media and web technologies: Firstly, already regarding the interaction with client organisations, there is a considerable variety between the ones that use up-to-date digital media (and web technologies) and others that rely on paper-based orders and printed reports. Inside the company the use of digital media and web technologies is generally accepted. Yet, in reporting from the field (with smartphones) there are still some teams that prefer using paper-based reporting.

     b) Multiple dependencies and a variety of digital documents: In this trade (Rohrleitungsbau) it is typical that for one installation job the company has parallel orders from an energy provider, gas provider, water supplier etc.  Typically these organisations use different software solutions, templates and forms. Also, the framework contracts include emergency repairs that need to be started without a separate order – but to be reported with yet another form. As a result the company H. has to deal with several types of digital and analogue documents that are not compatible with each other.

    c) Engagement of different parts of the organisation in reporting: The installation works of the company are rather short-cycled ‘projects’ with one or two days’ duration. Yet, given the above mentioned diversity of software solutions and documents (and the varying readiness to use digital tools) there is a tendency towards duplication of reporting work at the construction site and in the office.

    d) Autonomy of units/teams and knowledge sharing across the organisation: As has been mentioned, the organisational units at different branch offices – and the teams working in the field – have a great deal of autonomy. Also, their capability to find their own solutions is appreciated. The same is also the case with their way to handle the administrative reporting. However, the management is interested in encouraging knowledge sharing and exchange of experiences across the organisation. Yet, it appears that it is easier to arrange traditional training events (with frontal presentations by external experts) rather than events for shared learning within the organisation. The manager was looking for arrangements to support knowledge sharing among the skilled workers and with focus on improvements in work processes.

    Working perspectives and lessons learned

    The team of LTB-developers and ITB-colleagues will produce in a short while a brief report with further working perspectives and recommendations. However, already at this stage the flow diagram and the opportunity for joint reflections was appreciated – in the final meeting and during the field visits. Below I make some brief remarks, how (on the basis of the experience with the Learning Layers) the problems can be dealt with and how the organisation needs to engage itself in the next phase:

    Concerning the multiple dependencies, different software solutions and document templates there is a possibility to introduce technical solutions – by introducing a company-specific database that communicates with the other kinds of documents (and manages the conversions). This requires some coordination in the central office, whilst the branches and the working teams should get their own documents, which they can at best handle. Furthermore, for the workers in the field it is possible to provide optional choices for reporting via typed documents or scanned documents (that can be converted in the central office). Such solutions would offload the administrative work from the teams and speed up the reporting for the clients. Here the manager emphasised the need to offload skilled workers from unnecessary administrative tasks. To him this would increase the attractiveness of craftsman careers.

    Concerning the enhancement of learning and knowledge sharing across the organisation the experience of Learning Layers opens interesting prospects. Firstly, work process-oriented and technology-supported multimedia training can increase the readiness for knowledge sharing. Moreover, linking such training to shaping new stacks for Learning Toolbox can bring into picture practical solutions for such sharing. Here it is important to start from such tools and technologies that offload the participants from unnecessary burdens and make it possible to improve one’s contribution. Here the “Theme Room training” and the co-development of Learning Toolbox in the training centre Bau-ABC can serve as examples.

    – – –

    I think this is enough of our discussion in the wrap-up meeting. The LTB-developers and my ITB-colleagues will finalise their conclusions and recommendations in a short while. What strikes me in this discussion was the fact that we looked far deeper into learning in organisational contexts (and into process-optimisation in cross-organisational cooperation) than during the LL project. Moreover, it is difficult to find similar cases in the literature that we have been using. So, we have been dealing with an inspiring and challenging case. We hope that we can continue working together.

    More blogs to come … 



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    What comes after “Learning Layers”? – Part Four: Further steps with Bau-ABC trainers and ‘health and safety’

    May 11th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

    One month ago I wrote the third post on follow-up activities of our completed EU-funded project Learning Layers (LL).  In the three posts I informed on our initiative on digital media in the area of ‘health and safety’ (Arbeitssicherheit und Gesundheitsschutz). Before the Easter break I had had two meetings with full-time trainers (Lehrwerkmeister) of the training centre Bau-ABC. I reported on the starting points of the initiative, some positive surprises and some challenges to modify the approach already after the first two meetings. Then we had a few weeks’ break due to the Easter holidays and the major conference and trade fair Bohrtechniktage (the former Brunnenbauertage) on Bau-ABC premises in Rostrup.

    Now I was back from my holiday trips and some of the trainers in Bau-ABC were also available. This time we didn’t have the whole group assembled. Instead, we came together last Friday as a smaller team drawing conclusions from our previous meeting. With Thomas Weerts (the shop steward for health and safety in Bau-ABC) and Josh Dreyer (responsible for health and safety in his trade) we had a productive brainstorming session and we came up with a working agenda  for continuing the process with the wider group of trainers. Below I try to give a picture of the key points (and the slight reorientation of the approach):

    1) Collection of key contents for ‘health and safety’ training in different trades

    Our first conclusion was about the way we should go further with the mapping of key contents for training of apprentices regarding the theme ‘health and safety’ (Arbeitssicherheit und Gesundheitsschutz). So far we had collected all kinds of exemplary documents – both overarching documents for all construction trades and specific documents for particular trades and risk situations. From now on we set ourselves the task to identify key content areas and key documents that function well in apprentice training. As a next step we asked the trainers (Lehrwerkmeister) in different trades to identify such content areas and documents in their trades. (Josh Dreyer already presented his favourites for machine- and metal techniques.) Based on the proposals from different trades we will gather a collection of key contents/documents in domain-specific folders in Google Drive.

    2) Shaping a common core and format for ‘health and safety’ training across  the trades

    Based on the above presented approach Thomas and Josh proposed that the trainers from different trades should agree on common core contents (and standard presentation) for the entire field of health and safety. Here they also emphasised the role of visualisations and the use of standard symbols as means to draw attention to the central messages.

    3) Production of a set of videos to introduce the ‘health and safety’ contents (general and trade-specific)

    Our third conclusion was related to the use of videos. Here I referred to the positive role of the Bau-ABC videos produced by Bau-ABC staff for the Learning Layers project (on possible uses of ‘Learning Toolbox’ in training and at work). Therefore, I proposed that we should produce similar videos when we have made progress in selecting the key contents (for different trades) and the common core contents (for all trades). However, here Thomas and Josh emphasised that we should try to develop a similar collection of exemplary videos that are available in the net.

    4) Use of moodle as digital media to present the core contents and software solutions to support them

    Our fourth conclusion was that we should firstly use the moodle ‘course’ that I had created for the theme ‘health and safety in construction work‘ as a platform to present the results of the above mentioned tasks. Then, in addition to this, we should present briefly other software solutions to be used in the training – such as the Learning Toolbox that was developed in the Learning Layers.

    5) Preparation of proposals to develop learning units and learning designs in funded projects

    Our final conclusion was that we should try to identify some simple exemplary cases to demonstrate the use of digital media in learning units (Bau-ABC training projects) and learning designs (modes of implementing them). Here, we should be looking for ways to continue their development with funded projects. Also, in this respect we should be looking at such innovations like serious games that focus on health and safety in construction work.

    – – –

    I think this is enough on the results of our meeting. Thomas Weerts has sent out a group message to Bau-ABC trainers responsible for training in health and safety to collect their proposals for key contents and documents. After the meeting I had a discussion with Melanie Campbell who emphasised the need for similar mapping exercise with focus on the training of Spanish apprentices in Germany (supported by the project Mobipro-EU). We will get back to these issues in a short while.

    More blogs to come … 



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    First of May and “PULSE OF EUROPE”

    May 1st, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

    So, once again we have celebrated the First of May – the special day of working people and international workers’ movement. Usually I do not feel inclined to engage myself (as an expatriate) in the politics of my host country (Germany). But to me the First of May demonstrations are clearly that kind of citizens’ participation in which I can join whatever my citizenship status may be. (To be sure – as an EU-Citizen I have no reason to complain: I have voting rights in the local/regional elections in Bremen and I can choose whether to vote for Finnish or German candidates in the elections of the EU-parliament.) In a similar way I have found my way way to the “Pulse of Europe” movement and its weekly demonstrations on Sundays.

    Now that the First of May happened to be on Monday, I have been in two demonstrations on the successive days. Below I give short reports of both events. I will start with the First of May and the go back to the Pulse of Europe movement and its events in Bremen.

    First of May in Bremen: The usual story – but with something new to think about

    During my years in Bremen I have participated several times in the First of May demonstrations. Sometimes (in particular before the elections) there has been more interest to participate, sometimes less. This time – as I remember it – we were fewer than couple of times before. But we were enough to pass the message that this is a living tradition. Yet, when looking at the groups involved – they were pretty much the same: The major trade unions formed the majority. The political parties of the left (SPD, die Linke and the smaller groupings) were also there – of course. And we had the left groupings of several ethnic minorities – in particular the Kurdish people were actively present pleading for solidarity to their cousins in Turkey, Syria and Iraq. The German trade unions drew attention to the need to improve the resources in education and the care of elderly people – petitions were presented and signed. This was the familiar side of the event.

    What was new then? Firstly, during the procession I got into conversation with a representative of teachers and researchers (GEW), who informed me of their local initiative group for international solidarity and cooperation. I became aware of their cooperation with similar trade unions in Turkey, Palestine and Burkina Faso – with initiatives that cover school education as well as higher education. I was invited to have a closer look at their activities and I will try to follow this up. Also, during the procession I got a leaflet of a solidarity initiative to support the refugees stuck on the isle of Lesbos (Lesvos). There was no chance to start a conversation but I will try to get a more detailed picture on the situation and on the work of the support initiatives. Here are the links to the websites: and

    Pulse of Europe in Bremen: The new movement with a clear message

    In February and March I became aware of a new pro-European movement that had started weekly demonstrations for a positive thinking about Europe. Clearly, this was thought as a counter-model to the Dresden-based “PEGIDA” – a xenophobic and islamophobic movement that has provided a basis for right-wing populism and radicalism. And clearly, the Brexit-referendum in the UK and the presidential election in the USA in 2015 were the wake-up calls. The founders – individual citizens in Frankfurt – came to the conclusion that we need a popular movement that raises awareness of positive values, ideas, achievements and citizens’ participation opportunities related to the European Union. The initiative has to keep itself independent and open to all who are interested in taking action for Europe. And furthermore – the movement itself calls for active voting and contacting voters and politicians. It all started in a local demonstration in Frankfurt and the movement has spread all over Germany and to several other countries.

    The demonstrations follow the same pattern: The ‘Pulse of Europe’ initiative is presented as an open and independent  citizens’ initiative. The 10 points manifesto is presented. There may be a guest presentation. Then there is a review on key events or incidents at European level. The audience is then invited to sing the Pulse of Europe version of the “Ode for Joy”. Then there mey be a ‘Greetings to …’ action with postcards or with posters and group photos. Then comes the “Open microphone” session for participants to present their views, arguments, messages or critique to be taken on board. And finally, there is the cultural concluding part when the participants join in a chain of people round the square to dance or to listen to a music performance. We have been dancing Sirtaki (focus on Greece) and listened to a bagpipe player (focus on the UK) and so on (I have missed couple of events when travelling).

    To me this new movement has been a most welcome fresh wind. I have been happy to see, how the organisers and participants take this mode of participation seriously. Everyone knows that such a popular movement that tries to keep itself open for people with different political opinions cannot go into great detail. Yet, the ten points and the issues brought into discussion provide a good balance between positive ideas and critique of the aspects in present-date EU that tend to alienate citizens and decision-makers from each other. One of the key points of the movement is that we have reform EU to make it sustainable – but we have to keep it first to be able to reform it. And this is the message that the movement has been passing to other nations who have had or will have elections – in particular the Netherlands and France. The current message to our French neighbours is: “Restons ensemble!” (Let us stay together!) Or – as I would continue it: “Marchons ensemble!” (Let us proceed together!)

    Here the links to the website of #Pulseofeurope and to the facebook-group:  (in German)  (in English)

    Next Sunday we will meet again at the central square of Bremen (Marktplatz) at the City Hall (Rathaus). We will continue.

    More blogs to come …




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