Archive for the ‘changing environment’ Category

Happy birthday, Graham Attwell!

February 16th, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

Today the fellow-bloggers on Pontydysgu site can congratulate Graham Attwell on his birthday. I hope there is no home-made rule that would prevent us from celebrating this day via his own website.  Cheers, Graham!

Years and more …

Constructing learning

March 7th, 2017 by Graham Attwell













Interesting report in the Jisc email. They say:

“Blended learning (the merging of technology and face-to-face) involves learners in the construction of their own learning. But a recent survey by Sheffield Hallam University showed that there’s inconsistency in learners’ experiences of this – a concern likely shared across the country.

Students also said that they expected the majority of their learning to be supported by an online platform. As a result, Sheffield Hallam University has created a set of “minimum expectations” for their teaching staff to encourage them to publish learning resources online, give online assessment feedback and use social media for student-staff collaboration.”

Without having read the full report from Sheffield, I wonder how much learners on blended learning programmes really are involved in the construction of their own learning and how they are supported in that process. It is also interesting to see the university turning to social media for student staff collaboration. Guess I need to read the report!



A Design for Learning

September 16th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

“We learn through experience; the abstract can only take us so far” says Peter Bryant from London School of Economics in the blog entry accompanying this presentation.  “Whether it is environmental, tactile, mental, affective, emotional or physical, learning experiences are the context in which learning and knowledge come together. Learning experiences are the art and design component of curriculum development.”

The future of work – myths and policies

March 29th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

I like this blog post by Robert Peal entitled ‘A Myth for Teachers: Jobs That Don’t Exist Yet’. The article looks at the origins of the idea that the top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 didn’t exist in 2004 and its later variant that 60 per cent of the jobs for children in school today have not been invented. In both cases he found it impossible to track these statement in any reliable research. Of course these are myths. But often such myths can be tracked back to quite prosaic political objectives.

For a long time, the European Union has pushed the idea of the knowledge society. And whilst there are many learned papers describing in different ways what such a society might look like or why such a society will emerge there is little evidence of its supposed impact on labour markets. Most common is the disappearance of low and unskilled jobs, linked to growing skill shortages in high skilled employment. Yet in the UK most recent growth in employment has been in low skills, low paid jobs in the retail sector. I remember too in the late 1990s when the European industry lobby group for computers were preaching dire emergencies over the shortage of programmers, with almost apocalyptic predictions of what would happen with the year 200 bug if there were not major efforts to train newcomers to the industry. Of course that never happened either and predictions of skills shortages in software engineering persist despite the fact the UK government statistics show programmers pay falling in the last few years.

I’ve been invited to do several talks in the last year on the future of work. It is not easy. There are two lengthy reports on future skills for the UK – ‘Working Futures 2012- 2022’ and ‘The future of work: jobs and skills in 2030’, published by the UK Commission for Skills and Industry. Both are based on statistical modelling and scenario planning. As one of the reports says (I cannot remember which) “all models are wrong – it is just that some of more useful than others. Some things are relatively clear. There will be a big upturn in (mainly semi skilled) work in healthcare to deal with demographic changes in the age of the population. There will also be plenty of demand for new skilled and semi skilled workers in construction and engineering. Both are major employment sectors and replacement demand alone will result in new job openings even if they do not expand in overall numbers (many commentators seem to forget about replacement demand when looking at future employment).

But then it all starts getting difficult. Chief perhaps amongst this is possible disruptions which can waylay any amount of economic modelling. The following diagram above taken from ‘The future of work: jobs and skills in 2030’Ljubiana_june2015.001 shows possible future disruptions to the UK economy and to future jobs. One of these is the introduction of robots. With various dire reports that up to 40 per cent of jobs may disappear to robots in the next few years, I suspect we are creating another myth. Yes, robots will change patterns of employment in some industries, and web technologies enable disruptions in other areas of the economy. Yet much of the problems with such predictions lay with technological determinism – the idea that technology somehow has some life of its own and that we cannot have any says over it. At the end of the day, despite all the new technologies and the effects of globalization, there are massive policy decisions which will influence what kind of jobs there will be in the future. These include policies for education and training, inter-governmental treaties, labour market and tax policies, employment rights and so on. And such considerations should include what jobs we want to have, how they are organised, where they are and the quality of work. At the moment we seem to be involved in a race to the bottom – using the excuse of austerity – which is a conscious policy – to degrade both pay and work conditions. But it doesn’t need to be like this. Indeed, the excuses for austerity may be the biggest myth of all.




The future of learning at work. How technology is influencing working and learning in healthcare: Preparing our students and ourselves for this future

February 16th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

Over the last few weeks I seem to have been bombarded with calls for submissions for conferences. Most I have ignored on the grounds that they are just too expensive. And if I can’t afford them, working as a relatively senior researcher with project funding, what hope do emerging researchers have of persuading their universities or companies to pay. But tto be honest I am bored with most of the conferences. Formal papers, formally presented with perhaps ten or twenty people in a session and very limited time for discussion. We know there are better ways of learning!

One conference I have submitted an abstract to is AMEE. – the International Association for Medical Education. Apart from short communications, research papers and PhD presentations AMEE invites posters, Pecha Kucha, workshops, points of view and organises a fringe to the conference. Sounds good to me and as you might guess I have submitted a point of view. Here goes (in 300 words precisely) ……

The future of work is increasingly uncertain and that goes just as much for healthcare as other occupations. An ageing population is resulting in increasing demand for healthcare workers and advances in technology and science are resulting in new healthcare applications. At the same time technology promises a revolution in self-diagnosis, whilst Artificial Intelligence and robots may render many traditional jobs obsolete.

So what can we say about healthcare skills for the future and what does it mean for healthcare education. Whilst machines may take over more unskilled work, there is likely to be increasing demand for high skilled specialist healthcare workers as well as those caring for the elderly. These staff need to be confident and competent in using existing technologies and adapting to technologies of the future.

They will need to be self-motivated lifelong learners, resilient and capable of coping with changing occupational identities. They will need to collaborate in multidisciplinary teams leading to a high premium on communication skills.

Present processes of education and training based predominantly on face-to-face courses cannot cope with the needs of lifelong learning. Learning needs to be embedded in everyday work processes. Technology is critical here; ubiquitous connectivity and mobile devices allow context-based learning. The same technologies can promote informal and social learning, learning from peers and sharing experience and knowledge in personal learning networks. Already there are many MOOCs dedicated to medical education. Healthcare professionals are using social media to build informal learning networks. But these are the exceptions not the norm. In the future machine learning algorithms can support individuals wishing to deepen their knowledge, VR to share experiences. Yet although there is a rich potential, medical educators have to steer the process. We need to know what works, what doesn’t, to evaluate, to share. That needs to start now!

Technology is not a panacea

April 20th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

As regular readers will know, one of teh major projects we are involved in is the Learning layers project, focused on technology support for informal learning in the construction and health sectors. As part of this we are involved in ongoing scoping, concerning both the introduction of new technologies and the changes in work practices and organisation that this entails.

Probably the biggest news in construction is the introduction of Building Information Modelling (BIM) defined by Wikipedia as “a process involving the generation and management of digital representations of physical and functional characteristics of places”. BIM has been seen as almost revolutionising the construction industry and offering considerable savings in the coordination and execution of construction projects, improved logistics, waste saving and the long term management of buildings. The adoption of BIM is mandatory in the European Union for public construction contracts, although different European member states have different adoption timetables. Two of the countries in the forefront of adoption are Norway and The UK. In this respect a survey and report from the UK’s National Building Specification released last week produced surprising findings.

According to :

The survey, of over 900 respondents from across the construction industry carried out by RIBA Enterprises offshoot NBS, shows that the proportion of firms saying they use the modelling technology has dropped from 54% last year to 48%.

The report concludes that “there remain a significant number of practices who do not see the advantages of BIM, and so chose not to adopt, or who are currently unable to adopt BIM, because of time, cost, or expertise.”

The reported fall contrasts with the rapid rise in BIM usage when the survey was last conducted. The drop in this year’s survey is particularly surprising, given the 2016 deadline for all central government funded projects to use Level 2 of BIM.

Of course 900 is a relatively small respondent base, given the number of construction firms. But it seems likely those responding are more likely to have an interest in BIM and are more likely to represent larger companies. Therefore the results beg some thinking about. it appears one of the biggest challenges is skills shortages. But such skills shortages come at a time when construction is struggling to come out of recession. Probably a bigger issue is the introduction of complex software and process management systems without adequate training for staff and without time for consideration of the necessary reorganisation of work process to cope with such change. There is also an issue as to the cost of adapting such systems, particularly in an industry dominated by Small and Medium (more small than medium) enterprises. Finally I am unconvinced that the top down imposition of such systems is the right way to go in instigating and sustaining innovation and change. Research of previous disruptive changes due to technology introduction (for instance in the motor car manufacturing industry) suggest that such ‘innovation; can lead to a short term fall in productivity. Whilst in a boom this might be absorbed, it is difficult to see how this can happen in the aftermath of the crisis.

The survey may lead to some rethinking about how BIM is introduced. But bringing in such disruptive change without properly analysing and taking measures around education and training and changing work organisations carries a very high risk of failure. the industry in countries like Germany who have hung back in the time scale for adoption, but with better traditions of continuing professional development, will be taking note.

Changes in Learning and Development

May 21st, 2014 by Graham Attwell

This is an interesting video. Donald H Taylor explains how Learning and Development Departments need to change their attitude to risk in order to keep pace with the rest of the business in today’s modern world. He describes 4 quadrants in which L&D departments fit: Learning Leadership, Unacknowledged Prophet, Comfortable Extinction and The Training Ghetto and explains how and why all L&D departments should join the quadrant of Learning Leadership. However I am not convinced that the major problem is that Learning and Development departments are failing to keep up with changing organisations. In my experience all too often it is the organisations themselves who are holding back change. And don’t forget that most Small and Medium Enterprises, who it could be argued are the prime drivers of change do not have a Learning and Development Department (interesting in that regard that Donald cites Pinterest with 12 employees as an example of a fast changing organisation).

Where do you go to for your research?

May 20th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

I remember back in the mid 1990s, when I was first employed as a researcher at the University of Bremen, I used to travel every three months to Surrey university, whi9ch at the time had the easiest university library to reach from Bremen.I would run a series of searches on their computerised reference system, collect together a pile of journals and then buy a photocopying card to frantically copy all the articles i might need for the next couple of months. Fortunately this was in the days before airlines restricted baggage weight, so i could copy all I could carry.

Time have changed.  Most researchers I know rely on online sources these days. Despite attempts by some publishers to prevent open access, many authors place a pre-publication copy of their work online anyway. This is merely anecdotal. But  a new survey (pdf downland) by the UK Jisc covers a range of areas from how academics discover and stay abreast of research, to their teaching of undergraduates, how they choose research topics and publication channels, to their views on learned societies and university libraries, and their collections.

The survey comes up with some interesting findings. According to Jisc the “Overarching themes are an increasing reliance on the Internet for their research and publishing activities and the strong role that openness is playing in their work.” They go on to say key findings include:

  • Access limitations – While 86% of respondents report relying on their college or university library collections and subscriptions, 49% indicated that they would often like to use journal articles that are not in those collections.
  • Use of open resources – If researchers can’t find the resources or information they need through their university library, 90% of respondents often or occasionally look online for a freely available version.
  • The Internet as starting point – 40% of researchers surveyed said that when beginning a project they start by searching the Internet for relevant materials, with only 2% visiting the physical library as a first port of call.
  • Following one’s peers – The findings suggest that the majority of researchers track the work of colleagues and leading researchers as a way of keeping up to date with developments in their field.
  • Emergence of e-publications – The findings show that e-journals have largely replaced physical usage for research, but that contrasting views exist on replacement of print by e-publications, where print still holds importance within the Humanities and Social Sciences and for in-depth reading in general.

But these are just the headlines. it is well worth delving into the full report, based on over 3000 respondents.

Researchers were asked “Typically, when you are conducting academic research, which of these five starting points do you use to begin locating information for your research?”

Although there were variation between researchers form different disciplines (as noted above) some 40 per cent replied general purpose search engine on the internet or world wide web. About 25 per cent use a specific electronic research resource/computer database, up to 20 per cent their online library catalogue, 18 or so per cent a national or international catalogue or database, while less than 10 per cent physically visit their library.

That is a massive change in a relatively short time period. I will try to read the report thoroughl;y in the next few days and work out what it all means!

Cornerstones of an Innovation Frameowrk

April 2nd, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Another one from the archives. I think Jen and me wrote this in 2001 but it still seems relevant today, especially in an age when it seems inn0vation is the universal panacea..

“Whilst in organisation learning literature in the late 1990s innovation was seen as the interplay between implicit and explicit knowledge within organisations, in a literature review into innovation Attwell and Hughes looked at the importance of external as well as internal factors in innovation. In particular they differentiated between stimulus catalyst and Imperative.

  Stimulus Catalyst Imperative

Internal to Organisation


e.g. a new manager who is ‘environmentally conscious’



e.g. falling balance sheet, falling markets, increasing materials waste


e.g. company  going bankrupt or workers strike because of working conditions


External to organisation


e.g. a rival business opening next door


e.g. growing public awareness  of environmental issues


e.g. change in primary legislation on environmental issues










Stimulus: a specific and particular action or event which provokes a specific and particular response. Typically one off or isolated events which precipitate change.

Catalyst: the presence of a factor or factors ‘in the background’ which speedup the rate of change. Typically these factors will be present over a period of time rather than being ‘one-off’ events

Imperative: the ‘must-do’ situation – an event or series of events that make change inevitable and usually urgent with identifiable negative consequences in the event of failure to change.

Much innovation in the construction industry appears to be driven by an imperative around environmental standards for building with in other cases innovation being driven by the catalyst of new materials and construction methods.

Attwell and Hughes advanced the following ideas as ‘boundary conditions’ or as cornerstones of a theoretical framework around innovation:

  • That innovation is a complex social phenomenon (and is not technologically determined);
  • That innovation takes place within spatial forms and areas – including regions, supply chains, internal organisation units and networks;
  • That innovation is developed in the interrelationships between enterprises and the environment, including suppliers, customers and other ‘knowledge development’ and business support agencies and organisations;
  •  That innovation is dependent on the interrelations between work organisation, workforce competence and technologies;
  • That there are many and complex motivators for innovation and change that may stem from economic, social and environmental factors;
  • That organisational competence and innovation are facilitated by the interplay between the development and use of tacit and codified knowledge and between abstract knowledge and practice;
  • That tacit knowledge is bounded and develops in communities of practice – which cannot be organisational prescribed;
  • That change for innovation is conceptually driven and may take an incremental form;
  • That organisational competence is central to innovation and change;
  • That developmental expertise is central to organisational competence for innovation.

Innovation is not only dependent on workforce competence and organisational competence but gives rise for new needs in competence and learning.”

The changing world of work

October 31st, 2012 by Graham Attwell

As explained in my previous post, last week I visited the Hub Westminster in central London. The Hub is located on the first floor of New Zealand house, the New Zealand embassy near Piccadily.

The hub website explains

We believe there is no shortage of good ideas to solve the issues of our time. But there is an acute lack of collaboration and support structures to help make them happen. The HUB was founded to address this need.

We set out to create spaces that combine the best of a trusted community, innovation lab, business incubator and the comforts of home. Spaces with all the tools and trimmings needed to grow and develop innovative ventures for the world. But above all, spaces for meaningful encounters, exchange and inspiration, full of diverse people doing amazing things.

The idea has been spreading like wildfire and resulted in the emergence of a global movement. To date, there are 25+ open HUBs and many more in the making, from London to San Francisco, Johannesburg, Melbourne, Sao Paulo and Milan.

Not withstanding the hype, the Hub was impressive. It consists of a large open working space, with different small work areas, and different meeting areas. there must have been some 60 or 70 people there last Friday. some spaces seemed to be for particular teams, others were hot desking areas.

True, the tech area is very different to more traditional industrial and craft sectors. But it illustrated to me how work is changing. And although European Commission policy recognises the centrality of small enterprises for future employment and economic growth, I think they have been slower to think through the implications of this in social and education policy terms.

Probably the biggest problem for micro and small businesses remains access to capital. and for micro businesses without fixed assets, and with a business plan that is yet to show profits, banks may be even more unwilling to lend that to start ups in more traditional areas of the economy.

Equally such start up businesses are heavily reliant of skills and knowledge. yet the traditional education and training systems seem slow to adapt to new and growing areas of the economy and to the needs for higher level continuing learning than traditional qualifications structures provide.

If SMEs are to play such a key role they are going to need state support. The present EU policy seems to be based on reducing legislation and providing targeted help. Yet the ‘system for targeted help may be to inflexible and slow to meet real needs on the ground. I am also unconvinced that merely exempting SMEs from employment legislation is the right answer. Germany has some of the toughest employment legislation in Europe, yet has a record of thriving SMEs.

One of the issues may be the level of decision making and the forms that decision making takes. More transparency and social involvement in decision making processes could improve the quality of support for SMEs. equally there is a need for more localised economic planning. This, in turn, means better access to data and ideas for those responsible for such planning.

I am not arguing against private sector initiatives to support SMEs and job creation. But I would argue that the public sector has a key role to play and that we need more democratic and open processes if that support is to be effective.

Similarly, we need to re-look at social systems to see how they can be adapted to changing patterns fo work including access to food and recreation systems, transport, nursery provision and education and training.



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    OEB Global (formerly Online Educa Berlin) has announced its Call for Proposals and the overall theme for 2018: Learning to Love Learning. The event will incorporate Learning Technologies Germany – a leading European exhibition on learning technologies in the workplace – for the first time this year. More details here.

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    According to the University Technical Colleges web site, new research released of 11 to 17-year-olds, commissioned by the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, the charity which promotes and supports University Technical Colleges (UTCs), reveals that over a third (36%) have no opportunity to learn about the latest technology in the classroom and over two thirds (67%) admit that they have not had the opportunity even to discuss a new tech or app idea with a teacher.

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