Archive for the ‘Competence Development’ Category

The Challenges for Construction Sector Training in the UK

October 18th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

emgineerAccording to the Daily Telegraph, a new UK Government report into the skills crisis in the construction sector has recommended a new levy on house builders in a last ditch attempt to reform the industry.

The Telegraph reports Mark Farmer, who wrote the review, as warning that “within 10 years the industry would lose 20-25pc of its workforce. He said that Government apprenticeship policies had not done enough, and that it needed to “modernise or die.”

Research undertaken through the EU Learning layers project has identified the challenges to the sector from both the introduction of digital technologies and ecological issues. Digital technology is impacting on the construction industry in different ways. It is enabling the development of new materials, or new ways of producing materials, for instance through 3D printing. Secondly, it is enabling new construction techniques and processes. Building Information Modelling, being phased in as a compulsory requirement for publicly funded project throughout the European Union, represents a major change in the way construction projects are planned and carried out.

The sector also faces pressures with digital technologies from their wider deployment within society and from their potentials to solve or ameliorate societal challenges, for instance climate change.

The European Commission sees the main challenges facing construction as being:

  • Stimulating demand: Efficiency improvements in existing buildings and renovations have the highest potential to stimulate demand.
  • Training: Improving specialised training and making the sector more attractive, in particular for blue-collar workers, technical colleges and universities.
  • Innovation: More active uptake of new technologies.
  • Energy efficiency and climate change: Buildings account for the largest share of total EU final energy consumption (40%) and produce about 35% of all greenhouse emissions.

It is interesting that they highlight the need for more active uptake of new technologies. This may be a particular problem given the structure of the industry and the predominance of SMEs with a need for wider access to information and knowledge about new technologies and the skills and competences to use technologies in practice. Discussions with the Bau ABC training centre and construction companies in north west Germany, have raised the issue of training centres playing a more central role in technology innovation, especially with apprentices trained in the centres in using new technologies.

The issue of the attractiveness of the sector to new entrants has also commonly been raised. In Germany it is proving difficult to recruit sufficient apprentices and one project is even running a programme for apprentices from Spain. The use of new mobile technologies for learning is seen as a measure which could promote a more modern image for construction industry.

Technologies are also being deployed to support energy efficiency and ameliorate climate change. These include the installation of digital monitoring and control systems for buildings, geothermal bores as an energy source for new buildings and retrofitting of older buildings for energy efficiency. Although the present ‘hype’ around the Internet of Things (IoT) probably outweighs the reality, it may have a major impact on the construction industry in the near future.

Demands of digital technologies for cabling has led to the introduction of new computer based horizontal boring machines to avoid having to dig up roads to install new cables.

Drones are increasingly being used for surveying and monitoring progress in large construction projects. Although at an early stage in deployment there is widespread interest in the potential of augmented reality applications in construction, for instance to allow the visualisation of hidden infrastructures such as cabling in construction sites.

Building Information Modelling has been the subject of much discussion during the Learning Layers project. European legislation has permitted the adoption of different timetables for implementation in different European Member States. In some countries such as UK and Norway, implementation is at an advanced stage. In others such as Spain and Germany it is less far forward. There is some discussion about what organisations will be responsible for managing and implementing BIM processes as well as the technical approaches to BIM. Will BIM be the responsibility of larger civil engineering enterprises or will employees of small (Craft) companies be required to have a greater or lesser knowledge of BIM? This obviously has major implications for training and skills.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the UK’s commercial sector faces a bill of over £9bn to upgrade properties to meet the minimum energy efficiency standards (MEES), and residential buildings will cost a total of £20bn to meet the necessary level.

Yet with looming skills shortages and the upgrade in skills and knowledge required to cope with new technologies and energy efficient buildings, it seems hard to see how the UK construction industry can adapt to the new demands. Present government proposals are for a short term levy and a reliance on the market system to overcome skills shortages. But as Norman Crowther, national official for post-16 education at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers writing in the Times Educational Supplement (TES), points out  a market is not a system per se. “Introducing market mechanisms to get the output you want is not a VET system. All the “market” systems have the same sort of problems around VET (think the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada). Of course, that’s not a problem as long as you don’t want coherent skill formation and skill utilisation. But in a time of economic uncertainty and poor productivity, a system is exactly what we need.

The German coordinated market economy goes so far as to legislate on vocational education and training, and apprenticeships have labour-market worth. In France, the state coordinates agreement via ministerial committees. The Nordic model has positioned VET as a part of the school curriculum and produced publicly intelligible VET qualifications that resonate with the public.”

The failings of vocational education and training in the UK are hardly new, neither are skills shortages. Yet without developing a proper system based on high quality training both in vocational schools and in the workplace it is only likely these problems will worsen

New book: Empowering Change in European Public Employment Services

July 18th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

employid bookReaders familiar with European Research projects will know how they work. The projects negotiate with the European Commission a DOW – Description of Work – which details the work to be undertaken in each year of the project. It is divided into discrete work packages. Every year the work package provides a (usually over lengthy) report on research and development undertaken which is then presented to a team of expert reviewers who can ‘pass’, recommend changes or ‘fail’ the report. Although obviously large scale multi national research projects need structures and plans. But all too often the work package structure separates research and development activities which should not be separated and the DOW become a restrictive ‘bible’, rather than a guide for action. And despite the large amount of work which goes into preparing the work package reports, they are seldom widely read (if indeed read at all), except by the reviewers.

In the EmployID project which is working with identity transformation in European Public Employment Services (PES), we are doing things differently. The work is structured though cross work package teams, who follow an adapted SCRUM structure. The teams are reviewed at face to face meetings and recomposed if necessary. And this year, instead of producing a series of Work package reports, the project partners have jointly contributed to a book – Empowering Change in Public Employment Services: The EmployID Approach which has just been published and can be downloaded for free.

The introduction to the 244 page PDF book explains the background to the work:

European Public Employment Services (PES) and their employees are facing fundamental challenges to the delivery of efficient and effective services and the need to change their strategies to combat high unemployment, demographic change in increasingly uncertain and dynamic labour markets. This does not only require developing new professional skills related to new tasks, but poses for more profound developmental challenges for staff members.

Three of these changes relate to understanding the changing world of work; a ‘turn’ towards coaching; and the increased importance of relations with employers. The staff need to learn new ways of working, with a major challenge being to enhance the power of collaborative (peer) learning in order to support staff in accomplishing their goals.

All these changes are linked to transforming professional identity, which requires learning on a deeper level that is often neglected by continuing professional development strategies. EmployID makes its contribution here; that PES practitioners’ learning related to professional identity transformation needs to be facilitated through social learning approaches and the nurturing of social learning networks, which include the following:

  • Reflection as a way of turning one’s own and others’ experiences into general insights on multiple levels, both from an individual and a collective perspective

  • Peer coaching as a way of helping learners in changing their behavior through a structured process

  • Social learning programmes as a way of engaging learners with new topics, other perspectives, and conversations around it.

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 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!

What is the political and social habit(u)s of present day universities?

January 18th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

I like Cristina Costa’s blog, “Is technology changing learning habit(u)s?” (and not only because she cited me). Cristina says how her study on students’ digital practices shows how students’ learning habitus (their histories/experiences with education) have not changed that much in the formal setting, even when they are presented with new pedagogical approaches. It is not so much an issue of their digital competence but an issue that the informal uses of technology do not simply transfer into formal contexts.

Students, she says, “have a feeling for the ‘academic game’ and do their best to adjust to the field’s rules in order to succeed in it.” It seems to me their was always something of a game in academia and especially in undergraduate education. Even in the early 1970s we had well developed strategies for getting through exams (for instance I undertook a rather more in depth study of past exam questions than I did of the overall curriculum and it worked well for me).

But there are more profound contradictions in today’s higher education system. On the one hand universities are supposed to be about education and learning – as expressed through Humboldt’s idea of Allgemeine Bildung—or well-rounded education—to ensure that each person might seek to realize the human potentialities that he possessed as a unique individual or more modern appeals for a broad liberal education (unless such an education can be seen as improving their employability). On the other hand in the UK students are paying substantial fees for a system designed to provide them with a qualification to realise the so called graduate wage premium in the world of work. In such a situation it is little wonder that students are reluctant to participate in the innovative pedagogies – described by Cristina as  Freirean and Deweyan type of pedagogical approaches – designed for them to explore ideas and knowledge – quite simply they want the knowledge and skills they need to pass the exams and thus justify the expenditure. In this situation students will readily adopt productivity apps – office tools, citation databases, revision apps etc – and of course will use technology for social purposes and entertainment. But I am afraid asking them to use social software for learning within the political and social habit(u)s of present day universities may be going to far.

Thinking about Practice and Design

January 13th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

Sometimes writing reports for European projects can be a chore. Long, boring and nobody reads them. At the moment I am writing sections for the EmployID project second annual report. Instead of writing individual work package reports, as is the normal convention, we are writing a single report in the form of a book. And that provides more incentive to get it right. Plus the sections I am writing are all difficult – social learning, Learning Analytics and Labour Market Information tools, but are making me think. So I am quite enjoying it – I think. This last two weeks I have been working on design – or more specifically design for learning. How can we develop designs for tools to support informal learning in public service organisations. I am going to publish here a short series of posts outlining the way I am thinking. I am not sure if this stuff is write but would appreciate any feedback. The first post, today is about practice. Tomorrow I iwll look at the idea of Design Patterns and follow that up on Friday with a draft of a design pattern for Labour market Information tools.

Social Learning

EmployID aims to support and facilitate the learning process of Public Employment Services (PES) practitioners in their professional identity transformation process. The aims of the project are born out of a recognition that to perform successfully in their job they need to acquire
a set of new and transversal skills, develop additional competencies, as well as embed a professional culture
 of continuous improvement. However it is unlikely that training programmes will be able to provide sufficient opportunities for all staff in public employment services, particularly in a period f rapid change in the nature and delivery of such services and in a period with intense pressure on public expenditures. Therefore the EmployID project aims to promote, develop and support the efficient use of technologies to provide advanced coaching, reflection and networking services through social learning. The idea of social learning is that people learn through observing others behaviour, attitudes and outcomes of these behaviours, “Most human behaviour is learned observationally through modelling from observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviours are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action” (Bandura, 1977). Facilitation is seen as playing a key role in structuring learning and identity transformation activities and to support networking in personal networks, teams and organisational networks, as well as cross-organisational dialogue.

Proposals and initiatives to utilise new technology for learning and professional development in organisations is hardly new. However, a critical review of the way information technologies are being used for workplace learning (Kraiger, 2008) concluded that most solutions are targeted towards a learning model based on the idea of direct instruction. Technology Enhanced Learning initiatives tend to be based upon a traditional business training model transferred from face to face interactions to onscreen interactions, but retaining the standard trainer / learner relationship and a reliance on formal and to some extent standardised course material and curricula.

Research suggests that much learning that takes place in the workplace and through work processes, is multi episodic, is often informal, is problem based and takes place on a just in time basis (Attwell 2007; Hart, 2011). Rather than a reliance on formal or designated trainers, much training and learning involves the passing on of skills and knowledge from skilled workers (Attwell and Baumgartl, 2009). In other words, learning is both highly individualized and heavily integrated with contextual work practices and is inherently social in its nature.

To succeed in supporting identity transformation it is not enough merely to develop or deploy technologies which support training and information transmission. Rather, EmployID needs to develop approaches and pedagogies which can support social facilitation services within PES organisations and which empower individuals to engage in peer learning and facilitation around their own practices.

Although there is much research around the use of technology for learning, far less attention has been paid to informal learning and facilitation processes in the workplace. Research around social practice has largely remained the preserve of social science with different approaches based on structuralism, phenomenology and intersubjectivism amongst others. In his paper on theories of social practice, Reckwitz (2002) draws attention to the dual meaning of the English word practice in German.

“Practice’ (Praxis) in the singular represents merely an emphatic term to describe the whole of human action (in contrast to ‘theory’ and mere thinking). ‘Practices’ in the sense of the theory of social practices, however, is something else. A ‘practice’ (Praktik) is a routinized type of behaviour which consists of several elements, interconnected to one other: forms of bodily activities, forms of mental activities, ‘things’ and their use, a background know- ledge in the form of understanding, know-how, states of emotion and motivational knowledge. A practice – a way of cooking, of consuming, of working, of investigating, of taking care of oneself or of others, etc. – forms so to speak a ‘block’ whose existence necessarily depends on the existence and specific inter-connectedness of these elements, and which cannot be reduced to any one of these single elements.

Likewise, a practice represents a pattern which can be filled out by a multitude of single and often unique actions reproducing the practice (a certain way of consuming goods can be filled out by plenty of actual acts of consumption). The single individual – as a bodily and mental agent – then acts as the ‘carrier’ (Träger) of a practice – and, in fact, of many different practices which need not be coordinated with one another. Thus, she or he is not only a carrier of patterns of bodily behaviour, but also of certain routinized ways of understanding, knowing how and desiring. (pp249-250)”

In this understanding knowledge is more complex than ‘knowing that’. It embraces ways of understanding, knowing how, ways of wanting and of feeling that are linked to each other within a practice.

In seeking to support facilitation within public employment services a vital prerequisite is understanding the nature of the social practices within the workplace, both through observable patterns of individual practice and through developing an overall pattern language. This includes the use of objects. Objects are necessary components of many practices – just as indispensable as bodily and mental activities. (Reckwitz, 2002). Carrying out a practice very often means using particular things in a certain way. Electronic media itself is an object which can mold social practices and enable and limit certain bodily and mental activities, certain knowledge and understanding as elements of practices (Kittler, 1985; Gumbrecht, 1988).  One approach to choosing ways to develop particular objects is to focus on what Onstenk (1997) defines as core problems: the problems and dilemmas that are central to the practice of an occupation that have significance both for individual and organisational performance.

If understanding the nature of social practices and patterns is a necessary step to developing facilitation services, it is not in itself sufficient. Further understanding is needed of how learning, particularly informal learning, takes place in the workplace and how knowledge is shared and developed.

Michael Eraut (2000) points put that “much uncodified cultural knowledge is acquired informally through participation in social activities; and much is often so ‘taken for granted’ that people are unaware of its influence on their behaviour. This phenomenon is much broader in scope than the implicit learning normally associated with the concept of socialisation. In addition to the cultural practices and discourses of different professions and their specialities, one has to consider the cultural knowledge that permeates the beliefs and behaviours of their co-workers, their clients and the general public.”

Eraut attempts to codify different elements of practice:

1.     Assessing clients and/or situations (sometimes briefly, sometimes involving a long process of investigation) and continuing to monitor them;

2.     Deciding what, if any, action to take, both immediately and over a longer period (either individually or as a leader or member of a team);

3.     Pursuing an agreed course of action, modifying, consulting and reassessing as and when necessary;

4.     Metacognitive monitoring of oneself, people needing attention and the general progress of the case, problem, project or situation.

He also draws attention to the importance of what he calls mediating objects and points out that while some artifacts are used mainly during learning processes, most artifacts used for working are also used for learning. Such artefacts play an important role in structuring work and sharing information and in mediat9ing group learning about clients or projects in progress.

Among informal learning processes that Eraut lists are participation in group processes, consultations, problem solving, trying things out and working with clients. Working alongside others is important in allowing “people to observe and listen to others at work and to participate in activities; and hence to learn some new practices and new perspectives, to become aware of different kinds of knowledge and expertise, and to gain some sense of other people’s tacit knowledge.”

Tackling challenging tasks and roles requires on-the job learning and, if well- supported and successful, leads to increased motivation and confidence.


According to De Laat (2012) informal learning in the workplace is often described as observing how others do things, asking questions, trial and error, sharing stories with others and casual conversation (Marsick and Watkins, 1990). Boud and Hager (2012) argue that learning is a normal part of working and professional development should be placed in a social context where professionals work and learn together, changing and innovating both their professional practice as well as their professional identity.

De Laat (2012) argues that we need to find a new balance between formal and informal learning and provide opportunities for what Fuller and Unwin (2003) call expansive ‐ as opposed to restrictive learning ‐ through developing an organisational culture that values and supports learning and by so doing, opens doors to various opportunities for professional development. Informal professional development through engagement in social learning spaces can enable participation, construction and ‘becoming’ (De Laat, 2012).

Lave and Wenger (1991) also stress the importance of both practice and the social nature of learning in their conception of Communities of Practice.  Interestingly for them, collective learning results in practices that reflect both the pursuit of our enterprises and the attendant social relations. “These practices are thus the property of a kind of community created over time by the sustained pursuit of a shared enterprise. It makes sense, therefore to call these kinds of communities communities of practice.”

“Communities of Practice are important to the functioning of any organisations, but they become crucial to those that recognise knowledge as a key asset. An effective organisation comprises a constellation of interconnected CoPs, each dealing with specific aspects of the company’s competency, from the peculiarities of a long standing client, to manufacturing safety, to esoteric technical inventions. Knowledge is created, shared. organised, revised, and passed on within and among these communities.” (Wenger, 1998).

Connecting people in parallel, across disciplines, roles and departments of the business, is fundamentally different from connecting people in project teams or interest groups. Although the nature and composition of these communities varies members are brought together by joining in common activities and by ‘what they have learned through their mutual engagement in these activities’

According to Wenger (1998), a community of practice defines itself along three dimensions:

·      What it is about – its joint enterprise as understood and continually renegotiated by its members.

·      How it functions ‐ mutual engagement that bind members together into a social entity.

·      What capability it has produced – the shared repertoire of communal resources (routines, sensibilities, artefacts, vocabulary, styles, etc.) that members have developed over time. (Wenger, 1998)

A number of issues emerge in studies of attempts to develop communities of practice. One is a tendency to build a platform and ‘declare’ the existence of a community of practice, rather than supporting emergence and therefore ownership. The second is to fail to recognise that such a process of emergence is continuous and ongoing. A third is to conflate organisational structures with communities and to focus on the organisational nature of the community rather than the routines and artefacts that define the capability of practices.

In a similar way social learning is not something which can be done to people. Instead an approach to social learning has to be based on facilitation of social learning processes with organisations and within Communities of Practice. Such facilitation needs to relate to the social practices of people. Murphy (2004) has conceptualized collaboration as a continuum of processes, and developed an instrument with six stages for the purpose of identifying and measuring online asynchronous collaboration: “(1) social presence (2) articulating individual perspectives (3) accommodating or reflecting the perspectives of others (4) co-constructing shared perspectives and meanings (5) building shared goals and purposes, and (6) producing shared artefacts.” However, these six stages can also serve as a template for social learning processes and inform the work of EmployID in developing tools which can facilitate social learning.


Attwell, G. (ed.) (2007). Searching, Lurking and the Zone of Proximal Development. E-Learning in Small and Medium Enterprises in Europe, Vol.5, Navreme Publications, Vienna

Attwell, G. & Baumgartl, B. (Eds.) (2009): Creating Learning Spaces: Training and Professional Development for Trainers. Vol.9, Navreme Publications, Vienna

Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Boud, D. & Hager, P. (2012). Re-thinking continuing professional development through changing metaphors and location in professional practice. Studies in Continuing Education, 34(1),17-30

De Laat, M. (2012) Enabling professional development networks: How connected are you?, Open University of the Netherlands, Hagen

Eraut, M. (2000) Non-formal learning and tacit knowledge in professional work, British Journal of Educational Psychology (2000), 70, 113–136

Fuller, A., & Unwin, L. (2003). Learning as apprentices in the contemporary UK workplace: Creating and managing expansive and restrictive participation. Journal of Education and Work, 16(4), 407-42

Gumbrecht, H. U. (Ed.) (1988) Materialität der Kommunikation. Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp.

Hart, J. (2011) Learning is more than Social Learning, learning-jane-hart, retrieved 5 July, 2012

Kittler, F. (1985) Aufschreibesysteme 1800/1900. München: Fink.

Kraiger, K. (2008). Transforming Our Models of Learning and Development: Web- Based Instruction as Enabler of Third-Generation Instruction. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 1(4), 454-467. doi:10.1111/j.1754-9434.2008.00086.x

Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning. Legitimate peripheral participation, Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press,

Marsick, V. J., & Watkins, K. (1990).Informal and Incidental Learning in the Workplace.London: Routledge

Murphy, E. (2004). Recognizing and promoting collaboration in an online asynchronous discussion. British Journal of Educational Technology, 35(4), 421-431.

Onstenk, J. (1997) Lerend leren werken: Brede vakbekwaamheid en de integratie van leren, werken en innovere

Reckwitz A (2002) Toward a Theory of Social Practices, European Journal of Social Theory 2002 5: 243

Tennant, M. (1999) ‘Is learning transferable?’ in D. Boud and J. Garrick (eds.) Understanding Learning at Work, London: Routledge.

Wenger, E. (1999), Communities of Practice. Learning, meaning and identity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Wenger, E. (1998) ‘Communities of Practice. Learning as a social system’, Systems Thinker,


Learning Analytics for Workplace and Professional Learning

December 10th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

Whilst there has been much interest from the Technology Enhanced Learning research and development community in Learning Analytics  (LA) , most of the focus has been on formal learning in educational institutions. There has been relatively little written about work based learning and continuing professional development, let alone informal learning. And what evidence there is suggests that Learning Analytics applied to informal and work based learning may require a significantly different approach to the emerging mainstream LA for schools and universities. Amongst other issues, data sets may be significantly smaller, learners are less concerned about completing learning in a set time to well defined assessment metrics and may have significant concerns about data privacy. Perhaps most significantly the answers we are trying to find out about learning in the workplace may not be the same as within an educational institution.

For this reason it is very good to see the organisation of a Learning Analytics for Workplace and Professional Learning (LA for Work) workshop collocated with the
Learning Analytics and Knowledge Conference (LAK 2016) at University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK, being held in April 2016. Below is the Call for Papers.

Learning Analytics have been striving in the past years for all types of educational settings. However, analytics for workplace learning has been much less in the focus of the learning analytics community. While Learning Analytics in educational settings very often follow a particular pedagogical design, workplace learning is much more driven
by demands of work tasks or intrinsic interests of the learner, by self-directed exploration and social exchange that is tightly connected to processes and the places of work. Hence, learning interactions at the workplace are to a large extent informal and not embedded into a pedagogical scenario. At the same time, workplace learners can benefit from being exposed to their own and other’s learning processes and outcomes as this potentially allows for better awareness and tracing of learning, sharing experiences, and scaling
informal learning practices.

Recently, several different approaches to Learning Analytics in the workplace have been suggested. Some of these have been coming from the tradition of adaptive learning systems or self-directed learning environments for workplace learning or lifelong learning, some from learning in professional communities. Recently, the topic of
performance analytics or analytics in smart industries has extended the focus to more traditional work settings. New research challenges also abound in workplace scenarios, such as the introduction of new technologies (augmented interfaces, large scale collaboration platforms), or the new challenges that derive from the need to make
informal learning processes better traceable and recognizable.

We consider that workplace learning scenarios can benefit from existing research in education-based Learning Analytics approaches and technologies. At the same time, we are convinced that the community would benefit from a closer exchange around the specificities of workplace learning, such as the unconstrained and less plannable
learning processes, the challenge to integrate learning systems in work practices, or a methodological focus on design-oriented research approaches with smaller samples in real life settings. At the same time, we think that researchers in the educational domain can benefit from this workshop at LAK, as the clear boundaries between formal and
informal learning are increasingly vanishing, and a focus on lifelong learning is increasingly being established. For this reason, the LA for Work workshop aims at providing a forum for researchers and practitioners who are making innovative use of analytics at the workplace, and for those who have an interest in exploring analytics
in more informal learning settings.

Objectives and Topics

The objective of this workshop is to provide a forum for researchers in the area of learning analytics who specifically address learning at the workplace or in professional settings in different forms and flavors. We will welcome high-quality papers about actual trends related to workplace Learning Analytics. We will seek application oriented, as well as more theoretical papers and position papers in the following, non-exhaustive list of topics:

Learning Analytics for informal learning
Learning Analytics for the integration of formal and informal learning
Learning Analytics for workplace performance
Learning Analytics for lifelong learning
Community-Based Learning Analytics
Learning Analytics for Organisational Learning
Learning Analytics in professional communities
Workplace learning awareness, measurement and certification
Analytics for different educational processes at or near the
workplace, such as problem-based learning, on-the-job training,
self-directed informal learning, collaborative learning
Knowledge maturing in communities of practice, organisations or networks
Data-driven interventions to improve learning processes at the workplace
Recomendations of learning artifacts or learning activities at the workplace


We welcome the following types of contributions:

Short research papers and position papers (up to 4 pages)

Full research papers (up to 6 pages)

All submissions must be written in English and must be formatted according to the ACM format. Please, submit your contributions electronically in PDF format via

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.”

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.


Recommenders or e-Portfolios

September 24th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

I was interested by a comment by Stephen Downes in yesterdays OLDaily. Stephen says:

(People rating) will replace grades and evaluations. Because, when you have an entire network evaluating people, why on earth would you fall back on something as imprecise as a test? (p.s. smart network-based evaluations are what finally break up ‘old boy networks’ that mutually support each other with positive recommendations).

He was commenting on an article on the CBCNews website about the development of a new App being developed in Calgary. The CEO and co-founder of the people App Julia Cordray said: “You’re going to rate people in the three categories that you can possibly know somebody — professionally, personally or romantically.”

As Stephen commented there is really nothing new about this App. And we have experimented with this sort of thing in the MatureIP project. But instead of asking people to rate other people we rather asked them to list other peoples skills and competences. Despite my misgivings it worked well in a six month trial in a careers company in north England. What we found, I think, was that official records of what people can do and what their skills are are scanty and often not accessible and that people are often too shy to promote their own abilities.

But coming back to Stephens comments, I tend to think that smart network based recommendations may only strengthen old boys networks, rather than break them up. In research into Small and Medium Enterprises we found that owner . managers rarely worried too much bout qualifications, preferring to hire based on recommendations form existing employees or from their own social (off line at that time) networks.Yes of course tests are imprecise. But tests are open(ish) to all and were once seen as a democratising factor in job selection. Indeed some organisations are moving away from degrees as a recruitment benchmark – given their poor performance as a predictor of future success. But it doesn’t seem to em that recommendation services such as LinkedIn already deploy are going to help greatly even with smart network based evaluations. I still see more future in e-Portfolios and Personal Learning Networks, which allow users to show and explain their experience. I am a bit surprised about how quiet the ePortfolio scene has been of late but then again the Technology Enhanced Learning community are notorious for dropping ideas to jump on the latest trendy bandwagon.

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