Archive for the ‘Competence Development’ Category

Places and Spaces – facilitating professional learning and identity transformation in European Public Employment Services

January 31st, 2018 by Graham Attwell

I have just submitted an abstract to the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER). This years conference is at the Free University Bolzano in Italy in September. The proposed paper is based on work we have been doing through the European Research programme Employ-ID project.

Abstract

The world of work is undergoing fundamental transformations. Bringing employees into the position of shaping change instead of merely reacting is one of the key challenges lifelong learning as well as learning and development faces.

A neglected, but crucial aspect here is the employees’ professional identity, which is a key factor developing resilience in a world characterized by uncertainty. It empowers individuals, and determines motivation and openness to new developments – and overcomes obstructionism and frustration often associated with change processes.

Towards that end, the focus of professional learning and human resource development needs to target “deeper learning” and to shift away from training skills towards facilitating the transformation of the professional identity of employees, both individually and collectively. Identities are often communicated and developed using stories: stories we tell about our jobs and ourselves, and stories others tell about us. But todays workplaces often do not provide opportunities for exchanging narratives. But they are particularly helping in uncovering experiential and affective components, which are hidden success factors and barriers.

The paper is based on a European Research Framework project, EmployID. The project brings together research partners and partners from Public Employment Services in Europe.

Public Employment Service Employees are facing pressures in their work with austerity providing increased demand of new services with less resources and digitalisation in the delivery of services.

In the context of Public Employment Services (PES), EmployID has investigated how a technology-enhanced learning approach can facilitate identity transformation through a series of interventions in the form of social learning programmes, complemented by labour market information tools as well as reflection, and peer coaching leading to the development of reflective communities. The understanding of reflective communities of practice is based on Wenger (Wenger, 1999), who sees communities of practice as groups of people who share a domain, who work on improving themselves and who share a common practice. The common domain and practice is in our case working in a public employment as a counsellor working to bring together job seekers and employers. Communities of practice are a proven concept to facilitate exchange knowledge and experiences in companies (Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002).

The technology assisted interventions have been co-designed together with managers and staff in the different Public Employment Services. They have been accompanied by the extensive programme of evaluation, designed not only as a formative tool for improvement, but to provide data for developing a deeper understanding of the concepts and ideas which underpin the approach and for developing frameworks for analysis of the use of technology for learning within communities of practice.

One focus for such understanding is the idea of places and spaces. “Place and space are both products of social practice, albeit different systems of practice. These new practices, then, transform existing spaces as sites of everyday action (Dourish, 2004). Dourish says: “The technologically mediated world does not stand apart from the physical world within which it is embedded; rather, it provides a new set of ways for that physical world to be understood and appropriated. Technological mediation supports and conditions the emergence of new cultural practices, not by creating a distinct sphere of practice but by opening up new forms of practice within the everyday world, reflecting and conditioning the emergence of new forms of environmental knowing.”

The paper will draw on the extensive evaluation data collected through the EmployId project to examine the ways in which the spaces created by the interventions from the EmployID project have led to new practices, facilitated learning and supported storytelling and professional identity transformation.

Methodology and Sources

The project partners initially worked with Public Employment Services at both European and country level in identifying problems faced along with priorities for development.

This lead to a co-design process with different PES services around a series of interventions including

  • Social learning programmes (or MOOCs) providing online courses typically of six weeks duration with 2-3 hours learning per week. The term ‘social’ reflects a pedagogic approach for participants facilitating the learning of others.
  • Peer coaching programmes have been developed and delivered both through face to face workshops and online activities
  • Reflective communities’ have been developed and launched in Public Employment services in three countries (Bunk & Prilla, 2017)
  • Systems and tools have been developed for providing access to Labour Market Information and Intelligence, also in two different countries

All the interventions have been extensively evaluating and analysis of the evaluation results is ongoing (the results are expected by May 2018).

Evaluation methods have included:

  • Interviews and focus groups with participants
  • Interviews with managers
  • Discourse analysis (from the social learning programmes and Reflective Communities)
  • Surveys and questionnaires
  • Analysis of log data

The ongoing analysis of the data is focusing on not just the success or otherwise of the interventions but what the data can tell us about identity transformation, professional development and the use and appropriation of online spaces for learning and knowledge sharing.

Conclusions

Our earlier work has led to interim findings regarding learning and identity transformation. We have identified three ways of learning (Kunzman, C. & Schmidt, A. 2017).

Learning as becoming

Stories, as identities themselves, have both a personal and an organisational dimension and could link to ideas about learning through self-understanding; sense-making; personal agency; motivation (determination); resilience; commitment to own learning and professional development; and career adaptability.

The second way ‘learning for identity development’ can be represented as occurring is across four domains: relational development; cognitive development; practical development; and emotional development. Learning may involve development in one or more domains and development in each domain can be achieved in a number of different ways, but development can be represented thematically, although the extent of development under particular themes can vary greatly across contexts and in individual cases.

Thirdly learning in opportunities structures within which individuals in the PES operate.

The key to understanding learning for identity development is to switch between the three representations in order to get a more rounded picture.

Our present ongoing work is focusing on how participants use and develop places and spaces, the opportunities for action that spaces afford and their relation to changing social, cultural and professional practices.

Key References

Blunk, O., & Prilla, M. (2015). Prompting users to facilitate support needs in collaborative reflection. In M. Kravcik, A. Mikroyannidis, V. Pammer, M. Prilla, & T. D. Ullmann (Eds.), Proceedings of the 5th International Workshop on Awareness and Reflection in Technology Enhanced Learning (AR℡ 2015) in conjunction with the EC℡ 2015 conference (Vol. 1465, pp. 43–57). CEUR-WS. Retrieved from http://ceur-ws.org/Vol-1465/

Blunk, O. & Prilla, M. “Supporting Communities of Practice in Public Administrations: Factors Influencing Adoption and Readiness.” In Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Communities and Technologies, 36–45. C&T ’17. New York, NY, USA

Brown, A. & Bimrose, J. (2015). Identity Development. In Hartung, P. J.; Savickas, M. L.; and Walsh, W. B. (Eds), (2015). APA handbook of career intervention, Volume 2: Applications. APA handbooks in psychology. (pp. 241-254). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association.

Cressey, P., Boud, D., & Docherty, P. (2006a). Productive Reflection at Work. In D. Boud, P. Cressey, & P. Docherty (Eds.), Productive reflection at work: Learning for changing organizations (pp. 11–26). New York: Routledge.

Dillenbourg, P., Järvelä, S., & Fischer, F. (2009). The evolution of research on computer-supported collaborative learning. In Technology-enhanced learning (pp. 3–19). Springer.

Dourish, P. (2006) Re-space-ing place: “place” and “space” ten years on, CSCW ’06 Proceedings of the 2006 20th anniversary conference on Computer supported cooperative work, Pages 299-308

Eraut, M. (2004). Informal learning in the workplace. Studies in Continuing Education, 26(2), 247–273.

Hyland, N., Grant, J. M., Craig, A. C., Hudon, M., & Nethery, C. (2012). Exploring Facilitation Stages and Facilitator Actions in an Online/Blended Community of Practice of Elementary Teachers: Reflections on Practice (ROP) Anne Rodrigue Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario

Kunzman, C. & Schmidt, A. (2017) EmployID: EmployID Deliverables D[2-9].3, 2017

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

Wenger, E., McDermott, R. A., & Snyder, W. (2002). Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge. Harvard Business School Press.

Industry 4.0 and identity transformation

September 19th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

I gave this presentation last week at a panel discussion on Industry 4.0 at the Bundeswehr AusBildungs Kongress in Hamburg. Firstly – for those of you who do not live in Germany where the term is verywhere, what is Industry 4.0. According to Wikipedia:

“Industry 4.0 is a name for the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. It includes cyber-physical systems, the Internet of things, cloud computing and cognitive computing.

Industry 4.0 creates what has been called a “smart factory”. Within the modular structured smart factories, cyber-physical systems monitor physical processes, create a virtual copy of the physical world and make decentralized decisions. Over the Internet of Things, cyber-physical systems communicate and cooperate with each other and with humans in real time, and via the Internet of Services, both internal and cross-organizational services are offered and used by participants of the value chain.”

In other words – pretty much everything going on in technology today. But the particularly German take on it is how such developments will effect manufacturing and services and what it implies for education and training.

I was a bit concerned with how the presentation would work -given that it is based on research and development in the Public Employment Services. But it seemed to work extremely well.  It is not so much the threat to jobs coming from new technologies and AI, but the impact this is having on the organisation of work and the skills and competences required in the workplace. Professional identity, is a key factor in developing resilience in a world characterised by uncertainty. It empowers individuals, and determines motivation and openness to new developments – and overcomes obstructionism and frustration often associated with change processes. Identity transformation describes the processes through which people can change their professional identity to deal with new work demands. Even more it describes how individuals and groups of people can themselves use their competence and skills to shape the processes and results of introducing new technologies.

The first half of the presentation looks at the research behind identity transformation, the second half at different activities and intervention we have undertaken in the Employ-ID project to support identity transformation for staff in Public Employment services in Europe.

An action research approach to studying apprenticeship in Spain

June 14th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

helmet-1636348_1920This is a new paper, written by Graham Attwell and Ana Garcia about the new apprenticeship system in Spain. The research was sponsored by the International Network on Innovative Apprenticeship (INAP) and the paper will be presented at the “Crossing Boundaries in VET: Social Dimension and Participation” conference in rostaock in August. We will provide a downlaodable version of the paper once we have overcome our fight with Word templates.

Abstract: This paper, explores the outcomes of a short action research project, undertaken in Valencia Spain in 2016, into the introduction of the new apprenticeship qualification, FP Dual. The hypothesis underpinning the work was that the development of apprenticeship programmes in Spain needs to build on existing cultural and organisational norms and requires an in-depth understanding of critical factors in the perception of apprenticeship by different actors. The research was undertaken through a series of over 30 in depth interviews with different actors. The paper explains the background and methodology, before outlining the major issues that emerged from the research. The conclusion suggests the need to address cultural and educational issues that the introduction of a Dual System system raises, including the relations between companies and education institutions, the prestige of vocational qualifications, the training of teachers and trainers and issues of pedagogy and curriculum.

Keywords: Action research, Semi structured interview, Apprenticeship, Policy, Spain

1         Introduction

The Spanish economy is still struggling from the impact of the ‘crisis’, with persistently high levels of youth unemployment and low skills levels. Unemployment is especially high for those leaving school early with no qualifications and for recent graduates (Esenciales Fundación BBVA, 2016).

A series of reports have suggested that moving beyond the school based, initial vocational training system to adopt a dual system based, apprenticeship model offers benefits to the economy, to companies and to individuals (Wolter and Mühlemann, 2015).

However, other research points to the difficulties in transferring models developed in one culture – such as the German Dual apprenticeship system – to other cultures such as Spain (Pilz, 2016). These include the weakness of trade unions at a company level, educational polarisation between vocational and higher education, resistance at company level, resistance by families and young people, variation in co-ordination between actors from region to region, complex interactions between national and regional levels, the government, social partners and employment organisations and, of course, the ongoing economic crisis (Cedefop, (2015).

The Spanish government has established an experimental apprenticeship framework, FP Dual, with pilots running in parallel to existing VET schemes (Refer Net Spain, 2014). The implementation of the programmes varies greatly in different Autonomous Communities, based on different cultures, different economies and different organisational and governance forms.

Clara Bassols and Guillem Salvans (2016) say that the Spanish FP Dual system is underdeveloped and needs to be refined and improved to ensure that it is genuinely capable of providing young people with the necessary professional skills and thus employability. Comparing developments in Spain with the German Dual apprenticeship training system, they say that while the two Dual VET systems will never be the same, comparison with Germany reveals that the Spanish system lacks some of the defining strengths of the German system. That the Spanish Dual VET system is so new is viewed as “an opportunity to make changes before it becomes too entrenched.”

Our hypothesis is that the development of apprenticeship programmes in Spain needs to build on existing cultural and organisational norms. This requires an in-depth understanding of critical factors in the perception of apprenticeship by different actors and how these affect the development and implementation of apprenticeship programmes.

The ‘Understanding cultural barriers and opportunities for developing new apprenticeship programmes’ project, sponsored by INEP, has undertaken a four-month research study based in Valencia, to explore the cultural and organisational norms and the barriers and opportunities these afford to introducing apprenticeship. In this paper, we explain the methodology behind the research and the main findings.

2 Research Methodology

A key aim for the project was understanding the introduction of an education innovation – apprenticeship – within a local setting and with a wide range of different actors.

The project adopted an action research approach. Our aim was to develop an understanding of the underlying causes of issues relating to the introduction of educational practice in order, in the longer term, to arrive at consensus by different social partners on how practice can be improved. Our focus has been on qualitative research with different actors who may have an important voice in this area, the organisation of apprenticeship, the role of different organisations and the cultural factors affecting the provision and reform of vocational education and training in the Valencia Community and in Spain.

Elden (1983) has introduced the notion of ‘local theory’. To understand the challenges of each specific workplace, he said, as well as how to attack them, there is a need to understand this specific workplace. In a similar way, we would suggest the need to understand the specific ideas and activities and ‘theories’ of different actors involved at a local level in apprenticeship. Here theory might be understood as the specific pedagogic and learning approach of apprenticeship in bringing together vocational training within schools with alternance periods spent within companies. One objective for our research was how such theory is linked to practice in introducing and supporting such programmes.

In the first stage of the project, we identified the major actors involved in the development and introduction of the apprenticeship programmes in Valencia. These included:

  1. Vocational Training Schools (directors, teachers, tutors)
  2. Policy Makers (regional government and political parties and organisations)
  3. Students and trainees
  4. Parents and carers
  5. Companies especially Small and Medium Enterprises.

The project adopted the idea of purposive sampling for selecting respondents for interviews (Patton, 1990). Interviews were conducted face-to-face using semi structured questionnaires. Overall, thirty interviews were conducted, recorded and transcribed.

3. Findings

In line with our approach to the project, we present here detailed findings from te different actors involved in developing apprenticeship at a local city level.

The role of companies in the FP Dual

Given the central nature of companies to the FP Dual system, it is not surprising that the relationship between companies and vocational schools, as well as the local administration was a major issue raised by all the different social partners. Although most company representatives interviewed were positive about the FP Dual and vocational schools welcomed the partnership with companies, it is proving time consuming to develop a culture and processes to support a dual system and the number of apprenticeship programmes and the number enrolled in Valencia remains limited. There are particular difficulties involving SMEs, who are reluctant to contribute to the cost of apprenticeship and lack skilled trainers.

The role of the school centres

Despite the support of some large and important companies, the adoption of FP Dual is being driven by the School Centres. In such a situation, it is possible that the large integrated centres are in a better position to lead such development, although this is not to downplay the contribution and effort of the smaller centres. School leadership is a critical factor, as is the commitment and contribution of teachers in the vocational schools. Directors and teachers receive no remuneration to working with companies to develop new programmes.

Administration and Contracts

The bureaucracy associated with the establishment of new apprenticeship programmes, both for the schools and for the companies, is troubling.

Some Autonomous Communities have legislation on contracts and remuneration for apprentices with differing rulings. In Valencia, it depends on the individual programmes negotiated between the company and the vocational schools. Quite obviously, this is problematic in that some apprentices are being paid for their work at the company while others are not. Furthermore, some apprentices, who are not receiving remuneration from the company, may be incurring some considerable expenses for travel.

Curriculum Design

At present, the FP Dual programmes last two years in contrast to the normal three-year length of apprenticeships in the German Dual system. There is concern that a some subjects, the curriculum is too heavy for such a time and there is a need for rebalancing drawn between what is learnt through the school and through in-company training.

Sector organisations

One key factor in implementing the FP Dual, is the strength and support of sector organisations which varies between different sectors. The initial programmes are being implemented where there is good communication and support between sectors, vocational schools and industries.

Flexibility and collaboration

The flexibility for the Autonomous Communities to implement apprenticeship schemes allows programmes to be adapted and planned according to the needs of local economies and societies. This may be a problem in terms of transferability of different courses and in transparency of what apprenticeship programmes stand for. There is an important balance to be achieved between the design of programmes to cater for the needs of individual companies and more standardised curricula which meet the needs of students in their education.

Careers guidance and the role of parents

There is only limited public awareness of the FP Dual and the aims and the organisation of apprenticeship. This issue is particularly salient given the high prestige placed on academic courses in Spain and particularly university programmes within the wider Spanish society. The weakness of education and guidance networks and services within Valencia is a major issue if young people, and especially higher achieving young people are to be recruited on FP Dual programmes and if companies and SMEs are to understand the value of apprenticeship.

Initial training and Professional development

There is a lack of a dedicated and well organised and resourced programme of professional development for vocational teachers and for trainers in companies, which is seen as a pre-condition for the future success of apprenticeship in Valencia. Initial training for vocational school teachers is overly focused on the subject with too little attention to pedagogic approaches to teaching and learning.

Sharing resources and good practices

The vocational schools appear to have well developed unofficial networks. But more formal networks are needed which could generalise discourses over strategies and approaches to apprenticeship and provide a forum for knowledge development and exchange.

There is a general concern that vocational education lack prestige, but more importantly the vocational centres often lack sufficient resources to not only maintain present programmes but to develop apprenticeship. This is linked to their understanding of the need for recognised quality in teaching and learning if apprenticeship is to succeed. Many teachers said they lack resources and there is poor access to technology.

International collaboration

European projects and programmes, including the development of new curricula and qualifications, new pedagogic approaches, the use of new technologies and the exchange of students and teachers are extremely valuable for vocational schools to develop and exchange knowledge and experience about apprenticeship.

Regional and city wide collaboration

Vocational schools appear to be approaching companies individually. There could be gains through developing more formal and extended networks between schools and companies, either on a regional or a sector basis. To an extent this role is being undertaken at a national basis by the Alliance for Apprenticeship. The establishment of the Alliance at the level of the Autonomous Communities could be an important step in promoting the FP Dual.

FP Dual and the local economy

Many of those interviewed saw apprenticeship as a way of proving the skills which the local economy would need in the future, particularly in view of the potential flexibility in designing new programmes together with employers. However, they also recognised the challenges in developing such a responsive system.

Evaluation

The new apprenticeship programmes are experimental, and many of the issues arising are not unique to Spain. Indeed, many of these issues have been raised in research into the long established German Dual System. However, the lack of qualitative evaluation of the FP Dual programmes, especially scientifically undertaken and published case studies, is a barrier to understanding what is working, what is not and how to improve the quality of the programmes.

4. Conclusions

The findings from this research are focused on the context of educational change and introducing apprenticeship in one community, Valencia in Spain. This raises the question of how generalizable they are to other regions and other countries. We would suggest the findings show the limitation in attempting to transfer models of vocational education and training from one country to another. Inevitably, FP Dual reflects the governmental, cultural, pedagogic and curricula history and practices of Valencia, as well as the particular context of the ongoing economic crisis. That does not mean that developing an apprenticeship system in Valencia is either undesirable or impossible. But it does mean going beyond lauding the strengths of dual system approaches to education and training and whilst recognising that a Dual system in Spain will always be different to Germany, addressing some of the cultural and educational issues that such a system raises. These include the relations between companies and education institutions, the prestige of vocational qualifications, the training of teachers and trainers and issues of pedagogy and curriculum. Announcing a new systemic innovation alone is not enough: unless these key issues can be addressed apprenticeship will not succeed in Valencia or in Spain.

References

Bassols, C. and Salvans, G.  (2016). High Quality Vocational training in Spain: the Alliance for Dual Vocational training, Bertelsmann Foundation, Madrid

Cedefop (2015). Governance and financing of apprenticeship, Cedefop, Thessaloniki

Elden, M. (1983). Democratization and participative research in developing local theory. Journal of Occupational Behaviour, 4(1), 21–34.

Esenciales Fundación BBVA (2016). La formación ha avanzado durante la crisis, peroel abandono escolar, los desajustes en competencias y el paro limitan el aprovechamiento del esfuerzo educativo, Ivie N.º 03/2016

Patton, M. (1990) Qualitative evaluation and research methods. (pp. 169-186), Sage Publications, Beverly Hills, CA

Pilz, M. (2016). Training Patterns of German Companies in India, China, Japan and the USA:What Really Works?, International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training (IJRVET), Vol. 3, Issue 2, August 2016, pp. 66-87

Refer Net Spain (2014) Apprenticeship-type schemes and structured work-based learning programmes: Spain, CEDEFOP

Wolter, C. and Mühlemann, S. (2015) Apprenticeship training in Spain – a cost effective model for firms?, Bertelsmann Stiftung, Guetersloh

 

Visualising jobs

April 26th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

bidigestersAs ever I am doing lots of work on labour market data and education and training. While we know pretty well how to take great slabs of data and turn it into various different charts – some more imaginative than others – this still leaves problems in how to illustrate ideas. data charts can be pretty dull – more than that they rely on the ability of the user to interpret that data – what we call the move from labour market information to labour market intelligence.

biodigester2

I have long been interested in the potential of info graphics in helping develop such intelligence but had yet to see any meaningful examples. Thus, I was very impressed with this graphic about the training and skills needs in the anaerobic digestion industry in the monthly newsletter from Cereq – the French Centre for Research Education, Training and Employment.

The only real problem is that the infographic – like many others is much too long for a small laptop screen (this I have only been able to capture parts of it). But it would be great as a poster.

More thoughts on Workplace Learning Analytics

April 18th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

termination-110301_1920I have been looking at the potential of Learning Analytics (LA) for professional development of employees in European Public Employment services as part of the European funded EmployID project. Despite interest, particularly from Learning and Development personnel within the employment services, Learning Analytics, has made only limited impact and indeed reflects the slow take up of LA in the workplace as a whole.

The reasons for this are myriad. Universities and schools have tended to harvest existing data drawn from Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and to analyse that data to both predict individual performance and undertake interventions which can for instance reduce drop-out rates. The use of VLEs in the workplace is limited and “collecting traces that learners leave behind” (Duval, 2012) may fail to take cognizance of the multiple modes of formal and informal learning in the workplace and the importance of key indicators such as collaboration. Ferguson (2012) says that in LA implementation in formal education: “LA is aligned with clear aims and there are agreed proxies for learning.” The most commonly agreed proxy of learning achievement is achievement of outcomes in terms of examinations and assignments. Yet in the workplace, assignment driven learning plays only a limited role, mostly in formal courses and initial vocational education and training.

Workplace learning is 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 (Ley at al, 2015). Learning interactions at the workplace are to a large extent informal and practice based and not embedded into a specific and measurable pedagogical scenario.

In present Learning Analytics developments, there appears to be a tension between measuring and understanding. Pardo and Siemens (2014) say “learners are central agents and collaborators, learner identity and performance are dynamic variables, learning success and performance is complex and multidimensional, data collection and processing needs to be done with total transparency.” This poses particular issues within the workplace with complex social and work structures, hierarchies and power relations.

Despite these difficulties we remain convinced of the potential value of Learning Analytics in the workplace and in Public Employment Service organisations. If used creatively, Learning Analytics can assist learners in monitoring and understanding their own activities and interactions and participation in individual and collaborative learning processes and help them in reflecting on their learning. Furthermore, LA offers a potential approach to gaining rapid feedback to trainers and learning designers and data can be a tool for researchers in gaining a better understanding of learning processes and learning environments.

There is some limited emerging research into Workplace Learning Analytics and Social Learning analytics which offer at least pointers towards developing on such potential. Social Learning Analytics (SLA) can be usefully thought of as a subset of learning analytics approaches. SLA focuses on how learners build knowledge together in their cultural and social settings, taking into account both formal and informal learning environments, including networks and communities. Buckingham Shum, S., & Ferguson, R., (2012) suggest social network analysis focusing on interpersonal relations in social platforms, discourse analytics predicated on the use of language as a tool for knowledge negotiation and construction, content analytics particularly looking at user-generated content and disposition analytics can be developed to make sense of learning in a social setting.

Such an approach to Social Learning Analytics links to the core aims of the EmployID project to support and facilitate the learning process of PES practitioners in their professional identity development by the efficient use of technologies to provide social learning including advanced coaching, reflection, networking and learning support services. The project focuses on technological developments that make facilitation services for professional identity transformation cost-effective and sustainable by empowering individuals and organisations to engage in transformative practices, using a variety of learning and facilitation processes.

It should also be noted that although Learning Analytics has been linked to the collection and analysis of ‘big data’, MacNeill (2016) stresses the importance of fast data, actionable data, relevant data and smart data. LA, she says, should start from research questions that arise from teaching practice, as opposed to the more common approach of starting analytics based on already collected and available data.

Learning Analytics has been the subject on ongoing discussion in the EmployID project and particularly with the PES organisations. Although a number of PES organisations are interested in the possibility of adopting LA, it is not a major priority for them at present and they are aware of the constraints outlined above. Our initial experiences with sentiment analysis confirm this general interest as well as its limitations with public organisations. It has also became apparent that there are major overlaps between the Social Analytics approach and the tools and approaches we have been developing for evaluation. Our work in evaluation encompasses looking at interpersonal relations in social platforms, discourse analytics based on the EmployID MOOCs as well as learners own mapping of their progress through the self-assessment questionnaire.

We recognise that this data can be valuable for PES employees in supporting reflection on learning. But rather than seeking to develop a separate dashboard for reporting on data, we are attempting to embed representations of learning within the context in which the learning takes place. Thus, the social platform allows users to visualise their different interactions through the platform. Other work, such the facilitation coding scheme, does not yet allow real time analytics. But if proven successful as a research approach to understanding and supporting learning, then it could potentially be automated or semi-automated to provide such real time feedback.

More about competency based education

March 13th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

Just a quick addendum to my earlier article on competency based education. Things go round and much of my experience was from providing professional development to teachers and trainers for the UK around the introduction of the competency based National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs)in the early 1990s.  At the same time the National Council for Vocational Qualifications, charged with the development of the NVQs established a development group which I was a member of and which held lengthy discussions over issues which arose in trialling and evaluation of the new qualifications. Some of the issues I talked about in the last article including the particularly contentious discussions around knowledge.

Another issue which caused much debate was that of level. In the past longer courses tended to have a higher level, but since competence based qualifications were supposed to replace the updated time serving involved in earning, this was a non-starter. Some argued that it was illogical to even try to prescribe level to a competence – either someone was competent or they were not. But political pressures meant there must be levels so the pressure then was to find any consistent way of doing it. It is some time since I last looked ta UK vocational qualifications and I do not know how the levels are presently being determined. But back in the 1990s it was essentially determined by the degree of autonomy or responsibility that someone held in a job. If they mostly followed instructions then their competence was at a low level, if they were responsible for managing others their level of competence was much higher. Of course, this led to all kinds of strange anomalies which were in the best traditions of UK pragmatism juggled with until the level of the qualification felt about right.

I will try and find some of the longer papers I wrote at the time which may still have some relevance for current debates over competency based education.

 

 

What’s the problem with competency based education?

March 8th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

competencybasedlearning

I got this diagram from a report by Katherine Hockey on the Accelerating Digital Transformation in Higher Education conference, I’ll write more about some of the topics Katherine raises, but for the moment just want to focus on Competency Based Learning.

Katherine says “Higher education learning may be open to change regarding teaching methods. Competency-based learning is being implemented at UEL, whereby the structure of a course is not linear in the traditional sense: the learner chooses modules at an order and pace that suits them. This aims at increasing employability, and was met initially with reservations but soon became popular with academics.”

Lets take the first sentence first. It seems to me that there is no doubt that Higher Education in general is open to new teaching methods. There may have been in the past resistance to using technology in education – partly based on a lack f competence and confidence in using technology as part of teaching and learning – but there have always been islands of exciting experimentation and innovation. The question has been how to move out from the islands.

But it is a big jump to equate openness to change with competency based education. Competency based education itself is hardly new – in the early 1990s the UK reformed its Vocational Education and Training provision to move to competency based qualifications under the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ). It was not an unqualified success. And there are disturbing parallels between what NCVQ said at the time and the University of East London’s diagram.

Firstly is the myth that employers always know best. Just why a qualification developed with employers should be valid, and one developed without employers not is beyond me. The problem with employers is that they tend to look to the present or the short term future in defining skills requirements. Nd there is a difference between the skills that individual employers may require – or even groups of employers – and the wider knowledge and skills required to be flexible and forward looking in employment today. But even then would this be con

Another problem that beset NVQs was the relationship between ‘competence’ and knowledge and how to define performance to meet such competence. The NVQ system evolved, starting out with bald functional competence statements (yes, developed with employers), but later including ‘performance’ criteria and ‘underpinning knowledge.’ But even then was achievement of these standards considered as ‘mastery’? Some argued that it would be necessary to define the context in which the skills should be evidenced, others that there should be frequent (although how many and how often was never agreed) demonstrations of performance. And then of course there was the question of who is qualified to recognise the University of East London student’s mastery? How is there competence to act as assessors to be defined and assessed?

One of the big arguments for National Vocational Qualifications was the need to move away from time serving and have personalised and flexible routes whereby individuals could choose what they wanted to learn. In fact, some at NCVQ went further arguing that learning as an activity should be separated from qualifications. Once more few went down this route. Courses continued to be the way to qualifications, although there were a number of (quite expensive) experiments with recognising prior competences.

I would be deeply suspicious of just what they mean by “tuition model is subscription based”? This seems like just another attempt to package up education for sale in nice chunks: a step forward in the privatisation of education. But if past experiences of competency evangelism are anything to go by, this one will fail.

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.

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    Learning and Work Institute is organising this year’s adult learning conference in partnership with the Adult Learning Partnership Wales. It will take place on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 at the Cardiff City Stadium.

    They say “Changing demographics and a changing economy requires us to re-think our approach to the delivery of learning and skills for adults. What works and what needs to change in terms of policy and practice?

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