Archive for the ‘education’ Category

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.


Looking back at three years of Learning Layers – Part Two: Role of research in construction pilot

October 25th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I drew attention to the fact that the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project is preparing  for the review of the Year 3.  This has given rise to consider the development of the project and our activities as an evolution of the context and development of the actors and activities working in the context. In the first post I discussed the challenges of the early phase and the responses of the project. In the second post I will discuss the role of accompanying research in the construction pilot. I will also make some remarks on the role of research dialogue within the project and across the boundaries of the current LL project.

1. Interaction between theoretical work and co-design activities in construction pilot (Year 2 and Year 3)

In the beginning of the Year 2 the Learning Layers project agreed to organise a “Theory Camp” activity with lengthy preparatory phase, and intensive symposium during the Y2 Integration Meeting in Aachen and a follow-up phase. This activity brought into picture the specific interactive relations between theoretical work and co-design activities in the construction pilot.

A considerable part of the contributions to the Theory Camp articles represented different aspects of learning, knowledge development etc. or different accents on design processes. These were to be applied to the fields of application via design processes that focus on specific problems and respective tools. As a contrast, the research partners in construction sector build upon the experience of participative innovation programs that have emphasised the social shaping of work, technology and work organisations from the perspective of whole work processes and holistic occupational qualifications, see Landesprogramm Arbeit und Technik, Bremen (Deitmer 2004); BLK-Programm Neue Lernkonzepte in der Dualen Berufsausbildung (Deitmer et. al. 2004). In this respect the research partners in construction pilot drew attention to themes ‘acquisition of work process knowledge’ (see also Fischer et al. 2004) and ‘vocational learning’ in their contributions.

In the follow-up phase the research partners worked with the themes ‘reviewing accompanying research’ (ECER 2014) and ‘reviewing activity theory’ (Bremen conference 2015). With this theoretical and methodological work the research partners reviewed the theoretical insights and discussed experiences with developmental research approaches, such as the ‘change laboratory processes’ and ‘expansive learning cycles’ (based on the work of Yrjö Engeström and affiliated project teams).

As a consequence, the research partners were in the position to work in the complex and manifold process of designing and developing Learning Toolbox with sufficient openness. This was needed to give time for capacity building and growing readiness for co-development (on all sides of the process). This was also crucial for making the toolsets appropriate to support (holistic) vocational learning and enhancing (holistic) work process knowledge. This has required manifold feedback loops and intensive reporting from field workshops. In this way the research partners in construction pilot have supported process dynamics that have enabled the application partners to become themselves the drivers of the piloting with Learning Toolbox in their own trades (Bau-ABC trainers) or in their specific contexts and activities to promote ecological construction work (Agentur and the affiliated network NNB).

2. The role of research dialogue – internal and external

In the light of the above it is worthwhile to emphasise that the construction pilot has not been developed in isolation. Instead, research dialogue activities – both internal (with  LL partners) and external (with other counterparts) have played an important role in the development of the project. The internal research dialogue activities have been shaped by working groups that focused on transversal themes – such as ‘contextual knowledge’, ‘trust’ – that were equally relevant to both pilot sectors. This work has been covered by other colleagues with their contributions to the reports. In this context I wish to draw attention to two threads of external research dialogue:

a) Exhanges on Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research

As I have mentioned above, this thread was taken up by the ITB team as a follow-up of the Theory Camp and pursued further in a workshop of the Bremen International VET conference (see the report in my recent post). Here it is worthwhile to note that we gathered experiences on the use of Change Laboratory methodology in intervention projects and of theory of Expansive Learning as an interpretative framework in comparative projects. Also, we engaged ourselves in critical re-examination of some concepts used in Activity Theory (such as Vygotsky’s concept of ‘mediation’ and concepts like ‘contradiction’ and ‘transformative practice’). These discussions will be continued as the LL project proceeds deeper to the exploitation of results.

b) Exchanges of parallel approaches to intervention research

Already in ECER 2014 (in Porto) the ITB team had started a cooperation with researchers from HAN University of Applied Sciences with focus on intervention research (see the report in my earlier blog). This was followed up in the Bremen conference and in ECER 2015 (in Budapest). In the Budapest session the colleagues from HAN presented a new project that focuses on practice-based learning in HE programs with strong vocational elements. In this context they worked further with process models and with ‘stealthy intervention’ strategies. In a similar way a Danish project from the National Centre for Vocational Education presented a ‘Vocational Education Lab’ approach for promoting innovations and networking across vocational schools. (See the report in my recent post.) Also these exchanges will be continued when the LL project proceeds with the exploitation activities.

– – –

I think this is enough for the moment. We are now looking forward to next steps with our fieldwork and our exploitation activities.

More blogs to come …

Learning Layers meets Singapore Workforce Development Agency

September 19th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

On Friday the Bremen team of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project had an interesting encounter with international visitors. A delegation of the Singapore Workforce Development Agency with altogether 14 participants (from the agency, from the Ministry of Manpower and from partner organisations) visited Bremen. This delegation was making a wider European tour, coming from Finland and heading to the Netherlands. In this context it is interesting that they chose Bremen and the Learning Layers project as their main target during their stay in Germany.

Ludger Deitmer had arranged the delegation firstly a visit to the Bremen Chamber of Commerce (Handelskammer) to have an introductory discussion on the German Vocational and Education and Training (VET) system and on the role of Public Authorities, Chambers and Social Partners in maintaining and developing it. Secondly, we had hoped to take them to a visit in Bau-ABC Rostrup to show, how the training in an intermediate training centre works in practice (and how our cooperation with application partners works in practice). This, unfortunately was not possible, so we arranged sessions for information and exchanges in the ITB building at the University of Bremen.

Presentation of the Learning Layers project and the Learning Toolbox

In the information session I firstly showed a Power Point presentation that was based on our recent conference presentations. I also showed some videos on Bau-ABC and some produced by Bau-ABC trainers for the project. Thus, the visitors got an impression of a complex European project in which use of digital media, web tools and mobile technologies is being promoted to support occupational work and workplace-based learning. Also, they understood that the target sectors (construction and healthcare) were seen as ones, in which SMEs have difficulties in introducing the new technologies for these purposes. Therefore, the project was not a mere ‘technology push’ project but an interactive intervention research to empower the users in a participative co-design process that responds to their needs.

I then showed slides that illustrated to co-design process and the emergence of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) and the ideas, what kind of functionality was needed. In this context we showed a video on possible uses of LTB in construction work. Then, I presented slides on the multimedia training (provided by the project) and the further plans of Bau-ABC trainers to develop a flexible training model for all staff members (the ‘theme room’ approach). In this way the visitors got the picture, how our application partners are working to become owners of the innovation.

After the power point presentation Dirk Stieglitz started an internet demonstration that showed, how the Learning Toolbox can be co-developed by the users by designing tiles, pages and stacks (for managing contents, web resources and communications). In this phase we could present as examples the recent results of our field visit to Bau-ABC and the new stacks created with and by Bau-ABC trainers – to support training and learning processes.

Exchanges between Germany and Singapore: apprenticeship, continuing training and partnerships

After this tightly scheduled information session (in a room with facilities) we had a break and continued with an exchange session (without time pressure and with mutual interest to learn from each other).

Our visitors informed us of the VET system in Singapore, on the role of public authorities, of their agency and of public-private partnerships as well as private-private partnerships. We learned that in Singapore the key instrument for developing VET and continuing training is not seen in regulations but in the financing of training (e.g. via vouchers and other arrangements). From this point of view the visitors were keen to learn more on the the German dual system, on the partnership arrangements and on the commitment of enterprises to training.

As a response to these interests we presented insights into the underlying philosophy of vocations (Berufe) , vocational professionalism (Beruflichkeit), vocational education (Berufsbildung) and vocational education and training (Berufsausbildung) as these concepts have been internalised in the German culture – and pointed out to the difficulties to translate these into English. We were happy to see that our well-informed visitors could follow this reasoning and indicated that they now understood better the written information they have had before.

In addition to this conceptual exchange we presented more examples on education and training partnerships between educational establishments and enterprises. In particular they were interested in the examples of ‘dual studies’ – combinations of higher education and VET with synchronised educational periods and workplace periods for both qualifications. In our discussions we presented examples of such models from ICT sector and from construction sector (with Bau-ABC as a partner).

Altogether, we had a vivid discussion both concerning the development of VET (and on the role of policies) and concerning the potential of LL technologies and LTB. In particular we got good questions concerning wider dissemination of products and exploitation of results in new contexts. The visitors explained their plans for new plans for launching a new innovation program in the new future and to intensify their external cooperation. In this respect they expressed their interest to follow keenly our next steps with the LL tools and with our exploitation activities. We promised to keep them informed.

More blogs to come …

Reports on ECER’15 Budapest – Part Four: The VETNET network preparing for ECER’16

September 17th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous posts I have reported on the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER’15) that took place in Budapest last week (8.9.-11.9.2015). I started with a report on the symposium of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. I continued with reports on sessions based on intervention research and by summarising my general impressions on the conference (and on the VETNET program). Now it is time conclude this series with a report on the general assembly of our European Vocational Education and Training Network (VETNET), the Network 2 of the European Educational Research Association (EERA).


As the frequent participants of ECER know, the ECER conferences are organised by the umbrella association EERA that has been founded by national associations for educational research (that are organisational members of EERA). In practice the conference program is based on the contributions of thematic networks (currently 32) that are based on (informal) individual membership. Our network VETNET is one of the oldest and largest and has a wider interdisciplinary profile – with special commitment to the field of Vocational Education and Training, Workplace Learning and Continuing Professional Development. Therefore, VETNET has constituted itself as a community under a wider umbrella and as a conference within a conference – a successful working neighbourhood.

Recent developments

In the general assembly of this year we were happy to have several reports on special activities (in addition to the usual report on preparing and implementing the program for ECER’15). Here I recapitulate some points of these reports:

International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training (IJRVET)

In earlier VETNET general assemblies we had made the decision to launch this journal as the journal of VETNET and to obtain the support from EERA and the global umbrella organisation WERA. In his report on behalf of the editorial board Michael Gessler could inform of the publication two issues in the year 2014 (Vol. 1) and two issues in 2015 (Vol. 2). Also, the geographic spread of the authors of articles and the members of editorial board has proven that the journal has established itself as genuinely international (with roots in Europe but with openness to wider world). Looking forward, there are lots of manuscripts in review process for several forthcoming issues. And the results of the Bremen conference and the ECER ’15 provide a basis for continuity.

WERA International Research Network on VET (IRN-VET)

I gave a report on this initiative to set up a global network under the auspices of the global umbrella organisation World Educational Research Association (WERA). In 2013 some VETNET board members (mainly Michael Gessler, Ludger Deitmer and myself) invited cooperation partners from different global regions to join in as founding members of the IRN-VET. According to the policy of WERA this initiative was approved for a three-year period (to be reconsidered at that time). In ECER’14 in Porto we had organised a special ’round table’ with multiple contributions on forthcoming activities and issues for thematic cooperation at global or inter-continental level. For ECER’15 we did not plan a similar session. Instead the Bremen International VET conference (see my previous blogs) was organised as a pre-conference to ECER and as an event of WERA IRN-VET. We were please to see that many of the founding members from non-European regions were present or had sent their representatives to the conference. Also, most of the founding members were already involved in the editorial boar or advisory editorial board of the journal IJRVET. In this respect we had already achieved a lot but we still need to have discussions, how to take the initiative further.

 Work with Emerging researchers & with other EERA networks

Lazaro Moreno gave a report on his participation as a VETNET representative in the Emerging Researchers pre-conference and in the tutoring process. He emphasised the need for VETNET to continue this participation and to encourage young researchers to make use of this forum. Lorenz Lassnigg informed of initiatives to organise cross-network sessions with neighbouring networks (mainly with Policy Network) and on plans for future conferences. He also emphasised the importance to stimulate such cooperation with new initiatives.

Preparations for ECER’16 – VETNET 20 years anniversary

In this context we had several issues to discuss. Firstly, there were organisational issues – the need to revise the regulations of VETNET (to take into account the growth of the network and the wider range of activities) and to prepare for the elections of a new board. We already took the first steps by inviting Christoph Nägele and Barbara Stalder to work as program chairs for the next conference.

Regarding the contents I took up the issue that VETNET will celebrate in 2016 its 20th anniversary. To me this gives rise for special session(s) to review the development of European VET research (both periodically and along certain key themes). To my surprise this proposal prompted an immediate reaction. The link convenors of the network (Michael Gessler and Marg Malloch) and the founder of the network Martin Mulder publicised the decision of the board to declare me as Honorary Member of VETNET from that date on (10.9.2015). I was pleased to receive this recognition but at the same time took it as an obligation to put my above mentioned proposal into practice by ECER’16.

I guess this is enough on the VETNET general assembly and on the ECER’15. The work will be continued.

More blogs to come …

Reports on ECER’15 Budapest – Part Three: General impressions on the conference

September 17th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

With me two previous blogs I have reported on special sessions in the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER ’15) in Budapest (8.9.-11.9.2015). In the first post I reported on the symposium that was initiated by our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project team in Bremen. In the second post I discussed sessions in which similar intervention projects were presented. With this third post I will summarise some general impressions on the conference and give snapshots on some further sessions.

ECER in Budapest – Education and Transition(s)

The conference took place in Hungary – one of the countries in Central and East Europe (CEE) that went through a fundamental societal transition after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. During this year of ruptures Hungary had played a major role in cutting the barbed wires that separated different blocks in Europe and by opening its borders to those who wanted to seek refuge in the west.

During the years of transition the political and educational culture of the country went through different phases of transition – including the phases of Candidacy to EU Membership and the entry to Membership in 2004. Already during the phase of candidacy, Hungarian researchers has been involved in European cooperation and taken their place in the joint activities. Yet, it took some time before the Hungarian association of educational researchers joined the EERA family. Now that this had happened, we were pleased to see the conference taking place in Budapest.

Yet, by the time the conference dates got closer we felt concerned about the humanitarian crisis that was characterised by masses of refugees coming to Hungary (with the hope to continue to Austria, Germany and eventually to Scandinavia). The measures of the Hungarian government (building fences and trying to block the streams of refugees) did not appear compatible with European values – neither could they resolve anything. Therefore, before and during our conference we saw reports on refugees camping at the borders or railway stations, marching on the highways or seeking for transport to safer countries. As I said it – we saw this from the news, not in the vicinity of the conference venue. Knowing all this, we were pleased to observe that the EERA secretariat and the EERA council appealed the participants to support petitions and fund-raising to ease the burdens of refugees.

VETNET in Budapest – Education and Training in (Post-)Transition society

The European network for research in Vocational Education and Training (VETNET) has had a tradition to organise an opening colloquium in which the host country is recognised. From this perspective we were pleased to have as the keynote speaker of this session professor Andras Benedek from the Budapest University of Technology, former Director General in Vocational Education and former Minister of Education. He informed us both on the developments in the educational policies in post-transition Hungary, on recent reforms in vocational education and training (strengthening of workplace learning and the role of chambers) and on the current model for vocational teacher education. In addition to his scholarly presentation he invited us to get a picture of the human side of Hungarian civil society, the openness for Europe in many NGOs and the willingness of individual citizens to help the refugees that entered their country.

We would have hoped to get more information in this colloquium on the post-transition developments in Hungary and in other CEE countries. For several reasons this was not the case. In a later paper session the local support person of VETNET, Magdolna Benke gave a presentation in which she informed of the short history of the National Institute for Vocational Education and her empirical studies to trace new developments in building partnerships to support the development of VET. My impression is that we still have some homework to do for further ECER conferences to learn more of transitions in VET during the post-transition period in CEE countries.

Nordic Countries in Budapest – Learning from Nordic Countries?

Participants from Nordic Countries (in particular Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden) were strongly present in several paper sessions. Yet, the clear highlight was the symposium “Consideration of the Future of VET: Learning from Nordic Countries”. In this symposium Christian Helms Jörgensen (Denmark) and his team presented a joint Nordic project that analysed policy developments and prospects of VET development at national and trans-national level. Listening to the comparisons between Sweden and Denmark – presented by Daniel Persson Thunqvist (Sweden) – I got even more convinced that the developments in these countries need be analysed in a group picture. The same impression was supported by the historical analyses on Norway – presented by Håkon Höst and Svein Michelsen (Norway) – when they made the Danish and Swedish influences transparent. Yet, the presentation on Finland – by Maarit Virolainen (Finland) – made clear some specific national developments. (I do not want to go into further details since I am too much insider in this discussion and the work of the project has reached only an interim phase.)

Altogether, I was mostly happy with the sessions that I attended at ECER’15 and I got new inspiration to work further with the themes that are close to me. This is even more important now that were are preparing the next ECER conference as the one in which the VETNET network will celebrate its 20th anniversary. In this respect I will discuss the VETNET general assembly and the future plans of the network in my final post on ECER’15.

More blogs to come …

Thoughts on reforms in vocational education and training (VET) – Part Two: Looking back at the Finnish reforms in 1990s

May 25th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I informed of a new debate on the future course of the Finnish educational policy that has emerged as a by-product of the ongoing coalition talks after the parliament election in April. The focal issue is seemingly the duration of the initial vocational education and training (VET) programs. Yet, as the first reactions to the news from the coalition talks indicate, there seems to be much more at stake than a seemingly simple decision. With this blog post I try to give a picture on the educational reforms of the 1990s that gave the Finnish educational policy its core principles and the VET system its current frameworks.

1. What were the issues for the educational reforms in the 1990s?

The reform debates of the early 1990s were introduced by critical assessment of the earlier reforms of the 1970s. These earlier reforms had tried to provide a balance between the general (academic) track and the vocational (professional) track in the upper secondary education. In particular the status differences between different vocational/professional education options were to be reduced and the vocational/professional routes were supposed to become more attractive. After a lengthy implementation period  the reality showed a different picture.

The critical reviews by the educational authorities and independent research groups were summarised in 1990 in the following way:

1) The educational demand was characterised by academic drift: In spite of the efforts to create a new balance between the tracks, the educational demand of young people drifted towards the general/academic track and towards university studies. Given the fact that the Finnish universities have taken their students on the basis of domain-specific entrance examinations, this led to increased queueing of candidates for university studies.

2) The transition to vocational/professional options remained status-oriented: In spite of the efforts to reduce the status differences and to promote vocational progression, the educational demand led towards segmentation. The higher vocational (professional) options were overwhelmed by graduates from the general/academic track whilst graduates from vocational schools remained minority.

3) The use of lower vocational education options as transit stations: Parallel to the above mentioned tendencies there was an increase in the enrollment of graduates from the general/academic track to lower vocational education programs. Here, the interest was not necessarily to obtain an additional qualification but, instead, to obtain a domain-speficic transit station (to prepare for entrance examinations of universities or higher vocational education). Due to this increased demand the vocational schools started to develop special options for graduates from the general/academic track. In this way the vocational schools tried to encourage such learners to complete their programs instead of using them as transit stations (and drop the programs if they got an access to ‘higher’ option).

2. What were the structural changes and the guiding principles outlined by the reforms?

The reforms that were outlined via high level conferences, public consultations and a pilot period took the following course:

a) Creation of a non-university sector of higher education: The higher vocational (professional) education had already become post-secondary and recruited mainly graduates of academic track. Several domain-specific institutes had already pushed for decisions to upgrade them as colleges of higher education. Now, the reform opted for upgrading such institutes into HE but at the same time creating merged polytechnics that would cater for the constant development of their departments. Via these mergers and a national accreditation process the newly created polytechnics became eligible for the Bologna process. (Later on, the polytechnics started to use the name ‘universities of applied sciences’.)

b) Separation of the secondary vocational education from the higher vocational education: The above mentioned reform led to an institutional separation between the secondary vocational education (that remained in vocational schools) and the higher level (that was upgraded and integrated into the polytechnics). As a compensatory measure, the reform maintained the vocational progression route from secondary vocational education to polytechnics.

c) Flexible curricular cooperation between ‘academic’ and vocational programs in upper secondary education: Another major feature of the reforms of the 1990s was to enable flexible curricular cooperation between upper secondary schools (‘academic track’) and vocational schools. Instead of integrating them into a common institutional and curricular framework, new cooperation options were opened. Firstly, learners of both type of schools got the opportunity to choose courses from the other type of schools. E.g. ‘academic learners’ with interest in economics could choose commercial subjects from vocational schools. And vice versa, ‘vocational learners’ with interest in continuing to higher education could choose general subjects from the upper secondary schools. One step further was the option of obtaining dual qualifications – the Finnish baccalaureate (Abitur) and the vocational qualification – via a mutually adjusted schedule.

Altogether this reform agenda tried to to solve the problems of the earlier periods in the following way:

  • by redirecting the academically oriented educational demand to both universities and to the newly created polytechnics,
  • by maintaining the vocational progression routes (from vocational schools to polytechnics)
  • by encouraging boundary-crossing curricular cooperation and educational choices between the ‘academic’ and ‘vocational programs in upper secondary education.

In this respect the emphasis was mainly on providing new opportunities for Higher Education, but at the same time trying to enhance the attractiveness of vocational education as well. From this point of view it was important that the vocational programs had the same duration as the general/academic programs.

I think this is enough of the educational reforms and of structural changes of the 1990s. With this quick recollection I tried to reconstruct the political and cultural background of the current debates. However, there is a need to have a closer look at the role of workplace learning and apprentice training in the Finnish VET system as well.

More blogs to come …



Thoughts on reforms in vocational education and training (VET) – Part One: What is at stake in current Finnish debates?

May 23rd, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

Given the fact that I am blogging as a Finnish expatriate living outside my home country, it has not been my habit to comment politics in Finland. In some of my recent blogs I have reported on the Finnish pilots linked to our ongoing Learning  Layers (LL) project. An article of the pilots with the video annotation tool AchSo! brought into picture bigger issues of educational policies and of sustainable work. This gave rise to brief comments on the educational background of the pilot (collaboration between school-based vocational education, workplace learning and flexible transition to apprentice training). At the same time the  Sustainability Commitment process initiated by the Ministry of Environment seemed to provide an appropriate working perspective for dissemination of good practice. Now, after the general elections in Finland the negotiations on a three-party government coalition have raised new questions on the future course for developing the Finnish vocational education and training (VET) system. This gives me a reason to write a series of blogs on the past Finnish VET reforms and how they can be mapped to a European group picture. But firstly I need to give a quick view on the current VET policy issue in the coalition talks.

 1. What is being discussed in the coalition talks concerning VET?

Last week the Finnish media reported that one of the hot issues in the coalition talks is the duration of the initial VET programs. Here we have several issues. Firstly, the Finnish – predominantly school-based VET – has been organised as part of the upper secondary education. The duration of three years has been based on two main arguments:

  • Firstly, to open a vocational pathway to higher education (with sufficient general educational content).
  • Secondly, to accommodate an appropriate amount of workplace learning (base on cooperation arrangements between vocational schools and partners enterprises).

Now the news reports tell that there is a pressure to cut the costs of full-time education by cutting the duration of full-time vocational education. Also, there is a wish to promote a quicker transition of young people to working life. In this context the role of apprentice training and work experience placements are being mentioned as necessary measures.

2. How have these news been received in the public?

So far the news have not been based on public documents or statements by politicians. Therefore,  both the news coverage and the public debates have been based on sophisticated guesses. In their first reactions the Trade Union of Education in Finland (representing all teachers in Finland) and the Union of vocational learners in Finland have criticised these plans heavily. They are concerned about the functioning of vocational pathways to higher education as well as of the quality of workplace learning. Altogether, they are concerned of possible short-term rationalisation measures that may have severe negative consequences – whether from the perspective of providing educational opportunities or from the perspective of integrating young people into working life. Alongside these strong reactions there have been some individual remarks that Finland should look at other models and alternative solutions.

It is not my purpose to enter this Finnish debate on my blog (that I am writing in English as an expatriate working abroad). Yet, as a VET researcher who has started his career by comparing European VET reforms and then continued by monitoring European cooperation, I feel the need to look back. Firstly, I want to have a second look at the Finnish reforms that have shaped the current educational frameworks. Secondly, I want to explore, what role apprentice training and integration of school-based and workplace-based learning have played in these reforms. Thirdly, I want to make some comparisons to parallel developments in other European countries. We need to have a picture, how we have come to the current situation – what has been achieved and what may appear as weaknesses. Also, we need to reflect, what may appear as ‘good practice’ in a European comparison and why.

I think this is enough for the moment. I hope that I get my thoughts on paper in due time.

More blogs to come …

Beyond Bulimic Learning Improving teaching in further education

March 15th, 2014 by Cristina Costa

Beyond Bulimic Learning Improving teaching in further education – Frank Coffield with Cristina Costa,Walter Müller and John Webber

So here is a new adventure. Last year Frank Coffield asked me if I’d be interested in submitting a book chapter for his new book as he felt he was missing a trick for not including a chapter on technology. I wrote an article on designing for context, using examples from my own practice to illustrate the points I wanted to make. The result was a text entitled Teaching and learning in context … with a little help from the web (slides for a presentation based on it can be found here)

The Book will be released in May. The launch will take place in the bookshop on the first level of the Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London, WC1H OAL on Wednesday 7 May between 6 and 8pm.

* seeing my name in print never ceases to surprise me! :-)

Changing Paradigms

March 4th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

I can’t think how we missed this video before. Anyway many thanks to Owen for suggesting it. This RSA Animate was adapted from a talk given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, education and creativity expert and recipient of the RSA’s Benjamin Franklin award. You can watch the lecture in full here.

Dysgu Ponty

December 8th, 2013 by Jenny Hughes

The Pontydysgu website is always full of news about the big projects we are involved in, like FP7 Learning Layers or Taccle2.  This is pretty inevitable as they take up the majority of our time and budget.  However, there are lots of other, smaller Pontydysgu projects running in the background that we rarely post anything about.  This is a bit of an oversight because although we often use these projects as test beds for trying out new ideas or as vehicles for piloting specific bits of technology that we then roll together in a much bigger package, they are also successful in their own right.

All of them are running in Pontypridd, (known locally as “Ponty”) which is where the Wales half of Pontydysgu is based. Some are part funded through the LLL Partnerships programme; some are funded in-house. We thought we might write a series of posts on what these projects are all about….

First up is Dysgu Ponty, which translates to Learning Ponty.  We chose this name because apart from the play on Pontydysgu (meaning approximately Bridge to Learning), we wanted to convey the idea that the whole community of Ponty was learning and that the town called Ponty was a learning resource.

The project is based on a very simple concept – let’s cover the town with QR codes linked to a learning resource.   The codes are being printed on decals (for shop windows), enamel (for the exteriors of building) and on varnished wooden plaques for hanging around trees in the park.  Codes come in three colours – red for Welsh, green for the English translation and black for careers.

So far we have 200 and our target is at least another hundred.  The town has a population of 30,000 but this covers all of the outlying villages as well.  It also has a great sense of community, which means that the level of support has been brilliant. The whole community is involved – schools, the Town Council, shops, businesses, the local newspaper

The link from each QR code goes to a website page on which there is a question that relates to the location.  The level is approximately 8 -12 yrs olds. Following the title question is some simple information using a range of multi media.   The location of the codes will be on Google Maps and we are currently sorting them out into a ‘Maths trail’, ‘Language trail’, ‘History trail’ etc so that children can choose whether to follow a subject trail or focus on the codes in one part of the town.

The purpose of the project is really to provide a bridge between formal and informal learning and to improve home school links.

We are currently working of a way of  ‘rewarding’ children for completing a number of questions – not sure Mozilla badges quite fits.  Also thinking about how we can get kids to be able to upload pictures as well as comments. May rethink the platform.

Meanwhile here are some examples of the sorts of things we are talking about

Location:  on the bandstand in the park

  • Links to… Question:  Have you ever heard brass band music?
  • Additional ‘information’ – mp3 of Colliery Brass Band with one line of text explaining that most all the pits had their own band

Location: Outside Costa Coffee

  • Links to… Question: Do you know where coffee comes from?
  • Additional information: You Tube video of coffee being harvested and processed

Location: Outside travel agent underneath exchange rates

  • Links to… Question:  How much is it worth?
  • Additional info:  Text and image – If you had £37.50 to take on holiday, how many Euros would you get?  Which travel agent in town has the best exchange rate today?

Location:  On the river bank adjacent to the confluence

  • Links to…mQuestion:  What rivers are these and where is their source?
  • Additional info:  The place where two rivers merge is called a ‘confluence’.  Use Google Earth to trace the two rivers back as far as you can, find out their names and where the river enters the sea.

 Location:  On the war memorial

  • Links to… Question:  How many died?
  • Additional info: Look at the names on the Great War memorial and then the names on the Worls War 2 memorial.  In which war were the greatest number of people from Pontypridd killed? How many times more people?  Why do you think this was?

 Location: Market Street

  • Links to…Question:  What has changed?
  • Additional Info: Picture of the street taken 100 years ago from same spot. Text – List all the things that are different between Market Street in 1910 and the same street today.
You get the idea!
[We also have black codes for older students linked to careers information as part of the EU New Jobs project.  The codes take them to links asking “So you want to be a baker?” or “So you want to be a printer?” with videos explaining what the job involves, what qualifications or skills you need etc. Some are purpose made and some from You Tube or Vimeo.  More on this is another post.]
Next time – Learning about Art in Ponty




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    News Bites

    Skills in Europe

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

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

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

    Talking about ‘European’ MOOCs

    The European EMMA project is launching a  webinar series. The first is on Tuesday 17 November 2015 from 14:00 – 15:00 CET.

    They say: “In this first webinar we will explore new trends in European MOOCs. Rosanna de Rosa, from UNINA, will present the philosophy and challenges behind the EMMA EU project and MOOC platform developed with the idea of accommodating diversity through multilingualism. Darco Jansen, from EADTU (European Association of Distance Teaching Universities), will talk about Europe’s response to MOOC opportunities. His presentation will highlight the main difference with the U.S. and discuss the consequences for didactical and pedagogical approaches regarding the different contexts.

    OER – update 2

    Open Education Europa has compiled and is releasing today as open data the analytical list of European Repositories of Open Educational Resources (OER).

    It includes:

    • European OER Portals and Repositories
    • Educational material repositories/directories
    • Larger Repositories rather than very specific ones
    • Focus on those who include Creative Commons license and on National/public OER repositories
    • Focus on material for teachers  (for the classroom/schools) rather than on higher education
    • Collaborative OER production initiatives (LeMill, RVP.CZ Portal,, KlasCement”)

    OER – update 1

    From the Universidad a Distancia de Madrid (UDIMA) – Madrid Open University – we are pleased to present the European Research Network of Open Educational Resources (ERNOER), a collaborative space in which more than fifty internationally educational institutions and prestigious universities are involved which can be accessed through the following link:

    The entire educational community can benefit in this web repository of more than three hundred image banks, two hundred fifty audio file repositories, two hundred and fifty video resources and more than three hundred programs and applications that can be used in education.

    Other Pontydysgu Spaces

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