I am continuing my series of postings to update the big picture of European VET research. So far I have made some analyses on the topics “European dimension” and “interdisciplinarity”. Now I want to discuss the issue “innovations” in European VET-related cooperation. This issue is closely linked to the question, what role can VET research play in promoting transfer of innovations across Europe. As the earlier ones, this blog entry discussesa change in the European cooperation climate and how the VET researchers could prepare themselves for future cooperation activities.
Different aspects of “European innovations” in European VET-related cooperation
In this context it is worthwhile to giver a rough overview on,
– what kind of “European innovations” have been promoted in European cooperation programmes and on
– the different roles that VET researchers may have played in innovation projects.
Regarding the subject matter of innovation projects it is possible to make a distinction between
a) Educational innovation projects that can be related to systemic & curricular macro-innovations or pedagogic micro-innovations and
b) Domain-specific innovation projects that can be related technological and ICT-related innovation concepts or to different user-needs and contexts of utilisation.
Regarding the roles of VET researchers in such projects it is worthwhile to note that
i) pilot projects have been shaped as primarily developmental projects without strong research components;
ii) reference material projects have been shaped to conceptualise developmental work in certain pilot area (with the support of research-based analyses);
iii) transfer projects have been shaped to support wider dissemination of innovations (without strong research-supported facilitation).
Changing expectations on “European innovations” at diverse phases of European cooperation
In a similar way as with the previous topics I find it necessary to have a closer look at different expections on promoting “European innovations” at different phases of European cooperation. In this respect the picture is somewhat more complex than with the previous topics.
The period 1995-2000 (the early Leonardo: thematic stock-taking, ad hoc pilot measures, orientation to rapid transfer)
Looking at different types of innovation projects and the role of research, it appears that the work with educational innovation concepts was characterised by thematic explorations and stock-taking. Thus, VET researchers were needed to get an overview of different starting positions and dynamics of innovation. For such projects there was a clear policy-based demand.
Parallel to this, domain-specific pilot projects were working with rather limited research involvement and with expectations on rapid transfer measures. The results of such projects were expected to be directly usable by the sectoral stakeholders and practitioners. (The CD-ROMs were expected to sell themselves once they were ready.)
The period after 2000 (The attainment of Lisbon goals, the shaping of European LLL area)
As we know, the Lisbon summit 2000 formulated new goal-settings to making Europe the most competitive innovation area by the year 2010. And as we also know, the educational response to this challenge was provided by the framework processes that try to create a European Higher Education Area and the European Area for Lifelong Leaning). Thus, the systemic & curricular macro-innovation projects were expected to be linked to the making of the European Areas. Furthermore, the European Areas were expected to provide a natural basis for transferring pedagogic micro-innovations across Europe.
However, the debate before Lisbon summit was influenced by general concern on the poor competitiveness of European ICT industries and of ICT-related skill gaps of the European workforce. Therefore, regarding the technological and ICT-related innovations, specific measures were taken by launching quickly the separate e-Europe programmes (including the e-Learning programme which latterly was merged to the integrated LLP programme). From the perspective of VET it is worthwhile to note that these rapid measures were pushing forward new strategic alliances with European ICT industries and their internal training concepts (“Career space”) and with commercial e-learing providers. (Europe was considered as backbencher in e-learning and this position was to be changed with the help of ICT industries and commercial e-learning provisions.)
Contradictions and critical issues
In the light of the above it is interesteting to note that shaping of the European Area of Lifelong Learning (including the European Qualification Framework- EQF, the European Credit Transfer for VET – ECVET and related measures) has become project area of its own. At the same time the Commission Communication on e-Skills (2007) gives a picture of growing gaps (between industrial needs and educational measures or between formal training and informal learning). It is interesting to note that the criticism is similar as before the Lisbon summit in spite of all post-Lisbon activities that were launched to overcome such gaps.
Obviously, the landscape of technological and ICT-related innovations (and of related challenges for learning) has changed immensely since 2000. In particular, the shift from heavy and costly proprietary software to Open Source and to Social Software has changed the picture dramatically. Thus, the big picture of ICT-related learning (or learning and working with web resources) has moved towards user-applications and networked services. In this context the expertise on web-supported learning is far more distributed and draws upon diverse (real and virtual) piloting contexts. Yet, there is a real concern that there are very few explicitly VET-related initiatives among the cutting edge pilots with digital media and social software.
How to develop an intergrative approach to European innovations?
It seems that the European policies (for education and training) and specific innovation agendas (for e-Skills) have led to fragmenatary developments. It strikes me that both the educational framework processes and the measures to promote e-Skills have followed the logic of ‘big package’ solutions – to be adopted throughout Europe. Yet, in particular the innovation dynamics in ICT-related learning bring forward the concept of active interactivity (and iterative processes between developer-communities and user-communities). The big question to me is, what has happened (and what can be done) regarding the interactivity between vocational learning processes and workplace-related learning opportunities.
At an earlier stage I have tried to introduce the term ‘integrative learning concepts’ as a format for bringing into discussion innovative curricular/pedagogic support structures and innovative approaches to technologies, digital meadia and self-organised leaning. Maybe there is a need to put more emphasis on the interactivity between the diverse poles.
However, before going any further with this thread and with this level of abstraction) it is appropriate to make a break. At this point it is approapriate to raise the issue of ‘contextuality ‘and ‘trans-nationality‘ of European innovations. Moreover, it is worthwhile to ask, what European VET researchers have learned of these issues during their active years in European cooperation.