Archive for the ‘Informal learning’ Category

Recognising competence and learning

November 16th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

As promised some further thoughts on the DISCUSS conference, held earlier this week in Munich.

One of the themes for discussion was the recognition of (prior) learning. The theme had emerged after looking at the main work of Europa projects, particularly in the field of lifelong learning. The idea and attraction of recognising learning from different contexts, and particularly form informal learning is hardly new. In the 1990s, in the UK, the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (as it was then called) devoted resources to developing systems for the Accreditation of Prior Learning. One of the ideas behind National Vocational Qualifications was teh decoupling of teaching and learning from learning outcomes, expressed in terms of competences and performance criteria. Therefore, it was thought, anyone should be able to have their competences recognised (through certification) regardless of whether or not they had followed a particular formal training programme. Despite the considerable investment, it was only at best a limited success. Developing observably robust processes for accrediting such learning was problematic, as was the time and cost in implementing such processes.

It is interesting to consider why there is once more an upsurge of interest in the recognition of prior learning. My feeling was in the UK, the initiative wax driven because of teh weak links between vocational education and training and the labour market.n In countries liek Germany, with a strong apprenticeship training system, there was seen as no need for such a procedure. Furthermore learning was linked to the work process, and competence seen as the internalised ability to perform in an occupation, rather than as an externalised series of criteria for qualification. However the recent waves of migration, initially from Eastern Europe and now of refugees, has resulted in large numbers of people who may be well qualified (in all senses of the word) but with no easily recognisable qualification for employment.

I am unconvinced that attempts to formally assess prior competence as a basis for the fast tracking of  awarding qualifications will work. I think we probably need to look much deeper at both ideas around effective practice and at what exactly we mean my recognition and will write more about this in future posts. But digging around in my computer today I came up with a paper I wrote together with Jenny Hughes around some of these issues. I am not sure the title helped attract a wide readership: The role and importance of informal competences in the process of acquisition and transfer of work skills. Validation of competencies – a review of reference models in the light of youth research: United Kingdom. Below is an extract.

“NVQs and the accreditation of informal learning

As Bjørnåvold (2000) says the system of NVQs is, in principle, open to any learning path and learning form and places a particular emphasis on experience-based learning at work, At least in theory, it does not matter how or where you have learned; what matters is what you have learned. The system is open to learning taking place outside formal education and training institutions, or to what Bjørnåvold terms non-formal learning. This learning has to be identified and judged, so it is no coincidence that questions of assessment and recognition have become crucial in the debate on the current status of the NVQ system and its future prospects.

While the NVQ system as such dates back to 1989, the actual introduction of “new” assessment methodologies can be dated to 1991. This was the year the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ) and its Scottish equivalent, Scotvec, required that “accreditation of prior learning” should be available for all qualifications accredited by these bodies (NVQs and general national qualifications, GNVQs). The introduction of a specialised assessment approach to supplement the ordinary assessment and testing procedures used when following traditional and formal pathways, was motivated by the following factors:

1. to give formal recognition to the knowledge and skills which people already possess, as a route to new employment;
2. to increase the number of people with formal qualifications;
3. to reduce training time by avoiding repetition of what candidates already know.

The actual procedure applied can be divided into the following steps. The first step consists of providing general information about the APL process, normally by advisers who are not subject specialists, often supported by printed material or videos. The second and most crucial step includes the gathering and preparation of a portfolio. No fixed format for the portfolio has been established but all evidence must be related to the requirements of the target qualification. The portfolio should include statements of job tasks and responsibilities from past or present employers as well as examples (proofs) of relevant “products”. Results of tests or specifically-undertaken projects should also be included. Thirdly, the actual assessment of the candidate takes place. As it is stated:”The assessment process is substantially the same as that which is used for any candidate for an NVQ. The APL differs from the normal assessment process in that the candidate is providing evidence largely of past activity rather than of skills acquired during the current training course.”The result of the assessment can lead to full recognition, although only a minority of candidates have sufficient prior experience to achieve this, In most cases, the portfolio assessment leads to exemption from parts of a programme or course. The attention towards specialised APL methodologies has diminished somewhat in the UK during recent years. It is argued that there is a danger of isolating APL, and rather, it should be integrated into normal assessments as one of several sources of evidence.”The view that APL is different and separate has resulted in evidence of prior learning and achievement being used less widely than anticipated. Assessors have taken steps to avoid this source of evidence or at least become over-anxious about its inclusion in the overall evidence a candidate may have to offer.”We can thus observe a situation where responsible bodies have tried to strike a balance between evidence of prior and current learning as well as between informal and formal learning. This has not been a straightforward task as several findings suggest that APL is perceived as a “short cut”, less rigorously applied than traditional assessment approaches. The actual use of this kind of evidence, either through explicit APL procedures or in other, more integrated ways, is difficult to overview. Awarding bodies are not required to list alternative learning routes, including APL, on the certificate of a candidate. This makes it almost impossible to identify where prior or informal learning has been used as evidence.

As mentioned in the discussions of the Mediterranean and Nordic experiences, the question of assessment methodologies cannot be separated from the question of qualification standards. Whatever evidence is gathered, some sort of reference point must be established. This has become the most challenging part of the NVQ exercise in general and the assessment exercise in particular.We will approach this question indirectly by addressing some of the underlying assumptions of the NVQ system and its translation into practical measures. Currently the system relies heavily on the following basic assumptions: legitimacy is to be assured through the assumed match between the national vocational standards and competences gained at work. The involvement of industry in defining and setting up standards has been a crucial part of this struggle for acceptance, Validity is supposed to be assured through the linking and location of both training and assessment, to the workplace. The intention is to strengthen the authenticity of both processes, avoiding simulated training and assessment situations where validity is threatened. Reliability is assured through detailed specifications of each single qualification (and module). Together with extensive training of the assessors, this is supposed to secure the consistency of assessments and eventually lead to an acceptable level of reliability.

A number of observers have argued that these assumptions are difficult to defend. When it comes to legitimacy, it is true that employers are represented in the above-mentioned leading bodies and standards councils, but several weaknesses of both a practical and fundamental character have appeared. Firstly, there are limits to what a relatively small group of employer representatives can contribute, often on the basis of scarce resources and limited time. Secondly, the more powerful and more technically knowledgeable organisations usually represent large companies with good training records and wield the greatest influence. Smaller, less influential organisations obtain less relevant results. Thirdly, disagreements in committees, irrespective of who is represented, are more easily resolved by inclusion than exclusion, inflating the scope of the qualifications. Generally speaking, there is a conflict of interest built into the national standards between the commitment to describe competences valid on a universal level and the commitment to create as specific and precise standards as possible. As to the questions of validity and reliability, our discussion touches upon drawing up the boundaries of the domain to be assessed and tested. High quality assessments depend on the existence of clear competence domains; validity and reliability depend on clear-cut definitions, domain-boundaries, domain-content and ways whereby this content can be expressed.

As in the Finnish case, the UK approach immediately faced a problem in this area. While early efforts concentrated on narrow task-analysis, a gradual shift towards broader function-analysis had taken place This shift reflects the need to create national standards describing transferable competences. Observers have noted that the introduction of functions was paralleled by detailed descriptions of every element in each function, prescribing performance criteria and the range of conditions for successful performance. The length and complexity of NVQs, currently a much criticised factor, stems from this “dynamic”. As Wolf says, we seem to have entered a “never ending spiral of specifications”. Researchers at the University of Sussex have concluded on the challenges facing NVQ-based assessments: pursuing perfect reliability leads to meaningless assessment. Pursuing perfect validity leads towards assessments which cover everything relevant, but take too much time, and leave too little time for learning. This statement reflects the challenges faced by all countries introducing output or performance-based systems relying heavily on assessments.

“Measurement of competences” is first and foremost a question of establishing reference points and less a question of instruments and tools. This is clearly illustrated by the NVQ system where questions of standards clearly stand out as more important than the specific tools developed during the past decade. And as stated, specific approaches like, “accreditation of prior learning” (APL), and “accreditation of prior experiential learning” (APEL), have become less visible as the NVQ system has settled. This is an understandable and fully reasonable development since all assessment approaches in the NVQ system in principle have to face the challenge of experientially-based learning, i.e., learning outside the formal school context. The experiences from APL and APEL are thus being integrated into the NVQ system albeit to an extent that is difficult to judge. In a way, this is an example of the maturing of the system. The UK system, being one of the first to try to construct a performance-based system, linking various formal and non-formal learning paths, illustrates the dilemmas of assessing and recognising non-formal learning better than most other systems because there has been time to observe and study systematically the problems and possibilities. The future challenge facing the UK system can be summarised as follows: who should take part in the definition standards, how should competence domains be described and how should boundaries be set? When these questions are answered, high quality assessments can materialise.”

Recognising Prior Learning

November 3rd, 2015 by Graham Attwell

I greatly enjoyed the DISCUSS project conference in Munich last week at which I spoke together with Steve Wheeler. After the morning speeches, there was a cafe type session in the afternoon looking at four key challenges the project has identified for education in Europe. All were interesting and given the venue tended to be reflected through the lens of the present refugee crisis.

One of the issues was the recognition of prior learning. Interestingly, this seems to have been the subject of more European funded projects in education and training than any other subject. Needless to say there was considerable discussion and some divergence of opinion on ways forward on which I will report my view tomorrow.

But Randolph Preisinger Kleine has dug out something I wrote on a previous project, which seems to make some sense of why we have such misunderstandings. (Mind, you can tell how old it is when I say that the UK has a comprehensive system of careers guidance!).

Informal Learning

There is increasing recognition in most European countries of the importance of informal learning. Informal learning can provide a bridge between formal subject based learning and occupational practice. Furthermore, informal learning may be important as a tool for the continuing or lifelong learning seen as economically important in a period of rapid economic and technological change. And informal learning is viewed as a way of assisting socially excluded and under-qualified individuals to re-enter formal education and training or gain access to the labour market.

Integration of informal learning
But if there is increasing recognition of the importance of informal learning, there is less convergence in terms of how informal learning is integrated in vocational education and training practice. The differences may be ascribed to the different histories of vocational education and training, to different cultural practices and to different institutional and systemic structures within different countries. This short article will look at activities in Germany and the UK to illustrate different possible approaches to recognising and valuing informal learning.How can we recognise that learning has taken place? The most general measure is taken to be a change in behaviour. In vocational education and training that change in behaviour or acquisition of new abilities is usually expressed in terms of competences. Competences refer to the practical ability to perform an occupational task or tasks. Whilst the word competence exists in most European languages, our understanding of the meaning of competence differs widely.

Different understandings of competence
So, whilst in Germany, competence is generally linked to beruf (a word untranslatable in English) and refers to the internal, holistic ability to act as part of as profession or occupation, in the UK competence refers to the ability to perform externally prescribed and more atomistic tasks.This, in turn, affects the recognition and perceived role of informal learning. In Germany informal learning is seen as an intrinsic part of formal vocational education and training, especially through the Dual System which brings together school and work based learning. In the UK, informal learning is regarded as an external adjunct to formal training. This might be seen as a somewhat abstract description. But these differences take stark structural forms.In Germany apprenticeship is generally age bound, being undertaken as part of the transition from school to work. Although in the UK some young people do undertake vocational courses, (including apprenticeships) on completion of compulsory schooling, vocational courses are open to students of any age and it is quite common for older students to pursue a vocational training programme. For those students who may have failed to gain initial qualifications or those who have some substantial work experience despite lack of formal qualifications, the UK has evolved formal measures for recognising informal learning. This is known as the Accreditation of Prior Learning.

The labour market
There are also important differences in terms of the relation of vocational education and training to the labour market. Germany has a relatively highly regulated labour market. This means for many occupations formal vocational qualifications are required as the basis for employment. There are far fewer regulated occupations in the UK and the role of the trade unions in enforcing regulation is much weaker. Academic qualifications have usually a higher prestige than vocational qualifications and the numbers of those possessing formal vocational qualifications is less. Thus employers are more inclined to look at academic qualifications plus proof of informal learning as the basis for employment.

In both the UK and Germany, as in other European countries, there has been increased interest in informal learning as a means of reintegrating socially excluded and unemployed people in the labour market, although once more this tends to take different directions and forms in the different countries. Indeed, both Germany and the UK are characterised by a considerable number of projects, programmes and experiments, making it difficult to provide more than a general overview of trends.

Recognition of informal learning in Germany and the UK
In Germany, there is little room for formal recognition of informal learning, because of the strength of the regulatory system. On the other hand, the very strength of this system has mitigated against the development of a formal careers guidance system.This has become problematic with high levels of employment and rapid structural economic change. Thus, the identification and recognition of informal learning is increasingly being used as a means for career and occupational guidance, as a mechanism for recognising aptitude for further vocational training or work experience. This is especially seen in the so called one euro job schemes. Recognition of informal learning may also be used as a way of promoting social and civic integration, regardless of employment opportunities, for instance with long term unemployed or ethnic minorities. In the UK, with a well developed, albeit structurally somewhat incoherent and under-resourced, careers advisory service, there has been more focus on the direct recognition and certification of informal learning. This has taken the form of both supplemental qualifications, often as a precursor to entry to more advanced education or training, or as direct recognition of informal learning for part certification of a formal training course, or rarely, even for a complete qualification.


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 …

Looking back at three years of Learning Layers – Part One: Challenges and responses

October 25th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

At the moment the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project is preparing documents for the review of the Year 3 – an interim review to pave the way for the final year. In this context we have a chance to consider the development of the project and our activities in a new light. Now we have more perspective to reflect, how we have encountered the challenges and to what extent our responses have brought us further. In this first post I will focus on the challenges of of the early phase and on the role of participative design processes and capacity building initiatives.

1. Challenges met in the beginning of construction pilot (Year 1)

In the beginning phase of the Learning Layers project the application partner organisations (Bau-ABC Rostrup, Agency and Network for ecological construction work -Agentur/NNB and the construction companies) had difficulties to see, how to use digital media, web tools and mobile technologies as support for working and learning. Partly this was due to a scattered picture of single tools and apps, many of which had been designed for laymen users and only few for construction specialists. Partly this was due to general doubts that mobile devices at training and working sites provide distraction, safety risks and data privacy risks. Partly this was due to prior negative experiences with earlier generation of ‘new technologies’ (mobile offices based on laptops, faxes etc.) that did not bring the expected efficiency but added to the workload.

As a response, the research partners and the application partners started looking for solutions that would provide more transparency to training, learning and instructive activities as well as facilitate accessing, sharing and reusing digital contents. In a similar way the apprentices in Bau-ABC that participated in a User Survey  indicated that they were already using mobile devices to support learning (but had very limited awareness of relevant web tools and apps).

2. The importance of participative design activities and capacity building initiatives (Year 2 and Year 3)

After an initial search phase in the co-design activities the emphasis was shifted to the co-design and co-development of Learning Toolbox as a framework for using digital media, web tools and apps via mobile device. Here it is worthwhile to note the shift of emphasis from particular design idea (digitisation of learning materials and/or reporting documents) to a flexible framework with which users can shape their own digital working and learning environment. In this way the design idea transformed into a an integrative toolset that needs to be linked to complementary apps, tools and web resources. In order to achieve this, the project had to start capacity building measures that contributed to users’ awareness and skills.

As a response, the research partners ITB and Pontydysgu organised during Y2 a series of Multimedia Training workshops that helped Bau-ABC trainers to start working independently with their own blogs, edit video materials and use other digital tools. Based on this experience, Bau-ABC trainers produced a series of videos, in which they (together with apprentices) demonstrated potential uses of Learning Toolbox at training sites and in actual construction work situations.

In the next phase the Bau-ABC trainers continued the training as peer learning sessions and developed a new flexible training model – the “Theme rooms” – to spread the training across the whole organisation. At the same time the co-design sessions with Bau-ABC trainers have turned into co-development exercises in which they have created their own stacks to provide access to training materials and other resources (user instruction manuals, maintenance manuals etc.) that are relevant in their trades.

I think this is enough of this issue – the implementation of the Them Rooms in Bau-ABC and the reporting on parallel developments in the construction sector pilot is a matter for the reports. I wanted to highlight here the fact that our application partner (Bau-ABC) and the trainers are taking initiatives to give Internet a major role as the fourth learning venue (alongside workplace, school and intermediate training centre) and they are becoming owners of the innovations.

More blogs to come …

Digital Disruption or Digital Transformations

October 20th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

I have spent a good deal of time in the last few weeks thinking and reviewing the progress we have made in the European Research Programme funded Learning Layers project

. The project aims to research, develop, implement and promote technologies for learning in Small and Medium Enterprisse (SMEs). As with all projects funded under the Research Programme, we are subject to an annual review and have to submit reports on the work undertaken for the review.  This in itself is an interesting exercise, involving at least four or five authors from different countries and often different disciplines working together.

I have written the introduction to the report, focusing on the impact of what I describe as digital transformations on SMEs and on learning. Although our work focuses on the construction and health sectors, I think the development processes and the research findings are relevant to far wider sectors. Over the next week I will blog sections of the report. I see this as opening up our internal review procedure to a wider audience and welcome any feedback, critical or otherwise. The first section is on digital transformations, as opposed to digital disruptions.

There has been a great deal of focus, especially in the popular press, on the impact of Information and Communication Technologies on society through the term ‘digital disruption’. Digital disruption posits the inability of existing organisations and companies to respond to emerging new technologies and thus leaving them open to disruptive entrants who are more innovative and flexible in organisational approaches and technology adoption.

We see little evidence of such digital disruption in either the healthcare or construction sectors. However there is no doubt of the fast growing impact of digital technologies in both sectors, for example 3D printing and Building Information Modelling in construction and self diagnosis applications, big data, health apps and telemedicine / telehealth in healthcare (see the following sections below for more details of these changes). But rather than seeing these as disrupting existing organisations, there is more evidence that these organisations themselves are being transformed in order to adapt to and exploit new technologies. This we would see as digital transformations.

Digital transformation refers to the changes associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society (Stolterman and Croon Fors, 2004). It is seen as involving the application of digital competence and digital literacies to enable new types of innovation and creativity in a particular domain, rather than simply enhance and support the traditional methods (Lankshear, 2008), In November 2011, a three-year study conducted by the MIT Center for Digital Business and Capgemini Consulting concluded that only one-third of companies globally have an effective digital transformation program in place (Capgemini Consulting. 2011).

The study defined an “effective digital transformation program” as one that addressed

  • “The What”: the intensity of digital initiatives within a corporation
  • “The How”: the ability of a company to master transformational change to deliver business results. (ibid)

Our research in health and construction paints a rather more complicated picture, although we would generally concur with the MIT study outcomes. In this it is notable that we are working primarily with SMEs rather than with corporations and that SMEs rarely have the resources to develop complex programmes of transformation. Our research suggest a very uneven pattern, with enterprises and especially training organisations increasingly aware of the challenges digital technologies play, but with differentiated drivers for change in different trades in construction and different organisational impulses in health care, along with continuing barriers to transformations that also impact on the adoption of new forms of learning. It should also be noted that our own project research and development processes have led to a greater awareness of the impact of digital technologies and the capacity building activities that the project has undertaken are designed precisely to develop the ability of SMEs to master transformational change.

Interim reports on LL fieldwork in Bau-ABC – Part Three: Indications of achievements of the LL project

October 2nd, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my two previous blogs I have reported on the results of a  field visit to the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup in the context of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. Our colleagues from the University of Innsbruck (UIBK) and our ITB-colleague Lars Heinemann interviewed Bau-ABC trainers to get feedback on the pilot testing of LL tools. In my first blog I  gave a brief news report, whilst in the second blog I discussed in closer detail the remarks of the trainers Markus Pape and Lothar Schoka.

With this third blog I try to relate these fresh interviews to our earlier encounters and on the changing circumstances and changing practices. Here, I want to draw attention to the new activities that have come into picture during the LL project and due to initiatives of the LL project. I try to link my comments to the points that I raised on the interviews in my previous blog:

Initial awareness of digital media, web tools and mobile devices

In the beginning phase of the project (January 2013) the ITB team made some early interviews with Bau-ABC trainers and apprentices. At that time both our awareness as well as the awareness of the trainers and apprentices was not advanced. None of us had a holistic view on the usability of digital media, web tools and mobile devices. In different trades the trainers could refer to some apps and tools. Yet, the trainers had mixed feelings about domain-specific apps for construction sector (some being apps for professionals, others for lay users and altogether with varying quality). Also, the use of web resources and Facebook groups was at an early stage. Furthermore, the use of mobile phones was banned during the training because it was perceived as mere distraction.

Workshops and User Survey: Awareness of web tools, readiness to use mobile devices

In the next phase (Spring 2013) the LL project started co-design workshops with apprentices and trainers (in different groups) to identify points of intervention and to specify the emerging design idea(s). In Autumn 2013 the ITB team organised a User Survey that covered most of the apprentices that attended their initial training periods in Bau-ABC.

The discussions in the workshops and the results of the questionnaire revealed that the apprentices were not at all informed of the existing construction sector apps and had made very little use of them. However, the apprentices indicated that they had made use of their smartphones to support their work and workplace learning (e.g. via web searches or by documenting their work  and learning results).

Co-design of LTB, Multimedia Training and follow-up activities

In Spring 2014 the co-design process brought into picture the framework of Learning Toolbox and parallel to it the LL project arranged Multimedia Training workshops to Bau-ABC trainers. Due to these processes the emphasis in the co-design processes shifted from expectations (on the design work of others) to initiatives (how to develop one’s own training practice with the help of new tools). In this phase the trainers started to work with their own trade-specific blogs and provide digital access to their training contents. Also, the trainers developed their own ideas, how the emerging LTB could be used in Bau-ABC (as was demonstrated by the videos for the Tallinn consortium meeting in the Autumn 2014).

Taking steps to customise and use LTB as integrative set of tools, apps and services

In the light of the above presented background, the interviews of the Bau-ABC trainers (see my previous blog) demonstrate remarkable progress in the LL project. The Bau-ABC trainers are becoming owners of LL-initiated innovations and in customising the LTB for their trades (to be used in training and working contexts). Also, the demonstrate clearly, how their overall competences in using digital media, web resources and mobile devices have grown during the project and due to the support from the project. And thirdly, due to peer tutoring and peer learning they have developed into multipliers who can bring their colleagues and apprentices to an active piloting phase.

I think this is enough for the moment. We will get back to Bau-ABC and our other application partners in a short while.

More blogs to come ...

Interim reports on LL fieldwork in Bau-ABC – Part Two: Feedback from the trainers

October 2nd, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous blog I reported on the field visit to the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup in the context of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. Our colleagues from the University of Innsbruck (UIBK) together with our ITB-colleague Lars Heinemann interviewed Bau-ABC trainers to get feedback on the pilot testing of LL tools. In particular they wanted to get feedback on the use of the Learning Toolbox (LTB), which we are developing together with our partners in the construction sector. In my first blog I could only give a brief news report and to raise some issues/requests to be considered by the developers of the LTB.

Now that I have listened the recordings, I find that the colleagues have had a very interesting discussion and that we can learn a lot of the points made by the Bau-ABC trainers Markus Pape (carpenter) and Lothar Schoka (well-builder/borehole builder). With this second post I try to pick some of their interesting points and reconstruct a red thread across their conversations:

Motivation to use digital media, web tools and mobile devices

Both trainers emphasised that their apprentices are very inspired when they get a chance to use mobile devices to access digital contents and web resources during their training and in the context of work. Compared to mere written instructions or paper-based documentation, the apprentices feel more motivated (since they are all eager to use their devices at any rate).

Usability of mobile devices, LTB  and digital contents

Both trainers made several points on the usability issues that emphasise the relevance of LTB:

  • Access to documents, web resources and real-time communication is often a problem at construction sites (no space for looking at papers or folders, no chance to have stationary PCs or even laptops). With mobile devices, communication apps and the toolset of LTB many problems can be clarified in real time. Furthermore, LTB can essentially facilitate communication between different trades and working groups on same construction sites or quality control between the teams and their supervisors.
  • The structure of LTB – tiles, pages and stacks – makes it easy to use without making it overly complex. This is essential for users in craft trades who expect tools that work properly in real work.
  • Both trainers emphasised the benefits of LTB in supporting well-structured web searches (with appropriate terminology) and steering it to good quality sources. Moreover, Schoka emphasised the possibility to use QR tags to direct searches to appropriate sections of user manuals and instructions for maintenance.

Use of trainers’ and apprentices’ own web resources and digital contents

  • Both trainers have created their own domain-specific blogs (Zimmererblog, Brunnenbauer und Spezialtiefbauer) for uploading their instruction sheets for apprentices’ projects and for presenting other contents. By making their own LTB stacks they can provide access to the right documents when it is appropriate for the training schedules.
  • Schoka made a special point on the short videos that have been produced and uploaded by apprentices on the well-builders’ Facebook group. These short videos may serve several purposes. Now, thanks to LTB, they can be used in a more targeted way.

 Changes in training and learning practice

  • Both trainers are in the process of linking the pilot testing of LTB to specific training projects and content areas via their own stacks and with specific sets of tools, apps, instructions and tasks. In this way they are creating their own multimedia environments in which they are involving their apprentices as digital learners.
  • The two trainers have brought into picture different strengths in using digital media and web resources. Pape has been the pioneer in creating domain specific blogs. Schoka has been active in developing the well-builders’ Facebook group as a community resource. Partly these have activities have been started in the Multimedia Training of the LL project and partly they have been inspired by such support. Moreover, there has been a great deal of peer learning between the trainers, so that they early movers have shared their experiences with others.

I think this is enough of the points that I have picked from the interviews. I do not try to give an exhaustive report. The colleagues from UIBK will work further with the interview materials and put them into a wider context by linking the results from construction sector and healthcare sector to each other. My point was to pick these comments from Bau-ABC for an interim assessment.

With my third post I try to relate these points to earlier interviews and talks with Bau-ABC trainers (and apprentices)In that context I try to demonstrate, how their approach to using digital media, web tools and mobile technologies has changed during the project and due to their involvement in participative design process.

 More blogs to come …

Interim reports on LL fieldwork in Bau-ABC – Part One: Evaluation talks and plans for field testing

September 22nd, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In the beginning of September we made an important field visit in the context of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project to our application partner organisation – the training centre Bau-ABC (see my blog post of 13.9.2015). On Friday some LL colleagues had a chance to make a follow-up visit to Bau-ABC, while the others were having a meeting in ITB with the visiting delegation from Singapore Workforce Development Agency. Since I was involved in the meeting in ITB, I can only report on meeting on the basis of the information from my colleague Lars Heinemann.

Update 2.10.2015: I published this post some time ago as a single blog entry. Now that I got the chance to listen to the recordings of the interviews in Bau-ABC, I came to the conclusion that it is worthwhile to discuss some points of the Bau-ABC trainers in greater detail. Here again, I am also relying on the first-hand information from Lars Heinemann.

The aim of the visit

The visit was planned quite some time ago as a field visit to get feedback data on the ongoing pilot testing with the Learning Toolbox (LTB). Since the LL teams of ITB and Bau-ABC could send only one participant to the LL consortium meeting in Toledo, our LL colleagues from the University of Innsbruck (UIBK), Stefan Thalmann and Markus Manhart, came to Bremen have planning meetings with us and to make field visits. However, given the very recent field visit (with the newly published Beta version of LTB), we felt that the evaluation talks were somewhat rushed. After all, the trainers had only made their first experiences  in making their own stacks, pages and tiles in the LTB (to be used by other users).

Talks in Bau-ABC

The visitors (Lars, Stefan and Markus) were pleased to see that their talks with the Bau-ABC trainers Markus Pape (Zimmerer = carpenter) and Lothar Schoka (Brunnenbauer = borehole builder) were well-timed and informative. Both trainers had made further efforts to familiarise themselves with the LTB Beta version. They had also made concrete plans for engaging their apprentices later in the autumn as users of LTB in their training projects. According to their information, the amount of apprentices to be involved in such pilots would be ca. 100 in both trades. As advance measure they had collected a list of volunteered users to start testing with LTB before that actual pilot.

In this respect they both could give informative reports on what is going on and what is to be expected in the near future. (We expect the UIBK colleagues to share recordings of theses talks with ITB soon.)

In addition to their own experiences and plans for piloting they had some urgent requests for the LTB developers. Some of these points have already been discussed with the developers, but now we got the points of the trainers from the pilot site:

1) For the trainers it is important that they can send messages to groups and individuals.

2) For trainers and apprentices it is important to have a notification function that alerts the apprentices when new learning materials have been made accessible and informs the trainers when apprentices have accessed the information. Moreover, both parties should be notified of replies or questions on further information.

3) For trainers and apprentices it is important to have a commentary function that makes it possible to add questions or comments to texts that are used for instruction and/or documentation of learning processes.

4) At the moment the LTB has been designed for Android phones and tablets – which are mostly used by the apprentices. Yet, about one third is using iOS-phones, so it is essential to proceed to iOS-versions or find alternative solutions to involve them in the pilot testing.

Update 2.10.2015: I have let my initial blog post stand as it was written before listening the recordings – with one amendment. Now that I have got access to the recordings, it is interesting to have a a glimpse at some of the points made by the trainers and to relate them to our earlier interviews and discussions with them. As I see it, via such examination we learn a lot, how the fieldwork of the LL project has made progress during the years of co-design and pilot 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 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 …

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    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.

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