Archive for the ‘Innovation’ Category

Introducing Learning Layers tools to construction companies – Insights and working issues

May 17th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

Once again I am taking a look at some of the follow-up activities of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project in the construction sector. As I have mentioned in my earlier blogs, my ITB-colleagues and the developers of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) have started cooperation with some German construction companies to launch company-specific pilot activities. In the first phase they agreed to start with feasibility studies. Last week the LTB developers were in Bremen and made some field visits to different sites of our partner organisations with ITB colleagues. At the end of the week we had a wrap-up meeting with one of the companies in ITB (and thus I could attend as an observer).

The approach

In the “Exploitation report” of the LL project we (in ITB) had already outlined our approach to such feasibility studies in the following way:

“Development of a framework for ‘Betriebsbezogene Analysetage’ for identifying company-specific points of intervention (for introducing tools and web resources), working interfaces (for identifying staff involved) and feedback processes (for specifying the benefits of tools etc.) to be supported with Learning Toolbox and affiliated tools and web resources.”

For me the point of interest was to learn, what kind of insights these field visits would bring into discussion regarding

  1. the use of digital media and web tools (in general) in the companies and in their trades, in particular
  2. as support for organisational and cross-organisational cooperation (specific to their trade) and
  3. as means to enhance process optimisation, learning and knowledge sharing across the organisation.

Getting an overview

Our counterpart in this discussion was the medium-sized company H. that is a major regional player in pipeline-building (Rohrleitungsbau) especially supply circuits (Versorgungsleitungen) and service pipes (Hausanschlüsse). It works together with the major electricity providers, water and gas suppliers and telephone and cable providers. Given the wide regional range of activities the company has in addition to its main office several branch offices and installation teams allocated to these offices. The company has framework contracts with its clients that include ordinary orders as well as procedures for emergency repairs. As a result, the company had adopted a ‘federative’ lean organisation that gives a lot of autonomy to the branch offices and to the teams that are working in the region. However, a major constrain for the organisation was to get the reporting of the work of the installation teams (and the clearance of ‘mission completed’) arranged in a smart way.

Given this complexity the LTB developers and my ITB colleagues carried out a series of interviews with the manager and the central IT specialist (in the central office) and with representatives of branch offices and skilled workers at different sites. With reference to the interview grid they then prepared a flow diagram that made transparent the work processes (including working interfaces), information flows (including interfaces with different forms for work orders and reporting) and points of intervention (where use of digital tools and web resources can contribute to process optimisation)

Insights and working issues

In the wrap-up meeting the representatives of the company H. discussed the preliminary findings with the LTB developers and my ITB-colleagues. Here I do not want to get into very specific details but highlight some of the main results:

a) Readiness to use digital media and web technologies: Firstly, already regarding the interaction with client organisations, there is a considerable variety between the ones that use up-to-date digital media (and web technologies) and others that rely on paper-based orders and printed reports. Inside the company the use of digital media and web technologies is generally accepted. Yet, in reporting from the field (with smartphones) there are still some teams that prefer using paper-based reporting.

 b) Multiple dependencies and a variety of digital documents: In this trade (Rohrleitungsbau) it is typical that for one installation job the company has parallel orders from an energy provider, gas provider, water supplier etc.  Typically these organisations use different software solutions, templates and forms. Also, the framework contracts include emergency repairs that need to be started without a separate order – but to be reported with yet another form. As a result the company H. has to deal with several types of digital and analogue documents that are not compatible with each other.

c) Engagement of different parts of the organisation in reporting: The installation works of the company are rather short-cycled ‘projects’ with one or two days’ duration. Yet, given the above mentioned diversity of software solutions and documents (and the varying readiness to use digital tools) there is a tendency towards duplication of reporting work at the construction site and in the office.

d) Autonomy of units/teams and knowledge sharing across the organisation: As has been mentioned, the organisational units at different branch offices – and the teams working in the field – have a great deal of autonomy. Also, their capability to find their own solutions is appreciated. The same is also the case with their way to handle the administrative reporting. However, the management is interested in encouraging knowledge sharing and exchange of experiences across the organisation. Yet, it appears that it is easier to arrange traditional training events (with frontal presentations by external experts) rather than events for shared learning within the organisation. The manager was looking for arrangements to support knowledge sharing among the skilled workers and with focus on improvements in work processes.

Working perspectives and lessons learned

The team of LTB-developers and ITB-colleagues will produce in a short while a brief report with further working perspectives and recommendations. However, already at this stage the flow diagram and the opportunity for joint reflections was appreciated – in the final meeting and during the field visits. Below I make some brief remarks, how (on the basis of the experience with the Learning Layers) the problems can be dealt with and how the organisation needs to engage itself in the next phase:

Concerning the multiple dependencies, different software solutions and document templates there is a possibility to introduce technical solutions – by introducing a company-specific database that communicates with the other kinds of documents (and manages the conversions). This requires some coordination in the central office, whilst the branches and the working teams should get their own documents, which they can at best handle. Furthermore, for the workers in the field it is possible to provide optional choices for reporting via typed documents or scanned documents (that can be converted in the central office). Such solutions would offload the administrative work from the teams and speed up the reporting for the clients. Here the manager emphasised the need to offload skilled workers from unnecessary administrative tasks. To him this would increase the attractiveness of craftsman careers.

Concerning the enhancement of learning and knowledge sharing across the organisation the experience of Learning Layers opens interesting prospects. Firstly, work process-oriented and technology-supported multimedia training can increase the readiness for knowledge sharing. Moreover, linking such training to shaping new stacks for Learning Toolbox can bring into picture practical solutions for such sharing. Here it is important to start from such tools and technologies that offload the participants from unnecessary burdens and make it possible to improve one’s contribution. Here the “Theme Room training” and the co-development of Learning Toolbox in the training centre Bau-ABC can serve as examples.

– – –

I think this is enough of our discussion in the wrap-up meeting. The LTB-developers and my ITB-colleagues will finalise their conclusions and recommendations in a short while. What strikes me in this discussion was the fact that we looked far deeper into learning in organisational contexts (and into process-optimisation in cross-organisational cooperation) than during the LL project. Moreover, it is difficult to find similar cases in the literature that we have been using. So, we have been dealing with an inspiring and challenging case. We hope that we can continue working together.

More blogs to come … 



What comes after “Learning Layers”? – Part Four: Further steps with Bau-ABC trainers and ‘health and safety’

May 11th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

One month ago I wrote the third post on follow-up activities of our completed EU-funded project Learning Layers (LL).  In the three posts I informed on our initiative on digital media in the area of ‘health and safety’ (Arbeitssicherheit und Gesundheitsschutz). Before the Easter break I had had two meetings with full-time trainers (Lehrwerkmeister) of the training centre Bau-ABC. I reported on the starting points of the initiative, some positive surprises and some challenges to modify the approach already after the first two meetings. Then we had a few weeks’ break due to the Easter holidays and the major conference and trade fair Bohrtechniktage (the former Brunnenbauertage) on Bau-ABC premises in Rostrup.

Now I was back from my holiday trips and some of the trainers in Bau-ABC were also available. This time we didn’t have the whole group assembled. Instead, we came together last Friday as a smaller team drawing conclusions from our previous meeting. With Thomas Weerts (the shop steward for health and safety in Bau-ABC) and Josh Dreyer (responsible for health and safety in his trade) we had a productive brainstorming session and we came up with a working agenda  for continuing the process with the wider group of trainers. Below I try to give a picture of the key points (and the slight reorientation of the approach):

1) Collection of key contents for ‘health and safety’ training in different trades

Our first conclusion was about the way we should go further with the mapping of key contents for training of apprentices regarding the theme ‘health and safety’ (Arbeitssicherheit und Gesundheitsschutz). So far we had collected all kinds of exemplary documents – both overarching documents for all construction trades and specific documents for particular trades and risk situations. From now on we set ourselves the task to identify key content areas and key documents that function well in apprentice training. As a next step we asked the trainers (Lehrwerkmeister) in different trades to identify such content areas and documents in their trades. (Josh Dreyer already presented his favourites for machine- and metal techniques.) Based on the proposals from different trades we will gather a collection of key contents/documents in domain-specific folders in Google Drive.

2) Shaping a common core and format for ‘health and safety’ training across  the trades

Based on the above presented approach Thomas and Josh proposed that the trainers from different trades should agree on common core contents (and standard presentation) for the entire field of health and safety. Here they also emphasised the role of visualisations and the use of standard symbols as means to draw attention to the central messages.

3) Production of a set of videos to introduce the ‘health and safety’ contents (general and trade-specific)

Our third conclusion was related to the use of videos. Here I referred to the positive role of the Bau-ABC videos produced by Bau-ABC staff for the Learning Layers project (on possible uses of ‘Learning Toolbox’ in training and at work). Therefore, I proposed that we should produce similar videos when we have made progress in selecting the key contents (for different trades) and the common core contents (for all trades). However, here Thomas and Josh emphasised that we should try to develop a similar collection of exemplary videos that are available in the net.

4) Use of moodle as digital media to present the core contents and software solutions to support them

Our fourth conclusion was that we should firstly use the moodle ‘course’ that I had created for the theme ‘health and safety in construction work‘ as a platform to present the results of the above mentioned tasks. Then, in addition to this, we should present briefly other software solutions to be used in the training – such as the Learning Toolbox that was developed in the Learning Layers.

5) Preparation of proposals to develop learning units and learning designs in funded projects

Our final conclusion was that we should try to identify some simple exemplary cases to demonstrate the use of digital media in learning units (Bau-ABC training projects) and learning designs (modes of implementing them). Here, we should be looking for ways to continue their development with funded projects. Also, in this respect we should be looking at such innovations like serious games that focus on health and safety in construction work.

– – –

I think this is enough on the results of our meeting. Thomas Weerts has sent out a group message to Bau-ABC trainers responsible for training in health and safety to collect their proposals for key contents and documents. After the meeting I had a discussion with Melanie Campbell who emphasised the need for similar mapping exercise with focus on the training of Spanish apprentices in Germany (supported by the project Mobipro-EU). We will get back to these issues in a short while.

More blogs to come … 



Revisiting the Learning Layers experience – A “ToDo List” for forthcoming conferences

April 30th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

It just happened so that I had little chance to blog during the April month. Obviously this is due to the fact that I and my colleagues are still in a transition from our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project to successor activities. And as I have written in my previous posts, these follow-up activities need quite a lot of time for preparation – they are not merely continuation of the LL activities. I have experienced this in my initiative with the trainers (Lehrwerkmeister) of the training centre Bau-ABC on the theme ‘health and safety’ – it needs more groundwork than I expected. My ITB colleagues have experienced this in the ongoing projects and funding bids with partly new application partners and priority themes. However, we are not through with the key themes of the Learning Layers’ Construction pilot – although we have finished the final reporting quite some time ago. Now, we have a chance to revisit the project experience and draw conceptual and methodological conclusions of our work in the Construction pilot. And I have booked myself in to three conferences to have a closer look at our achievements and how review them from a conceptual point of view. Below I give brief insights into the conference papers that I am preparing at the moment.

The Stockholm International VET conference “Vocational Education and Training – Emerging Issues. Voices from Research” 8. – 9.5. 2017

The series of conferences starts with the traditional Spring conference of Stockholm University – organised on a ferry that cruises from Stockholm to Finland (the Åland island) and back. For this conference I am preparing a paper on the theme “Begleitforschung as mediator between action-oriented learning and digital change: On the role of accompanying research and training interventions in the Learning Layers Construction pilot“.

With this paper I am trying to give picture on our contribution as ‘accompanying researchers’ (Begleitforscher) in the Learning Layers’ Construction pilot – with a special emphasis of the pedagogic development of vocational training when introducing digital media. Here I make comparisons to some earlier cases of accompanying research in German pilot projects (Modellversuche) that focused on vocational schools and emphasised self-organised learning when introducing new curricular framneworks and digital media.

The Rostock International VET Conference Crossing Boundaries in Vocational Education and Training: Social Dimensions and Participation 16. – 18.8. 2017

The next milestone is the second international ‘Crossing Boundaries …’ conference (two years after the first one), now organised by the University of Rostock. For this conference I am preparing a paper on a similar theme: ‘Begleitforschung in the context of digital transformation in vocational education and training (VET): Linking work process knowledge to Industry 4.0.

With this paper I try to follow the thread that leads from the earlier ‘Humanisation of Work’ (HdA) and ‘Work and Technology’ (AuT) programmes (with pilot projects supported by accompanying research) to present date. Here the German and European research on ‘acquisitition of work process knowledge’ and on ‘social shaping of work, technology  and organisations’ played a major role. Concerning the newer research I will explore some cases of ‘shaping-oriented’ (gestaltungsorientiert) projects that focus on ‘Industry 4.0’ as parallel cases to Learning Layers.

ECER 2017 “Reforming Education and the Imperative of Constant Change: Ambivalent roles of policy and the role of educational research” 21. – 25.8. 2017, Copenhagen

The third milestone is the annual European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) in Copenhagen – directly after the above mentioned conference in Rostock. For this conference I am preparing a paper on yet another similar theme Begleitforschung revisited – Reflections on the role of accompanying research in the Learning Layers project, Construction pilot (2012 -2016)’.

This paper takes a closer look at the in-built methodological tension in accompanying research – what role is to be given on practical support for the developmental activities and what role for conceptual knowledge development beyond the particular case. Here the paper revisits the methodological self -reflection within German Begleitforschung in the 1990s and examines the process of Learning Layers’ Construction pilot with reference to frameworks and distinctions of that time – taking into account the conclusions of the two earlier papers.

– – –

I think this is enough content for a ‘ToDo-List’. Luckily enough, I am already making progress with all of them. However, there is that much reflection and rethinking involved that this work is not mere reporting in the same way as preparing ‘deliverables’ for the review panel. Therefore I am not intending to prepare a series of blogs to cover the papers in the same way as before. Each paper and conference is a case of its own and I need to take time in between. Moreover, with each conference we have different arrangements for publishing and therefore I need to find out what are the policies regarding ‘pre-publishing’ individual papers. But we shall see – time passes quickly and the first conference is already in the coming month. So, I will get back to these papers very soon.

More blogs to come …

What comes after “Learning Layers”? – Part Three: Getting deeper with vocational learning, ‘health and safety’ and digital media

April 3rd, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my two previous blogs I referred to the fact that our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project had come to an end and that we (the ITB team involved in the construction sector pilot) are working with follow-up activities. I then described briefly, how I came to start a joint initiative on digital media in the area of ‘health and safety’ (Arbeitssicherheit und Gesundheitsschutz) with trainers of the training centre Bau-ABC. In my previous post I sketched the initiative roughly. Now – after our second meeting – I can give more information and I need to reflect on lessons  learned already at this stage.

Looking back – the achievements with the Learning Layers project

Firstly I need to remind myself how this initiative drew upon the achievements of the LL project. During the project some of the trainers had created WordPress blogs to present their training contents (Project instructions, support material and worksheets) to apprentices in their trades. Then, we had piloted the integrative toolset Learning Toolbox (LTB) that had been developed during the project to support learning in the context of work. The trainers had found their ways to create stacks and tiles to support the apprentices’ projects (based on working & learning tasks). However, the transversal learning area ‘health and safety’ had not yet been covered during the project. And – moreover – from the perspective of promoting the use of LTB and digital media in construction sector, this area is important both for training centres and for construction companies. So, we started working together to conquer this terrain.

Mapping learning materials for ‘health safety’ – filling the gaps and reflecting on pedagogy

I had initially thought that we could proceed rather quickly by mapping the existing material that is being used and by analysing some options for learning software – then to start working with appropriate learning designs. But it struck me that I  had not thought of a necessary interim step – pedagogic reflection on the applicability of existing materials for the learning processes of apprentices and skilled workers. When discussing the potentially applicable learning materials the trainers informed me of several gaps to be overcome. Firstly, a lot of the reference materials are lengthy documents with detailed references to norms, standards and regulations. These, obviously, are not very easily usable in action-oriented learning (supported by digital media. Secondly, several checklists and work sheets for risk analysis (Gefährdungsbeurteilung) are designed for real work situations (involving skilled workers). However, for apprentices who are learning and working in the training centre the trainers need to develop adjusted versions. So, therefore, our initiative needed space and time – and digital tools – for such pedagogigic reflection. Furthermore, the trainers saw a possibility to shape an integrative approach that proceeds from general starting points through the main areas of construction know-how (Tiefbau, Hochbau, Ausbau) and special areas (Brunnenbau, Maschinen- und Metalltechnik) to specific trades (carpentry, bricklaying etc.) and to specific work processes (welding, sawing etc.). So, instead of taking this as an easy ‘packaging content to digital media’ exercise, we are in deep discussion on vocational learning and on appropriate ways to introduce digital media and know-how on ‘health and safety’ into working and learning processes.

– – –

I think this is enough for the moment. I have learned a lot and the trainers are pleased to work in this direction. And as far as I am concerned, this kind of process confirms once again the fundamental principles that we applied in the LL project – orientation to ‘work process knowledge’ and to ‘action-oriented learning’. Now I will have a holiday break but I am looking forward to continuing my work with the Bau-ABC trainers.

More blogs to come …

What comes after “Learning Layers”? – Part Two: Bau-ABC trainers working with digital media and ‘health and safety’

March 30th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous blog I referred to the fact that our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project had come to an end and that the final review has already taken place. For us – the ITB team that had worked in the construction pilot this has meant a change of perspective from developing and testing new digital tools to a phase of adaptation of these tools and setting them to new contexts. In my previous post I mainly focused on the cooperation initiatives with interested construction companies that wanted to test Learning Toolbox (the integrative digital toolset) for their purposes. These initiatives have started from mini-pilots with the option of working into something better. At the same time we wanted continue with the trainers of Bau-ABC Rostrup with a small-scale initiative that helps us to find a way to work further with the use of digital media in construction sector. For this purpose we selected the theme ‘health and safety’ (Arbeitssicherheit und Gesundheitsschutz).

Why this new small-scale initiative?

Looking back at the work of the Learning Layers project in the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup we need to highlight that the co-design, development and pilot testing of Learning Toolbox (as support for apprentice training) became the core process. It was important to get the toolset ready for use and to find out, how it could at best be used once it had become a viable product. For this purpose it was necessary to focus on a limited number of trades with trainers who had become fit to introduce new tools in their training projects. This all worked, but there were several hurdles that couldn’t be overcome during the active period of the project. Also, the training schemes with digital media (the Theme Room training) couldn’t be continued parallel to the piloting. Finally, after the end of the project some other initiatives regarding the use of digital media came into picture. So, there was a need to see, how the Learning Toolbox could be put into a group picture with other web resources and/or other ways to use digital media.

In addition to the above it is worthwhile to note that the pilot testing of Learning Toolbox focused on apprentice training in selected trades – and on trade-specific projects. To some extent this effect could be bridged with joint projects between two neighbouring trades or by similar learning designs for a group of apprentices moving from its main trade to complementary projects from neighbouring trades. Yet, quite a number of trades remained in an outsider-position. From this point of view it was of interest for several trainers to join in a shared learning exercise that promotes the use of digital media and web resources (including the Learning Toolbox) within the common theme ‘health and safety’.

How are we working with the theme ‘health and safety’?

We have started by collecting (digital) learning materials that are being used for the theme ‘health and safety’ in a shared Dropbox folder and grouping it roughly into several sub-folders. Then we have started to develop a joint Moodle ‘course area’ (shared learning area) with the following ‘courses’ (focal areas):

  1. General learning materials (overarching web resources and/or cross-cutting themes)
  2. Domain-specific learning materials for the trades represented in the group
  3. Learning software options for training/learning in ‘health and safety’
  4. Learning designs to be developed with software favoured for specific purposes.

We have started only quite recently, so it is not appropriate to go any deeper at the moment. I will get back as soon as I can give a fresh update. But I can already report that I find the trainers’ engagement very positive and very encouraging. We are making progress in bringing the results of the Learning Layers project further to practice.

More blogs to come … 



What comes after “Learning Layers”? – Part One: The follow-up activities are taking shape

March 30th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

As the readers of this blog have observed, most of my posts since November 2012 have dealt with our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. However, now the Learning Layers project has been  completed and the final review has taken place (I blogged on this in January and February). During its active period (2012-2016) the project supported the introduction of digital media, web tools and mobile devices to support workplace learning. Our organisation ITB was in charge of the sectoral pilots in North German construction industry and craft trades. The ITB team worked mainly with the intermediate training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup and with the network for ecological construction work (NNB) in Verden. The main achievement of the construction pilot was the co-design, development and pilot testing of the “Learning Toolbox (LTB)” – an integrative toolset to support learning at work. The key activities and results reported by the ITB team are presented on the final website “Learning Layers Results”. So, now we have been moving on to follow-up activities.

By the end of the project the ITB team had started follow-up projects (funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education BMBF) with focus on training of construction site managers (DigiProB) and self-organised learning of adults in the context of ecological construction work (DieDa). After the Learning Layers the ITB team has also started several mini-pilots (on using the LTB) with interested construction companies and vocational education and training providers.

What have we learned in this transition phase?

Firstly, the transition has meant a step from a long-term project that engaged a Europe-wide consortium to small-scale follow-up initiatives. Secondly, it has meant a change of perspective from developing and testing new digital tools to a phase of adaptation of these tools and setting them to new contexts. Thirdly, it required a change of focus from solutions that could be scalable for wider exploitation to context-specific integration of digital media to company-specific work and business processes.

In this respect the cooperation that my ITB colleagues have been developing with some interested construction companies has been of interest. With one company (specialised in pipeline-building) they have agreed on a mini-pilot that starts with a one-week visit to analyse the needs, challenges and interests that provide the basis for introducing Learning Toolbox (and complementary solutions). With another company (specialised in wood constructions) they have found a possibility to link the Learning Toolbox to a complementary software solution (that focuses on domain-specific work processes). With both cases there is a challenge to bring the newer discussion on Building Information Modelling (BIM) closer to the work processes of skilled workers and construction site managers. And as we know from the pilot activities of Learning Layers, the Learning Toolbox was welcomed by construction professionals and apprentices as an appropriate toolset for learning in the context of work.

So, I wish my colleagues luck with their efforts to run their mini-pilots and to draft funding bids for new project proposals. In the meantime I am working with a parallel initiative with Bau-ABC trainers to promote digital media and web resources (including LTB) in the area of ‘health and safety’ (Arbeitssicherheit und Gesundheitsschutz). But that is already a topic for another blog post.

More blogs to come …


The Legacy of “Learning Layers” Construction Pilot – Part Two: Impact of project activities in Bau-ABC Rostrup

February 22nd, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I started writing about the legacy of our recently completed EU-project Learning Layers and its Construction pilot. With this post I completed on our behalf the homework given by the reviewers of the project to produce a more compressed summary that gives an overview what was tried, achieved and learned in project work. After finishing this overarching ‘legacy document’ I needed to take a more specific look at our achievements in joint project activities with the construction sector training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup. It appeared that our ‘Impact Cases’ on the web were short of the summaries on “Main Impact”. Now that I have completed these texts I found that they should also be presented as a more detailed account of the project work in, with and for a central application partner organisation.

Use of Learning Toolbox (LTB) by Bau-ABC Trainers and Apprentices

The Learning Toolbox grew out of the co-design process of an earlier prototype called Sharing Turbine.  The initial design idea was based on the digitisation of training and learning resources for apprentice projects during their initial training. This design idea evolved during the co-design process into an integrated toolset to provide access to tools and web resources and supports real-time knowledge sharing via mobile devices.


The Learning Toolbox was then developed as an integrative toolset (mobile app container and toolkit) to support learning in the context of work. It was piloted firstly in the North German training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup to support apprentice training in the construction sector. The piloting was based on stacks created by Bau-ABC trainers for short training projects in their trades (carpentry, bricklaying, well-building, metalworking, pipeline-building). The main impacts of the pilots were the following:

  • The trainers could shape their training project in a more flexible way. Some trainers developed joint projects for neighbouring trades (to highlight working interfaces). Some developed stacks with common patterns for parallel trades.
  • The trainers could make more prominent use of trade-specific online resources (e.g. their own trade-specific blogs).
  • The trainers could set their own accents for promoting self-organised learning among the apprentices. Some trainers emphasised problem-solving with a wide range of web resources to be searched. Others emphasised interest- and achievement-based expansion of resources that were made available in the course of learning process.


A more detailed picture of the pedagogic accents in the apprentice training is given in the Scenario document“Learning Toolbox (LTB) as Support for Action-Oriented Learning in the Apprentice Training of Bau-ABC – Instances of Change”.

Multimedia Training for and with Bau-ABC trainers

In the Learning Layers Construction pilot the project organised two Multimedia Training schemes for the training staff of the North German training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup. The first scheme was a generic Multimedia Training to support the trainers’ capability to create their trade-specific digital training and learning environments. The second scheme (the Theme Room Training) was initiated by the trainers to support wider use of digital media and web resources (and of Learning Toolbox) in Bau-ABC. The main impacts of the training schemes were the following:

  • As a main result of the first Multimedia training scheme the participating core group of Bau-ABC trainers created their trade-specific blogs (Zimmererblog, Maurerblog, Tiefbaublog, Brunnenbauerblog) that they used as repositories for digital training materials.
  • In the preparation of the Theme Room training the members of the core group developed themselves as peer tutors and multimedia trainers for construction sector professionals.
  • In the Theme Room training all Bau-ABC trainers developed their capability to use social media, digital learning contents and digital learning tools.
  • In the transition to piloting with the Learning Toolbox the members of the core group made focused use of digital learning tools (e.g. GoConqr) in their trade-specific stacks.


A more detailed insight into the Multimedia Training schemes is provided by the Methodology document “Training Interventions as Capacity-Building for Digital Transformation in Vocational Education and Training”.

– – –

I think that these short summaries (with pictures) give an overview what we achieved together in our project activities in the construction sector training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup. Based on this legacy we can work with further initiatives.

More blogs to come …

The Legacy of “Learning Layers” Construction Pilot – Part One: The project experience in a nutshell

February 22nd, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

During the last four years (2012-2016) I have mainly been writing on our ‘ongoing EU-project Learning Layers’. And during the last few weeks (since November 2016) I have been writing on the final reporting of the project. My latest series of posts was about the Final Review Meeting in January 2017 in Verden. Someone might think that I have said everything that there is to be said about the completed project. Yet, I do not share that view. As a matter of fact our reviewers challenges us to do some more homework. They asked us to prepare more compressed summaries (on the work packages) on what we tried to do, what we achieved and what we learned during the project. And they asked us to link the web documents on our ‘final deliverable’ website Also, the reviewers asked us to present some self-critical reflections on things that we could have done otherwise. (In my latest post I started thinking loud, what kind of answers we can give.)

Now that I have done my part of this extra homework I find it useful to present this ‘nutshell picture’ as a blog under the heading ‘Legacy of “Learning Layers” Construction Pilot”. I think that the following paragraphs give a genuine picture of what we tried to do and what we achieved – and what we learned in the Construction Pilot of the Learning Layers project.

Co-design approach and process dynamics

In the construction pilot the leading initiative in co-design work was started with the design idea of digitising training and learning materials in the training centre Bau-ABC (“Sharing Turbine”). This initiative was perceived as a key step to digitise vocational education, training and learning processes across the apprentice training in construction sector. In several iterations this design idea was transformed into the shaping of an integrative toolset (mobile app) that provides access to web resources, project documents and work- and learning-related contacts (“Learning Toolbox”). This process was shaped as a strongly user-oriented R&D dialogue that involved construction sector trainers (from Bau-ABC), technical partners (RayCom, CIMNE, Pontydysgu) and accompanying researchers (ITB).



References: The dynamics of the process and the contributions of different parties have been reported in the Methodology document Accompanying Research and Participative Design in the Pilot Activities with the Learning Toolbox (LTB)”.

Capacity-building and training model

In the construction pilot the initial interviews brought into picture a scattered landscape of separate digital tools and apps that were not considered appropriate as support for work-related learning. Alongside co-design workshops the project organised a generic Multimedia Training Scheme to support the Bau-ABC trainers’ capability to create their trade-specific digital training and learning environments. The key results of this phase were the trainers’ blogs (Zimmererblog, Maurerblog, Tiefbaublog, Brunnenbauerblog) that they used as their trade-specific repositories for digital training materials. Later on, a broader and more construction-focused training model – the Theme Room Training – was initiated by the trainers to support the use of digital media and web resources (and of Learning Toolbox) in Bau-ABC. The Theme Room Training was implemented in 2015 by the project team and it engaged all training staff of Bau-ABC.


References: The development of the capacity-building approach and training activities has been reported in the Methodology document “Training Interventions as Capacity-Building for Digital Transformation in Vocational Education and Training”. The impact has been presented in the Impact Case “Multimedia Training for and with Bau-ABC Trainers”.

A detailed report on the planning and implementation of the Theme Room Training is provided in the Master Thesis of Jaanika Hirv for the Tallinn University:

Hirv, J. (2016). Digital Transformation: Learning Practices and Organisational Change in a Regional VET Centre. Master’s thesis, TLU.

A detailed documentation on the development of the training schemes and a digital archive of the training materials is provided in the moodle-application ITB-Moodle. The “Theme Room Training 2015”.

Piloting with Learning Toolbox and peer tutoring

As a result of the co-design and tool development work in the construction pilot the Learning Toolbox was introduced in Bau-ABC to be used in their apprentice training in selected trades. For this purpose the responsible trainers created their own stacks for the respective training projects. When the apprentices moved to training periods in neighbouring trades, the trainers created further stacks for these projects. The following trades were covered: well-building (Brunnenbau), metalworking (Metalltechnik), pipeline-building (Rohrleitungsbau), carpentry (Zimmerer), bricklaying and masonry (Maurerwerk). Trainers of carpenters and bricklayers decided to create stacks for a joint project the draws attention to a working interface of the two trades. In addition, the shop steward for health and safety (Sicherheitsbeauftragte) started to develop a specific stack for training in this field.


References: The measures to introduce the Learning Toolbox into apprentice training in Bau-ABC and the immediate impact have been reported in the Impact Case Use of Learning Toolbox by Bau-ABC Trainers and Apprentices”.

Insights into pedagogic approaches of trainers and learning behaviour of apprentices are provided in the Scenario document Learning Toolbox (LTB) as Support for Action-Oriented Learning in Vocational Education and Training (VET)”.

Outreach activities and engagement of further users

Alongside the co-design and pilot testing activities the construction pilot has organised outreach activities to engage further users of the Learning Toolbox. Most of these contacts have led to very focused trade- and company-specific negotiations. A generic use case has been documented on the basis of Thomas Isselhard’s work as a construction site manager in Verden. Based on a workshop for craft trade companies (and on the presentation of Thomas Isselhard) the construction pilot outlined a scenario for craft trade companies and their collaboration with planners, authorities and parallel trades.


References: The model of using Learning Toolbox to coordinate the work of planners and different craft trade teams has been presented in the Scenarios and Models document Learning Toolbox as Support for Organisational Learning and Cooperation at a Construction Site in Verden – Instances of Change”.

The presentation of Thomas Isselhard’s has been recorded on two videos:

Video 1: LTB at Use on Construction Site in Verden – Thomas Isselhard’s Presentation

Video 2: LTB at Use by Companies – Discussion after Thomas Isselhard’s Presentation

Lessons learned

Concerning the strategic choices regarding co-design processes (to develop new tools to be tested and deployed during the project) vs. diffusion processes (to select existing mature tools to be piloted as a alternative or complementary action) the construction pilot team has concluded:

  1. The needs and expectations of the application partners could only have been met via participative co-design processes. Likewise, the capacity-building measures alongside the co-design were crucial to equip construction sector users with necessary digital competences.
  2. The co-design approach (to develop a flexible and integrative toolset “Learning Toolbox”) would have enabled earlier piloting with existing multimedia tools (to be integrated to the Learning Toolbox). Such complementary piloting in Bau-ABC would have been useful in the intermediate period between the two training schemes and as a preparation for the introduction of the Learning Toolbox.
  3. Complementary piloting with existing tools (alongside co-design of Learning Toolbox) could have been used as bridging measures to involve interested construction companies in pilot activities. Now the engagement of companies started only when the Learning Toolbox was ready for piloting.

– – –

I think this is enough of the general picture of Construction pilot and of the legacy of the intensive project years 2012-2016. However, in this context I have had a special chance to review the cooperation of our project team with our application partner organisation Bau-ABC Rostrup and the impact of our activities. I will focus on this in my next post.

More blogs to come …

Final Review of Learning Layers – Part Four: Questions, Challenges and Concluding Reflections

February 1st, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my three previous posts I have been writing a series of posts on the concluding event of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project – the Final Review. In the first post I explained how we came to the idea to organise the event primarily at the Norddeutsches Zentrum für Nachhaltiges Bauen ((NZNB) – North-German Centre for Ecological Construction Work in Verden, near Bremen). In the second post I focused on the contributions of the Construction Pilot – on our topics and how we presented our message (with poster wall, exploitation tables and presentation session). In the third post I focused on the comparisons between the Construction pilot and Healthcare pilot that I and Tamsin Treasure-Jones presented as tandem-presenters. In this fourth and concluding post I will discuss the overall picture of the meeting in the light of questions from the review panel, challenges posed for us regarding the finalisation of our work and further reflections to be presented in this context.

1) Questions on the contributions of the sectoral pilots and technical support activities

I start with the questions posed for Construction pilot team. As I see it, we were able to present a coherent story of participative co-design process, training activities and pilot testing that led to actual use of Learning Toolbox in the training of Bau-ABC Rostrup. Also, we could show that our partners in the ecological construction work are developing their own applications. The questions from the review panel were mostly posed to the practitioners – the Bau-ABC trainers Markus Pape and Stefan Wiedenstried. Markus and Stefan could inform of cases in which their trainers’ blogs and the Learning Toolbox were real support for the learning of apprentices. Concerning the conceptual interpretation of the pedagogic accents of trainers we had clarify a terminological confusion due to translation. (The metaphor ‘Learning toolbox as “well”‘ gave a different connotation as ‘source’ – two alternative translations for ‘Brunnen’.) Altogether, we could make the case that the use of pedagogy that promoted holistic view on the occupational tasks of the trade and empowerment of self-organised learners. Concerning the contribution of Bau-ABC and Netzwerk Nachhaltiges Bauen we got questions on the role of infrastructure, on the readiness of partner companies to work with internet and on the commitment to work with the tools. We could refer to several topics and to initiatives with which the organisations are already working.

Concerning the Healthcare pilot, the reviewers were keen to know more, what kinds of difficulties the pilot groups (with their respective tools) experienced, what kind of learning effects could be documented and how the integration of one of the tools (Living Documents) into widely used commercial software (Intradoc) is taking place. Also, the review panel was interested, how the transfer of Learning Toolbox from Construction pilot to healthcare education and to conferences is taking place.

Concerning the contributions of technical partners, the review panel was mainly interested to know. to what extent the overall infrastructure (WP 6) and the Social Semantic Server (WP5) were used by the pilots. Here, some examples could be mentioned that demonstrated that the tools were used in a common working environment. As regards the Learning Toolbox, Raymond Elfereink made the point that it was developed as a minimum viable product for active use. Therefore, the further steps of integration can be reached only at a later date.

2) Challenges for critical self-reflection on the process and results

On top of the specific questions on particular parts of the project the review panel had more overarching questions on the overall results of the project consortium. The way we had presented our results with an integrative website and supporting reports seemed to leave gaps of interpretation and unanswered questions. The reviewers wanted to get a deeper understanding on the reasons, what were the limits to our success (although the project made a serious effort) and what lessons should be learned for project work (on our side) and for terms of funding (at the level of funding policies). Here – without trying to give a complete answer – I would address the following points in the light of the Construction pilot:

a) Developing new software for, with and by the users: For the sake of argument some of the reviewers raised the question, whether it was realistic to introduce co-design and software development processes within the process? Could the project had worked on the basis of existing software solutions (by shaping IKEA-like package solutions)? Here all our experiences from the fieldwork speak for a user-oriented and user-engaging co-design process.  Commitment to such process and the engagement of users was crucial to the success with Learning Toolbox. During different phases of the process there was sufficient user engagement  to make sure that the toolset to became appropriate for the users.

b) Big software house or SME as the software development partner: Originally the Construction pilot was supposed to be supported by a big software house. However, after changes in the staff involved in the project, the software house was not willing to allocate developers that would engage themselves in the project. Instead they were insisting on using their ready-made products or getting specifications for piecemeal coding work (to be handed over to outsourced programmers). This was not compatible with the process dynamics with application partners. When the software house left the project, it was replaced by a an SME that was prepared to take a participative role in the co-design process. However, this change happened only after major administrative delays. Yet, only due to this change the Construction pilot got a flexible and integrative toolset that can be used in different contexts.

c) Was the time frame (in)sufficient for such of project or was the approach of the project (un)realistic for the time frame: To me these questions cannot be answered independently of the two above discussed points. As I see it, the given time frame would have enabled the Construction pilot team develop the Learning Toolbox to far more advanced stage. However, a considerable part of working time passed without effective technical support.  And after the change the Construction pilot had go through a ‘catching up’ period. In the meantime other partners involved in the process had been developing their ideas and requests. Yet, in the remaining time the Learning Toolbox could at best be developed into a viable product only by the beginning of the last year.

3) Questions on transfer processes and scaling up innovations

During the Review meeting the reviewers posed questions concerning the processes of adaptation, transfer and ‘scaling up’ of innovations? We were challenged to reflect in a self-critical ways what we had achieved and what not. Also, we were challenged to work harder with the lessons learned.  Here the reviewers were keen to understand, how the analysis of our experiences could help to develop future projects and funding criteria. Therefore, the issue was NOT,  what we should have known better already in the beginning phase. To me the important push was to reflect on the factors that have had influence on the transfer processes and on the aim to scale up innovations. Here, from the perspective of Construction pilot I raise the following points:

a) Getting out of the primary pilot contexts: In Construction sector the primary pilot context was an intermediate training centre and its training projects at their premises and outdoor areas. In this context we reached clear results that demonstrated the usability of the Learning Toolbox and positive impact on the learning of apprentices. Yet, based on this experience (alone) we could not see much takeup in enterprises. On the contrary, the interested companies were looking for a more overarching approach to use Learning Toolbox to coordinate their work plans, logistics and mutual adjustment of different trades’ work processes (+ related informal learning). Such processes do not happen as ‘transfer’ of prior practices but need intensive customisation. At present there are several negotiations going on with companies who want to start their own mini-pilots with Learning Toolbox.

b) The role of multiplier-organisations in the ‘scaling up’ of innovations: In Construction sector the best known showcases for using Learning Toolbox refer to training activities in Bau-ABC and to coordination of a construction site in Verden. In both types ‘champions’ of application partner organisations play a central role. However, getting beyond such cases (and the company initiatives mentioned above) requires further motivational assets for the craft trade companies to get interested. In this respect the NNB (Network for ecological construction work) has drawn attention to the competition Grüne Hausnummer (and its marketing value). Likewise, Bau-ABC is in a good position to promote awareness of health and safety (Arbeitssicherheit und Gesundheitsschutz) at workplace and with user-friendly tools and web resources. Both these examples show that we are proceeding via narrower ‘exploitation corridors’ rather than stepping on broad avenues during our exploitation journeys – but as I see it, there are no alternative ways forward.

– – –

I think this is enough for the moment. We have got some homework from the reviewers and we want to complete our working and learning process in this project properly. As we see it, we were promoting genuinely innovative processes that developed tools worth using. And our application partners got their hands on the tools and confirmed that they were worth using. This gives us a basis to look forward.

More blogs to come …

Final Review of Learning Layers – Part Three: Comparisons between and reflections on the pilot sectors

January 25th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my two previous posts I have started a series of posts on the concluding event of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project – the Final Review. In the first post I explained how we came to the idea to organise the event primarily at the Norddeutsches Zentrum für Nachhaltiges Bauen ((NZNB) – North-German Centre for Ecological Construction Work in Verden, near Bremen).  I then gave a picture of the arrangements on site and on the special agenda of Review Meeting (with interactive exhibition spaces as addition to traditional presentations). In the second post I focused on the contributions of the Construction Pilot – on our topics and how we presented our message (with poster wall, exploitation tables and presentation session). In this third post I will focus on the comparisons between the Construction pilot and Healthcare pilot that I and Tamsin Treasure-Jones presented as tandem-presenters. (In the agenda this was labelled with the title “Future of Learning in digital transformation of SMEs” – led by Graham Attwell. Here I will focus on our reflections on the two sectoral pilots and on our conclusions from cross-sectoral comparison.)

Interests, obstacles and challenges for digital transformation in the pilot sectors

Looking back at the project start we presented the following interests, obstacles and challenges that had a role in promoting or preveing digital transformation in the pilot sectors:

In the Construction sector:

  • Productivity of workforce was emphasised by the representatives of the umbrella organisation of the construction industry (Bauindustrieverband) as a major source of innovation to be be explored.
  • Several pioneering enterprises had introduced earlier digital tools but made negative experiences with non-mature technologies and less user-friendly software solutions.
  • Most construction companies had very restrictive policies regarding the use of mobile devices at construction sites – partly to avoid hazards due to lack of concentration, partly to ensure data protection and data privacy.
  • Most apprentices were not familiar with domain-specific apps and had mainly used to digital tools and Internet for private hobbies and interests.

In the Healthcare sector:

  • The pilot contexts were overshadowed by high workloads and high stakes. Therefore, time for reflection and learning was limited. Readiness for innovations was available, if one could foresee quick wins. The management representatives and staff were wary of technology that is not yet robust or fit for purpose.
  • There was an increasing emphasis to have more collaboration (between teams and SMEs in healthcare) but this tended to create new demands on staff time, information overload and slow down decision making.
  • In  the SMEs usage of digital technology was limited due to lack of WiFi and reliance on traditional desktop computing.

Co-design, capacity-building and user engagement in the pilot sectors

Looking back at the activities in the two sectoral pilots, we can summarise the somewhat different developments in the following way:

In the construction sector:

  • Participative Research & Development dialogue was primarily promoted in one central application partner organisation (Bau-ABC). It involved users (trainers & apprentices) and technical partners but was kept together by a supporting accompanying research team.
  • The co-design process was based on preliminary idea that was revised in an iterative process that prepared the grounds for shaping an integrative and flexible mobile toolset. During this process the Multimedia training schemes had a bridging role in carrying the process to next phases and in promoting the users’ web competences for the piloting.
  • Wider stakeholder engagement served the purpose of promoting the idea of an integrative toolset and getting new impulses and feedback for the co-design.

Co-design, capacity-building and user-engagement in healthcare:

  • Co-design process was shaped with three parallel design teams – involving different sets of users, researchers and software developers from different countries and organisations.
  • In general the activities were based on Design-Based Research process model and on several iterations. At the final phase of the processes they were reaching the stage of partial integration of originally separate tools.
  • Training was built in into co-design and pilot activities but it couldn’t integrate the pilot groups and bridge the gaps.
  • Pilots were extended to wider groups when initial user groups (involved in the design teams) encountered difficulties in making actual use of the tools in the context of work. Wider stakeholder engagement served the purpose of opening the piloting beyond the original co-design teams.

 Signs of transformative practice in the two sectoral pilots

Looking at the experiences in co-design, capacity building and using the tools in the two sectoral pilots, we can summarise the achievements as ‘signs of transformative learning’ in the following way:

In the construction sector

  • The Bau-ABC trainers’ work with their own domain-specific blogs and their project-specific stacks for Learning Toolbox helped them to create ownership of digital tools and confidence to use them. Likewise, the apprentices accepted the use of digital tools and web resources as welcomed enrichment of their learning practices.
  • Some Bau-ABC trainers used Learning Toolbox as an instrument to plan integrated training projects. In this way they could address working interfaces at construction. From the perspective of productivity and energy-efficiency these interfaces (e.g. in the work of bricklayers and carpenters) are of vital importance. Here the engagement of the two trades in joint projects (which require familiarisation in the other trade’s tasks) can be seen as a major step in  developing collaborative projects of different trades.
  • The presentation of Thomas Isselhard on Learning Toolbox in the coordination of work at a construction site (see Video 1 and Video 2) give a clear picture of the advantages of using Learning Toolbox by different parties.
  • Yet, the positive examples referred to need to be seen as ‘instances of change’ which require further support by management decisions and by engagement of further users (see the next point below).

In the healthcare sector

  • The workshops of the Healthcare pilots also managed to create ownership through co-design – such as the participants’ engagement with “our Bits & Pieces” applications.
  • The workshops facilitated moving from a culture of cooperative (externally coordinated) to collaborative (mutually coordinated) work – overcoming fears around change of own & others’ work.
  • The pilot activities enabled a wider group to act as developers of new ideas, not only as reviewers (of the usability of the tools).
  • Yet, the above mentioned  learning experiences in the project activities were not enough to overcome the hurdles in the organisational everyday life (see the next point below).

Lessons from the project work (altogether) in the two sectoral pilots

Lessons from construction pilot

  • Major part of the co-design, capacity-building and piloting activities took place in the training centre Bau-ABC. It was relatively easy to integrate the activities into the training projects. Also, given its various training activities Bau-ABC was in a position act as a multiplier-organisation in its various networks. This is also the case with the Verden-based Netzwerk Nachhaltiges Bauen ((NNB) – Network for Ecological Construction Work).
  • In the pilot activities the Learning Toolbox proved to be a flexible toolset that could be easily customised to support trade-specific learning as well as coordination of construction work at construction site.
  • Concerning the roll-out to construction companies, it has been essential to demonstrate the Learning Toolbox at the stage of ‘working tool in action’ to get construction companies start their own pilots. These, however require a greater degree of customisation and integration of ‘learning’ with the optimisation company-specific work and business processes.

Lessons from healthcare pilot

  • Major part of the co-design, capacity-building and piloting took place in General Practice stations – in which there was less time and space for introducing new tools and practices in the middle of daily work. In the exploitation phase it became clear that organisations that are responsible for education/training of healthcare professionals are in a better position to start the initial piloting.
  • The pilot activities in Healthcare sector focused on tools that were designed for collaborative use (across the organisation or particular networks or teams). It appeared that in many cases there was a risk of ending up with parallel processes (for those using the tools and those not getting involved) and therefore the use of tools could not be established as a general practice. In this respect the use of Learning Toolbox has been less dependent on the number of users within the organisation.
  • Also in the exploitation activities in Healthcare sector it has been important to have examples from using the tools in real work settings to facilitate transfer of innovation beyond the original contexts (the organisations involved in co-design activities).

– – –

I believe that this is enough of the comparisons between the two sectors. In my next post I will give a picture on the questions raised by our presentations, on the related discussion and on the feedback from reviewers.

More blogs to come …



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