Archive for the ‘Lifelong learning’ Category

Catching up with the Learning Layers news – Part One: Working with the Story of Year 3

August 20th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

My latest post on the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project was written just when I started my summer holidays. This year the holidays in North Germany (and in our application partner organisations) started relatively early. Therefore, when I/we were already on holidays, there was this and that happening at the consortium level and in other fields of work (in particular in the healthcare sector in UK). Therefore, it is appropriate to do some stock-taking to make sure that our fieldwork is fits in the plans of the consortium and takes into account the progress in the healthcare sector. With this post I try to summarise the recent discussions at the consortium level – mainly on the preparation for the Year Three review and the implications for our fieldwork. In the next post I will have a look at the recent progress of the LL work in the healthcare sector.

The first steps of the recent discussions were already taken in the Consortium meeting in Tallinn (in June 2015, see my earlier blogs). Already there we agreed that we should try to make our contributions for the Year Three review meeting more coherent. The plan was to put integrated stories of LL work in both pilot sectors (healthcare and construction sectors) into the centre. In a similar way we should make visible the progress in tool development and implementation with integrated demonstrations (linked to the stories). Parallel to this we should reduce the number of deliverables into five thematic reports (and indicate, how the work of eight work packages is represented in them).

During the summer meetings these plans have been developed further and they have some implications for the tool development and fieldwork in the construction sector:

1) Concerning integration of technologies we have the challenge to show how the infrastructural solution (“Layers box”) and the integrative tool set (“Learning toolbox” – LTB) can be implemented in application partner organisations (such as the training centre Bau-ABC and the Agentur).

2) Concerning the integration of tools we have the challenge show, how the integrative tools set (LTB) enables us to use different LL tools and apps (and third party apps) in working and learning contexts (such as the Bau-ABC training projects).

3) Concerning the context-specific use of tools we have the challenge to make progress with trainers and learners so that they are able to create their own LTB-stacks to guide and implement training projects.

4) Concerning capacity building we have the challenge to make progress in implementing the Bau-ABC training model (the “Theme rooms”) that caters for organisation-wide engagement of staff to become well-informed and active users of LL tools in their work.

5) Concerning evaluation activities we have the challenge to arrange the collection of real-time evaluation data and reflection on the processes during an intensive field test phase.

Obviously, we have all agreed on the general direction and there has been progress along these lines both at the level of tool development and in user engagement. Yet, we can see that there are technical issues, coordination issues and time constraints that we need to take into account when we start working with the field activities. But, knowing what has already been achieved, gives us a good starting position.

I guess this is enough on this topic. In my next post I will look at the progress in the healthcare sector.

More blogs to come …


Learning from Finnish campaigns for sustainable development – Part 2: Sustainability of apprentice training in discussion

April 8th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I discussed with some length a topic that is seemingly remote to our EU-funded project Learning Layers (LL): The Finnish campaigns to promote sustainable development via sustainability commitments. I promised to get back to the relevance of such commitments to the LL project in a later blog. In this post I will discuss the sustainability issue from the perspective of apprentice training – using the different situations in Germany and in Finland as a starting point and then proceeding to campaigns to promote the sustainability of apprentice training Then I will discuss the importance of LL pilots in construction sector – both in Germany and in Finland – in this context.

1.  Sustainability issues in apprentice training – the cases of Germany and Finland

Apprentice training in Germany (the dual system of apprentice training) has traditionally been the flagship model of vocational education and training (VET). This tradition has been deeply rooted in economy, educational policy, labour market relations and working culture. In particular in the construction sector Germany has opted for high-skilled workforce, to be obtained via apprentice training. This, however has been challenged via academic drift (young people opting for studies rather than career as skilled worker) and by competition from semi-skilled or low-skilled workforce (external companies, migrant workforce etc.). Therefore, already for several years the educational policy debates have been concerned about the sustainability of apprentice training (and the reliance on skilled workforce). This has given rise to different initiatives and support measures to promote the sustainability of apprentice training (see below).

Apprentice training in Finland has had a relatively marginal position vis-à-vis the dual system of apprenticeship in Germany. Mainly this is due to the late and rapid industrialisation in Finland in the post-war reconstruction era (after the World War II). During that period a wide network of school-based vocational education institutes was built in different parts of Finland to attract expanding industries and services to all parts of the country. In this context industries tended not to engage themselves with initial vocational education but to cater for (formal or informal) continuing training. In the 1990s there was a shift in emphasis to enhance the role of workplace learning in initial VET and revitalise apprentice training (mainly as an option for working adults without formal qualifications to obtain them via on-the-job-training). Quite recently these hitherto separate policies have been combined in pilot projects that enable flexible transition from school-based VET to apprentice training (within the same curricular framework – see below). Also in this case there is an issue, whether the Finnish VET system can compete with the academic drift and ensure such quality of young workforce that can compete against low-cost companies  that tend to rely on lowly skilled workforce.

2. Campaigns for promoting the sustainability of apprentice training

Centralised campaigns for providing sufficient apprentice training opportunities in Germany: Since apprentice training is the main model of VET in Germany, there is a constant concern, whether there are sufficiently apprentice training opportunities and whether these opportunities have been utilised by young people. During the last decade the federal policy makers have introduced new kinds of campaigns in the form of central agreements on apprentice training opportunities (Ausbildungspakt) between government bodies and the Social Partners (= employers’ confederations and trade unions). These agreements (usually for a three-year period) cover a range of nation-wide measures to be taken by public authorities and by the Social Partners to provide better frameworks and possibilities to meet current bottlenecks in the training markets. Yet, there is quite a distance between these measures and the actual implementation in local, regional and sectoral contexts.

Targeted campaigns for raising awareness of apprenticeship as an option: Since the role of apprentice training in the national VET system is not so prominent as in Germany, the central government and the Social Partners have not engaged themselves in such measures. Instead, the campaigning has been a matter for the local/regional agencies for apprentice training (that function as brokers between young people, industries and vocational schools). Their campaigns have been efforts to raise awareness of apprenticeship as option for particular target groups and for interested employers (and to engage the vocational schools). Altogether, this has been more a matter of finding the niche areas and interested partners than contributing to the sustainability of the whole system of VET.

3. The contribution of the LL pilots to the sustainability issues in construction sector

In the light of the above it is interesting to compare, how the pilots of the LL project in construction sector fit to this picture of sustainability issues of apprentice training.

The contribution of the German pilot with Learning Toolbox (LTB) to the sustainability issue in the German construction sector is related to the following questions:

  • Can the LTB help the apprentices and skilled construction workers to master their tasks, mobilise their knowledge resources and communicate effectively in problem-situations?
  • Can the use of LTB help them to become better aware of their know-how, learning progress and challenges yet to meet?
  • Can a wider use of such tools help to overcome some negative images of construction work and to highlight the aspects of knowledge work in the construction trades?

Altogether these questions are related to a general effort to enhance the learning, know-how and co-participation of skilled workers as a part of the sustainability of highly skilled  workforce in construction sector.

The contribution of the Finnish pilot with the video annotation tool AchSo! is a narrower pilot regarding the entire set of issues indicated above. Yet, it focuses on the documentation of learners’ progress in workplace learning – which has so far been the Achilles’ heel in all collaboration between school-based VET and workplace learning. And in the current situation the effective use of LL tools can increase the trust of all parties on the flexible transition from school-centred to apprenticeship-based vocational learning.

I think this is enough at the moment. In my next post I will discuss the relevance of the Sustainability Commitments for the development of apprentice training and for the scaling up of LL pilots.

More blogs to come …


Back at work – facing the challenges of the new year 2015

January 22nd, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

So, after a lengthy holiday break I am back at work. As usual, when being one of the last ones to return from the holidays, you get overwhelmed by things that are on the move and you have to jump into running trains. With the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project we are doing the homework that we got from the Year 2 review meeting – preparing a Critical path Analysis. Partly within this process and partly alongside it we are finalising our plans for the year 2015.

The Critical Path Analysis was recommended by the reviewers to clarify our priorities (what is taken on board in the critical paths) and to specify our approach to less critical activities (sandboxing them as reserve activities). In many respects this has pointed out to be useful since this is not merely a routine updating of the work plan. Instead, the analysis has pushed us to become more aware of the key activities for the whole project and to find synergies between them. Due to this task we are getting clearer about the synergies at the level of software development, technology packages, linked services and framework tools etc.

While we are working with this task we are preparing proposals for conferences and plans for field activities. Furthermore, it is one of the key features of the LL project that we are looking for opportunities for transfer projects and opportunities to exploit the results alongside the project work. So, this all keeps us busy at the moment.

More blogs to come …

The challenges of open data: emerging technology to support learner journeys

September 1st, 2014 by Graham Attwell

It is the end of the holidays and time to return back to work. And of course with September starts the autumn conference season. This week I am at the ALT C Conference at Warwick University and then at the European Conference for Educational Research in Porto. More on The ECER conference later.

At Alt C we are organising a workshop on the UKCES open data project (abstract below). And we will also have an exhibition stand. So if you are coming to the conference make sure to drop by the stand – No 16 in the Arts Centre – free coffee and sweets! and say hello.

The challenges of open data: emerging technology to support learner journeys

People make important decisions about their participation in the labour market every year. This extends from pupils in schools, to students in Further and Higher education institutions and individuals at every stage of their career and learning journeys. Whether these individuals are in transition from education and/or training, in employment and wishing to up-skill, re-skill or change their career, or whether they are outside the labour market wishing to re-enter, high quality and impartial labour market information (LMI) is crucial to effective career decision-making. LMI is at the heart of UK Government reforms of careers service provision. Linking and opening up careers focused LMI to optimise access to, and use of, core national data sources is one approach to improving that provision as well as supporting the Open Data policy agenda (see HM Government, 2012). Careers focused LMI can be used to support people make better decisions about learning and work and improve the efficiency of labour markets by helping match supply with demand, and helping institutions in planning future course provision.

A major project, funded by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, is underway led by a team of data experts at the Institute for Employment Research (University of Warwick) with developers and technologists from Pontydysgu and Raycom designing, developing and delivering a careers LMI webportal, known as LMI for All. The presentation will focus on the challenge of collaborating and collecting evidence at scale between institutions and the social and technological design and development of the database. The database is accessed through an open API, which will be explored during the presentation.

Through open competition developers, including students in FE, have been encouraged to develop their own applications based on the data. Early adopters and developers have developed targeted applications and websites that present LMI in a more engaging way, which are targeted at specific audiences with contrasting needs.The web portal is innovative, as it seeks to link and open up careers focused LMI with the intention of optimising access to, and use of, core national data sources that can be used to support individuals make better decisions about learning and work. It has already won an award from the Open Data Institute.

The presentation will highlight some of the big data and technological challenges the project has addressed. It will also look at how to organise collaboration between institutions and organisations in sharing data to provide new services in education and training.Targeted participants include developers and stakeholders from a range of educational and learning settings.

The session will be interactive with participants able to test out the API, provide feedback and view applications.

Developing the capacity to mdoernise workplace learning

June 21st, 2014 by Graham Attwell

I like Jane Hart’s work on learning in organisations. And I like this presentation on 20 small changes to modernise the workplace learning experience. However, I am not so sure that the changes she advocates are so small. True each one on its own may represent just a small step forwards. But to be effective the changes need to be taken together. And that requires a big change on organisational practice. Many, if not most, organisations, especially Small and Medium Enterprises do not have the capacity to take these steps. That is why in the Learning Layers project we see capacity building as central to developing technology supported informal learning in SMEs. Capacity involves the confidence and competence of trainers and others who support learning, the understanding and support of managers, the physical infrastructure and perhaps most critically the culture of organisations.
We are working to produce an ‘e-learning readiness tool’ to help organisations assess where they are in termsn of capacity and plan the steps they need to take in order to develop tehir capacity. I will publish a draft of the tool in the next few weeks if anyone is interested.

Using technology to support informal learning in SMEs

June 11th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

Last week was the deadline for submissions to the Online Educa Berlin 2014 conference. I like Online Educa. If nothing else, it is a great end of year opportunity to catch up with colleagues and friends from around the world. And it is also a great opportunity to engage in wider dialogues around the work we are doing. Online Educa has for some years been experimenting with the format of sessions and attempting to introduce more interaction, rather than just slides and talk. This year they are limiting presenters to just five slides. And they have asked everyone submitting a proposal to send  short video describing their proposed session.

So here is my video. It is based on the work we are doing in the EU funded Learning Layers project, developing and implementing technologies for informal learning in Small and Medium Enterprises.

Learning literacies do not come free with the latest technology

May 21st, 2014 by Graham Attwell

I have always liked David White’s ideas about digital visitors and residents. And in the training sessions we run we find an increasing individual differentiation in people;s confidence and competence in using digital technologies. In this video David White (@daveowhite, of the University of Oxford explains how the Visitors and Residents model provides a framework to understand individuals’ engagement with the Web based on motivation and context. In part 1 of this series, he argues that the metaphors of ‘place’ and ‘tool’ best represent the use of technology in contemporary society and allow us to better adapt to the challenges of new forms of academic practice.

What is happening with Learning Analytics?

April 7th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

I seem to be spending a lot of time looking at the potential of various technologies for supporting learning at work. I am not talking here about Virtual Learning Environments. In the construction industry we are looking at how mobile devices can be used to support learning and knowledge sharing between the different contexts of the vocational school, the industrial training centre and the workplace. And through the Employ-ID project we are looking at how to support continuing professional development for workers in public employment organisations across Europe.

None of these is particularly easy. Pedagogically we looking at things like co0counselling and at MOOCs for professional development. And another target on our horizon is Learning Analytics. Like so many things in technology advanced learning, Learning Analytics launched with a big fanfare, then seems to haver sunk under the surface. I was excited by the potential of using data to support learning and wanted to get in there. But there seems to be a problem. Like so often, rather than looking to use the power of Learning Analytics to support learners and learning, institutions have hijacked the application as a learning management tool. Top of the list for UK universities at least is how to reduce drop out rates (since this effects their funding). Rather than look at the effectiveness of teaching and learning, they are more interested in the efficiency of their approach (once more to save money).

So we are back where we have been so many times. We have tools with a great potential to support learners, but institutional managerialism has taken over the agenda. But perhaps I am being overly pessimistic and looking for information in the wrong places. If anyone can point me to examples of how to use Learning Analytics to support real learning please post below.

NB. Another issue concerning me is how to tell users what data we are collecting and how we are using it. Once more, does anyone have any pointers to good practice in this respect


Survey on online learning in the UK

January 14th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

The Guardian newspaper has published the headline results of an interesting survey of people in the UK, undertaken in conjunction with the Open University. I’ll comment on a few of the findings.

48% of (presumably those with degrees) stated that they felt their degree has been beneficial in terms of getting a job in today’s economic climate. And that leaves a somewhat surprising 52% who felt their degree had not helped them get a job! Over 50% of 18-24 year olds feel obliged to get additional qualifications – once more possibly casting doubt of the value of an initial degree, especially given how expensive higher education is in the UK.

39% if those who have spent time developing their skills have done so online and one in five people have done or are currently doing an online course. However 45% said they would only consider doing an online course if it led to an official certificate and only 8% had heard of MOOCs.

This leads to a lot of questions. Sadly the original data – including the wording of the questions is not available on the Guardian web site. It would also be important to know more about how the sample was selected. And whilst the form of the presentation is graphically engaging, I am not sure how useful such headlines are for serious research.The Guardian has published the survey to Extreme Learning, “a special series run in association with the Open University, which will examine how online learning is evolving – and what this means for students, lecturers and universities.”

The problem with the launch article is that they appear to be conflating online learning with MOOCs and then using current academic and press scepticism about MOOCs with the future of online learning. I suspect that after the MOOC hype dies down MOOcs will become another a regular part of the online learning scene. But they will be by no means the only part. And once more depending on how the sample was selected, its seems to me more remarkable that 8% of the population has heard about MOOCs rather than the 92 per cent who had not.

The accreditation issue is concerning. Here i have only questions. To what extent is it the case that employers do not recognise learning achievement without certification and to what extent is that a perception by learners. If it is so, is this a cultural peculiarity of the UK, or a wider phenomenon (I know that in Spain everything seems to have a certificate). What chance does this give for initiatives like Mozilla badges to take off and what would they have to do to get badges (socially) recognised.

I hope the Guardian and the Open University will move on to consider other forms of online learning. In particular I would hope they think about informal and self directed learning which is probably more important than all the online university courses put together. And I hope too they look at work based and vocational learning, rather than just focusing on university courses.




The Erasmus Plus programme, innovation and policy in Europe

December 19th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

We sometimes forget the role of politicians and policy makers as major stakeholders in education and training. Yet decisions, particularly at the level of structures, qualifications and funding have a major say in how education and training is provided in different regions and countries.

Despite the limitations on their power in the filed of education and training, in the last two decades the European Commission has come to play a major role through their sponsorship of various funding programmes. Probably the most important has been the Lifelong Learning Programme (LLP), sponsored by the DG Education and Culture. The LLP, which ended earlier this year has funded a series of sub programmes for projects and exchanges for higher education, vocational education and training , schools and adult education, with a transversal programme around policy, language learning and the use of technology for learning. And although sometimes seemingly over bureaucratic, in general the programme has worked well.

The major thrust of the LLP, as the name suggests, has been to promote innovation and social inclusion for lifelong learning. At the same time exchange programmes like Erasmus and language projects and the development of a European educational credit programme have promoted mobility and discourse between institutions, teachers and learners.

Now the EU has adopted a new programme, called Erasmus Plus. Although claiming to be a continuation and further development to the previous programmes, Erasmus Plus is very different. Apart from lip service, at first glance (of the over 200 page guidelines) there appears little focus on lifelong learning. With limited exceptions, innovation and the exchange of best practice also no longer appear to be a priority for Europe. Instead the major focus is on individual exchanges visits between institutions and institutions and companies. It is not difficult to guess why. The European Union is panicking at the level of youth unemployment and the potential instability this may cause. And to ameliorate the impact of youth unemployment they are diverting resources into producing temporary education and training opportunities. Spending on education and training is not a bad answer to the economic crisis. Indeed it is noticeable that whilst the UK and many other European countries have been cutting back on education spending and provision, Germany has been increasing the number of university places as a reaction to the crisis. However I cannot help thinking that the new Erasmus Plus programme is a short term answer and that moving away from proper funding of innovation and the development of new practices and pedagogies of teaching and learning represents a retrograde move. Of course, the LLP and successor programmes were only ever supposed to be additional and transnational programmes, on top of national and regional initiatives and funding. But the reality has been that in the face to such severe cutbacks in expenditure of educational research and development they have become an important source of funding for educational innovation in many European States.

It is possible that I am not properly understanding the new programme. I hope so. But at least on first reading, it seems to be a reaction to many different and countering lobby groups, with concessions made to the strongest of the lobbies. The only hope is that as it is put into action, some coherence and sense may emerge.


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    The future of libraries

    The NMC Horizon Project, an ongoing research project designed to identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have an impact on teaching, learning, and creative inquiry has released its library edition. Six key trends, six significant challenges, and six important developments in technology are identified across three adoption horizons over the next one to five years, giving library leaders and staff, they say, a valuable guide for strategic technology planning.

    The NMC Horizon Report > 2015 Library Edition identifies “Increasing Value of the User Experience” and “Prioritization of Mobile Content and Delivery” as short-term impact trends driving changes in academic and research libraries over the next one to two years. The “Evolving Nature of the Scholarly Record” and “Increasing Focus on Research Data Management” are mid-term impact trends expected to accelerate technology use in the next three to five years; and “Increasing Accessibility of Research Content” and “Rethinking Library Spaces” are long-term impact trends, anticipated to impact libraries for the next five years or more.

    Online Educa Berlin

    Are you going to Online Educa Berlin 2014. As usual we will be there, with Sounds of the Bazaar, our internet radio station, broadcasting live from the Marlene bar on Thursday 4 and Friday 5 December. And as always, we are looking for people who would like to come on the programme. Tell us about your research or your project. tell us about cool new ideas and apps for learning. Or just come and blow off steam about something you feel strongly about. If you would like to pre-book a slot on the radio email graham10 [at] mac [dot] com telling us what you would like to talk about.


    Diana Laurillard, Chair of ALT, has invited contributions to a consultation on education technology to provide input to ETAG, the Education Technology Action Group, which was set up in England in February 2014 by three ministers: Michael Gove, Matthew Hancock and David Willetts.

    The deadline for contributions is 23 June at

    Social Tech Guide

    The Nominet Trust have announced their new look Social Tech Guide.

    The Social Tech Guide first launched last year, initially as a home to the 2013 Nominet Trust 100 – which they describe as a list of 100 inspiring digital projects tackling the world’s most pressing social issues.

    In  a press relase they say: “With so many social tech ventures out there supporting people and enforcing positive change on a daily basis, we wanted to create a comprehensive resource that allows us to celebrate and learn from the pioneers using digital technology to make a real difference to millions of lives.

    The Social Tech Guide now hosts a collection of 100’s of social tech projects from around the world tackling everything from health issues in Africa to corruption in Asia. You can find out about projects that have emerged out of disaster to ones that use data to build active and cohesive communities. In fact, through the new search and filter functionality on the site, you should find it quick and easy to immerse yourself in an inspiring array of social tech innovations.”

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