Archive for the ‘online learning’ Category

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 …


Constructing learning

March 7th, 2017 by Graham Attwell













Interesting report in the Jisc email. They say:

“Blended learning (the merging of technology and face-to-face) involves learners in the construction of their own learning. But a recent survey by Sheffield Hallam University showed that there’s inconsistency in learners’ experiences of this – a concern likely shared across the country.

Students also said that they expected the majority of their learning to be supported by an online platform. As a result, Sheffield Hallam University has created a set of “minimum expectations” for their teaching staff to encourage them to publish learning resources online, give online assessment feedback and use social media for student-staff collaboration.”

Without having read the full report from Sheffield, I wonder how much learners on blended learning programmes really are involved in the construction of their own learning and how they are supported in that process. It is also interesting to see the university turning to social media for student staff collaboration. Guess I need to read the report!



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 …



Final Review of Learning Layers – Part Two: Presentations on the Construction Pilot

January 24th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I started a series of posts on the concluding event of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project – the Final Review. I also 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 and the agenda of Review Meeting and how we made use of the spaces provided by the NZNB to present our work in a more dynamic and dialogue-oriented way. In this post I focus on our reporting on the Construction Pilot – what we reported and how we presented our message (taking into account the different arrangements we had prepared before the review panel arrived.

Construction Pilot: Exhibition space and presentation session

We started our contributions with a ‘guided tour’ round the Exhibition space of the Construction Pilot and the first station was the Poster Wall that presented the story of construction sector pilot activities (with focus on Bau-ABC Rostrup. The poster wall consisted of nine posters that presented the different phases of co-design processes, training measures and emerging impact (the vertical columns). However, when reading the horizontal rows, the story became an integrated picture on mutually supporting activities that paved the way for increasing involvement of the users (Bau-ABC trainers) and demonstrated how they became owners of their own multimedia learning and of the use of Learning Toolbox in vocational training (in their trades and in joint initiatives). Below the screenshots give an impression of the poster wall:


Screenshot 1: Posters on co-design processes, training and expectations at an early phase of the project


Screenshot 2: Posters on progress with co-design, training and using tools in the interim phases


Screenshot 3: Posters on co-design (by users), training results and getting feedback on tools in the advanced phase

At this stage two Bau-ABC trainers – Markus Pape of the carpenters and Stefan Wiedenstried of the road-builders – had joined us and could answer to questions concerning their role in the pilot and on their experiences on using their trainers’ blogs and the Learning Toolbox in their training activities. With an additional poster Melanie Campbell highlighted the impact of Learning Layers activities at the organisational level and the steps that Bau-ABC has taken towards shaping its own Digital Agenda. Also, on the follow-up activities she had a separate poster to present the DigiProB project in continuing vocational training as a successor activity.

The exploitation tables: Start-up initiatives and successor projects

The next station in the ‘guided tour’ were the two exploitation tables. The first one presented the start-up companies that take the work of Learning Layers further on commercial basis. Here, the most important for us is the Bremen-based “” that has been founded by the developers of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) to support the use of the tool. After the project it will be the main partner for the follow-up activities that will use LTB. In the second table the reviewers got an overview of different UK- and German-based follow-up projects in which LTB is being used. Also, they got information on current talks with companies that want to start using LTB independently of publicly funded projects.

The presentation session: Insights into changing practices in training/learning and into evaluation studies

In the presentation session Lars Heinemann emphasised that the capacity-building in multimedia and web competences needed to get integrated into the pedagogy based on action-oriented learning (Handlungsorientiertes Lernen). He pointed to the evidence already provided by the Bau-ABC trainers. In the subsequent presentation Markus Manhart provided insights into the findings of evaluation studies concerning the following aspects: a) Challenges and barriers, b) Changes in learning and working practices and c) Enhancement of pedagogy in training. Here, the two Bau-ABC trainers could give further examples on their own use of Learning Toolbox and on the impact on the learning behaviour and motivation of apprentices. In the final presentation Thomas Isselhard presented an example on the use of Learning Toolbox in the marketing of good quality construction work in the competition “Grüne Hausnummer” (Green label on the quality of ecological and energy-efficient construction work).

– – –

I think this is enough of the presentations on the construction pilot. Altogether, my impression was that we gave a coherent and genuine picture of serious efforts to achieve results. The contributions from the evaluation studies supported the picture that was given by the application partners and the accompanying researchers – the Learning Toolbox was becoming a tool that was appreciated by the users (alongside the trainers’ blogs that emerged as a result of the Multimedia training initiated by the project)- However, for further steps they needed further steps at the level of their own organisations and network partners. Yet, the interested partner organisations were taking initiatives to start their own pilots. Given this picture, we were in a good position to compare the results and learning experiences between the two sectoral pilots.

More blogs to come …

My journey with Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB) – Part Six: The expedition with the Learning Layers (2012-2016)

December 11th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous posts I started to write a serious of blogs with the heading “My journey with Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB)”. These blogs are intended to support the work (or follow-up) of the ITB “Klausurtagung” that will take place on Friday 9. December 2016.  The inspiration to write personal blogs that deal with the history of ITB comes from the Klausurtagung 2015. With this series I try to compensate my absence due to health issues and to pass a message, wah has happened at different times and with different themes. In the first post I tried to cover my first encounters –  my study visit in 1989 and participation in the Hochschultage Berufliche Bildung 1990 conference. In the second post I gave insights into the Modellversuch Schwarze Pumpe and to related European cooperation projects 1995 – 1999. In the third post I discussed the Europrof project, the Unesco International TVET meeting in Hangzhou 2004 and its follow-up. In the fourth post I discussed the  TTplus project and the European Consultation seminars in the years 2007 – 2010. In the fifth blog I discussed the  Work & Learning Partners (2005-2006) and the Euronet-PBL (2009-2010). In this sixth and final post I will discuss the expedition with the Learning Layers project (2012 – 2016).

Here, it is worthwhile to emphasise that this ‘journey’ has taken me and my ITB colleagues through different periods of European cooperation. Not all of our efforts have been that successful. Yet, we have achieved respectable results and we have learned a lot. It is also important to emphasise that there is a strong continuity with underlying theoretical concepts and guiding principles for R&D activities (participation, dialogue and social shaping – all in one word: Gestaltung). With this interim conclusion I try to give a nutshell picture of the latest leg of the journey – our expedition with the EU-funded Learning Layers project (on which I have been blogging the last four years).

The starting points of the Learning Layers project

Thae Learning Layers (LL) project was funded by the 7th Framework Programme of Research, Technology and Development of the European Uninon (EU FP7). The aim was to support informal learning in the context of work and organisations by using digital tools, web resources and mobile devices. Special emphasis was given on addressing SMEs (and their networks) as users and to scale up innovations during the project. As a contrast to the previous projects discussed in this series of blogs, our (= ITB) starting position was completely different:

  • Firstly, the previous projects had mainly been initiated and/or led by ITB and carried out with a partnership that we new of the vocational education and training (VET) research community.  In the Learning Layers project we joined in a consortium that was led by research institutions from the fields of educational technology, software solutions, knowledge management and infrastructure architectures. Pontydysgu had made the contact between us and the emerging project consortium.
  • Secondly, the project plan had initially envisaged only one field for piloting (the healthcare sector in England, represented by General Practice stations affiliated with the National Health Service, supported in the project by Leeds University). In the final phase of the preparations the construction sector from Germany (supported by ITB) was included into the project plan as the second field for piloting.
  • Thirdly. the project concept was relying on a good synchronisation of different contributions from the technical partners in a co-design process, so that the users could easily take up the tools (with the support of an integrated scaffolding model). In this concept there was no clear pre-defined role for us (other than coodination fo the sectoral activities with the application partners in the German construction sector.

The above mentioned plan and project concept were reflected in the set of work packages in which we found our role primarily in the WP7 (deployment and promotion of LL tools in the pilot sectors). However, during the project the ‘cards were mixed and redistributed’ in the processes of co-design, tool development and bringing them to users.

The starting points of the construction pilot

Looking back, the starting point for the construction pilot was somewhat similar as the earlier educational pilot projects (Modellversuche) and the innovation programme on Work and Technology (Arbeit und Technik). Obviously, we could consider that our role was similar to the accompanying research (Begleitforschung). Yet, we had to start with a relatively open research agenda visà-vis the predecessor projects. And, compared to our colleagues in the healthcare sector (Leeds University) we both had an intermediate position between the technical partners and the application partners. Ye, in the course of the project, the pilot activities and our roles developed into somewhat different directions. I will try to summarise the points below:

  • As a contrast to the Modellversuche or the AuT programme, the accompanying research team of ITB could not take a pedagogic pilot concept and related working hypotheses (Versuchshypothesen) or explicit programme goals (AuT-Gestaltungsziele) as points of reference.
  • Concerning the project concept, the accompanying research team had to take an intermediate and interpretative role regarding the achievement of project goals in the context of apprentice training and within organisational learning in construction sector.
  • Concerning the co-design processes, the healthcare pilot worked with three parallel design ideas (and emerging tools) towards a integrative approaches. This process was supported by separate tool development teams of technical partners. In the construction pilot the overarching design idea went through two iterations before the co-design work took the course towards an integrative toolset – the Learning Toolbox. This development process was prepared jointly by the application partners, research partners and intermediate partners, whilst the technical partners joined in later.

In this respect the accompanying research team in the construction pilot had to reconsider its tasks and contributions and to take new roles in the course of the project work.

The R&D dialogue in Bau-ABC – the iterative process

In the co-design process in Bau-ABC (intermediate training centre of of North-German construction industry) was to digitise the Bau-ABC White Folder (collection of training materials, worksheets and reporting documents) and the related training and learning processes. In the initial phase the ITB team engaged heavily Bau-ABC trainers and apprentices by work process analyses and storyboard workshops to identify potential points of intervention (for using digital tools). In the subsequent co-design workshops a lot of attention was paid on haping the tools in such a way that they support vocational learning – and reflective learning. However, in two iteration cycles the joint conclusions was reached to give up the over-ambitious digitisation agenda. Instead, the course was taken to develop a flexible and integrative toolset – the Learning Toolbox – to provide access to web resources, to create own resources and to share knowledge and communicate in real time.

Immediately after this shift into new phase the ITB team together with the LTB developers and colleagues from Bau-ABC started outreach activities that engaged more construction sector professionals and apprentices in discussions on the emerging toolset – on the elementary functions and what could be added upon. These talks were carried out in the Brunnenbauertage trade fair (in Bau-ABC), in the Demo Camp workshop event (also in Bau-ABC) and in the NordBau trade fair (in Neumünster). Also, a closer cooperation with the first interested construction companies was started at this phase.

The training schemes as capacity building and contribution to tool development

Already before the abve mentioned shift in the co-design process the partners in the construction pilot had agreed to start a multimedia training scheme for the trainers in Bau-ABC. The first scheme was developed step by step to equip the participants with basic multimedia competences and capability to assess possibilities for using existing apps or tools and for co-creating and co-developing new ones. In this context the Bau-ABC trainers started working with their domain-specific blogs (Zimmererblog, Maurerblog, Tiefbaublog, Brunnenbauerblog) and to develop them into repositories of their own training materials and supporting content. After the first multimedia training the Bau-ABC trainers (who had participated) produced series of videos pointing to specific contexts for using the toolset to optimise work processes and to support workplace-based learning.

In the next phase a more overarching training programme, based on the “Theme Room” concept (initiated by Bau-ABC trainers) was implemented as a ‘whole organisation’ campaign involving all  training staff of Bau-ABC. The training scheme consisted of four Friday afternoon workshops in November 2015 with focus on two main themes – ‘Use of Social Media’ and ‘Production/Use of Digital Learning Materials’ – with two workshops for each theme. The training staff in Bau-ABC (Rostrup) was divided into four parallel groups (and a fifth group in the branch centre Mellendorf). Each group was tutored by one Bau-ABC trainer and a researcher from ITB team. Altogether this campaign gave a strong push for using digital tools, and web resources in the apprentice training. Moreover, it paved the way for improvements in the infrastructure to enable the piloting with the Learning Toolbox – within the apprentice training of Bau-ABC.

The breakthrough with Learning Toolbox and the completion of the project work

In February-March the Learning Layers project project started the active use of Learning Toolbox in the apprentice training for selected pioneering trades. After the Kick-off event in March the trainers started to spread the piloting via peer tutoring and via joint projects involving several trades. This process was supported by accompanying researchers from ITB, the Learning Toolbox developers and visiting researches from Innsbruck, Espoo and Tallinn. With the jointly implemented evaluation studies in May, August and September we could conclude that the trainers in different trades had found somewhat different ways to use Learning Toolbox – and that the apprentices in their respective trades responded positively to their approaches.

Parallel to the these final activities the Learning Layers partners have prepared their contributions to the final deliverable – a comperehensive reporting website, currently called as ‘the Layers Web’. The main contributions of the construction pilot include the following:

  • Impact Cards: C-01 on specific pilot with AchSo video annotation tool in Bau-ABC; C-05 on pilot activities in Verden; C-11 on the use of Learning Toolbox in Bau-ABC, C-12 on Training schemes in Bau-ABC.
  • Learning Scenarios: S-02 on use of Learning Toolbox at a construction site (Verden); S-09 on Learning Toolbox as support for Handlungsorientiertes Lernen in Bau-ABC; S-10 on changing and sustaining practices in the pilot sectors.
  • Methodology documents: M-10 on accompanying research and participative design; M-11 on Training interventions as capacity-building.

These final documents and many other working documents have been made available as draft versions on the following ResearchGate project spaces:

The follow-up prospects

The signals from pilots in Bau-ABC have been positive and they have been picked up. Following the example, the application partner organisations in Verden have made their steps in using Learning Toolbox in construction work and in promoting the tool to other actors in construction sector. Based on these pioneering cases, the ITB team has recently organised bilateral talks with interested companies. Some spin-off projects have already been started with other construction sector partners before the Learning Toolbox was fully available (to be integrated to their working concepts). At the moment the ITB team is involved in talks to prepare proposals with new knowledge on the usability of Learning Toolbox in the projects.

I think this is enough of the Learning Layers project – of our experiences, achievements and follow-up prospects. To me it is important to not that this has been an exceptional project with richly documented activities and sustainable results to take further by follow-up activities. And for this reason it is important to continue the ‘harvesting’ of results while preparing further follow-up initiatives. It has been and it it is worthwhile.

More blogs to come …

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