Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Open Source and Open Educational Resources in Europe – a look back to ten years ago

September 30th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

As promised the first in a mini series about Open Education. Pontydysgu originally got into educational technology through using closed and proprietary software. The first ‘educational technology’ I can remember using was FirstClass running on an Open University / BBC server (accessed through I think, the Mosaic browser). Ironically it was a print book which stimulated our move into Open Source technologies – Eric Raymond’s The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary, first published as a book in 1999.

In 2003 we submitted the SIGOSSEE project to the European Commission. SIGOSSEE stood for Special Interest Group on Open Source software in Education. Essentially we were exploring the potential uses of open source software and holding a series of workshops all over Europe, whilst building a Special Interest Group. Whilst the Special Interest Group failed to survive beyond the period of funding, it did kick off a flurry of activities, including a later spin out project on Open Education Resources. At the time the European Union has an ambivalent attitude towards OSS and OERs. Whilst there was strong support from a number of enlightened officials and programme administrators, the EU was being heavily lobbied by publishers and by the software industry not to endorse open source.

As part of their cautious move towards Open Source Software and Open Educational Resources, in 2004 the EU Directorate responsible for education, held a seminar entitled Creating, Sharing and Reusing e-Learning Content : Access Rights for e-learning Content. They invited a wide range of participants including from teh publishing industry and asked for the pre-submission of position papers. Below I publish the SIGOSSEE position paper, written by myself and Raymond Elferink. In the next post I will look at some of our recommendations and consider to what extent (if at all) we got it right.


This short position paper is addressed to both consultation workshops as we feel the issue of access rights to e-learning content and the more technical issues around reusable content are intrinsically interlinked. Whilst the position paper is presented by Graham Attwell and Raymond Elferink, it represents the position of the steering committee of the Special Interest Group for Open Source Software for Education in Europe.

The lack of easy access to attractive and compelling educational content is one of the major barriers to the development and implementation of e-learning in Europe. Most educational content is pedagogically poor, consisting overwhelmingly of sequenced text based materials and exercises. Furthermore, the subject and topic range is limited. This is particularly so for vocational and occupational subjects and in lesser-used languages.

Time and cost of production are major barriers to the production of quality learning content leading to the present interest in standards based, reusable content and to the sharing of content between institutions. In many areas content developers require not only technical and pedagogic skills but also deep subject knowledge.

Publishers have an important role to play in the development of content. However, as with traditional learning materials, much content in the future will of necessity be produced by teachers. There are also intriguing possibilities for learner developed content and there is great potential from public content repositories especially from cultural heritage and media organisations. It could be argued that there is already a wealth of rich learning materials available through the web. The problem lies in how these materials can be described and accessed and pedagogically deployed.

Key issues

Pedagogy and content

Pedagogy remains the key issue in terms of delivering content. As with any new technology, there has been a tendency on implementing ICT for learning to imitate previous paradigms – the ‘electronic classroom’ for example. There is some evidence to suggest we are now beginning to move beyond such paradigms and develop new scenarios for learning. However, the monolithic nature of much educational software and the need to implement ‘whole systems’ are barriers to developers seeking to pilot innovative pedagogic applications. The development of standards based content repositories and of Service Oriented Approaches (SOA) or modular approaches to learning architectures (see below) promises to allow far more advanced pedagogic innovation

Reuse of content

The potential reuse of content is a critical issue. Central to this is the development and adoption of standards. There remain problems in this area. Standards are being developed and adopted and the new Learning Design standard promises a major step forward in terms of recognising pedagogy, but the software engines and support are still in a development phase. There remain issues over defining metadata schemas and over who will (and should) enter metadata classifications. In the longer term the use of distributed metadata may provide some answers to these issues. Nevertheless the standards should be supported in order to allow reuse.

In pedagogic and technical terms there is still much work to do in developing tools and engines for content sequencing and assembly. Equally, more work is needed on how to base content on activity.

Licensing, property rights and open content

We believe a key issue is to involve the wider educational community in the development and sharing of learning content. One issue raised here is the question of licences. Traditional copyright licences are far too restrictive to develop an ecology of e-learning content. The Creative Commons Licence provides an effective answer to this issue providing an easy way of indicating possibilities for reuse. The OKI development by MIT and the Connexions project by the University of Rice in Texas – based on different open content models – have shown the potential of open content repositories.

There remain many issues to be resolved – not the least is the question of quality assurance. The difficulty in using content production tools is still a barrier for many to producing their own content.

Software and architectures and content

Monolithic architectures for learning and learning management have held back content production and deployment. Migration and reuse of content is often difficult due to lack of interoperability. Services Oriented Approaches and modular software designs can allow the development of standards based component architectures. Content would be either contained in a repository or accessed through distributed systems. Developers – open source and proprietary – could focus on particular components based on need and on their skills and interests. Content could then be easily reused between systems. The implementation of DRM systems should allow easy access to both proprietary and open content in centralised and distributed resource repositories (see for example the Canadian edu-source initiative).

Culture change and content

Implementing of this vision will require culture change at both institutional and individual level. Whilst much of the discussion has focused on teachers and trainers producing content, more important may be the ability and willingness to search for content and to develop coherent learning and activity plans from content produced elsewhere.

Recommendations to the e-learning community and to the European Commission

These recommendations are addressed to the e-learning community as a whole. However, the European Commission could play an important role in supporting pilot developments and implementations.

  1. Further develop standards and the implementation of standards. At the very least, funded projects should be required to consider and report on standards implications of any content development. Further work is needed in disseminating information of standards and their use. In this respect it may be worth considering European links to the UK based CETIS service on educational standards. Further research and development on standards and standard implementation related to educational content should be supported by the European Commission.

  2. Support the Creative Commons License. There seems little reason why education content produced with public funding – national or European – should not be required to be released under a Creative Commons Licence.

  3. Initiate and develop pilot implementations based on open content in institutions and networks. These pilots will be invaluable in exposing and testing many of the issues raised in this position paper.

  4. Explore the potential of a framework for e-learning based on a Service Oriented Approach. Work in this is already being developed by the UK based JISC in conjunction with Industry Canada and DEST in Australia. At a European level, an initiative to encourage developers to focus on services oriented or modular approaches and to share in the development of software, rather than continuing to reinvent the VLE wheel, is needed.

  5. Support the development of tools for content production, distribution, sequencing and deployment. Access to easy to use tools is more important at present than is directly subsidising the production of content itself.

  6. Support experiments in different pedagogical implementations of content including content from cultural and media organisations.

What does Open Education mean?

September 30th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

Next week, together with edupunk pin up bog, Jim Groom, I am delivering (? facilitating) an unkeynote session as the TEEM conference in Porto, Portugal.The session is entitled the the People’s Open Educational JAM Mix.  Instead of standing up and delivering a lecture to the conference we want to hold a dialogue with participants using slides, pictures, videos, quotations, metaphors or even better animated gifs from the education community. There will be the chance for participants in the conference to contribute on the day. But the JAM is open to everyone.

The theme (as the title suggests) is Open Education. Open Education is big news these days. Its a buzzword being embraced by publishers, universities and even governments, as well as the European Union. MOOC providers have leapt on the meme. But what does it mean? The idea that education should be open to everyone seems fine. But even as they talk of open journals, publishers are charging authors a fee, in the so called gold model of open open journals. And whilst universities and governments talk about open education, austerity is leading to cuts in funding and increasing student fees. However open it may or may not be, in The UK many young people simply cannot afford to go to university.

Its time for the educational community to have their say on what open education means. We hope this event can help build a dialogue around a European vision of Open Education.

Over the next five days I will write a series of posts about open education. But in the meantime we would welcome your contribution. We’ve tried to make it easy for you to contribute. Just add your ideas to the form on the front page of the POEJAM web site at We promise your contributions will turn up somewhere in the JAM event and afterwards on the internet. And also feel free to forward to your friends and colleagues

Research has to be funded

September 24th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

The latest edition of Times Higher Education reports how universities in the UK are turning down research funding from medical charities because of a lack of government financial support. Although the grant covers research costs it does not cover overheads. But it is not just UK universities or medical research in which this is happening. Travelling around various conferences this summer, a persistent talking point was the shortage of funding. In education and training and technology enhanced learning, one result is that few people are any longer employed on permanent contracts and many are getting by on part time contracts. One of the knock on effects of this is that more and more time is being spent chasing grant money from national or EU programmes. But noone s being paid to write bids, so this time consuming and often frustrating work is being done in researchers own time. And of course with more and more organisations chasing a reduced pool of funding the competition is increasingly fierce. Ten years ago most universities did not even apply for Lifelong Learning programme grants because this was not considered to be research. Now such is demand for its successor programme, Erasmus Plus, that the threshold for success seems to be to achieve 90 per cent or higher in the evaluation.

Yet at the same time, government policies harp on about the importance of research to innovation. But without proper funding it will become increasingly difficult to attract researchers, let alone undertake good research

Reports on ECER’15 Budapest – Part Three: General impressions on the conference

September 17th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

With me two previous blogs I have reported on special sessions in the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER ’15) in Budapest (8.9.-11.9.2015). In the first post I reported on the symposium that was initiated by our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project team in Bremen. In the second post I discussed sessions in which similar intervention projects were presented. With this third post I will summarise some general impressions on the conference and give snapshots on some further sessions.

ECER in Budapest – Education and Transition(s)

The conference took place in Hungary – one of the countries in Central and East Europe (CEE) that went through a fundamental societal transition after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. During this year of ruptures Hungary had played a major role in cutting the barbed wires that separated different blocks in Europe and by opening its borders to those who wanted to seek refuge in the west.

During the years of transition the political and educational culture of the country went through different phases of transition – including the phases of Candidacy to EU Membership and the entry to Membership in 2004. Already during the phase of candidacy, Hungarian researchers has been involved in European cooperation and taken their place in the joint activities. Yet, it took some time before the Hungarian association of educational researchers joined the EERA family. Now that this had happened, we were pleased to see the conference taking place in Budapest.

Yet, by the time the conference dates got closer we felt concerned about the humanitarian crisis that was characterised by masses of refugees coming to Hungary (with the hope to continue to Austria, Germany and eventually to Scandinavia). The measures of the Hungarian government (building fences and trying to block the streams of refugees) did not appear compatible with European values – neither could they resolve anything. Therefore, before and during our conference we saw reports on refugees camping at the borders or railway stations, marching on the highways or seeking for transport to safer countries. As I said it – we saw this from the news, not in the vicinity of the conference venue. Knowing all this, we were pleased to observe that the EERA secretariat and the EERA council appealed the participants to support petitions and fund-raising to ease the burdens of refugees.

VETNET in Budapest – Education and Training in (Post-)Transition society

The European network for research in Vocational Education and Training (VETNET) has had a tradition to organise an opening colloquium in which the host country is recognised. From this perspective we were pleased to have as the keynote speaker of this session professor Andras Benedek from the Budapest University of Technology, former Director General in Vocational Education and former Minister of Education. He informed us both on the developments in the educational policies in post-transition Hungary, on recent reforms in vocational education and training (strengthening of workplace learning and the role of chambers) and on the current model for vocational teacher education. In addition to his scholarly presentation he invited us to get a picture of the human side of Hungarian civil society, the openness for Europe in many NGOs and the willingness of individual citizens to help the refugees that entered their country.

We would have hoped to get more information in this colloquium on the post-transition developments in Hungary and in other CEE countries. For several reasons this was not the case. In a later paper session the local support person of VETNET, Magdolna Benke gave a presentation in which she informed of the short history of the National Institute for Vocational Education and her empirical studies to trace new developments in building partnerships to support the development of VET. My impression is that we still have some homework to do for further ECER conferences to learn more of transitions in VET during the post-transition period in CEE countries.

Nordic Countries in Budapest – Learning from Nordic Countries?

Participants from Nordic Countries (in particular Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden) were strongly present in several paper sessions. Yet, the clear highlight was the symposium “Consideration of the Future of VET: Learning from Nordic Countries”. In this symposium Christian Helms Jörgensen (Denmark) and his team presented a joint Nordic project that analysed policy developments and prospects of VET development at national and trans-national level. Listening to the comparisons between Sweden and Denmark – presented by Daniel Persson Thunqvist (Sweden) – I got even more convinced that the developments in these countries need be analysed in a group picture. The same impression was supported by the historical analyses on Norway – presented by Håkon Höst and Svein Michelsen (Norway) – when they made the Danish and Swedish influences transparent. Yet, the presentation on Finland – by Maarit Virolainen (Finland) – made clear some specific national developments. (I do not want to go into further details since I am too much insider in this discussion and the work of the project has reached only an interim phase.)

Altogether, I was mostly happy with the sessions that I attended at ECER’15 and I got new inspiration to work further with the themes that are close to me. This is even more important now that were are preparing the next ECER conference as the one in which the VETNET network will celebrate its 20th anniversary. In this respect I will discuss the VETNET general assembly and the future plans of the network in my final post on ECER’15.

More blogs to come …

Short films about working people

August 24th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

It is a shame notice to this is so short (6 September deadline) or I would have tried to do something. And anyway I guess this competition is really geared towards professionals but it would be cool to have a more crowd sourced (amateur) version. But in case anyone  has already produced something here are the details (via LabourStart).

The third London Labour Film Festival will screen a selection of labour-related shorts throughout the film festival which takes place next month.

These short films will be screened between the feature length films.

We would like to invite you to be part of this.

We are asking people to submit short films to the festival.

The films and videos submitted can be made in the UK or anywhere in the world.

The films will be labour-related, they can be about any and every aspect of work, as well as those issues affecting unionised workers and those not represented by unions.

The selected (winners) will be chosen by a global panel of judges and shown as part of the festival.

The shorts selection competition is open to anybody. The purpose of the contest is to discover the hard work of filmmakers whose voices have yet to be heard.

Click here for full details and an entry form.

Talking to Trolls

August 19th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

I like Owen Jones. I ma reading his excellent book – The Establishment: And How They Get Away With It - at the moment. In the introduction to this video he says: “I joined Twitter in 2009 because it seemed like a really powerful way of getting your beliefs across. Before too long, my first trolls arrived and started hurling all sorts at me. It ranged from jokes about it being past my bedtime, to petty insults, to full on homophobic abuse. But I think if you met these trolls in person they wouldn’t dream of speaking to you like that. So I went to Dorset to meet one of those Twitter trolls (@pasparakis) to find out exactly why he does it.”

Graduate jobs, skills and productivity in the UK?

August 19th, 2015 by Graham Attwell
There has been much commenting in the press today over a report from from the UK Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) which claims that 58% of UK university-leavers are entering jobs that do not require a degree, with graduate over-qualification now at “saturation point”.
The Guardian says reports that “the mismatch between the number of university leavers and the jobs appropriate to their skills has left the UK with more than half of its graduates in non-graduate jobs, one of the highest rates in Europe,
The Huffington Post quotes Ben Wilmott, CIPD’s head of public policy, as blaming New Labour’s 1999 landmark pledge to send 50% of young people to university, and  the Government’s failure to create high-skill jobs.
Wilmot called for better careers advice, a renewed emphasis on driving up apprenticeship numbers and a re-think of the disparity between further and higher education funding. “We had the assumption that increasing the conveyer belt of graduates will allow the UK to transition into a higher-skilled economy, but research shows that if you compare graduates and non-graduates who are doing the same or a similar job, skill requirement is not enhanced by the presence of a graduate”, he said.
The report raises a series of issues. Firstly just what is a graduate job. The definition appears to stem from Reasearch by the Institute for Employment Research at warwick Univeristy which led to the division of jobs in the Standard Ocuaptional Classification system used int he Uk into 5 different categories.
The Prospects web site summarises them as follows:
1. Traditional graduate occupations
These are the established professions for which a degree has historically been required.
Solicitors, research scientists, architects and medical practitioners are all examples. They typically require the post-holder to be an expert in a very specific area.
2. Modern graduate occupations
The expansion of higher education in the 1960s, and the development of new professional fields in areas such as IT, have resulted in the development of a range of newer professions requiring graduate-level qualifications.
Software programmers, journalists, primary school teachers and chief executives are all examples of modern graduate occupations. They require the post-holders to be ‘experts’, but also often to have more strategic or interactive responsibility than a traditional graduate job.
3. New graduate occupations
These are areas of employment that are often rapidly expanding in today’s labour market. The nature of these jobs has changed relatively recently to mean that the most accepted route into them is via a graduate-level qualification.
Marketing, management accountancy, therapists and many forms of engineer are examples of new graduate occupations. They typically require a higher level of strategic responsibility or of ability to interact with others, and less need for them to be an expert in a topic.
4. Niche graduate occupations
This area is expanding. Many occupations do not require graduate-level qualifications, but contain within them specialist niches that do require degrees to enter.
Nursing, retail managers, specialist electrical engineers and graphic designers all fall into this category. Often they require a combination of skills, such as managerial and expert skills, but equally often the need is for an ‘all-rounder’ with a range of abilities.
5. Non-graduate occupations
All jobs that do not fall into the previous four categories are considered ‘non-graduate occupations’.
Obviously there are questions as to whether objectively a university degree is a necessary or best qualification to be say a physiotherapist or a marketing manager. And does university really teach students to take on “strategic or interactive responsibility”?
Is the expansion in university education in the UK driven by  the need for graduates in employment or is the high number of graduates leading to qualification inflation?
At a more macro level it appears that as CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese says there was an “assumption that we will transition to a more productive, higher-value, higher-skilled economy just by increasing the conveyor belt of graduates”, a policy he believes to be  flawed. The UK government policy of labour market deregulation may have been successful in creating jobs, but many of these are low paid and part time. Productivity in the UK is stubbornly low.
In a paper published on the Social Europe web site entitled “How ‘structural reforms’ oflabour markets harm innovation“, Alfred Kleinknecht, Professor of Economics of Innovation at  Delft University of Technology argues that easier hire and fire and higher labour turnover will, in various ways, damage learning
and knowledge management in the ‘creative accumulation’ innovation model that is based on accumulation of firm-specific knowledge. Besides, lower wage cost pressure will lead to an ageing capital stock, owing to a slow adoption of labour-saving technologies.”
With low productivity and a slow adoption of new technologies, there is simply limited demand for graduate employment. But at the same time university graduation has become almost a rite of passage in the UK. Much has been made of the higher wages that graduates earn during their careers. This is supposed to more that offset the now very substantial university fees in the UK and the resultant high levels of debt on graduating. But of course this represents a historical figure and it is easy to see that such premiums may no longer apply in the future, especially as companies like Ernst and Young announce they will remove a degree from the job recruitment requirements. And despite the rhetoric of developing and promoting apprenticeship routes to skilled work, the reality remains that many of the so called apprenticeships in the UK remain on the low skilled spectrum of employment. And funding cutbacks are particular savage in the Further education (vocational college) sector.
All in all it is hard to see any joined up policy here, apart from a blind belief in austerity and that the markets will sort it out. But it does point to the need for integrated policy making linking education, labour market and innovation policies. That seems to have been absent in any recent Government, Labour, Coalition or Conservative.

Open Education and Libraries

August 19th, 2015 by Graham Attwell
The NMC, the University of Applied Sciences (HTW) Chur, the German National Library of Science and Technology (TIB), Hannover, and ETH-Bibliothek Zürich have jointly released the NMC Horizon Report  2015 Library Edition. They identify six key trends, six significant challenges, and six important developments in technology  across three adoption horizons over the next one to five years, providing, they say, a valuable guide for strategic technology planning  for library leaders and staff.
“The trends identified by the expert panel indicate that libraries are doing a better job of making their content more accessible and adapting library spaces to meet the needs of the contemporary, connected academic community,” says Rudolf Mumenthaler, Professor of Library Science at HTW Chur and co-principal investigator of the report.
Interestingly, amongst other trends, the report identifies “Makerspaces” and “Online Learning” as technologies and digital strategies that are expected to enter mainstream use in the first horizon of one year or less. “Information Visualization” along with “Semantic Web and Linked Data” are seen in the second horizon of two to three years; “Location Intelligence” as well as “Machine Learning” are seen emerging in the third horizon of four to five years.
The focus of the NMC report, which sees libraries as increasingly important toteaching, learning, and creative inquiry, is academic and research libraries.
Yet with the rising recognition of the importance of access to knowledge and data and with renewed interest in ideas such at the smart city, it would appear possible that the same themes might be important for libraries open to the public, outside the more closed academic sphere. Indeed with the growth of Open Education and MOOCs libraries could be seen as playing a key role in supporting more open forms of learning. Therefore it is ironic that even whilst organisations like the European Commission champion the slogan of Open Education, the policy of austerity is leading to drastic cutbacks in library provision in many country including the UK, leading to closures of libraries, cutbacks ins staffing and freezes in new stock acquisition. And libraries, along with community and adult education are regarded as something the state should no longer provide, something provided by voluntary organisations or not at all. And whereas m,mainstream school and university education can be prepared for the market as a prelude to full privatisation, few corporate bodies see a profit to be made from libraries.

Learning Layers meets Finnish promoters of apprenticeship and workplace learning

June 8th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

Last week (Thursday 4.6.2015) we had a small working meeting to present the current phase of the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) pilots to our Finnish counterparts who are promoting apprenticeship and workplace learning. The event took place in Espoo, in the Design Factory building of the Aalto University and it was hosted by Marjo Virnes from Aalto and me from ITB. The Finnish counterparts represented the Finnish agencies for apprentice training (oppisopimustoimistot), the Finnish association of “Promoters of Apprenticeships” (Oppisopimuskummit ry) and the Finnish vocational teacher education in the fields of commerce and hospitality. Some of the invited participants were writing their doctoral theses on apprentice training – unfortunately not all could attend the meeting. Here some insights into our discussion.

1. Presenting the Learning Layers project and the LL tools

We started with an overview of the LL project – looking at prior European projects that had tried to promote e-learning, knowledge management and mobile technologies in working life. The shortcomings of the ‘technology push’ or ‘system push’ approaches had provided the basis for our project and its emphasis on learning at workplaces, participative design and iterative development processes.

In this spirit I (= Pekka Kämäräinen) presented the progress that we (ITB and the Bremen team) had made with our application partners (mainly Bau-ABC) in the construction sector. I explained the journey from the initial idea to digitise learning materials (design idea “Sharing Turbine”) and heading to the development of a mobile solution for managing learning resources and communication (Learning Toolbox).

Marjo Virnes explained firstly the key idea of the AchSo! tool for video annotation and then presented exemplary cases in the construction sector (apprentices and trainees using tablet PCs to document their learning at construction sites) and in healthcare (the nurses documenting each others’ efforts to revitalise patients in a simulated exercise). In these cases we could note the advantages of the video annotation tool to draw attention to critical details and episodes without the need to write extensive explanatory notes. At the same time we noted that the functionality for sharing and further commenting is under development.

I then presented the Learning Toolbox (LTB) with the help of the most recent power points and screenshots from the online demonstration that we had used recently. This presentation drew attention to the possibility to develop flexible frameworks for managing sets of tools and apps and for customising the menus and the sets for different contexts (training centres, companies, construction sites). In this context I also drew attention to the parallel development of the ‘technology package’ Layers Box that enables the user organisations to control the data and the internet connections of the LTB.

2. Discussion on the current phase of apprentice training (and of the role of research) in Finland

After these presentations Kari Viinisalo (retired director of the Helsinki agency for apprentice training) gave a brief overview of the status of apprentice training in Finland (as a complementary model parallel to school-based vocational education) and on the efforts to give more visibility to this path. In this context he drew attention to the work of the joint association of the agencies for apprentice training (OpSo ry) and of the newly established voluntary association of Promoters of Apprenticeships. His main concern was that research on apprentice training is very limited, falls between the established disciplines and has had very little visibility. From this perspective he welcomed the contribution of the LL project.

Annukka Norontaus (Jyväskylä agency for apprentice training) informed of her doctoral study that focuses on the expectations on/ impact of apprentice training on the companies involved. She had interviewed company representatives (that employ young learners in apprentice contracts) in five branches and also some company representatives that have not been involved in apprentice training. She also informed of some other parallel doctoral studies. Virve Vainio (Haaga-Helia University of applied sciences) informed of their forthcoming pilot event (forum for promoting workplace learning) and of the contribution of vocational teacher education in supporting workplace learning.

3. Conclusions for further cooperation

In the concluding discussion our Finnish counterparts felt inspired by the ongoing LL pilots and pointed to the potential of the tools in different organisational contexts. Also they emphasised the value of the R&D activities that put workplace learning and apprentice training into the centre of such pilots. They agreed to propose similar workshops (as our session) to be integrated into the regular bi-annual meetings of the national association of the agencies for apprentice training (OpSo). They also agreed to propose the launch of a ‘research forum’ section of the electronic journal “Osaaja”. We (as participants of the meeting) agreed to maintain communication with each other as a Working Group (with the nickname “Betoniryhmä” based on the street Betonimiehentie where the Design Factory is located). There is so much to be shared on the work of the LL project and on the context of apprentice training.

I think this all gives a sufficient picture of small steps to start with. As we noted it during the meeting, there are severe political pressures to cut costs of (vocational) education and training in Finland. Yet, there is also a growing interest to speed up the entry of young people into working life. Therefore, the role of apprentice training may be of major political interest in the near future.

More blogs to come …


Thoughts on reforms in vocational education and training (VET) – Part Four: Comparative analyses on European VET reforms

May 28th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In the first post of this series I informed of a new debate on the future course of the Finnish educational policy alongside a the ongoing coalition talks of three parties. The focal issue is seemingly the duration of the initial vocational education and training (VET) programs. With my second post I gave a picture on the educational policy background for the current debate. With my third post I  discussed the role of workplace learning and apprentice training in the bigger picture of educational reforms. With this post I try to set the Finnish developments into a wider European contexts.

1. Comparative analyses – what for and how?

Firstly, I need to ask myself, why I want to discuss the Finnish developments in a wider European context. Very often comparative analyses are expected to give insights into ‘best practice’ or ‘bad practice’. The foreign solutions for vocational education and training (VET) are expected to be highlighted either as positive models (to be copied) or as negative models (to be avoided). To me it is important that such simplistic approaches have been overcome long ago in the European cooperation of VET researchers. Instead of such simplistic rankings the interest of knowledge has been more dialogue-oriented: understanding each other, learning from each other.

In this context I do not try to carry out in-depth comparisons. Instead, I will firstly take a quick look to the discussion on reforms in post-16 education in a European cooperation project that analysed theses reform strategies in the years 1996-1998. Here my interest of knowledge is to see, how the Finnish reforms were perceived in a European group picture. Secondly, I will have a quick look at some parallel models for linking school-based vocational education to apprentice training. In this case I refer to separate contributions of my Scandinavian colleagues in different European conferences. Here my interest of knowledge is to find out what kind of consequences rapid systemic changes have had.

2. Strategies for post-16 education: alternative starting positions, options and possible consequences

In the initial phase of the new European cooperation programme Leonardo da Vinci (1995-2000) the policy-makers, researchers and practitioners were interested in projects that could draw a European group picture of parallel reforms and different goal-settings. From this perspective the Leonardo project “Finding new strategies for post-16 strategies” (coordinated by Dr Johanna Lasonen from the University of Jyväskylä) was of key interest. The project put an emphasis on specifying strategies to increase the attractiveness of vocational learning and to promote parity of esteem between general/academic education and vocational  education & training. From the perspective of the current debates the project is important since it could develop a joint framework for mapping different strategies – in which the partners could find themselves as part of a picture.

The project gathered background information on the educational systems, reform issues and possible ways forward. After the preliminary analyses the project identified four main types of strategies:

  • ‘Unified frameworks’ for general/academic education (either institutional unification or unified modular system),
  • ‘Mutual enrichment’ via boundary-crossing curricular cooperation (between general/academic and vocational learning),
  • ‘Linkages’ between different educational tracks via mutually adjusted baccalaureate frameworks,
  • ‘Enhancement of vocational learning’ via curricular initiatives in VET that open new progression routes.

Looking back, it is easy to see that these strategies had different cultural roots – some emerging from educational cultures that were open for structural reforms whilst others were characterised by underlying cultural distinctions. Some reforms tended to emphasise the integration of all upper secondary education – at the expense of the cultural identity of vocational and professional education. Others were deeply rooted in educational cultures that had clear barriers between general/academic and vocational/professional  learning pathways. Therefore, the models were hardly transferable and even the prospects for mutual learning between them remained limited. Yet, in this constellation the Finnish structural reforms were perceived as a constellation of measures  that could contribute to a more balanced demand of educational options between academic, professional and vocational learning opportunities. In particular the flexible curricular cooperation between general/academic and vocational programs in upper secondary education were perceived as interesting effort to keep the future learning pathways open to alternative directions.

3. Transitions between school-based vocational education and apprentice training: options and issues?

Whilst the above mentioned project and the comparative analyses were looking at educational system architectures and curricular frameworks, the role of vocational education and training (VET) in the integration of young people to working life was less central. From this perspective it is interesting to take a closer look at some Scandinavian VET reforms in which both aspects – coherent educational structures and integration to working life – were central. My key interest here is to discuss, how rapid redistribution of responsibilities between vocational schools and enterprises has contributed

a) The Danish VET reform (Erhvervsuudannelsesreformen) of the early 1990s. Befors that reform the ininal vocational training was provided within two frameworks. Traditional apprentice training was not very popular and seemed to be fading away. The alternative model – launched as a school-based foundation scheme (Erhvervsfaglige grunnduddannelse – EFG) was becoming more popular and was extended with workplace learning placements. The reform tried to merge the two models into unified curricular framework and into integrated delivery model. Thus, there were two different access routes and two different learner categories for the unified programs. Those who had apprentice contracts started with orientation block in their company. Those who came in as vocational school students had the orientation block at school. After that block the curriculum was continues as a sandwich model – school periods and workplace learning periods

The main thrust of the reform was to give a new push for apprentice training and to encourage companies to extend their activities. In this respect the companies were entitled to choose their school partners freely , without any geographic restrictions. The schools had to compete with each other on their attractiveness as providers of VET. Parallel to this, the vocational schools were made responsible to arrange workplace learning opportunities for the vocational school students who had no apprentice contract.

Contrary to the expectations, companies were not keenly interested in increasing the amount of apprentice contracts. And – furthermore – they were not interested in increasing the amount of workplace learning opportunities for vocational school learners to the extent that was needed. Therefore, vocational schools needed to create more opportunities for simulated learning – firstly as a compensatory measure but then as regular arrangement. These mismatches led to several modifications of the reform afterwards.

b) The Norwegian VET reform (Reform 94) in the middle of the 1990s. The background of this reform was the  earlier compromises between two earlier reforms – the creation of a unified framework for upper secondary education and enabling flexible transitions from school-based vocational education to apprentice training. On the paper both reform concepts worked very well. Within the unified upper secondary education the learners could make annual choices, whether to pursue a general/academic program  or a vocational program. The programs had a similar structure – foundation course, continuation course1 and continuation course. In order to complete a vocational program at least one year in apprentice training was required on top of the courses of the vocational programs. Within school-based programs flexible choices were allowed between different programs. Also, if the local vocational schools could not provide continuation courses, there was an opportunity to change to other school or to apprentice training.

The national review of the policy in the early 1990s (by committee led by Kari Blegen) revealed that the system leaked in many ways. Only the students in academic programs could be sure that they have a full menu of continuation courses. In vocational programs it became common that the students started moving sideways taking further foundation courses or first level continuation courses. There were many reasons for this. Also, the flexible transition to apprenticeship didn’t work as expected and most of the vocational school-leavers who could not take the advanced continuation courses dropped their programs.

The reform of the year 1994 gave the regional educational authorities new responsibilities to cater for the supply of school-based vocational education and on the flexible transition to apprentice training. The regions (Fylken) got the responsibility to arrange the opportunities to complete the two first years of initial VET in school-based education in their region. They also got the responsibility to arrange transition opportunities that enable completion of vocational qualifications. Thus, Norway introduced the 2+2 model. Vocational schools were responsible for the first two years. Companies and the joint bodies of trades and industries took over the responsibilities of the two second years.

Looking back, this reform model seemed to be successful in providing more training opportunities and in ensuring the completion of vocational qualifications. Yet, it seems that it led to a cultural divide between the two phases of the initial VET and between the key actors involved. This has led to subsequent modifications of the reform afterwards.

I think these remarks are enough to point out how complex the European group picture of VET reforms can be. Also, they show how easily reforms that count on rapid redistribution of responsibilities and on collaboration between different parties may miss their targets. In this respect it is worthwhile to learn more of the unintended consequences of such reforms. These blogs were just opening remarks for such analyses when they are needed. At the moment I need to return to the current issues of the Learning Layers project.

More blogs to come …

  • Search

    News Bites

    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.”

    Other Pontydysgu Spaces

  • Twitter

  • Sounds of the Bazaar AudioBoo

  • Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • Meta

  • Upcoming Events

      There are no events.
  • Categories