Archive for the ‘research’ Category

Looking back at three years of Learning Layers – Part Two: Role of research in construction pilot

October 25th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I drew attention to the fact that the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project is preparing  for the review of the Year 3.  This has given rise to consider the development of the project and our activities as an evolution of the context and development of the actors and activities working in the context. In the first post I discussed the challenges of the early phase and the responses of the project. In the second post I will discuss the role of accompanying research in the construction pilot. I will also make some remarks on the role of research dialogue within the project and across the boundaries of the current LL project.

1. Interaction between theoretical work and co-design activities in construction pilot (Year 2 and Year 3)

In the beginning of the Year 2 the Learning Layers project agreed to organise a “Theory Camp” activity with lengthy preparatory phase, and intensive symposium during the Y2 Integration Meeting in Aachen and a follow-up phase. This activity brought into picture the specific interactive relations between theoretical work and co-design activities in the construction pilot.

A considerable part of the contributions to the Theory Camp articles represented different aspects of learning, knowledge development etc. or different accents on design processes. These were to be applied to the fields of application via design processes that focus on specific problems and respective tools. As a contrast, the research partners in construction sector build upon the experience of participative innovation programs that have emphasised the social shaping of work, technology and work organisations from the perspective of whole work processes and holistic occupational qualifications, see Landesprogramm Arbeit und Technik, Bremen (Deitmer 2004); BLK-Programm Neue Lernkonzepte in der Dualen Berufsausbildung (Deitmer et. al. 2004). In this respect the research partners in construction pilot drew attention to themes ‘acquisition of work process knowledge’ (see also Fischer et al. 2004) and ‘vocational learning’ in their contributions.

In the follow-up phase the research partners worked with the themes ‘reviewing accompanying research’ (ECER 2014) and ‘reviewing activity theory’ (Bremen conference 2015). With this theoretical and methodological work the research partners reviewed the theoretical insights and discussed experiences with developmental research approaches, such as the ‘change laboratory processes’ and ‘expansive learning cycles’ (based on the work of Yrjö Engeström and affiliated project teams).

As a consequence, the research partners were in the position to work in the complex and manifold process of designing and developing Learning Toolbox with sufficient openness. This was needed to give time for capacity building and growing readiness for co-development (on all sides of the process). This was also crucial for making the toolsets appropriate to support (holistic) vocational learning and enhancing (holistic) work process knowledge. This has required manifold feedback loops and intensive reporting from field workshops. In this way the research partners in construction pilot have supported process dynamics that have enabled the application partners to become themselves the drivers of the piloting with Learning Toolbox in their own trades (Bau-ABC trainers) or in their specific contexts and activities to promote ecological construction work (Agentur and the affiliated network NNB).

2. The role of research dialogue – internal and external

In the light of the above it is worthwhile to emphasise that the construction pilot has not been developed in isolation. Instead, research dialogue activities – both internal (with  LL partners) and external (with other counterparts) have played an important role in the development of the project. The internal research dialogue activities have been shaped by working groups that focused on transversal themes – such as ‘contextual knowledge’, ‘trust’ – that were equally relevant to both pilot sectors. This work has been covered by other colleagues with their contributions to the reports. In this context I wish to draw attention to two threads of external research dialogue:

a) Exhanges on Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research

As I have mentioned above, this thread was taken up by the ITB team as a follow-up of the Theory Camp and pursued further in a workshop of the Bremen International VET conference (see the report in my recent post). Here it is worthwhile to note that we gathered experiences on the use of Change Laboratory methodology in intervention projects and of theory of Expansive Learning as an interpretative framework in comparative projects. Also, we engaged ourselves in critical re-examination of some concepts used in Activity Theory (such as Vygotsky’s concept of ‘mediation’ and concepts like ‘contradiction’ and ‘transformative practice’). These discussions will be continued as the LL project proceeds deeper to the exploitation of results.

b) Exchanges of parallel approaches to intervention research

Already in ECER 2014 (in Porto) the ITB team had started a cooperation with researchers from HAN University of Applied Sciences with focus on intervention research (see the report in my earlier blog). This was followed up in the Bremen conference and in ECER 2015 (in Budapest). In the Budapest session the colleagues from HAN presented a new project that focuses on practice-based learning in HE programs with strong vocational elements. In this context they worked further with process models and with ‘stealthy intervention’ strategies. In a similar way a Danish project from the National Centre for Vocational Education presented a ‘Vocational Education Lab’ approach for promoting innovations and networking across vocational schools. (See the report in my recent post.) Also these exchanges will be continued when the LL project proceeds with the exploitation activities.

– – –

I think this is enough for the moment. We are now looking forward to next steps with our fieldwork and our exploitation activities.

More blogs to come …

The value of vocational qualifications

August 27th, 2015 by Graham Attwell

NFER have been commissioned by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) to carry out a small-scale rapid literature review of the value of vocational qualifications offered in the UK by JCQ. The review was carried out February-April 2015 and sought to answer the following questions: (1) How is the value of vocational qualifications defined? (2) What is the reported value of vocational qualifications (e.g. benefits for the individual learner, business, and the economy)? (3) Are there gaps in the research on the value of vocational qualifications, and if so, what further information would be useful to have for policy and practice?

Following a systematic search of databases and websites, the project team scrutinised 73 texts making an independent ‘best evidence’ selection of 16 to be reviewed, based on relevance to the research questions and the quality of the evidence. The reviewed texts focused on young people aged 14-25 and were published in English in the United Kingdom from the year 2009.

Key Findings:

The literature review identified benefits for all stakeholders in young people taking vocational qualifications:

  • Learners: increased likelihood of being in employment and a significant wage return for all levels and most types of vocational qualifications. Increased access to higher education for the poorest learners.
  • Businesses: increased productivity and a more skilled workforce.
  • Economy/Exchequer: a positive financial return for most qualifications, with particularly high returns associated with Level 3. A reduction in benefit dependency and increase in income tax.

The full report can be downloaded here.


August 13th, 2015 by Daniela Reimann

TACCLE 3 Coding is a new research project which looks at Teachers’ Aids on Creating Content for Learning Environments in the field of coding. It is funded (from 9/2015 to 8/2017) under the European Commission’s Erasmus+ program, key action: Cooperation for innovation and the exchange of good practices.

The project’s aims are:

• To encourage and support teachers to introduce coding, programming and / or computational thinking as part of the curriculum in the 4 – 14 classroom to better equip pupils to develop the skills needed by the European labor market.
• To broaden teachers’ digital skills base and enhance their professional competence
• To show how entrepreneurial skills can be developed and integrated with programming skills The project objectives are:
• To produce an on-line support package of ideas, activities, materials and downloadable resources for teachers who are teaching coding or programming or who want to.
• To provide CPD courses in a variety of formats and a template and materials for local delivery.
• To establish a dialogue between teachers and programmers, teachers and resource producers, teachers and organizations involved in teaching coding and to act as an agency for exchanges of curricula, ideas and practice.

The demand for ICT professionals continues to grow. The European Commission estimates there will be 700, 000 unfilled vacancies for ICT practitioners in the EU by the year 2016. Of all job vacancies in ICT, computer programmers are the most in demand outnumbering the demand for other IT professionals by a factor of 5 to 1. The greatest demand is in UK, Germany, Estonia and other Northern European countries, which reflects the make up of the project partnership.

Despite this skills shortage, there has been limited response from the European education system. Estonia has already introduced computer programming for all ages across the school curriculum, Denmark partially so. Others are about to introduce it (such as England in 2014) and others are considering it (e.g. Finland, Ireland). Some German Länder such as Bavaria are well advanced; others are not. In other countries, whilst not part of the compulsory curriculum, there are agencies and individual teachers who are trying to introduce programming into the classroom. What seems inevitable is that all member states must surely move in this direction if they are to meet the skills demands of the European economy. The biggest problem we face is a desperate shortage of teachers. Mathematics and computer-science graduates generally choose more lucrative trades; the humanities and social-science graduates who will find themselves teaching coding will need plenty of support as will the primary teachers. In addition the OECD reports that more and more computer programmers prefer to be self-employed or working in micro-SME partnerships and not committed to one particular long-term employer and the vacancy market is beginning to reflect the increase in a new form of employment in the ICT sector. For this reason the project is looking to produce resources for developing entrepreneurship skills alongside programming skills.

The project will:

· Develop a website of activities and ideas that teachers can use in the classroom to teach children about coding and programming. These will support diverse curricula across member states and, where there is no formal curriculum, support individual schools and teachers who want to introduce computing / informatics / programming etc. in their own practice
· Develop some affordable resource kits that can be downloaded or for which instructions for making them can be provided on-line. This could result in selling the resource kits after the project as part of the exploitation and sustainability.
· Design and pilot some staff development opportunities and learning resources for teachers who are total newcomers to programming.
· Stimulate a positive attitude towards STEM with young children
· Test and evaluate existing resources such as the range of software currently available to help children develop programming skills.
· Explore and follow up existing research and projects addressing this issue (e.g. work on Tangible User Interface for children.)
· Enter into policy dialogue and inform policy in countries around issues concerning the teaching and learning of programming in schools” (source: project proposal).

Co-ordinator: Jens Vermeersch, adjunct van de directeur, GO! Onderwijs van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap, afdeling Beleid & Strategie, Internationalisation, Brussels

Project partners:
IBP/KIT, Germany
Pontydysgu, Wales, U.K.,
SGR Antigon Schoöengroep 1, Antwerpen, Belgium
HITSA HariDUE INFOTHHNOLOGIA SIHTASUTUS, Research centre, Tallinn, Estonia
TALLINN University, Tallinn, Estonia
AALTO UNIVERSITY, Helsinki, Finland
University of Eastern Finland, School of Computing, KUOPIO, Finland

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 …


Vocational biography design to support young unemployed people goes Europe

November 2nd, 2014 by Daniela Reimann

We just managed to tranfer the idea of enabling young unemployed people to visualize their vocational experience and biography using digital media to the European level. The research project “Show Your Own Gold (Acronym) develops, tests and evaluates „a European Concept to Visualize and Reflect One’s Vocational Biography Using Digital Media”. It is funded under the ERASMUS+ Key Action 2, Strategic Partnerships programm for 3 years (2014-2017), co-ordinated by IBP/KIT


Aims and objectives
The project aims to develop a European concept for consultancy, including course design, to enable young, unemployed people to display their vocational biography. This is realized by producing media available on a multimedia-based online environment to visualise informally and formally acquired skills. The letter is realized by introducing media-based competence portfolios. Within the framework of the project, both the Internet-based competence portfolio as well as consultancy offered for the participants of vocational preparation courses will be developed in the form of an scientifically accompanied course. The course will be developed, realized with young people in the 6 countries and evaluated.

Project partners:
• Instituto Politécnico de Beja, Art and Multimedia Laboratory, Education Faculty, Beja, Portugal (Prof. Dr. Aldo Passarinho, Prof. Ana Sofia Velhinhu Sousa), Website

• PONTYDYSGU LTD, The Bridge To Learning, Wales, U.K. (director: Graham Attwell) Website

• SC AxA Consulting 99 SRL, a consultancy and training company providing high quality skills training programmes for corporate and industrial clients. (Liliana Voicu), Bucarest, Romania, Website

• UNIVERSITAT DE BARCELONA, Cultural Pedagogies, Faculty of Fine Arts, Esbrina Research Group – Subjectivitats i Entorns Educatius Contemporan“, dedicated to the study of the conditions and current changes in education in a world mediated by digital technologies and visual culture. (Prof. Dr. Fenando Hernandez, Prof. Dr. Juana Sancho-Gill, Rachel Fendler), Website

• Zavod NEFIKS Institut za promocijo in belezenje neformalno pridobljenega znanja/ aims to educate young people in different fields, persuading employers to consider non-formal education as a reference when getting a job.
Ljubljana, Slovenia (Alenka Blazinšek) Website

• Co-ordinator: Institute of Vocational and General Education at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology KIT (Dr. Daniela Reimann, Prof. Dr. Martin Fischer, M.A. Kerstin Huber, M.A. Kristina Stoewe, Nadine Görg)

The project intends to make young unemployed people set up, reflect and visualize their individual vocational and educational biography, actively producing media available on a Web-based multimedia environment. Formally and informally acquired skills and competencies are visualized using a particular type of online portfolio developed in the project (by the partner PONTYDYSGU LTD). Within the framework of the project, both the Web-based multimedia environment as well as the consultancy of young people will be developed in the form of an accompanying course offered in each of the participating countries.

In the project, a consultancy concept with a specific scope of courses offered for the generation and reflection of appropriate media formats, such as video clips showing the young participants at the workplace, in work processes, at the company, during internships. Further interviews with the trainees and skilled workers of a branch, including images of their own work pieces and projects are to be provided.

The research design is based on several distinct research strategies:

1. A desk study (analysis, literature review) of the situation of vocational preparation organised and embedded in the VET system and the employment situation of young people in the partner countries. This is necessary in that no studies are at present available on the analysis of the integration of the concept of vocational biography design in vocational preparation in the participating countries;
2. The development of the course (curriculum design) and
3. Its’ application in vocational preparation, followed by
4. a set of in-depth group interviews and surveys with the social actors involved, such as trainees and trainers, accompanied by a series of transnational work meetings.

The results of the project will be clearly spelled out to be easily circulated and disseminated via an International Youth Panel, including the BIBB the German Federal Institute of Vocational Education and Training, as well as social media in order to enhance their usability within the policy making process. The project aims to support EU and national policy makers for what concerns the development & implementation of new VET related policies towards a European concept of successful vocational biography design.

The interim project Web site can be accessed here


The digital divide is shifting, but is it for the better?

October 30th, 2014 by Cristina Costa

Photo by Flickr ID Kelayc (CC)

A study published by Deursen and Dijk (2014) provides a new angle on the Digital Divide debate which has often been guilty of a binary classification of technology “haves and haves not” (p, 14).

Placed in the Dutch context the research reveals that individuals from all social classes are now making use of the web. This contradicts arguments that the digital divide is directly related to high levels of economic capital, or lack of it. This is likely to be a direct result of new-ish policies that aim to make technology and broadband increasingly more affordable in Europe. So, with the “technology fix” sorted, what else are we missing?

When it comes to digital practices (and digital habitus), the history of social class division seems to reproduce itself on the online world. The authors report that individuals from a lower socio-economic status (and unsurprisingly with less education under their belt) are more likely to access the web to play games or engage in social interactions, whilst individuals from upper classes (and with higher levels of education) use the web mainly to access information and seek (professional) development opportunities.

In short, the study reveals the expected: simply put, people from upper classes seem to be able to strategise their activities online better. This unquestionably puts them at an advantage when compared to the online activities carried out by individuals in lower classes. The distinction herein presented is punctuated by a difference of (and in) practice(s). This is nothing more than a reflection of the cultural capital individuals embody and which they carry with them to the online world.

And so, even though the digital divide may well be shifting to differences in usage, when it comes to differences in social class, the digital divide only seems to be getting wider. In part, this comes as no surprise. Individuals transport their habitus from one field to another. The advantage of one group in relation to another is no longer in the technology they possess, but rather in the embodied cultural capital they transfer from the offline world to the online world. All of a sudden, the idea of ubiquitous access to technology no longer seems to provide an answer to the digital divide phenomenon. But Bourdieu (1986) seems to know where the issue lies. He reminds us that:

To possess the machines, [they] only need economic capital; [but] to appropriate them and use them in accordance with their specific purpose [they] must have access to embodied cultural capital, either in person or by proxy.


So the question remains: how can we narrow the digital divide gap? Can the introduction of digital literacies in the curriculum be a step towards a solution?



Bourdieu, P. (1986). Forms of Capital. In Handbook of Theory of Research for the Sociology of Education (pp. 241–58). Greenwood Press.

Deursen, A. J. van, & Dijk, J. A. van. (2014). The digital divide shifts to differences in usage. New Media & Society, 16(3), 507–526.


The VETNET network goes global: Reflections on the IRN-VET Forum at ECER’14

September 10th, 2014 by Pekka Kamarainen

During the last few years all my blogs have been about the Learning Layers (LL) project – and for good reasons. Our ongoing project has kept us busy to that extent and we have learned a lot. This one, however, will report on our efforts to promote internationalisation of research in Vocational Education and Training (VET) world-wide. For this purpose we had a special event – the IRN-VET Forum – in the context of the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER’14) in the beginning of September in Porto, Portugal.

Already during ECER 2009 ‘regional’ educational research associations like EERA (Europe), AERA (America) and their counterparts had created the World Educational Research Association (WERA) to promote internationalisation and mutual exchanges in educational research. In 2013 the WERA council organised a call for proposals to set up international research networks (IRN) under the auspices of WERA. This gave rise for our initiative “Internationalisation in VET research”.

As we had witnessed for a long while, the European research community in VET research had been able to consolidate itself well under the auspices of the VETNET network of EERA. The annual ECER conferences had become the key platform and the VETNET website was used for sharing papers and presentations. In 2013 major steps were taken forward to set up a journal for the VET research community. In this context some key actors of VETNET came to the conclusion that this journal should not be limited to Europe and that it would be important to set up a global network under WERA.

The proposal for WERA IRN-VET with the overarching theme “Internationalisation in VET research” was submitted and we were happy to have founding members from Europe, Asia, America, Australia and Africa. Very soon we received the notification that the proposal had been accepted and we were free to start with the founding activities. Although it had been relatively easy to get agreements from colleagues from different global regions, it was somewhat difficult to create patterns of cooperation and launch joint activities. Therefore, before having a constituting meeting, we agreed to organise a pilot session within the VETNET program at ECER’14 – the “IRN-VET Forum”.

In the VETNET programme the IRN-VET Forum was placed on the last conference day and as the first morning session (which is normally not the most popular slot). Also, some of the key initiators who had worked with me to prepare the proposal and the session could not attend due to clashes in their calendars. Yet, we were positively surprised to note that the session had over twenty participants who showed genuine interest in the talks on internationalisation.

Here some key points on the session:

  • I gave firstly a presentation on the founding steps of the WERA IRN-VET and on the key activities that we had outlined – International VET research review, Thematic sessions in ‘regional’ conferences, creating cooperation between VET teacher education programmes and PhD programmes and support for the new journal IJRVET.
  • Martin Mulder gave insights into the two pilot rounds of International VET research review that had organised 2012 and 2013 with his fellow colleagues in Wageningen University. He drew attention to the fact that it was difficult to keep the review process alive as a single-university initiative but that it would be highly interesting to keep it going on as a joint activity of a global network.
  • Marg Malloch and Len Cairns from Australia gave insights into the process called ‘destatalisation’ in their country. This concept refers to withdrawal of state in terms of privatisation and/or subventioning of alternative VET provisions at the expense of traditional VET providers (the TAFE colleges). Here the issue is, whether the weakening of state and the state-supported infrastructures is reflected in the quality and attractiveness of VET and what are the consequences in the labour market. The discussion drew attention to parallel developments as ‘deregulation’ in VET (e.g. regarding VET teacher education).
  • Lazaro Moreno gave insights into the national PhD programme in VET research that had been launched as a joint initiative of several Swedish initiatives. Here, the issue of internationalisation came into picture via different channels (access to literature, mobility and exchanges as well as internationalisation in one’s own home country).
  • Johanna Lasonen  (University of South Florida) was the discussant of the session. She encouraged further activities along these lines and drew attention to the need to pay attention to multilingualism, intercultural communication and intercultural integration

In the final part of the session I drew attention to some milestone events and we made some working agreements:

  • In the VETNET assembly within the ECER’14 the launch of the new journal IJRVET was announced publicly. The first issue is available online and the next ones are under preparation. This journal serves also the WERA IRN-VET.
  • In November the WERA has a focal meeting of the IRNs. By that time we have to finalise the founding regulations and the patterns of work for the IRN-VET. Also, in this context we shall discuss how to go on with the International VET research review.
  • In October there will be a regular meeting of the UNESCO UNEVOC-Centres. ITB has received an invitation due to its role in VETNET. This invitation will be taken as an opportunity to inform UNEVOC of the WERA IRN-VET.
  • When EERA launches the call for proposals for the ECER’15 in Budapest, we will launch a call for expressions of interest for a WERA IRN-VET Forum and/or for thematic Round Tables.

In this way the pilot event gave us further directions and impulses, how to strengthen our global cooperation.

To be continued …




User Stories and Persona

March 24th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

I worked with Owen Grey on the slides for my presentation on ‘Developing Context and Work Based Mobile Learning in the Construction Sector’ at the Bristol Ideas in Mobile Learning symposium. And I included a series of Persona developed through early work in the Learning Layers project. Owen was not impressed – they are dreadful he said, they do not match reality. He was right and indeed I deleted the slide. But during my presentation, I stated my difficulty with Persona and this led to some discussions (to say nothing of tweets).

In the past I have been fond of persona as a working methodology. Indeed, I even wrote a guide to how to develop Persona for the EU G8way project. Here is an extract:

Identifying Personas

Personas are fictional characters created to represent the different user types within a targeted demographic, attitude and/or behaviour set that might use a site, brand or product in a similar way (Wikipedia). Personas can be seen as tool or method for design. Personas are useful in considering the goals, desires, and limitations of users in order to help to guide decisions about a service, product or interaction space for a website.

A user persona is a representation of the goals and behaviour of a real group of users. In most cases, personas are synthesised from data collected from interviews with users. They are captured in one to two page descriptions that include behaviour patterns, goals, skills, attitudes, and environment, with a few fictional personal details to make the persona a realistic character. Personas identify the user motivations, expectations and goals responsible for driving online behaviour, and bring users to life by giving them names, personalities and often a photo. (Calabria, 2004).

Personas can be based on research into users and should not be based purely on the creator’s imagination. By feeding in real data, research allows design teams to avoid generating stereotypical users that may bear no relation to the actual user’s reality.

Tina Calabria (2004) says personas are relatively quick to develop and replace the need to canvass the whole user community and spend months gathering user requirements and help avoid the trap of building what users ask for rather than what they will actually use.”

The problem is that all too often in synthesising data to produce a representation of a real group of users we do end up with a caricature. This is not just because creators rely purely on their imagination and fail to take account of the research. But (and I will talk more about this issue in a future blog post on Transdisciplinary Action Research), all too often the researcher or creator is just too far from the users to understand the meaning of the research. This distance can include class, geography, language (including domain language) culture and perhaps most critically (at least for the Learning layers project) occupation. And thus, rather than building what users ask for rather than what they will actually use, we build software that only a caricature would use.
That is not to say we should give up on developing Persona. Indeed, a later revision and rewriting of the Learning Layers Perosna was a great improvement. But I think we need to re-examine how we are developing perosna, how we combine them with other tools and approaches and what limitations there may be to their use.

Beyond Bulimic Learning Improving teaching in further education

March 15th, 2014 by Cristina Costa

Beyond Bulimic Learning Improving teaching in further education – Frank Coffield with Cristina Costa,Walter Müller and John Webber

So here is a new adventure. Last year Frank Coffield asked me if I’d be interested in submitting a book chapter for his new book as he felt he was missing a trick for not including a chapter on technology. I wrote an article on designing for context, using examples from my own practice to illustrate the points I wanted to make. The result was a text entitled Teaching and learning in context … with a little help from the web (slides for a presentation based on it can be found here)

The Book will be released in May. The launch will take place in the bookshop on the first level of the Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London, WC1H OAL on Wednesday 7 May between 6 and 8pm.

* seeing my name in print never ceases to surprise me! :-)

Developing and maintaining artefacts and knowledge

December 18th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

Some of you will have noticed that this site was unavailable for a couple of days last week. When we investigated we found that the database on the server had become overloaded. And, although their may be other reasons, the major problem was that we were hosting some 15 sites, many of them ‘legacy’ European project sites. Furthermore because of issues with incompatible plug ins and the time involved, we had not managed to keep all the instances of WordPress, which hosts the sites, updated.

The European Commission requires us to maintain sites related to funded projects live for at least three years following the end of project funding. Given that most projects are of two to three years duration, this means the minimum time a site is up is five to six years. Yet the requirement masks a bigger problem. How do we preserve and build on the knowledge and ideas developed through project work – be it research or development.

Obviously we try to make sure that anything particularly important is included in the Pontydysgu site. And of course, many projects build on previous work. Most of our sites are archived by the Internet Archive. Reports and products are often published on social networking and Web 2.0 sites and can still be found there. Yet I cannot help thinking that many of the outcomes of useful and potentially important work undertaken by project funding are being lost over time. Perhaps the EU could itself do a better job of archiving and recording the work undertaken through its projects. In some areas, for instance around Open Educational Resources, there has been progress with the development of open repositories and in federating such knowledge stores.

However, many of the products of project work are probably ephemeral, or more important in the processes and interactions, than in the artefacts produced. And there needs to be some process by what knowledge, not only that on the internet, is allowed to gracefully degrade. The problem is that we do not really have any rubrics or processes for deciding what should be maintained and what should be allowed to degrade. Or indeed, if artefacts are important enough to maintain, how and in what spaces to do that.

We probably need yet another project to investigate these questions! Or, if anyone has a good answer, I would be very interested to hear from you.

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    News Bites

    Skills in Europe

    Cedefop is launching a new SKILLS PANORAMA website, online on 1 December at 11.00 (CET).

    Skills Panorama, they say,  turns labour market data and information into useful, accurate and timely intelligence that helps policy-makers decide on skills and jobs in Europe.

    The new website will provide with a more comprehensive and user-friendly central access point for information and intelligence on skill needs in occupations and sectors across Europe. You can register for the launch at Register now at

    Talking about ‘European’ MOOCs

    The European EMMA project is launching a  webinar series. The first is on Tuesday 17 November 2015 from 14:00 – 15:00 CET.

    They say: “In this first webinar we will explore new trends in European MOOCs. Rosanna de Rosa, from UNINA, will present the philosophy and challenges behind the EMMA EU project and MOOC platform developed with the idea of accommodating diversity through multilingualism. Darco Jansen, from EADTU (European Association of Distance Teaching Universities), will talk about Europe’s response to MOOC opportunities. His presentation will highlight the main difference with the U.S. and discuss the consequences for didactical and pedagogical approaches regarding the different contexts.

    OER – update 2

    Open Education Europa has compiled and is releasing today as open data the analytical list of European Repositories of Open Educational Resources (OER).

    It includes:

    • European OER Portals and Repositories
    • Educational material repositories/directories
    • Larger Repositories rather than very specific ones
    • Focus on those who include Creative Commons license and on National/public OER repositories
    • Focus on material for teachers  (for the classroom/schools) rather than on higher education
    • Collaborative OER production initiatives (LeMill, RVP.CZ Portal,, KlasCement”)

    OER – update 1

    From the Universidad a Distancia de Madrid (UDIMA) – Madrid Open University – we are pleased to present the European Research Network of Open Educational Resources (ERNOER), a collaborative space in which more than fifty internationally educational institutions and prestigious universities are involved which can be accessed through the following link:

    The entire educational community can benefit in this web repository of more than three hundred image banks, two hundred fifty audio file repositories, two hundred and fifty video resources and more than three hundred programs and applications that can be used in education.

    Other Pontydysgu Spaces

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