Archive for the ‘teaching and learning’ Category

Thoughts on “Digital divide 4.0” – Part Four: How to bridge the gap between formal and informal learning?

September 18th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my three latest posts I have presented reflections on “Digital Divide 4.0” (regarding the concept, see the first post). These reflections have been inspired by recent experiences with fieldwork for our ongoing EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project and in particular with its key product the Learning Toolbox (LTB). In my second post I discussed, how this concept reflects the initial difficulties of our project work in the construction sector training centre Bau-ABC.

In this post I shift the emphasis to another part of the German vocational education and training (VET) system – to vocational schools. This is partly triggered by a recent working meeting with a vocational school teacher, who wondered, why their school was not included into our project.  Indeed, for us in ITB and in the training centre Bau-ABC it is a key issue, how to bridge gaps between formal and informal learning when developing workplace-based learning. In my short answer I referred to the funding priorities that emphasised strongly the promotion of informal learning (and SMEs as target groups). In order to understand this it is useful to look back at the development of earlier policies to promote e-Learning or Technology-Enhanced Learning (on the one hand) and initiatives to promote professional development of teachers and trainers in VET (on the other hand). Yet, we need to ask, why the conceptual gap between parallel earlier policies and initiatives has remained. Moreover, we should reflect, how our work in the LL project could help to bridge the gaps.

Background: Earlier e-Learning as ‘alternative’ for institutionalised education and training

Looking back at the educational initiatives in 1980s and 1990s there was a gradual movement in efforts to create new opportunities for open learning. This was reflected in the terminology – ‘remote learning’, ‘distance learning’, ‘open distance learning (ODL)’, ‘blended learning’ – all these referred to different steps and measures to open access to education and learning. Suddenly, at the end of 1990s and at the brink of the ‘New Millennium’ there was a great hype on ‘eLearning‘. In the newer initiatives there was a clear tendency to push the institutionalised education (and the adult education movement) aside. Some protagonists tried to bring forward private providers and new ‘career spaces’ via commercial eLearning programs as the innovation leaders. This was reflected in the separate European funding opportunities for e-Learning of that time. However, concerning the projects on the uses of e-Learning by work organisations, I remember that they concluded that the take on eLearning provisions was low. Instead, wider European surveys – like the the ones of the project “ICT and SMEs” – provided valuable information on the ways that SMEs actually used to support (organisational) learning.

Shift of emphasis: Teachers and trainers in VET as ‘key actors for lifelong learning’

Whilst the above mentioned developments emerged from fringe areas in education and training policies, the next wave – the follow-up of the EU Lisbon Summit 2000 – was part of an overarching development of EU policies. In the field of education and training this took shape firstly in the European Commission strategy document Education and Training 2010 and the aim was to promote a digital learning culture to support global competitiveness of European economy. In the first phase this follow-up was promoted by European working groups and supported by commissioned follow-up studies. In particular the follow-up study for the Maastricht meeting in 2004 drew attention that the engagement of teachers and trainers (notably in vocational education and training (VET) was lagging behind regarding the promotion of digital learning culture.

This gave rise for the European Commission to introduce new initiatives to stimulate trans-national cooperation and European exchanges with different formats: the Eurotrainer surveys, the TTplus framework project, the network ‘Trainers in Europe’, the policy-makers’ Peer Learning seminars and the Europe-wide series of ‘regional’ consultation seminars for different stakeholder groups. Altogether these measures increased the European knowledge basis on VET teacher education and training of trainers across Europe. However, these activities did not provide a basis for common qualification frameworks – instead they recommended the continuation of such participative dialogue forums with emphasis on learning lessons from recent innovations.

Another shift of emphasis: Focus on digital media and mobile technologies to support informal learning

In the meantime the development of web technologies and the spread of mobile devices had given new impulses for technology-enhanced learning. This became manifest in the wider use of online learning platforms, e-portfolios and open educational resources (OER). Now, there was less talk of sidelining the educational establishments but promoting specific initiatives (the networks of open universities) or by joint services (for consortia of member universities). Parallel to this there was a need to explore, how new forms of online learning could be promoted in working life, in particular in such occupations that were characterised by SMEs (and not catered for by university-industry alliances). Partly, the newer policy priorities were looking for genuinely work- and organisation-based modes of (informal) learning, partly for ways to reduce training costs by promoting flexible learning alongside work.

The experience with Learning Layers: The role of trainers and facilitators as change agents

In my two previous posts I have discussed the issue ‘digital divide’ in its current forms (“Digital divide 4.0”) in general and in the light of our fieldwork in the Learning Layers project. Also, I have given insights, how we have made progress with our application partners in the construction sector training centre Bau-ABC and in the network for ecological construction work (NNB). In both cases we have not relied on stand-alone tools or self-learning of practitioners (with the help of online tutorials). With the Learning Toolbox we have managed to develop – in a co-design process with the users – an integrative toolset that meets several basic needs and is easy to expand by the users themselves. Also, we have trained the pioneering users in joint learning sessions to work as peer tutors and mentors in their own communites and networks. However, the wider use has always been dependent on the interest of new users (and anticipation of practical benefits for them). Here, the success factor is to introduce Learning Toolbox as one instrument to promote knowledge sharing, coordination of tasks and real-time communication – and in this way work-related and organisational learning.

Follow-up: What role for teachers and trainers in promoting digital agenda in vocational education?

In the light of the above we (the partners working with the construction pilot of the LL project) have good reasons to consider, what role could teachers in vocational schools play in the follow-up phase. In the German dual system there is a constant challenge to improve cooperation between the fundamental learning venues: enterprise (workplace and the intermediate training centre) and school. In this respect the Learning Toolbox will offer new prospects. Also, the new importance of European mobility schemes (training of apprentices from Spain, Greece etc. in Germany) and the integration schemes for refugees provide new challenges for teachers and trainers in VET. Here, we believe that the introduction of Learning Toolbox could help different parties work together. I will get back to these issues soon.

More blogs to come …

Unconferencing at AMEE

September 12th, 2016 by Graham Attwell


I am way behind writing things up at the moment – too much going on.

Anyway two weeks ago I was with the Learning Layers team at the Association for Medical Education in Europe (AMEE) conference in Barcelona. We organised a Barcamp session, had a stand, Tamsin and Sebastion presented a paper and a couple of colleagues presented posters.

Obviously with the stand I didn’t get a chance to go to many sessions but did get to talk at some length to quite a few delegates. The conference was big, with over 3200 individuals attending. What impressed me was that the conference seemed to be made up predominantly of practising educators- and at least from looking at some of the over 600 posters to be extremely practice focused. Regard9ing educational technology, there was a perhaps to be expected interest in the potential of Augmented Reality and simulations. But generally delegates (or at least those I talked too) seemed to regard educational technology as a given.

Once more, this may have been a self selected sample of those interested in Learning Layers technologies designed more to support informal learning than traditional classroom teaching, but there seemed to be a growing frustration with the limitations of Learning Management Systems.

The double unconferencing session we ran – promoted as a Barcamp was very well received. After a short introduction into the idea of a Barcamp, participants themselves decided on the topics to be discussed at a series of four round table sessions. Some of the action was captured on a Google doc which can be viewed here.

And there have a number of participants writing about their own experiences of the BarCamp in blogs about the conference (more about the Joycards in a future blog entry).

Natalie Lafferty’s Highlights from AMEE – mention the BarCamp, Learning Layers, Learning Toolbox and the informal learning JoyCard. She shared these reflections on twitter as well.

The Learning Layers BarCamp and the informal learning JoyCard are two of Barbara Jenning’s Top 10 Highlights of AMEE in her storify which was also shared on twitter.

Given the positive feedback – and the obvious knowledge sharing and learning which took place, it makes me wonder why more conference have not adopted BarCamps or similar unconferencing sessions. It seems AMEE is open to different formats and we hope to repeat the experiment again next year. But all too often conferences are sticking to the tried and tested, despite the frequently repeated observation that more is learned in informal chats at breaks and in the evening than n formal paper presentations.

New book: Empowering Change in European Public Employment Services

July 18th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

employid bookReaders familiar with European Research projects will know how they work. The projects negotiate with the European Commission a DOW – Description of Work – which details the work to be undertaken in each year of the project. It is divided into discrete work packages. Every year the work package provides a (usually over lengthy) report on research and development undertaken which is then presented to a team of expert reviewers who can ‘pass’, recommend changes or ‘fail’ the report. Although obviously large scale multi national research projects need structures and plans. But all too often the work package structure separates research and development activities which should not be separated and the DOW become a restrictive ‘bible’, rather than a guide for action. And despite the large amount of work which goes into preparing the work package reports, they are seldom widely read (if indeed read at all), except by the reviewers.

In the EmployID project which is working with identity transformation in European Public Employment Services (PES), we are doing things differently. The work is structured though cross work package teams, who follow an adapted SCRUM structure. The teams are reviewed at face to face meetings and recomposed if necessary. And this year, instead of producing a series of Work package reports, the project partners have jointly contributed to a book – Empowering Change in Public Employment Services: The EmployID Approach which has just been published and can be downloaded for free.

The introduction to the 244 page PDF book explains the background to the work:

European Public Employment Services (PES) and their employees are facing fundamental challenges to the delivery of efficient and effective services and the need to change their strategies to combat high unemployment, demographic change in increasingly uncertain and dynamic labour markets. This does not only require developing new professional skills related to new tasks, but poses for more profound developmental challenges for staff members.

Three of these changes relate to understanding the changing world of work; a ‘turn’ towards coaching; and the increased importance of relations with employers. The staff need to learn new ways of working, with a major challenge being to enhance the power of collaborative (peer) learning in order to support staff in accomplishing their goals.

All these changes are linked to transforming professional identity, which requires learning on a deeper level that is often neglected by continuing professional development strategies. EmployID makes its contribution here; that PES practitioners’ learning related to professional identity transformation needs to be facilitated through social learning approaches and the nurturing of social learning networks, which include the following:

  • Reflection as a way of turning one’s own and others’ experiences into general insights on multiple levels, both from an individual and a collective perspective

  • Peer coaching as a way of helping learners in changing their behavior through a structured process

  • Social learning programmes as a way of engaging learners with new topics, other perspectives, and conversations around it.

Learning Layers in dialogue with DigiProB project – Part Two: Interviews with guest trainers/lecturers in continuing vocational training

May 12th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous blog I started a series on the new phase of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. Currently, in the Construction pilot we have been able to start closer cooperation  with a spin-off project. The German-funded DigiProB has started its work and the training centre Bau-ABC and the research institute ITB have a central role to play. The DigiProB project focuses on the training of  certified construction site managers (Geprüfte Polier) – see more on this training and on the background of the project in my previous post. In this post I will have a look at the initial interviews and what we may learn from the dialogue with gust trainers/lecturers who are engaged in this training programme.

The reform of the training concept and tensions in the implementation

As I indicated in the previous post, the new training of the certified construction site managers had introduced a new examination model that put an emphasis on integrative tasks and on a concluding project report. In the conceptual preparation for the project proposal we had emphasised the following tensions:

  1. The new training regulation was introduced with short introduction events that familiarised the trainers on the new guidelines. However, these events did not provide an in-depth training for guest trainers/lecturers  to adjust themselves to new requirements.
  2. The guest trainers/lecturers are engaged as subject specialists and are responsible for specific blocks in the presence training. They do not have an overarching responsibility on the supervision of integrated learning tasks and project work.
  3. There has been no clear model for developing online support, arranging peer tutoring and promoting peer learning among the participants.

Now that the DigiProB project was started, the initial interviews provided an opportunity to test, whether the above outlined picture was correct and what new features could be learned from the guest trainers/lecturers involved in the programme.

Messages picked from the initial interviews

Currently I am not actively involved in the initial activities of the DigiProB project. At best I have been nearby when my ITB colleagues have carried out interviews. Therefore, I leave it to my colleagues to report on the activities and on the findings in greater detail and in time. Yet, already at this stage it is possible to pick as ‘first impressions’ some messages that come through and have been reflected by my colleagues. Although these are only preliminary signals, not thoroughly analysed findings, it is worthwhile to pay attention to them:

  • Rapid implementation of the new model: It seems to me that both the training providers (such as Bau-ABC) and guest trainers/lecturers that they use for the training have had very little time to adjust their pedagogic approaches. The training providers arrange short introductory events but then the individual trainers/lecturers have draw the conclusions on their own.
  • Willingness of trainers/lecturers to work with an integrative pedagogic approach: Although the guest trainers/lecturers have been engaged as subject specialists, they seem to have an interest in getting their special know-how put into practice. Therefore, they are individually looking for ways to link ‘theoretical’ elements into practical tasks and exercises. Moreover, there seems to be interest in sharing experiences and examples of good pedagogic solutions.
  • Interest of trainers/lecturers in using digital media and web tools: It appears that (at least some) guest trainers/lecturers show interest in using digital media and web tools to support their teaching and training. In this respect the Learning Toolbox (whenever demonstrated) has been greeted as a promising framework and the interviewees are willing to learn more of it.
  • Interest of learners to share knowledge and experiences: According to the guest trainers/lecturers interviewed so far, the participants (learners) are interested in sharing knowledge and experiences during the course periods and during the periods for self-organised learning. In particular from this perspective they considered the Learning Toolbox as a promising toolset to support individual and collaborative learning processes.

– – –

I leave these first impressions and ‘messages picked from discussions’ here and let my colleagues work with further interviews and the group pictures that we get as a result. Altogether, I believe that the DigiProB project is well-timed and that the trainers/lecturers as well as the learners will be interested to work with the project. However, the project will also pose new challenges for the tool developers and to the project partners who introduce the tools.

More blogs to come …



Learning Layers in dialogue with DigiProB project – Part One: Preparations for the new project

May 11th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

Our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project has recently entered an interesting new phase. In the Construction pilot the Learning Layers project has a chance to work together and share experiences with a spin-off project. Recently, the German-funded DigiProB has also started its work in the German construction sector. Two LL partner organisations – the training centre Bau-ABC and the research institute ITB – play a major role in the new project that can be called as a spin-off from the LL project. Whilst the LL project is focusing on workplace learning from the perspective of skilled workers and apprentices, the DigiProB project shifts the emphasis on training of  construction site managers. With this series of blogs I try to give a picture of the conceptual preparation for the new project (part one), on the lessons to be learned with initial interviews (part two) and on the prospects for using LL tools in the new project.

I start by looking back at a symposium at the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER 2015) in Budapest that was initiated by the LL team of ITB. In the symposium we brought together three recently completed or ongoing projects with focus on digital media, web tools and support for workplace learning. With their recent work the three projects (Kompetenzwerkstatt, Learning Layers and EmployID) had -reached a transition stage. From this perspective the symposium provided an opportunity to learn from each other and to draw conclusions for a new phase activities. Below, I will focus on the contribution of the LL team in this symposium and on the interim conclusions from the discussion.

Outline of DigiProB presented in an ECER symposium in Budapest 2015

In our contribution to the symposium we shifted the emphasis from the Learning Layers  project to a designed spin-off project (DigiProB) which we expected to be start soon. The context of this project is the training of construction site managers – a vocational progression route for former skilled workers.

In a recent reform the training of certified construction site managers (Geprüfte Polier) has been regulated with new nationwide standards. The tasks of the certified construction site managers include organisation and controlling of work processes, supervision of construction workers, subcontractors and apprentices as well as monitoring the compliance with health and safety regulations. The new examination model with integrative tasks and project work seeks to push forward a more holistic learning culture.

The major challenge for adapting the new requirements in the training scheme lies in the construct of the curriculum. In general, the curriculum is based on a two-phase model. The first phase (ca. two months) is provided by presence courses in the training centre. During this period external part-time lecturers provide courses in the main areas of expertise for the future construction site managers.  The second phase (which has now been shaped in the light of the new regulation) is based on self-organised learning activities of the participants alongside work. This phase includes integrative learning tasks and production of a coherent project report. With the integrative tasks the participants are expected to demonstrate their capability to manage complex construction sites and supervise related work processes. The project report should make transparent their competences in planning, preparing, implementing, documenting and assessing construction projects.

The task of the DigiProB project is to introduce digital media and web tools to support integrative learning of the participants (with the learning tasks and project work) and pedagogic reorientation of the trainers (to facilitate the learners in such learning).  Here, the new project DigiProB should take into account the prior work of the Learning Layers project.

Interim conclusions of the discussion at the ECER symposium

In its contribution the ITB team drew attention to  following tensions between the new requirements, the traditional mode of delivering the courses and lack of support for the self-organised learning:

  1. The new training regulation was introduced with short introduction events that familiarised the trainers on the new guidelines. However, these events did not provide an in-depth training for trainers to adjust themselves to new requirements.
  2. The part-time trainers are engaged as subject specialists and responsible for specific blocks in the presence training. They do not have an overarching responsibility on the supervision of integrated learning tasks and project work.
  3. There has been no clear model for developing online support, arranging peer tutoring and promoting peer learning among the participants.

The interim conclusions of  the ITB team were formulated as follows: For the new spin-off project it is necessary to build upon the experience with the Learning Layers pilot but to take into account the differences between presence learning within training centre (supervised by full-time trainers) and dispersed self-organised learning (supervised by part-time trainers). Secondly, it is essential to equip the trainers with didactic know-how and learning technologies to support the dispersed learning activities. Thirdly, it is crucial to facilitate peer learning among the participants and to raise their awareness of their own learning.

– – –

At this point I leave our discussions at the ECER symposium behind. Now that the DigiProB project has started its initial activities, it is interesting to see, what kind of new experiences we are making and how the initial picture starts to change. From this perspective it is interesting to have a look, what we are learning from the initial interviews and from the dialogues on the usability of LL tools in the new project. These topics will be discussed in the next posts of this series.

More blogs to come …

Double Loop Learning and Learning Analytics

May 4th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

Another in this mini series on Learning Analytics. When looking at Work based learning, Double Loop Learning becomes particularly important. Double-loop learning is used when it is necessary to change the mental model on which a decision depends. Unlike single loops, this model includes a shift in understanding, from simple and static to broader and more dynamic, such as taking into account the changes in the surroundings and the need for expression changes in mental models.(Mildeova, S., Vojtko V. ,2003).

double loop learning

To remind readers again, in the EmployID European project we are aiming to support scalable and cost-effective facilitation of professional identity transformation in public employment services. And I would argue such identity transformation is based on refection on learning, on Double Loop Learning. Identity transformation necessarily involves the development of new metal models and new ways of looking at work based behaviours and practices.

So where does Learning Analytics fit into this? Learning analytics aims to understand and improve learning and the learning environment. This does not necessarily involve Double Loop Learning. For students feedback about their present performance may be enough. But if we aim for identity transformation and wish to improve the learning environment then we need a deeper interpretation of data. This has a number of implications in terms of designing Learning Analytics.

Firstly we have to have a very clear focus on what the purpose of the Learning Analytics is. Is it to find out more for example about informal learning in organisations or to inform L and D department staff about the Learning environment. Is it to help learners understand about their interactions with other staff or to examine their own dispositions for learning – and so on? Secondly – and crucially who is that data presented to users – be it learners or trainers. The existing parading for Learning Analytics presentations appears to be the dashboard. Yet in the LAk16 pre conference workshops there were a whole series of presentations where presenters invited participants to say what the graphics meant. And often we couldn’t. If LA professionals cannot interpret data visualisations then a leaner has little hope of making their own meanings. I am a little puzzled as to why dashboards have become the norm. And one of my major concern is that often it is difficult to understand the visualisation out of the context in which the learning exchange has happened. If Double Loop learning is to happen, then learners need to reflect in order to make meanings. And refection occurs best, I think, in the context in which it takes place.


Image: Ralph Klamma –

There are alternatives to the dashboard. For instance with EmployID we are developing real time discourse analysis and are also looking at providing dynamic prompts for reflection.>One final point. If we are aiming at using Learning Analytics for Double Loop Learning we need to find out what works and what does not. That means that any measure for Learning Analytics needs to be accompanied by well designed evaluation measures. All too often because LA collects data, it presumes to cover evaluation. Whilst both LA and evaluation may share data, they aim at different things.

Lack of proxies a problem for Workplace Learning Analytics

May 3rd, 2016 by Graham Attwell
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about Learning Analytics lately and this is the first of four or five short posts on the subject. Its all been kicked off by attending the Society of Learning Analytics pre conference workshops last week – LAK16 – in Edinburgh. Sadly I couldn’t afford the time and money to go to both the workshops and the full conference but many of the presentations and papers from the conference are already viable online.
My interest in Learning Analytics stems from the EmployID project which is aiming to support scalable and cost-effective facilitation of professional identity transformation in public employment services. And in our project application under the EU Research Framework (Horizon 2020) we said we would research and develop Learning Analytics services for staff in Public Employment Services. Easier said than done! An early literature review revealed that despite present high levels of interest (hype?) in Learning Analytics in formal education there has been very little research and development in Workplace Learning Analytics: therefore my excitement at a workshop on this subject at LAK16. But sadly despite the  conference selling out with 400 attendees, we only had four papers submitted for the workshop and just 11 attendees. What this did allow was a lot of in-depth discussion, which has left me plenty of issues to think about. And of course one of the issues we discussed was why there is apparently so little interest in Workplace Learning Analytics. It was pointed out that there have been a number of work oriented presentations in previous LAK conferences but these had remained isolated with no real follow up and with no overall community emerging.
There was also a general feeling that the Learning Analytics community was weak in terms of learning theory and pedagogy, both of which were censored central to Workplace Learning Analytics. But perhaps most importantly Learning Analytics approaches in schools and Higher Education lean heavily on proxies for learning, for instance examination results and grades. With the lack of such proxies for learning in the workplace, Learning Analytics has to focus on real learning – usually in the absence of a Learning Management System. And that is simply very hard to design and develop.Yet having said that, most if not all of us in the workshop were convinced that the real future of Learning Analytics in in the workplace, with a focus on understanding learning including informal learning and improving both learning and the environment in which it occurs.
We agreed on some modest next steps and will be launching a LinkedIn Group in the near future. In the meantime the papers and presentation from the workshop can be found at

Workplace Learning Analytics for Facilitation in European Public Employment Services

April 29th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

This week I have been at the pre-conference workshops for the Learning analytics conference in Edinburgh. This is my presentation at the workshop on Workplace Learning Analytics. And below is the abstract of my paper together with a link to download the full paper, if you should wish. In the next few days,  I will write up a reflection on the workshops, plus some new ideas that emerged from talking with participants.

The paper is based on early research and practices in developing workplace Learning Analytics for the EU funded EmployID project, focused on identity transformation and continuing professional development in Public Employment Services (PES) in Europe. Workplace learning is mostly informal with little agreement of proxies for learning, driven by demands of work tasks or intrinsic interests of the learner, by self-directed exploration and social exchange that is tightly connected to processes and the places of work. Rather than focusing on formal learning, LA in PES needs to be based on individual and collective social practices and informal learning and facilitation processes rather than formal education. Furthermore, there are considerable concerns and restraints over the use of data in PES including data privacy and issues including power relations and hierarchies.

Following a consultation process about what innovations PES would like to pilot and what best meets their needs, PES defined priorities for competence advancement around the ‘resourceful learner’, self-reflection and self-efficacy as core competences for their professional identity transformation. The paper describes an approach based on Social Learning Analytics linked to the activities of the EmployID project in developing social learning including advanced coaching, reflection, networking and learning support services. SLA focuses on how learners build knowledge together in their cultural and social settings. In the context of online social learning, it takes into account both formal and informal educational environments, including networks and communities. The final section of the paper reports on work in progress to build a series of tools to embed SLA within communities and practices in PES organisations.

Download the paper (PDF)

Mobile Learning – the Dream goes on

February 29th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

“What killed the mobile learning dream?” asks John Traxler in an article for Jisc’s Digifest. John goes on to say:

Mobile learning was e-learning’s dream come true. It offered the potential for completely personalised learning to be truly any time, anywhere.

ltbInstead, we’ve ended up with mobile access to virtual learning environments that are being used as repositories. So, in practice, students reading their notes on the bus.

He’s right but I am not sure his reasons are sufficient. The main problem John sees is that when early projects were developed into mobile learning, they were based on supplying participants with digital devices. This was expensive and limited the scale and sustainability of such projects. Now new initiatives are emerging based on BYOD (bring your own Device). This is more sustainable but raises its own questions.

Bring your own device, enabling students to use their own equipment, introduces more questions: is there a specific range of technologies they can bring, what’s the nature of the support offered, and have we got a network infrastructure that won’t fall over when 20,000 students turn up with gadgets? What kind of staff development is needed to handle the fact that not only will the students turn up with many different devices but tomorrow they’ll have changed to even more different devices?

All this is true. And as we prepare to roll out the trial of our Learning Layers project funded Learning Toolbox (LTB) application we are only to aware that as well as looking at the technical and pedagogic application of Learning toolbox, we will have to evaluate the infrastructure support. The use of Learning toolbox has been predicated on BYOD and has been developed with Android, iOS and Microsoft versions. The training centre where the pilot will take place with some 70 apprentices, BauABC, covers a large site and is in a rural area. Telecoms network coverage is flaky, broadband not fast and the wireless network installed to support the pilots is a new venture. So many issues for us to look at there. However in terms of staff development I am more confident, with an ongoing programme for the trainers, but perhaps more importantly I think a more open attitude from construction industry trainers to the use of different technologies than say from university lecturers.

The bigger issue though for me is pedagogy. John hints at this when he talks about mobiles being used to access virtual learning environments that are being used as repositories. The real limitation here is not in the technology or infrastructure but a lack of vision of the potential of mobiles for learning in different contexts. Indeed I suspect that the primary school sector is more advanced in their thing here than the universities. Mobile devices have the potential to take learning into the world outside the classroom and to link practical with more theoretical learning. And rather than merely pushing learning (to be read on the bus although I have never quite understood why mobile learning vendors think everyone travels home by bus), the potential is to create a new ecosystem, whereby learners themselves can contribute to the learning of others, by direct interaction and by the sharing of learning and of objects. Dare I say it – Learning Toolbox is a mobile Personal Learning Environment (at least I hope so). We certainly are not looking to replace existing curricula, neither existing learning technologies. Rather we see Learning Toolbox as enhancing learning experiences and allowing users to reflect on learning in practice. In this respect we are aware of the limitations of a limited screen size and also of the lack of attraction of writing long scripts for many vocational learners. This can be an advantage. Mobile devices support all kinds of gesturing (think Tinder) and are naturally used for multimedia including video and photographs.

So what killed the mobile learning dream. Lack of understanding of its true potential, lack of vision and a concentration of funding and pilot activities with the wrong user groups. That is not to say that mobile learning cannot be used in higher education. But it needs a rethinking of curriculum and of the interface between curriculum, pedagogy and the uses of technology. So the dream is not dead. It just needs more working on!

If you would like to know more about Learning Toolbox or are interesting in demonstration or a pilot please contact me graham10 [at] mac [dot] com

What is the political and social habit(u)s of present day universities?

January 18th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

I like Cristina Costa’s blog, “Is technology changing learning habit(u)s?” (and not only because she cited me). Cristina says how her study on students’ digital practices shows how students’ learning habitus (their histories/experiences with education) have not changed that much in the formal setting, even when they are presented with new pedagogical approaches. It is not so much an issue of their digital competence but an issue that the informal uses of technology do not simply transfer into formal contexts.

Students, she says, “have a feeling for the ‘academic game’ and do their best to adjust to the field’s rules in order to succeed in it.” It seems to me their was always something of a game in academia and especially in undergraduate education. Even in the early 1970s we had well developed strategies for getting through exams (for instance I undertook a rather more in depth study of past exam questions than I did of the overall curriculum and it worked well for me).

But there are more profound contradictions in today’s higher education system. On the one hand universities are supposed to be about education and learning – as expressed through Humboldt’s idea of Allgemeine Bildung—or well-rounded education—to ensure that each person might seek to realize the human potentialities that he possessed as a unique individual or more modern appeals for a broad liberal education (unless such an education can be seen as improving their employability). On the other hand in the UK students are paying substantial fees for a system designed to provide them with a qualification to realise the so called graduate wage premium in the world of work. In such a situation it is little wonder that students are reluctant to participate in the innovative pedagogies – described by Cristina as  Freirean and Deweyan type of pedagogical approaches – designed for them to explore ideas and knowledge – quite simply they want the knowledge and skills they need to pass the exams and thus justify the expenditure. In this situation students will readily adopt productivity apps – office tools, citation databases, revision apps etc – and of course will use technology for social purposes and entertainment. But I am afraid asking them to use social software for learning within the political and social habit(u)s of present day universities may be going to far.

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    According to the Guardian, research conducted with more than 6,300 authors of journal articles, peer reviewers and journal editors revealed that over two-thirds of researchers who have never peer reviewed a paper would like to. Of that group (drawn from the full range of subject areas) more than 60% said they would like the option to attend a workshop or formal training on peer reviewing. At the same time, over two-thirds of journal editors told the researchers that it is difficult to find reviewers

    Teachers and overtime

    According to the TES teachers in the UK “are more likely to work unpaid overtime than staff in any other industry, with some working almost 13 extra hours per week, according to research.

    A study of official figures from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that 61.4 per cent of primary school teachers worked unpaid overtime in 2014, equating to 12.9 additional hours a week.

    Among secondary teachers, 57.5 per cent worked unpaid overtime, with an average of 12.5 extra hours.

    Across all education staff, including teachers, teaching assistants, playground staff, cleaners and caretakers, 37.6 per cent worked unpaid overtime – a figure higher than that for any other sector.”

    The future of English Further Education

    The UK Parliament Public Accounts Committee has warned  the declining financial health of many FE colleges has “potentially serious consequences for learners and local economies”.

    It finds funding and oversight bodies have been slow to address emerging financial and educational risks, with current oversight arrangements leading to confusion over who should intervene and when.

    The Report says the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and the Skills Funding Agency “are not doing enough to help colleges address risks at an early stage”.

    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

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