Archive for the ‘TEL’ Category

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

December 11th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

The starting points of the Learning Layers project

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

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

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

The starting points of the construction pilot

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

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

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

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

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

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

The training schemes as capacity building and contribution to tool development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The follow-up prospects

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

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

More blogs to come …

Once more Learning Layers – Part Four: Drawing conclusions across the pilots in construction and healthcare

December 3rd, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

With this series of posts I am completing one of the final tasks in our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project – analysing the work in the two sectoral pilots – construction and healthcare – from a comparative perspective. At the end of the work we need to consider, what we have learned from parallel pilots and what conclusions we can draw on the basis of comparative analyses. In this respect I am have presented extracts from a joint draft document on which I am working with my colleagues Tamsin Treasure-Jones and Graham Attwell. With these posts I try to ‘blog into maturity’ the preliminary thoughts we have put into discussion. In the previous posts I presented some starting points and insights into the processes as well as reflections on the parallel pilots. In the final post I outline conclusions across the pilots. (Here, as in all posts, the input on healthcare pilot is provided by Tamsin Treasure-Jones.)

Whilst it has been relatively easy for us to present the stories of the two pilots (even in a comparative setting), it is difficult to draw conclusions across the pilots – and to keep the complex picture of the contexts in one’s mind. Therefore, we are very cautious about presenting cross-cutting conclusions. Below, after several iterations I present our joint conclusions:

Concluding reflections – across the sectoral pilots

Altogether, it is difficult to formulate conclusions that could link together either success factors of the two different sectoral pilots. The circumstances were very different and the processes as well. However, some of the challenging experiences can be formulated as ‘paradoxes of co-design work’:

  1. Co-design processes that start with a focus on very specific needs of particular user groups are not always able to pursue their work consequently to an end. Iterations and eventual revisions are natural elements of such processes. Radical shifts of emphasis during the process may lead to more flexible or better solutions but equally they can also cause a loss of momentum.
  2. Processes that have created a ‘milieu’ of participative events and exchanges between the developers and users may be influential as facilitators of multimedia learning and upgrading of user-skills. Yet, positive experiences in the preparatory work do not necessarily guarantee successful deployment of tools in actual practice. Here it is necessary to look at the context in which the introduction of the tools takes place. There are limits to what a project can achieve when working in a complex and changing environment.

Concerning the changing of practices, takeup of the tools and transferring ownership of innovation, the experiences of both sectoral pilots emphasise the importance of critical transitions, such as:

  • Radical changes in the initial design idea should be supported in responsive co-design work. Yet such changes need to be made with care, since they can introduce problems (loss of motivation, dropping good ideas too early, losing the link to the original well-understood context) as well as leading to improvements.
  • Moving from the work with the initial group (involved in the co-design) to work with a similar group that had not been engaged in the co-design work. In such situations the new users may be less motivated to work with tools that are under preparation; they have not developed the same personal investment and feelings of ownership as the co-design group
  • Transferring the innovation from the initial pilot context to new ones with different user groups. If the tools can be easily customised for new contexts, engagement of users may be easier with new groups of users who first encounter the tools when mature.

In this respect, sustainable deployment of tools like the ones of the Learning Layers project require the readiness of both individuals, organisations and networks to complete the transition to use them. The introduction of the tools that were piloted has not been merely a replacement of older tools with newer ones. The pilots with collaborative tools have required changes in routines, knowledge processes and patterns of sharing information. If only some of the users are ready to complete the transition to new tools, then there is a risk that the tools are not used at all. If the tools can be used individually, for limited user groups and for collaborative processes (as the Learning Toolbox), then the transition can proceed from smaller pilot groups to wider use more easily.

I guess we managed to complete our  work in a good way. I think we got the mainlessons pulled together.

More blogs to come …


Once more Learning Layers – Part Three: Reflections on parallel pilots in construction and healthcare

December 3rd, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In this series of posts I am working with one of the final tasks in our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project – analysing the work in the two sectoral pilots – construction and healthcare – from a comparative perspective. At the end of the work it is necessary to consider, what we have learned from parallel pilots and what conclusions we can draw on the basis of comparative analyses. In this respect I am presenting extracts from a joint draft document on which I am working with my colleagues Tamsin Treasure-Jones and Graham Attwell. With these posts I try to ‘blog into maturity’ the preliminary thoughts we have put into discussion. In the previous posts I presented some starting points and insights into the processes. In this post I present our reflections on the parallel pilots – to be continued in the final post with conclusions across the pilots. (Here, as in all posts, the input on healthcare pilot is provided by Tamsin Treasure-Jones.)

Reflections on different factors influencing project work in the pilot sectors

In the light of the above presented process characteristics and findings it is appropriate to reflect the lessons from the two pilot sectors with their respectively different processes of project work. Below we summarise the lessons of the two sectoral pilots concerning

  • factors that facilitated successful project work and take-up of innovation,
  • factors that caused hindrances and required efforts to overcome them,
  • factors that enabled transfer from initial pilot contexts and supported wider engagement of users.

Lessons from the construction pilot

  1. In the primary pilot context – training centre Bau-ABC – it was possible create a multi-channelled research & development dialogue, in which different activities supported each other. Work process analyses, analyses of critical bottlenecks in training, pedagogic reflections on the use of tools – all this contributed to the shaping of the Learning Toolbox. Furthermore, in the trades that have been involved in the pilots, the apprentices have taken the Learning Toolbox as an adequate support for their own learning processes.
  1. During the pilot activities the following hindrances and restrictive factors were experienced and partly overcome: a) The initial design idea (comprehensive digitisation of training materials) was too specific to the primary pilot organisation and too complex in technical terms. This was overcome with the concept of Learning Toolbox and with its open and flexible framework. b) At a later phase the gaps of multimedia competences in the pilot organisation were seen as a risk for successful tool deployment across the organisation. This was partly resolved by introducing the Theme Room training scheme as a ‘whole organisation’ engagement.
  1. The transfer of innovation from the initial pilot context (training centre) to further pilot contexts – to construction companies and to other organisations in construction sector has been enhanced by the following factors: a) A specific impact case was presented by a construction site manager who demonstrated the usability of Learning Toolbox as means to share information in real time (and for reporting from the construction site). cb In promotion events both the training-related examples and the case of construction site management have enabled the company representatives to express their own interests on using Learning Toolbox.

Lessons from the healthcare pilot

  1. Factors that appear to have supported adoption of the tools and transformation of practice include working with organisations whose key remit/focus is training/education. This occurred with our work with both PCTC and AMEE. Both organisations had the interest and knowledge to see how they could use the tools within their practice and to use their own resources to support this. Another approach that has led to change in healthcare has been the involvement of a commercial/development company (PinBell) who already have a related product (Intradoc247) in the market.
  2. Factors that appear to have hindered adoption of the tools and transformation of practice include the workload pressures within the healthcare SMEs. Learning Layers was working within the UK healthcare sector at a time of constant change and national reorganisation. Staff feeling under pressure have little time to devote to R&D projects which do not have a clear service delivery output. The co-design activity did lead to some healthcare professionals feeling ownership of the tools.  However, this engagement and adoption did not appear to transfer fully when the tools were taken beyond the co-design teams and into their networks for the pilots.
  3. Factors that have facilitated transfer beyond the initial contexts in healthcare include the use of the tools by healthcare professionals in real work settings and their own presentation and championing of the tools to others. Based on their understanding of the tools (developed through their engagement in the co-design work), healthcare professionals were able to present the tools to their healthcare networks and engage those networks in the pilots. However, this approach only succeeded in getting the wider networks involved in the pilots, it did not yet lead to the wider networks adopting the tools or making long-term changes in practice.  

I think this is enough of our reflections on the two parallel pilots. We already start to see different constellations of facilitating and challenging factors coming up. In the next post I conclude this series with our reflections across the pilots.

More blogs to come …

Once more Learning Layers – Part Two: Comparative insights into both pilot sectors

December 3rd, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In this series of posts I am working with one of the final tasks in our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project – analysing the work in the two sectoral pilots – construction and healthcare – from a comparative perspective. At the end of the work it is necessary to consider, what we have learned from parallel pilots and what conclusions we can draw on the basis of comparative analyses. In this respect I have been working with my colleagues Tamsin Treasure-Jones and Graham Attwell with a joint draft document. In this series I present extracts from our document as ‘loud thinking’ to ‘blog them into maturity’. In my first post I presented our approach and the starting points of the sectoral pilots. In this post I present some insights into project work in the two pilots. In the final posts I will present our reflections and some emerging conclusions. (Here, as in all posts, the input on healthcare pilot is provided by Tamsin Treasure-Jones.)

Insights into project work in the two parallel pilots

“In both sectors the general approach was to adopt co-design and capacity for implementing and rolling out the technology in the application partner organisations. In addition to work in the primary pilot contexts, the pilot teams engaged additional, ‘secondary’, contexts.”

“In construction the process started as digitisation of existing training and learning resources and through  a process of research and development dialogue. In this context the co-design shifted from digitisation of learning content to shaping a flexible digital toolset – the Learning Toolbox (LTB). The Bau-ABC trainers adopted the Learning Toolbox as part of their normal practice and starting to develop digital learning resources themselves. This activity enhanced their efforts to change the role of the trainers from a more didactic role to a facilitative one.

In the outreach activities to present the LTB to other users in construction sector the ‘champion case’ has been the example in which a architect Thomas Isselhard (from the network for ecological construction work) demonstrates how to use the toolset in managing a construction site and the cooperation between different craftsmen. In the light of this example the construction companies have developed their own ideas, how to use the LTB for their purposes.

In healthcare the initial empirical and co-design work had identified three potential opportunities for technology to support informal learning at the healthcare workplace. Co-design teams w followed a Design Based Research approach to the subsequent development and field-testing of the tools – Bits & Pieces, Confer and Living Documents. By the end of the third year the tools had been used by small groups within each General Practices within a short field-study to support their collaborative work. There was some evidence that the groups involved in the pilots started to work in a more collaborative way. Yet, there is little sign that the pilot tools themselves will continue to be used beyond the project.

However, Learning Layers had involved a key commercial partner (PinBell) in the co-design work to help with longer-term sustainability. PinBell’s Intradoc247 software is a leading intranet solution designed specifically for General Practices. Therefore the changes in practice observed within the pilot activities may be continued through the use of collaborative working functionality now embedded within Intradoc247 and supported by PinBell.

The wider stakeholder engagement work in healthcare has involved work with a regional training company (Primary Care Training Company – PCTC) and an international medical education organisation (Association of Medical Education in Europe – AMEE). In year 4 with the maturing of Learning Toolbox, PCTC identified the possibility for it to support their annual conference for Healthcare Assistants and they are now also exploring whether it can support their training courses.  Learning Toolbox was successfully used as part of the technology-enhanced informal learning package at AMEE’s 2016 conference.”

I think this is enough on the implementation of the two pilots and of the outcomes at the end of the day. In my next post I will present reflections on the processes (relative strengths and weaknesses) in the parallel pilots.

More blogs to come …


Once more Learning Layers – Part One: Learning lessons from both pilot sectors

December 3rd, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

Twice I have already tried to say goodbye to project work in our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project – in vain. Having completed the reporting on the construction pilot with the the forthcoming web documents (impact cards, learning scenarios and methodology documents) I thought that I could step to a follow-up phase. However, at that point I had not realised that there is one more pending task that we need to address in the context of our reporting. We need to have a closer look at the efforts, achievements and experiences in the two sectoral pilots – construction and healthcare – with a comparative view. We need to see, what specific lessons we have learned in each of them and what conclusions we can draw on the basis of both sectoral pilots. So, now I am working with my colleagues Tamsin Treasure-Jones and Graham Attwell to summarise the picture of the two pilots in one document and to outline common conclusions.

In this series of posts I present some extracts from our draft document – firstly the starting points, then some insights into project work and some reflections on the parallel pilots and finally some emerging conclusions across the pilots. I hope that my colleagues accept my way of ‘thinking aloud’ in blogs and ‘blogging through’ the draft texts to maturity – this is the way of work I have learned during the LL project. So, here we go with the first extract:

“Challenges for research & development activities and for valuing the achievements

The Learning Layers project has worked in two pilot sectors – construction sector and healthcare sector. The aim has been to develop and introduce appropriate tools and technology solutions that support the application partners in workplace-based learning, knowledge sharing and networking – given the sectoral boundary conditions. However, during the project work the pilot teams have encountered also several hindrances as well as organisational and cultural barriers.

In the reporting of the project this has been taken into account by providing a picture on the progress in both pilot sectors. This may easily lead to particularisation of the view – the achievements of the project are to be judged on the basis of success in particular pilot organisations with the respective tools and measures introduced there. This would leave to margins the fact that the project worked towards integrative tool development and that the sectoral pilot teams tried to learn from each others’ experiences. Therefore, this document provides comparative insights into project work in the two pilot sectors and reflects on lessons learned when comparing the experiences and achievements.

Starting points for the sectoral pilots

Starting points for Construction pilot

In the beginning phase  of the project following kinds challenges, problems and interests were identified in the initial interviews and stakeholder talks in the construction sector:

  • Recent innovation campaigns of construction industry and trades (see e.g. the joint document of construction sector stakeholders “Leitbild Bau”2009) highlighted improvement of human productivity as a major innovation factor. At the same time construction sector was suffering from lack of skilled workers and apprentices.
  • Construction companies that had pioneered with digital tools, mobile offices and first-generation apps at construction sites had made negative experiences with non-mature technologies, less user-friendly software solutions and compatibility problems between different tools and apps. Construction sector trainers had mostly encountered such ‘domain-specific’ apps that were designed for laymen users but were not adequate for professional use (or as support for learning).
  • Apprentices were not familiar with domain-specific apps and had mainly become familiar with digital tools, web resources via private use of Internet.
  • Most construction companies were very restrictive regarding the use of mobile devices at construction sites – partly due to data privacy issues, partly due to hazard risks and partly because use of such devices was perceived as distraction.

Given this background, the training centre Bau-ABC was interested in starting pilot activities that would give mobile technologies a new role in construction work, training and learning.

Starting points for Healthcare pilot (Prepared by Tamsin Treasure-Jones)

In the healthcare sector the Learning Layers project was working with General Practices within the UK National Health Service. These General Practices are independent, SME organisations (usually owned by a partnership of doctors) employing doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to deliver first-line healthcare services to their registered patients. In the early stages of the project the following issues were identified from the empirical work (interviews, focus groups, observations) and stakeholder meetings with these healthcare professionals:

  • There was an increased emphasis on collaboration both within General Practices (working in interprofessional teams) and between General Practices (working in the newly set-up Clinical Commissioning Groups and Federations).
  • This collaboration was currently being facilitated mainly through email and face-to-face meetings but healthcare professionals felt that this was not effective, was contributing to their information overload and was inhibiting the work.
  • The General Practice work was mainly office-based, using PCs, and the General Practices did not have wifi installed nor any plans to add this.
  • The key driver for the General Practices was healthcare service delivery and improvement, particularly through collaboration.

I think this is enough of the challenge that we are facing when comparing our project experiences and process histories in the two pilots. In my next post I will give insights into the processes – and into the findings that we are considering.

More blogs to come …


Four years blogging on, with and for the Learning Layers project – looking back and looking forward

November 17th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

During the four last years I have been blogging intensively on our ongoing EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. Now the time has come to close that chapter. I have three reasons to make that statement:

  1. The project itself is at its final stage and our field activities are being closed.
  2. My contract with the project has already come to an end. At the moment I have not been yet been engaged in the follow-up activities that are still in the process of getting shaped.
  3. Due to health issues I am no longer available for field activities in the same way as before.

So, with all the good time passed with the LL project and with all due optimism vis-à-vis the open questions, I am well advised to to take a look back at my blogs and see, what all comes up there.

1.  Blogs of the years 2012 and 2013 – Working ourselves in into the project

Now, looking back, the blogs of the first year reflect a period when we all (research partners, technical partners and application partners) were working ourselves in into the project and finding our ways to work together. I have reported intensively of the initial field visits, of the Application Partner Days and of the work around the Helsinki Design Conference 2013. Also, I have reported of several rounds of co-design workshops and of the first Multimedia Training workshops. At that point we still tried to work with a massive digitisation agenda with the Bau-ABC “White Folder” and sought to narrow it down for rapid prototyping. As our main achievements I highlighted the good collaborative spirit in the co-design workshops and the readiness for shared learning in the Multimedia training workshops. Later on I started to use the concept ‘research & development (R&D) dialogue’ to emphasise this as something very valuable that we had established together.

The logbook of my blogs of these years is available on ResearchGate, see:

PK-Logbook of Working & Learning blogs on Learning Layers 2013

2. Blogs of the year 2014 – Taking the course to develop the Learning Toolbox

The second year was started with a planning exercise – to sketch ‘development projects’ as mode of operation that gives us more flexibility across the work packages and initial design teams. For the construction pilot this was an important signal because it helped us to highlight the development of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) as our new working perspective. In addition to this important shift of emphasis I have reported intensively of the preparation and implementation of the Theory Camp (March 2014) and our follow-up with our contributions to the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER 2014, September 2014). However, the main thrust in that year was clearly in our user engagement with our colleagues in Bau-ABC. We had a major promotion campaign on the idea of LTB during the annual Brunnenbauertage conference. We had an intensive “Demo Camp” promotion session with Bau-ABC trainers and apprentices alongside our consortium meeting in Bau-ABC. We had other outreach activities (the NordBau trade fair and a workshop with companies). Finally, the highlight of the year was the package of videos that we edited with Bau-ABC trainers to support the development of the LTB.

The logbook of my blogs of this year is available on ResearchGate, see:

PK-Logbook of ” Working & Learning ” blogs on Learning Layers 2014

3. Blogs of the year 2015 – The rocky road to Theme Room training and piloting with LTB

The first half of the year 2015 was characterised by hard work with software development and with preparing funding bids for follow-up projects. Neither of these topics was heavily present on the blogs. Therefore, there was quite a lot of reporting on interim events, on the Espoo Design conference and on several hot issues from Finland (the AchSo pilot in Finnish construction sector, the Sustainability Commitments, knowledge sharing on Activity Theory, joint event with Finnish promoters of apprentice training). In April we experienced the opening of the Learning Exhibition “nachhaltig.bauen.erleben” of our application partners in Verden. In May we visited the annual Training Day of Bau-ABC trainers, still with a simulation version of LTB. The turning point was the consortium meeting in Tallinn where we had our first discussion on the Theme Room training concept and a release of LTB with which we could proceed to preliminary testing. So, after the summer break we were already engaging Bau-ABC trainers in testing and in the autumn months we implemented the Theme Room training campaign – both topics well covered with blogs.

The logbook of my blogs of this year is available on ResearchGate, see:

PK-Logbook of “Working & Learning” blogs on Learning Layers 2015

4. Blogs of the year 2016 – With seven-league boots in the final run

The clear highlight of the final project year has been the introduction of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) into apprentice training in Bau-ABC – and later in the year to construction site management in Verden. The progress in Bau-ABC has been covered with blogs on preparatory meetings in February, on the Kick-off event in March and on later working visits in April and May. The exemplary openings in the pioneering trades (well-builders; carpenters and bricklayers) and the transfer to neighbouring trades have been observed carefully. Also tests in other fields of application (Training in Health and Safety; Support for trans-national mobility) were introduced. And in-between we had fairly successful testing visit with AchSo and SOAR introduced by colleagues from Aalto. And after the summer break we were happy to find out during the evaluative field visits (together with Markus Manhart from UIBK and Jaanika Hirv from TLU) that the Bau-ABC trainers and apprentices had taken LTB as their own tools to use it with their accents as support for training and learning. This then paved the way for the high season of preparing the final deliverables (that I have discussed in my latest blogs).

The logbook of my blogs of this year is available on ResearchGate, see:

PK-Logbook of “Working & Learning” blogs on Learning Layers 2016

– – –

I think this is enough of my journey with the LL project as it has been portrayed on my blogs. Of course, the blogs are episodic snapshots and do not necessarily grasp the bigger picture (although I have tried to cover this level of analysis as well). Some of the blogs have been combined and reworked into articles on the LL project website and latterly into the “Learning Toolbox Chronicle”. As the running number of the blog entries is right now 176 (if I have not counted wrong), it is perhaps easier to get an overview from those chronicles than by walking through the heavier logbooks. But both types of collections are there. With this statement I close this chapter and take the next step  to move on.

More blogs to come …


‘Methods’ or process innovations in Learning Layers research – Part Two: Reflections on training innovations

November 15th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my latest blog I started yet another series of posts on our contributions to the final deliverable of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. I might be repeating myself but it is worth reflecting, what kind of learning experience we have made with our partners in the Learning Layers Construction pilot. At the end of the journey  we are able to highlight what all has contributed to the innovation processes we have been working with. In my previous post I discussed this with focus on the role of accompanying research in a process of multi-channeled research & development (R&D) dialogue. In this post I focus on the role of training interventions in our project experience.

Here I have been working with a similar question (as in my previous blog), how to present our training interventions as a contribution to the innovation process (that we have gone through together with our application partners):

  • Can we claim that our training interventions have been based on a pre-designed ‘training method’ that guided the shared learning into good results? Can we present this ‘training method’ as the legacy of our project?
  • Or – shall we interpret our training and learning experiences as a more complex process innovation in which we played a part – an active part, but yet only a part of the common story? Shall we present the training interventions as a thread in the story of the R&D dialogue – and as part of the same legacy?

This time I present the answers that we can give by using extracts from our document “Training interventions as capacity-building for digital transformation – Construction pilot”. And here again, I hope that the extracts from the longer report text give a clear idea, what our answer is and why.

Starting point of our training interventions: Need for shared learning to bring co-design work forward

“This document provides insights into the role of training interventions as support for co-design processes and related research & development (R&D) dialogue in the construction pilot. The following developments are highlighted:

  • The training interventions were introduced as a process innovation alongside and within the co-design (not as a finalised ‘method’ to be implemented).
  • The early Multimedia training activities were introduced as a separate initiative, but gradually they became an important support for refocusing the co-design process.
  • The Theme Room training campaign became a ‘whole organisation initiative’ and paved the way to use the Learning Toolbox (LTB) in the apprentice training projects of Bau-ABC in different trades.
  • The Theme Room concept was proposed for a longer training campaign with more features. The documentation of the concept and use of materials (in Moodle) makes it possible to customise the approach (including the use of the LTB as a specific theme for training and tool for learning).

In the light of the above the training interventions were introduced firstly as ad hoc measures to support the co-design process. Firstly, they were planned as awareness-raising events with practical tasks to consolidate learning gains. Then, after a short interim period the Bau-ABC trainers prepared a new initiative  that aimed to raise the user-competences of the entire training staff to a new level. Looking back, this process can be reconstructed as two phases of training interventions with an interim phase, during which the initiative shifted from the research and technology partners to the application partners.”

Reflections on training interventions: Process innovations alongside co-design and involving all parties

Looking back, it is apparent that the training interventions were not launched on the basis of ready-made method taken from a textbook. Instead, they were introduced as a process innovation that responded to certain challenges in the co-design work. The dynamics of the process innovation can be summarised in the following way:

Firstly, the Multimedia training activities were introduced as a separate initiative – rather loosely linked to the co-design process. Then, thanks to the learning progress of participants, the training results (the start of the blogs, the work with videos) became an important support for the refocused design work. With the Bau-ABC trainers’ own videos on opportunities and challenges for learning they could give impulses for the shaping of the Learning Toolbox.

Secondly, after the early Multimedia training the Bau-ABC trainers wanted to introduce a lightweight follow-up activity with their weekly sessions for informal exchanges. However, they came to the conclusion that such activities do not support their learning sufficiently. Therefore, they proposed the Theme Room training concept and its implementation as a ‘whole organisation initiative’ in Bau-ABC. In this way the trainers’ informal learning was to be strengthened in collaboration with the research partners. This provided a new opportunity to bring the ongoing phase of design activities closer to the trainers’ learning processes.

Thirdly, the Theme Room concept was proposed as flexible training model for open learning processes that were using given learning spaces (‘rooms’) for going through work-oriented learning processes that were shaped as themes. The pace was to be kept flexible and the ‘booking of rooms’ in force until the participants had completed their tasks. Then the rooms could be re-furnished. In this sense the model was designed for continuing and customised learning processes. In the first implementation it was neither possible to introduce the Learning Toolbox nor to make any use of it. However, after the successful pilot testing in Bau-ABC it is possible to make the use of Learning Toolbox a central element of such training and to make using its functionality in a wide range of learning tasks.

– – –

I think this is enough of the training interventions and their role in the whole process. We may not have drawn all the conclusions from this rich experience. And we may not have thought through, how to build upon this experience in the follow-up activities. However, we have made enough experiences to see, how the training interventions nurtured the co-design work and how the Theme Room concept can be enriched with the use of Learning Toolbox. This is clearly ‘social shaping’ (Gestaltung) in practice – both elements are co-shaping each other in a dynamic process. And we need to to take this experience further.

More blogs to come …

‘Methods’ or process innovations in Learning Layers research – Part One: Reflections on accompanying research

November 15th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

During the last few weeks we have been preparing our contributions to the final deliverable of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. And obviously, my recent blogs have included a lot of ‘loud thinking’ on these contributions. Due to the fact that we have had a complex innovation process in the Construction pilot to report, I may have been repeating some issues when discussing in different posts our various deliverables (Impact Cards, Learning Scenarios and Research Methodology documents). Also, I have noticed that with several iterations in writing I have got the message clearer. Thus, I have been able to highlight the characteristics of the innovation processes and the way different parties worked together to make them happen.

In the final phase I have been working with the question, how to present our research work as a contribution to the innovation process (that we have gone through with our application partners):

  • Can we claim that we have applied a ‘method’ that triggered an innovation process into movement and guided it into good results? Can we present this ‘method’ as the legacy of our project?
  • Or – is our project experience to be interpreted as a more complex process innovation in which we played a part – as active contributors, moderators and conceptual interpreters, but yet as part of a common story? Shall we present such a story of research & development dialogue as our legacy?

Below I will present the answers that I have given to these questions in our document “Accompanying Research and Participative Design in the Construction Pilot in Germany“.  I hope that the extracts from the longer report text give a clear idea, what our answer is and why.

The starting point: relatively open user-initiated co-design process searching for solutions

“This document presents a picture of the collaboration of researchers, technical partners and application partners in the construction pilot of the Learning Layers as a multi-channeled research & development  (R&D) dialogue with an emphasis on the following points:

  • The co-design activities started as a relatively open search for solutions to match the user-initiated design idea (digitisation of learning contents and reporting processes).
  • Research partners were engaged as accompanying researchers with co-shaping roles to support application partners in a complex iterative process, during which the initial design idea was transformed into shaping of Learning Toolbox as an integrative toolset.
  • The R&D dialogue was maintained with several parallel activities – joint work process analyses, shared training events, co-design workshops and joint outreach activities. In this way the process could overcome periods of rupture and uncertainty.
  • The research interventions consisted of empirical studies and conceptual inputs that gave insights into vocational learning and learning in organisational contexts as contexts in which the Learning Toolbox promoted digital transformation.”

Reflections on the process: Multi-channeled R&D dialogue with many interventions and iterations

“In the light of the above it is apparent that the work of accompanying researchers was not a process that would have guided by one single ‘method’ or pre-defined methodology. Neither was it a case of classical action research. As has been indicated earlier, the ITB team built upon earlier experiences with accompanying research in innovation programmes but adapted its approach to a more open co-design process. Also, it is worthwhile to note that the co-design process was not primarily about social shaping of work and (production) technology or about pedagogic development of vocational education and training. The project was based on interventions to introduce digital media and web resources via mobile devices to (informal) learning at workplaces.

From this perspective it is important to understand that the co-design activities in the Construction pilot were not primarily a tool-centred and design-driven process. Instead, in the early phase the accompanying research partners and application partners were supported by technical partners with intermediate role (but not that of software developers). Under these circumstances it was important to generate a multi-channelled R&D dialogue that included work process analyses, co-design sessions and shared learning activities. In this context the partners could agree on a radical transformation of the design idea, which meant a shift from digitisation of learning content to shaping a flexible digital toolset for accessing and sharing learning resources.”

The experiences of researchers and practitioners – working towards, with and for the innovation (‘Learning Toolbox in practice’)

“In this – essentially transformative – process of R&D dialogue, in which all partners involved have to face new challenges, the role of ITB researchers can be characterised as agile accompanying research. By learning together with application partners, how to work as change agents, ITB participated in the process, documented the process and supported the continuity of the process. In the final phase the peer tutoring by accompanying researchers was crucial for spreading the use of Learning Toolbox among application partners.

For the application partners – in particular for trainers in Bau-ABC – participation in such R&D dialogue has provided a chance for becoming in real terms co-owners of innovations. In the shaping of the Learning Toolbox this has not been merely a matter of receiving the end product that was the originally expected outcome. In this co-design process the trainers have firstly reshaped their own informal learning processes in the context of the training interventions of the project. After the successful piloting with the Learning Toolbox they have the chance to continue as innovation leaders in their own trades and as multipliers of innovation in their wider networks.”

– – –

I guess this is enough of the position and contribution of research in the process we have gone through. However, the picture would be incomplete if I wouldn’t discuss the role of training interventions as a part of this R&D dialogue experience. Only by looking at both key elements of our process history we can really understand the legacy of our project. I will deal with this in my next post.

More blogs to come …

Presenting Learning Layers training experience – the Theme Room moodle application

November 12th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my recent blog I reported on a fresh web publication – the Learning Toolbox Chronicle – that is available on the website of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. The articles published one by one on the project website and its section for the Construction pilot have been rearranged as a collection that consists of three volumes.

In a similar way I have prepared a new web document on the two training programs that we have organised as a part of our project activities: the early Multimedia training (2013-2014) and  Theme Room training (2015) in the training centre Bau-ABC. I have prepared a comprehensive overview on the programs, their implementation and on the training materials used as the Moodle application “Theme Room Training 2015”. Below I present firstly an overview on this moodle application and then some reflections on the role of this training experience in the final phase of the project activities.

Insights into the “Theme Room Training 2015” Moodle

This Moodle application provides an overview of the “Theme Room” training concept and its implementation as a part of the Learning Layers (LL) project and its Construction pilot in Germany in 2015.

The first section of this Moodle application give an overview on the role of training activities in the Construction pilot and on the evolution of training concepts.

The second section gives a brief overview on the Multimedia training scheme that was implemented by the project in Bau-ABC in 2013-2014.

The third and fourth sections describe the development of the Theme Room training concept and its adaptation for the pilot implementation in 2015.

The fifth and sixth sections give insights into the work with the two main themes selected for this implementation cycle – ‘Use of Social Media in Training’ and ‘Preparation of Digital Learning Contents for Training’.

The seventh and eighth sections give insights into two further themes – “Intellectual property rights (IPR)” and “Using Learning Toolbox (LTB) as Support for Training”. For practical reasons the theme IPR was implemented only as transversal theme that was covered with short ‘guest inputs’ in the thematic workshops. The LTB was postponed for a later occasion.

The ninth section summarises the discussions in the self-evaluation workshop that took place in Bau-ABC in December 2015 after the implementation of the first cycle of Theme Room workshops.

The tenth section reflects the Theme Room training experience in the light of the later progress with the Learning Toolbox pilots and outlines some prospects for follow-up activities.

In addition to the documentation in the introductory boxes this Moodle application provides a comprehensive archive of concept documents, training materials, documents of learning achievements and commentaries on implementation.

Reflections on the role of the Theme Room training experience at the end of the project

Shortly after the pilot implementation of the Theme Room program we had to shift the emphasis to the introduction of Learning Toolbox (LTB) into apprentice training and to co-development of LTB-applications by Bau-ABC trainers. Following the example of Bau-ABC trainers, also other application partners of Learning Layers started with their small-scale pilots in the context of construction work.

Reports on these pilots have shown that the use of LTB has increased the opportunities to empower the learners and to strengthen the culture of project-oriented and self-organised learningin Bau-ABC. Equally, the functionality of the LTB has opened new prospects for supporting creative learning in the context of Health and Safety or trade-specific DIN norms. Yet, with such areas LTB alone is not enough. Therefore, the LTB development is looking at the potentials of LTB integrated with a learning platform (such as Moodle).

In the light of the above it appears that the use of the Learning Toolbox (as an integrative toolset) can play a stronger integrative role also in such multimedia training that was provided in the Theme Room training in Bau-ABC. Equally, when the use of LTB is spreading to new pilot fields, it is appropriate to make use of similar collaborative learning arrangements as in the Theme Room workshops. From this perspective it is appropriate to revisit the Theme Room experience and to consider, how such training can be developed and adapted for new contexts and challenges.

– – –

I think this is enough of this new document on our training experience. In the coming days I have to work (once more) with the final deliverables of the project. But we are reaching the point when we have presented the results and realise, what all we have learned in this project – and on what legacy we can build.

More blogs to come …

Presenting the Learning Layers experience – the Learning Toolbox Chronicle

November 11th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

One of the final efforts of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project has been the rearrangement of the dissemination articles that we had published on the LL website, section “Construction”. At the end of the project we felt that we should make it accessible as a more structured documentation of the process we went through with our construction sector partners. However, we knew that we cannot make intensive editing operations – the materials were already there and we could at best make them more attractive by providing easier access to them. Secondly, we needed to think beyond our project experience and to open perspectives for follow-up activities. This gave rise to present the history of Construction pilot as the story on the making of its main result – the Learning Toolbox. And so the articles of past years were give a new life as the “Learning Toolbox Chronicle” and as “Learning Toolbox Chronik (Deutsche Version)”.

Insights into the Learning Toolbox Chronicle (English version)

Under the new heading the articles appear as three volumes (annual chronicles):

Learning Toolbox (LTB) Chronicle Vol. 1, 2014  covers the early phases from the Application Partner Days (APD) and from the early co-design activities (2013) to the outreach activities with the LTB concept in 2014 (Brunnenbauertage, Demo Camp, Nordbau and a smaller demonstration workshop with two active craft trade companies).

Learning Toolbox (LTB) Chronicle Vol. 2, 2015  covers several interim events starting with the opening of the ‘Learning exhibition’ of our partners in ecological construction work in Verden and with the annual Training Day of the Bau-ABC staff. Later in the year we had workshops and conferences in Espoo, Bremen and Budapest and alongside the Bremen conference the publication of the LTB Beta version. This was celebrated with a field visit in Bau-ABC and with special sessions in the Bremen conference. (And let us not forget the visit of the Singapore Workforce Development Agency to Bremen to inform themselves of the Learning Layers project and of the emerging Learning Toolbox!)

Learning Toolbox (LTB) Chronicle Vol. 3, 2016  covers major training interventions (the Theme Room training campaign) and a series of pilot activities and field events in Bau-ABC Rostrup (the major pilot site for the LTB). We also get insights into using the LTB for coordinating construction work processes at a special construction site in Verden.

Insights into Learning Toolbox Chronik (Deutsche Version)

In principle the German versions of the Chronicles cover the same developments. However, the number of articles is smaller (since we have only included articles of the years 2014 and 2015) that are closer to the application partners. But regarding the year 2016 we have covered all events and activities.

Bonus tracks and Online Guide

One of the highlights of the year 2014 was the joint effort of Bau-ABC colleagues to produce a series of videos on possible use of the LTB in their training and in construction work. These videos are also accessible via both language versions of the LTB Chronicles, see

Learning Toolbox videos from Bau-ABC (2014) – Overview 

One of the highlights of the year 2016 has been the publication of the Learning Toolbox Online Guide. It can also be accessed via the the Learning Toolbox chronicles.

– – –

I think this is enough of the new Chronicles. I hope that they serve their purpose and provide inspiring insights into the making of the Learning Toolbox. For us who were involved in this process they provide an opportunity to celebrate our joint achievements – researchers, practitioners and developers, all working together. And we already know that Learning Toolbox has a future beyond the current project.

More blogs to come …


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