Archive for the ‘workinglearning’ Category

Introducing Learning Layers tools to construction companies – Insights and working issues

May 17th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

Once again I am taking a look at some of the follow-up activities of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project in the construction sector. As I have mentioned in my earlier blogs, my ITB-colleagues and the developers of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) have started cooperation with some German construction companies to launch company-specific pilot activities. In the first phase they agreed to start with feasibility studies. Last week the LTB developers were in Bremen and made some field visits to different sites of our partner organisations with ITB colleagues. At the end of the week we had a wrap-up meeting with one of the companies in ITB (and thus I could attend as an observer).

The approach

In the “Exploitation report” of the LL project we (in ITB) had already outlined our approach to such feasibility studies in the following way:

“Development of a framework for ‘Betriebsbezogene Analysetage’ for identifying company-specific points of intervention (for introducing tools and web resources), working interfaces (for identifying staff involved) and feedback processes (for specifying the benefits of tools etc.) to be supported with Learning Toolbox and affiliated tools and web resources.”

For me the point of interest was to learn, what kind of insights these field visits would bring into discussion regarding

  1. the use of digital media and web tools (in general) in the companies and in their trades, in particular
  2. as support for organisational and cross-organisational cooperation (specific to their trade) and
  3. as means to enhance process optimisation, learning and knowledge sharing across the organisation.

Getting an overview

Our counterpart in this discussion was the medium-sized company H. that is a major regional player in pipeline-building (Rohrleitungsbau) especially supply circuits (Versorgungsleitungen) and service pipes (Hausanschlüsse). It works together with the major electricity providers, water and gas suppliers and telephone and cable providers. Given the wide regional range of activities the company has in addition to its main office several branch offices and installation teams allocated to these offices. The company has framework contracts with its clients that include ordinary orders as well as procedures for emergency repairs. As a result, the company had adopted a ‘federative’ lean organisation that gives a lot of autonomy to the branch offices and to the teams that are working in the region. However, a major constrain for the organisation was to get the reporting of the work of the installation teams (and the clearance of ‘mission completed’) arranged in a smart way.

Given this complexity the LTB developers and my ITB colleagues carried out a series of interviews with the manager and the central IT specialist (in the central office) and with representatives of branch offices and skilled workers at different sites. With reference to the interview grid they then prepared a flow diagram that made transparent the work processes (including working interfaces), information flows (including interfaces with different forms for work orders and reporting) and points of intervention (where use of digital tools and web resources can contribute to process optimisation)

Insights and working issues

In the wrap-up meeting the representatives of the company H. discussed the preliminary findings with the LTB developers and my ITB-colleagues. Here I do not want to get into very specific details but highlight some of the main results:

a) Readiness to use digital media and web technologies: Firstly, already regarding the interaction with client organisations, there is a considerable variety between the ones that use up-to-date digital media (and web technologies) and others that rely on paper-based orders and printed reports. Inside the company the use of digital media and web technologies is generally accepted. Yet, in reporting from the field (with smartphones) there are still some teams that prefer using paper-based reporting.

 b) Multiple dependencies and a variety of digital documents: In this trade (Rohrleitungsbau) it is typical that for one installation job the company has parallel orders from an energy provider, gas provider, water supplier etc.  Typically these organisations use different software solutions, templates and forms. Also, the framework contracts include emergency repairs that need to be started without a separate order – but to be reported with yet another form. As a result the company H. has to deal with several types of digital and analogue documents that are not compatible with each other.

c) Engagement of different parts of the organisation in reporting: The installation works of the company are rather short-cycled ‘projects’ with one or two days’ duration. Yet, given the above mentioned diversity of software solutions and documents (and the varying readiness to use digital tools) there is a tendency towards duplication of reporting work at the construction site and in the office.

d) Autonomy of units/teams and knowledge sharing across the organisation: As has been mentioned, the organisational units at different branch offices – and the teams working in the field – have a great deal of autonomy. Also, their capability to find their own solutions is appreciated. The same is also the case with their way to handle the administrative reporting. However, the management is interested in encouraging knowledge sharing and exchange of experiences across the organisation. Yet, it appears that it is easier to arrange traditional training events (with frontal presentations by external experts) rather than events for shared learning within the organisation. The manager was looking for arrangements to support knowledge sharing among the skilled workers and with focus on improvements in work processes.

Working perspectives and lessons learned

The team of LTB-developers and ITB-colleagues will produce in a short while a brief report with further working perspectives and recommendations. However, already at this stage the flow diagram and the opportunity for joint reflections was appreciated – in the final meeting and during the field visits. Below I make some brief remarks, how (on the basis of the experience with the Learning Layers) the problems can be dealt with and how the organisation needs to engage itself in the next phase:

Concerning the multiple dependencies, different software solutions and document templates there is a possibility to introduce technical solutions – by introducing a company-specific database that communicates with the other kinds of documents (and manages the conversions). This requires some coordination in the central office, whilst the branches and the working teams should get their own documents, which they can at best handle. Furthermore, for the workers in the field it is possible to provide optional choices for reporting via typed documents or scanned documents (that can be converted in the central office). Such solutions would offload the administrative work from the teams and speed up the reporting for the clients. Here the manager emphasised the need to offload skilled workers from unnecessary administrative tasks. To him this would increase the attractiveness of craftsman careers.

Concerning the enhancement of learning and knowledge sharing across the organisation the experience of Learning Layers opens interesting prospects. Firstly, work process-oriented and technology-supported multimedia training can increase the readiness for knowledge sharing. Moreover, linking such training to shaping new stacks for Learning Toolbox can bring into picture practical solutions for such sharing. Here it is important to start from such tools and technologies that offload the participants from unnecessary burdens and make it possible to improve one’s contribution. Here the “Theme Room training” and the co-development of Learning Toolbox in the training centre Bau-ABC can serve as examples.

– – –

I think this is enough of our discussion in the wrap-up meeting. The LTB-developers and my ITB-colleagues will finalise their conclusions and recommendations in a short while. What strikes me in this discussion was the fact that we looked far deeper into learning in organisational contexts (and into process-optimisation in cross-organisational cooperation) than during the LL project. Moreover, it is difficult to find similar cases in the literature that we have been using. So, we have been dealing with an inspiring and challenging case. We hope that we can continue working together.

More blogs to come … 



What comes after “Learning Layers”? – Part Four: Further steps with Bau-ABC trainers and ‘health and safety’

May 11th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

One month ago I wrote the third post on follow-up activities of our completed EU-funded project Learning Layers (LL).  In the three posts I informed on our initiative on digital media in the area of ‘health and safety’ (Arbeitssicherheit und Gesundheitsschutz). Before the Easter break I had had two meetings with full-time trainers (Lehrwerkmeister) of the training centre Bau-ABC. I reported on the starting points of the initiative, some positive surprises and some challenges to modify the approach already after the first two meetings. Then we had a few weeks’ break due to the Easter holidays and the major conference and trade fair Bohrtechniktage (the former Brunnenbauertage) on Bau-ABC premises in Rostrup.

Now I was back from my holiday trips and some of the trainers in Bau-ABC were also available. This time we didn’t have the whole group assembled. Instead, we came together last Friday as a smaller team drawing conclusions from our previous meeting. With Thomas Weerts (the shop steward for health and safety in Bau-ABC) and Josh Dreyer (responsible for health and safety in his trade) we had a productive brainstorming session and we came up with a working agenda  for continuing the process with the wider group of trainers. Below I try to give a picture of the key points (and the slight reorientation of the approach):

1) Collection of key contents for ‘health and safety’ training in different trades

Our first conclusion was about the way we should go further with the mapping of key contents for training of apprentices regarding the theme ‘health and safety’ (Arbeitssicherheit und Gesundheitsschutz). So far we had collected all kinds of exemplary documents – both overarching documents for all construction trades and specific documents for particular trades and risk situations. From now on we set ourselves the task to identify key content areas and key documents that function well in apprentice training. As a next step we asked the trainers (Lehrwerkmeister) in different trades to identify such content areas and documents in their trades. (Josh Dreyer already presented his favourites for machine- and metal techniques.) Based on the proposals from different trades we will gather a collection of key contents/documents in domain-specific folders in Google Drive.

2) Shaping a common core and format for ‘health and safety’ training across  the trades

Based on the above presented approach Thomas and Josh proposed that the trainers from different trades should agree on common core contents (and standard presentation) for the entire field of health and safety. Here they also emphasised the role of visualisations and the use of standard symbols as means to draw attention to the central messages.

3) Production of a set of videos to introduce the ‘health and safety’ contents (general and trade-specific)

Our third conclusion was related to the use of videos. Here I referred to the positive role of the Bau-ABC videos produced by Bau-ABC staff for the Learning Layers project (on possible uses of ‘Learning Toolbox’ in training and at work). Therefore, I proposed that we should produce similar videos when we have made progress in selecting the key contents (for different trades) and the common core contents (for all trades). However, here Thomas and Josh emphasised that we should try to develop a similar collection of exemplary videos that are available in the net.

4) Use of moodle as digital media to present the core contents and software solutions to support them

Our fourth conclusion was that we should firstly use the moodle ‘course’ that I had created for the theme ‘health and safety in construction work‘ as a platform to present the results of the above mentioned tasks. Then, in addition to this, we should present briefly other software solutions to be used in the training – such as the Learning Toolbox that was developed in the Learning Layers.

5) Preparation of proposals to develop learning units and learning designs in funded projects

Our final conclusion was that we should try to identify some simple exemplary cases to demonstrate the use of digital media in learning units (Bau-ABC training projects) and learning designs (modes of implementing them). Here, we should be looking for ways to continue their development with funded projects. Also, in this respect we should be looking at such innovations like serious games that focus on health and safety in construction work.

– – –

I think this is enough on the results of our meeting. Thomas Weerts has sent out a group message to Bau-ABC trainers responsible for training in health and safety to collect their proposals for key contents and documents. After the meeting I had a discussion with Melanie Campbell who emphasised the need for similar mapping exercise with focus on the training of Spanish apprentices in Germany (supported by the project Mobipro-EU). We will get back to these issues in a short while.

More blogs to come … 



First of May and “PULSE OF EUROPE”

May 1st, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

So, once again we have celebrated the First of May – the special day of working people and international workers’ movement. Usually I do not feel inclined to engage myself (as an expatriate) in the politics of my host country (Germany). But to me the First of May demonstrations are clearly that kind of citizens’ participation in which I can join whatever my citizenship status may be. (To be sure – as an EU-Citizen I have no reason to complain: I have voting rights in the local/regional elections in Bremen and I can choose whether to vote for Finnish or German candidates in the elections of the EU-parliament.) In a similar way I have found my way way to the “Pulse of Europe” movement and its weekly demonstrations on Sundays.

Now that the First of May happened to be on Monday, I have been in two demonstrations on the successive days. Below I give short reports of both events. I will start with the First of May and the go back to the Pulse of Europe movement and its events in Bremen.

First of May in Bremen: The usual story – but with something new to think about

During my years in Bremen I have participated several times in the First of May demonstrations. Sometimes (in particular before the elections) there has been more interest to participate, sometimes less. This time – as I remember it – we were fewer than couple of times before. But we were enough to pass the message that this is a living tradition. Yet, when looking at the groups involved – they were pretty much the same: The major trade unions formed the majority. The political parties of the left (SPD, die Linke and the smaller groupings) were also there – of course. And we had the left groupings of several ethnic minorities – in particular the Kurdish people were actively present pleading for solidarity to their cousins in Turkey, Syria and Iraq. The German trade unions drew attention to the need to improve the resources in education and the care of elderly people – petitions were presented and signed. This was the familiar side of the event.

What was new then? Firstly, during the procession I got into conversation with a representative of teachers and researchers (GEW), who informed me of their local initiative group for international solidarity and cooperation. I became aware of their cooperation with similar trade unions in Turkey, Palestine and Burkina Faso – with initiatives that cover school education as well as higher education. I was invited to have a closer look at their activities and I will try to follow this up. Also, during the procession I got a leaflet of a solidarity initiative to support the refugees stuck on the isle of Lesbos (Lesvos). There was no chance to start a conversation but I will try to get a more detailed picture on the situation and on the work of the support initiatives. Here are the links to the websites: and

Pulse of Europe in Bremen: The new movement with a clear message

In February and March I became aware of a new pro-European movement that had started weekly demonstrations for a positive thinking about Europe. Clearly, this was thought as a counter-model to the Dresden-based “PEGIDA” – a xenophobic and islamophobic movement that has provided a basis for right-wing populism and radicalism. And clearly, the Brexit-referendum in the UK and the presidential election in the USA in 2015 were the wake-up calls. The founders – individual citizens in Frankfurt – came to the conclusion that we need a popular movement that raises awareness of positive values, ideas, achievements and citizens’ participation opportunities related to the European Union. The initiative has to keep itself independent and open to all who are interested in taking action for Europe. And furthermore – the movement itself calls for active voting and contacting voters and politicians. It all started in a local demonstration in Frankfurt and the movement has spread all over Germany and to several other countries.

The demonstrations follow the same pattern: The ‘Pulse of Europe’ initiative is presented as an open and independent  citizens’ initiative. The 10 points manifesto is presented. There may be a guest presentation. Then there is a review on key events or incidents at European level. The audience is then invited to sing the Pulse of Europe version of the “Ode for Joy”. Then there mey be a ‘Greetings to …’ action with postcards or with posters and group photos. Then comes the “Open microphone” session for participants to present their views, arguments, messages or critique to be taken on board. And finally, there is the cultural concluding part when the participants join in a chain of people round the square to dance or to listen to a music performance. We have been dancing Sirtaki (focus on Greece) and listened to a bagpipe player (focus on the UK) and so on (I have missed couple of events when travelling).

To me this new movement has been a most welcome fresh wind. I have been happy to see, how the organisers and participants take this mode of participation seriously. Everyone knows that such a popular movement that tries to keep itself open for people with different political opinions cannot go into great detail. Yet, the ten points and the issues brought into discussion provide a good balance between positive ideas and critique of the aspects in present-date EU that tend to alienate citizens and decision-makers from each other. One of the key points of the movement is that we have reform EU to make it sustainable – but we have to keep it first to be able to reform it. And this is the message that the movement has been passing to other nations who have had or will have elections – in particular the Netherlands and France. The current message to our French neighbours is: “Restons ensemble!” (Let us stay together!) Or – as I would continue it: “Marchons ensemble!” (Let us proceed together!)

Here the links to the website of #Pulseofeurope and to the facebook-group:  (in German)  (in English)

Next Sunday we will meet again at the central square of Bremen (Marktplatz) at the City Hall (Rathaus). We will continue.

More blogs to come …




Revisiting the Learning Layers experience – A “ToDo List” for forthcoming conferences

April 30th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

It just happened so that I had little chance to blog during the April month. Obviously this is due to the fact that I and my colleagues are still in a transition from our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project to successor activities. And as I have written in my previous posts, these follow-up activities need quite a lot of time for preparation – they are not merely continuation of the LL activities. I have experienced this in my initiative with the trainers (Lehrwerkmeister) of the training centre Bau-ABC on the theme ‘health and safety’ – it needs more groundwork than I expected. My ITB colleagues have experienced this in the ongoing projects and funding bids with partly new application partners and priority themes. However, we are not through with the key themes of the Learning Layers’ Construction pilot – although we have finished the final reporting quite some time ago. Now, we have a chance to revisit the project experience and draw conceptual and methodological conclusions of our work in the Construction pilot. And I have booked myself in to three conferences to have a closer look at our achievements and how review them from a conceptual point of view. Below I give brief insights into the conference papers that I am preparing at the moment.

The Stockholm International VET conference “Vocational Education and Training – Emerging Issues. Voices from Research” 8. – 9.5. 2017

The series of conferences starts with the traditional Spring conference of Stockholm University – organised on a ferry that cruises from Stockholm to Finland (the Åland island) and back. For this conference I am preparing a paper on the theme “Begleitforschung as mediator between action-oriented learning and digital change: On the role of accompanying research and training interventions in the Learning Layers Construction pilot“.

With this paper I am trying to give picture on our contribution as ‘accompanying researchers’ (Begleitforscher) in the Learning Layers’ Construction pilot – with a special emphasis of the pedagogic development of vocational training when introducing digital media. Here I make comparisons to some earlier cases of accompanying research in German pilot projects (Modellversuche) that focused on vocational schools and emphasised self-organised learning when introducing new curricular framneworks and digital media.

The Rostock International VET Conference Crossing Boundaries in Vocational Education and Training: Social Dimensions and Participation 16. – 18.8. 2017

The next milestone is the second international ‘Crossing Boundaries …’ conference (two years after the first one), now organised by the University of Rostock. For this conference I am preparing a paper on a similar theme: ‘Begleitforschung in the context of digital transformation in vocational education and training (VET): Linking work process knowledge to Industry 4.0.

With this paper I try to follow the thread that leads from the earlier ‘Humanisation of Work’ (HdA) and ‘Work and Technology’ (AuT) programmes (with pilot projects supported by accompanying research) to present date. Here the German and European research on ‘acquisitition of work process knowledge’ and on ‘social shaping of work, technology  and organisations’ played a major role. Concerning the newer research I will explore some cases of ‘shaping-oriented’ (gestaltungsorientiert) projects that focus on ‘Industry 4.0’ as parallel cases to Learning Layers.

ECER 2017 “Reforming Education and the Imperative of Constant Change: Ambivalent roles of policy and the role of educational research” 21. – 25.8. 2017, Copenhagen

The third milestone is the annual European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) in Copenhagen – directly after the above mentioned conference in Rostock. For this conference I am preparing a paper on yet another similar theme Begleitforschung revisited – Reflections on the role of accompanying research in the Learning Layers project, Construction pilot (2012 -2016)’.

This paper takes a closer look at the in-built methodological tension in accompanying research – what role is to be given on practical support for the developmental activities and what role for conceptual knowledge development beyond the particular case. Here the paper revisits the methodological self -reflection within German Begleitforschung in the 1990s and examines the process of Learning Layers’ Construction pilot with reference to frameworks and distinctions of that time – taking into account the conclusions of the two earlier papers.

– – –

I think this is enough content for a ‘ToDo-List’. Luckily enough, I am already making progress with all of them. However, there is that much reflection and rethinking involved that this work is not mere reporting in the same way as preparing ‘deliverables’ for the review panel. Therefore I am not intending to prepare a series of blogs to cover the papers in the same way as before. Each paper and conference is a case of its own and I need to take time in between. Moreover, with each conference we have different arrangements for publishing and therefore I need to find out what are the policies regarding ‘pre-publishing’ individual papers. But we shall see – time passes quickly and the first conference is already in the coming month. So, I will get back to these papers very soon.

More blogs to come …

What comes after “Learning Layers”? – Part Three: Getting deeper with vocational learning, ‘health and safety’ and digital media

April 3rd, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my two previous blogs I referred to the fact that our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project had come to an end and that we (the ITB team involved in the construction sector pilot) are working with follow-up activities. I then described briefly, how I came to start a joint initiative on digital media in the area of ‘health and safety’ (Arbeitssicherheit und Gesundheitsschutz) with trainers of the training centre Bau-ABC. In my previous post I sketched the initiative roughly. Now – after our second meeting – I can give more information and I need to reflect on lessons  learned already at this stage.

Looking back – the achievements with the Learning Layers project

Firstly I need to remind myself how this initiative drew upon the achievements of the LL project. During the project some of the trainers had created WordPress blogs to present their training contents (Project instructions, support material and worksheets) to apprentices in their trades. Then, we had piloted the integrative toolset Learning Toolbox (LTB) that had been developed during the project to support learning in the context of work. The trainers had found their ways to create stacks and tiles to support the apprentices’ projects (based on working & learning tasks). However, the transversal learning area ‘health and safety’ had not yet been covered during the project. And – moreover – from the perspective of promoting the use of LTB and digital media in construction sector, this area is important both for training centres and for construction companies. So, we started working together to conquer this terrain.

Mapping learning materials for ‘health safety’ – filling the gaps and reflecting on pedagogy

I had initially thought that we could proceed rather quickly by mapping the existing material that is being used and by analysing some options for learning software – then to start working with appropriate learning designs. But it struck me that I  had not thought of a necessary interim step – pedagogic reflection on the applicability of existing materials for the learning processes of apprentices and skilled workers. When discussing the potentially applicable learning materials the trainers informed me of several gaps to be overcome. Firstly, a lot of the reference materials are lengthy documents with detailed references to norms, standards and regulations. These, obviously, are not very easily usable in action-oriented learning (supported by digital media. Secondly, several checklists and work sheets for risk analysis (Gefährdungsbeurteilung) are designed for real work situations (involving skilled workers). However, for apprentices who are learning and working in the training centre the trainers need to develop adjusted versions. So, therefore, our initiative needed space and time – and digital tools – for such pedagogigic reflection. Furthermore, the trainers saw a possibility to shape an integrative approach that proceeds from general starting points through the main areas of construction know-how (Tiefbau, Hochbau, Ausbau) and special areas (Brunnenbau, Maschinen- und Metalltechnik) to specific trades (carpentry, bricklaying etc.) and to specific work processes (welding, sawing etc.). So, instead of taking this as an easy ‘packaging content to digital media’ exercise, we are in deep discussion on vocational learning and on appropriate ways to introduce digital media and know-how on ‘health and safety’ into working and learning processes.

– – –

I think this is enough for the moment. I have learned a lot and the trainers are pleased to work in this direction. And as far as I am concerned, this kind of process confirms once again the fundamental principles that we applied in the LL project – orientation to ‘work process knowledge’ and to ‘action-oriented learning’. Now I will have a holiday break but I am looking forward to continuing my work with the Bau-ABC trainers.

More blogs to come …

What comes after “Learning Layers”? – Part Two: Bau-ABC trainers working with digital media and ‘health and safety’

March 30th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous blog I referred to the fact that our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project had come to an end and that the final review has already taken place. For us – the ITB team that had worked in the construction pilot this has meant a change of perspective from developing and testing new digital tools to a phase of adaptation of these tools and setting them to new contexts. In my previous post I mainly focused on the cooperation initiatives with interested construction companies that wanted to test Learning Toolbox (the integrative digital toolset) for their purposes. These initiatives have started from mini-pilots with the option of working into something better. At the same time we wanted continue with the trainers of Bau-ABC Rostrup with a small-scale initiative that helps us to find a way to work further with the use of digital media in construction sector. For this purpose we selected the theme ‘health and safety’ (Arbeitssicherheit und Gesundheitsschutz).

Why this new small-scale initiative?

Looking back at the work of the Learning Layers project in the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup we need to highlight that the co-design, development and pilot testing of Learning Toolbox (as support for apprentice training) became the core process. It was important to get the toolset ready for use and to find out, how it could at best be used once it had become a viable product. For this purpose it was necessary to focus on a limited number of trades with trainers who had become fit to introduce new tools in their training projects. This all worked, but there were several hurdles that couldn’t be overcome during the active period of the project. Also, the training schemes with digital media (the Theme Room training) couldn’t be continued parallel to the piloting. Finally, after the end of the project some other initiatives regarding the use of digital media came into picture. So, there was a need to see, how the Learning Toolbox could be put into a group picture with other web resources and/or other ways to use digital media.

In addition to the above it is worthwhile to note that the pilot testing of Learning Toolbox focused on apprentice training in selected trades – and on trade-specific projects. To some extent this effect could be bridged with joint projects between two neighbouring trades or by similar learning designs for a group of apprentices moving from its main trade to complementary projects from neighbouring trades. Yet, quite a number of trades remained in an outsider-position. From this point of view it was of interest for several trainers to join in a shared learning exercise that promotes the use of digital media and web resources (including the Learning Toolbox) within the common theme ‘health and safety’.

How are we working with the theme ‘health and safety’?

We have started by collecting (digital) learning materials that are being used for the theme ‘health and safety’ in a shared Dropbox folder and grouping it roughly into several sub-folders. Then we have started to develop a joint Moodle ‘course area’ (shared learning area) with the following ‘courses’ (focal areas):

  1. General learning materials (overarching web resources and/or cross-cutting themes)
  2. Domain-specific learning materials for the trades represented in the group
  3. Learning software options for training/learning in ‘health and safety’
  4. Learning designs to be developed with software favoured for specific purposes.

We have started only quite recently, so it is not appropriate to go any deeper at the moment. I will get back as soon as I can give a fresh update. But I can already report that I find the trainers’ engagement very positive and very encouraging. We are making progress in bringing the results of the Learning Layers project further to practice.

More blogs to come … 



What comes after “Learning Layers”? – Part One: The follow-up activities are taking shape

March 30th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

As the readers of this blog have observed, most of my posts since November 2012 have dealt with our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. However, now the Learning Layers project has been  completed and the final review has taken place (I blogged on this in January and February). During its active period (2012-2016) the project supported the introduction of digital media, web tools and mobile devices to support workplace learning. Our organisation ITB was in charge of the sectoral pilots in North German construction industry and craft trades. The ITB team worked mainly with the intermediate training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup and with the network for ecological construction work (NNB) in Verden. The main achievement of the construction pilot was the co-design, development and pilot testing of the “Learning Toolbox (LTB)” – an integrative toolset to support learning at work. The key activities and results reported by the ITB team are presented on the final website “Learning Layers Results”. So, now we have been moving on to follow-up activities.

By the end of the project the ITB team had started follow-up projects (funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education BMBF) with focus on training of construction site managers (DigiProB) and self-organised learning of adults in the context of ecological construction work (DieDa). After the Learning Layers the ITB team has also started several mini-pilots (on using the LTB) with interested construction companies and vocational education and training providers.

What have we learned in this transition phase?

Firstly, the transition has meant a step from a long-term project that engaged a Europe-wide consortium to small-scale follow-up initiatives. Secondly, it has meant a change of perspective from developing and testing new digital tools to a phase of adaptation of these tools and setting them to new contexts. Thirdly, it required a change of focus from solutions that could be scalable for wider exploitation to context-specific integration of digital media to company-specific work and business processes.

In this respect the cooperation that my ITB colleagues have been developing with some interested construction companies has been of interest. With one company (specialised in pipeline-building) they have agreed on a mini-pilot that starts with a one-week visit to analyse the needs, challenges and interests that provide the basis for introducing Learning Toolbox (and complementary solutions). With another company (specialised in wood constructions) they have found a possibility to link the Learning Toolbox to a complementary software solution (that focuses on domain-specific work processes). With both cases there is a challenge to bring the newer discussion on Building Information Modelling (BIM) closer to the work processes of skilled workers and construction site managers. And as we know from the pilot activities of Learning Layers, the Learning Toolbox was welcomed by construction professionals and apprentices as an appropriate toolset for learning in the context of work.

So, I wish my colleagues luck with their efforts to run their mini-pilots and to draft funding bids for new project proposals. In the meantime I am working with a parallel initiative with Bau-ABC trainers to promote digital media and web resources (including LTB) in the area of ‘health and safety’ (Arbeitssicherheit und Gesundheitsschutz). But that is already a topic for another blog post.

More blogs to come …


Rainer Bremer in Memoriam

March 6th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

At the end of January we received the sad news that our ITB and VETNET colleague Rainer Bremer had passed away after a difficult phase with severe illnesses. Three days ago he would have celebrated his 65th birthday, but now he is gone. It has taken some time to get my thoughts together on this fact. After all, I have known Rainer since 1993 when I was still working as a junior researcher in Finland and building contacts with ITB (Institut Technik & Bildung, University of Bremen). Shortly afterwards I changed to Cedefop (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training) and in that contexts worked together with several EU-funded projects – and Rainer was involved in some of them. Then, from 2005 I have been working in ITB and Rainer has been one of veterans of ITB who continued all these years with national, European and international projects.

Below I try to bring together some memories of Rainer from different phases of our research careers. In particular I would like to focus on our encounters in project work and in the many ECER events (European Conference on Educational Research) in which Rainer was prominently present from the early years on.

Modellversuch Schwarze Pumpe and other similar pilot projects

I learned to know Rainer shortly after he had started in ITB and in the accompanying research team of the pilot project Schwarze Pumpe (wissenschaftliche Begleitung der Modellversuch Schwarze Pumpe). This pilot project focused on promoting dually oriented qualifications – acquisition of regular vocational qualification and university entrance qualification (Fachhochschulreife) – without extension of education and training time. Rainer was responsible for accompanying the school part of the pilot, Hans-Dieter Höpfner for the workplace part, and Gerald Heidegger for the management of the accompanying research altogether.

During my first years at Cedefop I had the pleasure to attend some of the interim events of this pilot. In particular I was impressed by the integrated projects that some teams of vocational school teachers and in-company trainers had planned together – involving apprentices from different trades. And I was pleased with the way that the accompanying researchers brought these pedagogic achievements forward. In particular this was the case with nation-wide conference of similar German pilot projects, coordinated by MV Schwarze Pumpe. It struck me that Rainer (from West-Germany) and Hans-Dieter (from East-Germany) could bring together pilot projects that highlighted best practice from West and East (relatively shortly after the German unification).

European projects on parity of esteem and dually oriented qualifications

In the first phase of the EU action programme for vocational education – Leonardo da Vinci – the themes ‘parity of esteem between general and vocational education’ and ‘integrated qualifications’ were high on the priority lists. Therefore, it was no wonder that the MV Schwarze Pumpe was represented in two Leonardo projects:

  • The project “Post-16 strategies” compared different systemic/institutional strategies for promoting attractiveness of vocational education and training (VET) and reducing the status gaps between VET and general education. The project came up with a mapping result that identifies four main strategies from institutional unification (intergerated upper secondary education) to enhancement of VET within existing institutional frameworks.
  • The project “Intequal” provided insights into different curricular models or schemes that promoted integration of general/academic and vocational learning. This project sought to give insights into the possibilities to integrate the parallel learning cultures at the level of practical pedagogic solutions.

During their work the two projects developed close cooperation with each other – and ITB (with MV Schwarze Pumpe as its exemplary case) was prominently present in this cooperation. Rainer and Gerald rotated with each in the meetings and were involved in the bilateral study visits of ‘Post-16 strategies’ (that involved practitioners from Germany and Norway to mutual visits on each others’ pilot venues). Also, I remember the discussions in which Rainer explained to other partners the meaning of the concept ‘Beruflichkeit’ (and the kind of vocational professionalism to which it refers in German education, training and working cultures). Somehow, all other colleagues had failed to go that deep into cultural core concepts. At the end of the day the concluding event of the MV Schwarze Pumpe incorporated also a Cedefop-hosted European seminar in which the European partners could familiarise themselves with the results of the German pilot project.

The classical ITB pilot projects (Modellversuche) GoLo, GAB and GaPa

Partly parallel to the above mentioned projects, partly after them ITB experienced a period of outstanding pilot projects (Modellversuche – MV) in the context of or parallel to national innovation programs:

  • The first one in the series was MV GoLo in the Wilhelmshaven region. It tried to turn the declining tendency in providing apprentice training by encouraging the companies and vocational schools to launch workplace learning partnerships. However, alongside the organisational innovations that made such cooperation attractive, the project supported joint domain-specific workshops to promote quality of vocational curricula and mutual adjustment. In this context the workshops highlighted the role of characteristic working and learning tasks (Lern- und Arbeitsaufgaben). Rainer was not personally involved in the GoLo project but he was keenly involved in the further develoment work with the concept ‘working and learning tasks’.
  • The second one in the series was MV GAB that was implemented at different production sites of Volkswagenwerk. It had the task to develop a new integrative framework for occupational core qualifications and competences for the automotive industries. Rainer was in charge of the accompanying research team and took further steps in developing the concept of Expert-Worker-Workshops (Ex-Wo-Wos) and the curricular embedding of working and learning tasks.
  • The third one, the regional MV GaPa in Nordrhein-Westfalen can be seen as a transfer-project that was built upon the regional networking approach of GoLo and on the pedagogic work in the GAB project. Rainer was in charge of the first phase of the project before moving to other tasks.

Here it is worthwhile to note that the wording ‘outstanding’ does not necessarily mean that all these pilots were success stories – or that successful practice in the pilot contexts would have been easily transferable to other contexts. Yet, they represented a phase of intensive concept development work that had an impact on many successor activities. Moreover, I need to add that Rainer had also other research interests at that time. He was developing cooperation between ITB and our friends in Oldenburg on school-to work transition. And I still remember that he had a project on integration of disadvantaged learners in VET in the area of Braunschweig.

European cooperation with projects focusing on trans-national production of Airbus and Volkswagen

After the above mentioned pilot projects Rainer worked with a new generation of pilot projects that focused on the trans-national production process of Airbus and the role of vocational education and training. Firstly there was a conceptual study EVABCOM (a conceptually and methodologically oriented forerunner project cooperation between ITB, the French CEREQ and the University of Stirling). Then two trans-national projects – AEROnet and Aero-VET brought into picture trans-national partnerships that covered the countries in which Airbus had production (Germany, France, Spain, UK). The point of interest was the contradiction between the fact that Airbus had a mutually coordinated production process BUT the VET cultures in the participating countries remained different. As I have understood it, the consortium focused in the first project on analysing the working and learning tasks of apprentices in different countries. In the second project the consortium explored the usability of European credit transfer framework (ECVET) across the countries. (Here I am not going into details of the projects or into the results – I just want to give a picture of different milestones during Rainer’s career as a European VET researcher.)

Parallel to the start of the Airbus-project Rainer had also worked with the VW Group sites in Czech Republic and Slovakia (producing Skoda) – introducing Expert-Worker-Workshops to the new sites of the VW Group. So, Rainer was working on several international fronts. And alongside his project-related cooperation he was keen on developing the bilateral relations between ITB and CEREQ (the French national centre for research on VET and labour market).

Rainer, ECER and the VETNET community

As has been indicated above, Rainer was involved in several transnational projects and consortia. Therefore, it was natural that he was also prominently present in the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER). In particular I remember his project-related contributions to ECER 2004 in Crete (the VW-Group pilots and the development of Expert-Worker-Workshops) and the subsequent AEROnet and Aero-VET related symposia in the ECER conferences after Crete.

But Rainer was also engaged as a keynote speaker and/or as a keynote panelist in the opening colloquia of the VETNET network at some ECER conferences. In particular in 2004 (in Crete) Rainer was the keynote speaker to start discussion on the question: “Should the field of VET have an international PISA study of its own kind?” There, Rainer defended the ITB position that there should be an alternative to PISA that pays attention to vocational learning and to vocational progression routes. The other panelist, Jenny Hughes from Pontydysgu presented a fundamental critique of the methodology used in PISA studies and of the PISA apparatus itself. Unfortunately the two positions couldn’t be matched with each other in the discussion – although they both represented an alternative approach vis-à-vis the official PISA. But the debate – moderated by the VETNET program chair Nikitas Patiniotis – was intensive and inspiring.

In ECER 2006, in Geneva, Rainer was also involved in the VETNET opening colloquium. This time the VETNET program chair Barbara Stalder had invited the grand old man of Swiss VET research, professor Rolf Dubs to present a keynote lecture on recent developments in Swiss VET policies and research. And as discussants, responding to the keynote speech, Barbara had engaged Annie Boudér from CEREQ and Rainer Bremer from ITB. Without going into details of that session it is worthwhile to note that ITB (in general) and Rainer (in particular) were interested in learning more of the Swiss VET culture in which apprentice training was valued much higher than in several other European countries. Also, Rainer was keen to learn more about the French concept ‘Baccalaureate professionelle’ which was considered asa successful model in opening a vocational progression route after the initial VET.

Rainer, the uneasy intellectual and independent thinker

I guess that I have already covered the main milestones of Rainer’s career as a European VET researcher (at least the ones of which I have personal memories). However, the picture would be incomplete if I wouldn’t characterise Rainer as a special personality – more than just a colleague among others. Firstly, Rainer was an academic scholar with a manifold background in philosophy, social theory and educational sciences. Secondly, Rainer had seriously worked himself in into the field of research in VET and working life – and he valued this context greatly. Thirdly, he was a critical thinker through and through – or as the Germans express it: “mit Ecken und Kanten”. So, Rainer was always looking for deep insights – something solid to build upon. And he was never satisfied with halfway thought platitudes that had not gone through critical examination. Also, he was very clear about his priorities – and on what he didn’t include to them. Yet, he had always his intellectual curiosity and his intellectual humour with him – as fellow travellers. And many colleagues remember his manifold cultural interests – literature and poetry, music from classic to pop and jazz, photography – and not to forget: driving fast with his favourite Citroen car.

Finally, I have chosen a piece of music which could be related to his memory: George Dalaras singing the melody of Mikis Theodorakis “Old streets” in the open-air concert on Athens Acropolis to celebrate the 70th birthday of the composer. (Please note that I am not responsible for eventual advertisements popping up with the link.)

We miss Rainer but we will remember, what he stood for.

Farewell Rainer, we will carry on …


Hyvää Kalevalan päivää 28.2. – Happy Kalevala Day February 28th

February 28th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

Normally I have not made great noises about my Finnish nationality. And it has never crossed my mind to to start blogging in my own language – after all, I have been working several years as a European researcher (using English as the working language). However, this year – the year 2017 – is something different. Finland is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its independence (I have already blogged on this after the 99th Independence Day 2016).  And today, on the 28th of February we celebrate Kalevala – our national saga. So, this calls for a little explanation on the importance of Kalevala for our nation-building and on the circumstances in which it was created.

Finland in the 19th century – the search for Finnish national identity and Finnish national saga

During the Napoleon wars in the 19th century Sweden lost Finland to Russia. Since the wars were going on elsewhere in Europe, Russia was inclined to integrate the new province in a smooth way. So Finland was granted the status of an autonomous Grand-Duchy and the Russian Czar adopted the title Grand-Duke of Finland as well. Finland could keep the old Swedish legislation and govern itself as before – now showing loyality to the new rulers. This could be settled rather easily.

Yet, for the language, culture and national identity this transition was a challenge. So far the educated classes had spoken Swedish and tried to integrate with the elites of the Swedish motherland, whilst Finnish had remained as a language of uneducated. Now, Russian language came into picture as the language of the new rulers. The educated classes faced the question – how to position themselves in the new situation. A new movement emerged with the motto: “We are no longer Swedes, we don’t want to become Russians – let us be Finns!”

And as a part of this movement several hobby-folklorists started to roam around the rural areas to collect old folklore runes and songs to compile the new nation in making its national saga. The leading person in this movement was Elias Lönnroth who collected a huge amount of folklore and edited the national saga “Kalevala”. This saga tells of the arcaic ‘motherland region’ of Finland – Kalevala and of the ancient heroes of the past. Strangely enough, most of these heroes were tragic or tragicomic characters and this was explicit in the stories. (Perhaps the ancient Finns were kinsmen of Kaurismäki.)

The Kalevala runes

As usual with ancient folklore, the stories were told as runes or sung as songs, With Kalevala, the metrics were similar as Ilias and Odyssey: the Kalevala-trokee. Therefore, the obligatory Kalevala-reading at schools has been a challenge for the younger generations. So, it has been easier to pick the tradition via shortcut-versions of particular versions, modern-styled movies with ancient characters or cartoon-versions with dog-shaped humans portraying the Kalevala characters.

But enough with the explanations – let us give sample of Kalevala poetry! Below I start with an original quote (the first verses of Kalevala). Then I continue with a self-styled Kalevala Day greeting (bringing the main Kalevala characters and their contributions together). And to be sure – this all will be in Finnish. And to pick metric, I have hyphenated the first verses. Enjoy it!

Mie-le-ni mi-nun te-ke-vi, ai-vo-ni ajat-te-levi,
lähte-ä-ni lau-la-ma-han, saa’ani sa-ne-le-mahan,
suku-virttä suolta-ma-han, laji-virttä lau-la-mahan …

Väinämöisen kanteleista, Ilmarisen ahjoista,
joukahaisen jousesta, Lemminkäisen miekasta,
Kullervon kirouksesta, Aino-neidon kohtalosta …

Mutta toki muistanemme, mielessämme kantanemme
Ilmattaren aikojen alusta – Väinämöisen kantajan,
Pohjan Akan mahtavan – Kalevalaisten pelkäämän,
Pohjan Tytin kaunokaisen – Ilmarisen emännän,
Lemminkäisen äidin huolen – poikansa pelastajan,
Sekä meidän Marjatan, jolle poika puolukasta.

Näistä kertoo Kalavala, Suomen kansan tarina,
juhlapäivä tänään on, juhlavuosi verraton!

– – –

This was my contribution to the Kalevala Day celebration on this special jubilation year of Finland. I think I will get back to topics like this later on this year.

More blogs to come …

The Legacy of “Learning Layers” Construction Pilot – Part Two: Impact of project activities in Bau-ABC Rostrup

February 22nd, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I started writing about the legacy of our recently completed EU-project Learning Layers and its Construction pilot. With this post I completed on our behalf the homework given by the reviewers of the project to produce a more compressed summary that gives an overview what was tried, achieved and learned in project work. After finishing this overarching ‘legacy document’ I needed to take a more specific look at our achievements in joint project activities with the construction sector training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup. It appeared that our ‘Impact Cases’ on the web were short of the summaries on “Main Impact”. Now that I have completed these texts I found that they should also be presented as a more detailed account of the project work in, with and for a central application partner organisation.

Use of Learning Toolbox (LTB) by Bau-ABC Trainers and Apprentices

The Learning Toolbox grew out of the co-design process of an earlier prototype called Sharing Turbine.  The initial design idea was based on the digitisation of training and learning resources for apprentice projects during their initial training. This design idea evolved during the co-design process into an integrated toolset to provide access to tools and web resources and supports real-time knowledge sharing via mobile devices.


The Learning Toolbox was then developed as an integrative toolset (mobile app container and toolkit) to support learning in the context of work. It was piloted firstly in the North German training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup to support apprentice training in the construction sector. The piloting was based on stacks created by Bau-ABC trainers for short training projects in their trades (carpentry, bricklaying, well-building, metalworking, pipeline-building). The main impacts of the pilots were the following:

  • The trainers could shape their training project in a more flexible way. Some trainers developed joint projects for neighbouring trades (to highlight working interfaces). Some developed stacks with common patterns for parallel trades.
  • The trainers could make more prominent use of trade-specific online resources (e.g. their own trade-specific blogs).
  • The trainers could set their own accents for promoting self-organised learning among the apprentices. Some trainers emphasised problem-solving with a wide range of web resources to be searched. Others emphasised interest- and achievement-based expansion of resources that were made available in the course of learning process.


A more detailed picture of the pedagogic accents in the apprentice training is given in the Scenario document“Learning Toolbox (LTB) as Support for Action-Oriented Learning in the Apprentice Training of Bau-ABC – Instances of Change”.

Multimedia Training for and with Bau-ABC trainers

In the Learning Layers Construction pilot the project organised two Multimedia Training schemes for the training staff of the North German training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup. The first scheme was a generic Multimedia Training to support the trainers’ capability to create their trade-specific digital training and learning environments. The second scheme (the Theme Room Training) was initiated by the trainers to support wider use of digital media and web resources (and of Learning Toolbox) in Bau-ABC. The main impacts of the training schemes were the following:

  • As a main result of the first Multimedia training scheme the participating core group of Bau-ABC trainers created their trade-specific blogs (Zimmererblog, Maurerblog, Tiefbaublog, Brunnenbauerblog) that they used as repositories for digital training materials.
  • In the preparation of the Theme Room training the members of the core group developed themselves as peer tutors and multimedia trainers for construction sector professionals.
  • In the Theme Room training all Bau-ABC trainers developed their capability to use social media, digital learning contents and digital learning tools.
  • In the transition to piloting with the Learning Toolbox the members of the core group made focused use of digital learning tools (e.g. GoConqr) in their trade-specific stacks.


A more detailed insight into the Multimedia Training schemes is provided by the Methodology document “Training Interventions as Capacity-Building for Digital Transformation in Vocational Education and Training”.

– – –

I think that these short summaries (with pictures) give an overview what we achieved together in our project activities in the construction sector training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup. Based on this legacy we can work with further initiatives.

More blogs to come …

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