e-Learning and SMEs Page.
e-Learning and SMEs Page.
Over the last few weeks I have been thinking hard about the role of different stakeholders and potential partners in the Learning Layers project. As regular readers will know by now, Learning Layers is a large scale EU funded project, seeking to develop the use of technology and particularly mobile technologies for (informal) learning, initially in the construction and medical sectors.
The project has adopted a user centred design approach. This involves a series of use cases and studies, with direct involvement of potential end users in design workshops, leading towards iterative software development.. At present Layers is working on four design ideas, looking at functional requirements but more importantly sketching wireframes and designs and sharing these with users.
This is a fairly labour intensive job. And even in a generously funded project, it is dubious whether we will have the resources to develop all four as full and mature applications. Furthermore, the more we talk with end users, the more ideas they are giving us for possible applications. So should we stop collecting design ideas? And how do we prioritise development activities?How do we overcome the limited resources we have in terms of developers?
I was talking with Raymond Elferink last week in Dublin. Raymond runs Raycom, a Dutch software SME. I asked him if he would like to join our stakeholder group of Layers Associate partners. And naturally he asked me what Raycom would get out of such involvement. Well, I stuttered, you will get early access to our products. And we will invite you to an annual stakeholder meet up. Oh, and yes, we will send you a half yearly bulletin. None of this really seemed to cut the ice. So we talked longer about what a project like Layers could offer to engage software developers. In line with most information technology projects funded by the EU, Learning layers is committed to releasing code under an open source license. It is also envisaged that we will try to build a community of developers to guarantee the future development of teh project following the end of EU funding. But to Raymond it was not the code that was so important. As he siad, he can write the code himself. But what he saw as potentially valuable was access to design ideas – and in particular to design ideas that have been codeveloped and validated with end user groups.
This got me thinking. Instead of waiting until we have code and developing an open source community around that code, could we develop design ideas and build communities around that. We could even run hack days and launch competitions around the best prototype for a particular design idea. And instead of shutting out new ideas and designs, we could continue to develop such designs, with the community being encouraged to come in early, take the deigns and build applications. Layers could help and advise developers, as well as giving access to user groups for feedback and validation. In other words we could open up the project at an early stage to a wider community of developers. OK, I don’t know of any European project which has done this before but this does not seem impossible to do.~ At the moment, most of our design activities are coordinated through a closed wiki. But we could ensure that each design idea has a corresponding page or space on the project web site and make sure this is updated as each ‘mature’ version of the design idea comes out, rather in the same form of versioning which is used with open source software.
In fact, we have sort of started this process. In February, we had an ‘Application Partner Day’, with medical practitioners and administrators, in Bradford in England. Jen Hughes got talking to a doctor who said the main barrier to learning for him was lack of time. The only real time he got for reflection was when he was travelling in his car between meetings, appointments and visits ot patients. Jen and me dreamt up a mobile app to allow him to structure his thoughts and ideas whilst he was in his car. And through Andreas Schmidt, a professor at the HsKa institute in Karlsruhe, in Germany, we got to pitch the idea to a group of students on a business iCT course. they have a semester long course where they undertake a project for a commercial client. happily to say, the students voted to develop our app, codenamed ‘Reflect’. So the project is based on a design idea which has come out of the Layers project, but the resources to develop it further are external to the project. I will write more about this as the project takes shape.
In the past, I spent a lot of time researching different kinds of knowledge and how they could be supported by vocational education and training. In particular, I was trying to counter the reductionist approach, as embodied in the then National Vocational Qualifications in the UK, which came from a narrow understanding of competence. Lately I have been returning to that research to try to understand how technologies can support the development of vocational competence and knowledge in a workplace setting.
This is an extract from a paper entitled ‘Work process knowledge, Communities of Practice and the development and introduction of mobile learning applications in the workplace’, submitted by myself, Ludger Deitmer, Lars Heinemann and Pekka Kamarainen to the ECTEL 2013 conference. You can download the full paper in PDF format here.
When thinking about knowledge development in a richer way, it may be useful to distinguish between different types of knowledge. Lundvall and Johnson (1994) identify four different kinds of knowledge, each requiring different types of mastery: know-what, know-why, know-how, and know-who.
Know-what refers to knowledge about ‘facts’: it can be considered as equivalent to what is normally called information and related to the knowledge ‘corpus’ that each category of experts must possess. Know-why refers to scientific knowledge, influencing technological development and the pace and characteristics of its applications in industries of every kind. Also in this case, knowledge production and reproduction take place within organised processes, such as university teaching, scientific research, specialised personnel recruiting, and so on.
Know-how refers to skills – that is, the capabilities to do something in different contexts (e.g. judging the market prospects for a new product, operating a machine-tool, etc.). Of course know-how is typically a kind of knowledge developed at the individual level1, but its importance is evident also if one considers the division of labour and degree of co-operation taking place within organisations and even at the inter-organisational level (for instance, the formation of industrial net-works is largely due to the need for firms to be able to share and combine elements of know-how). Know-who is another kind of knowledge which is becoming increasingly important, referring to a mix of different kinds of skills, in particular the social skills, allowing the access and use of knowledge possessed by someone else.
Rauner et al. (2013) modified these categories in order to bring it in line with the ideas of situated learning and communities of practice, emphasising the role of work processes and the corresponding work process knowledge. The categories of know-what and know-how still refer to ‘factual’ knowledge and the ways of ‘expressing’ it in a work process. The third category, know-why, refers to why to carry out a specific task in a certain way (or, if more appropriate, in another). This modification is due to the insight, that work tasks as well as work processes in post-Taylorist work organisations do not follow a logic of right/wrong. Instead, a solution to a problem can be more or less adequate. This adequacy depends on a number of partly conflicting factors, One may programme the control of a car’s motor giving different weight to factors like acceleration, fuel consumption, high speed, exhaust emissions, etc., according to the intended main use. An electrician may counsel his or her customer on the design of a lighting system regarding costs, efficiency, ecological aspects, sustainability, ease of maintenance, etc., according to the end-users’ ideas. This, then, has the consequence that vocational learning has to address all these three dimensions of knowledge as a whole. The ‘reflective practitioner’ (Schön 1983) is not someone reflecting on what he or she has done after work, using analogue or digital media. ‘Reflection’ is a category built in the expert solution of work tasks requiring a deep knowledge of the work process a given task is embedded in.
Each kind of knowledge is characterised by different channels through which learning takes place and can be supported in different ways using technologies. The easiest cases are those of know-what and know-why, that can be obtained through the typical channels of knowledge acquisition (watching videos, accessing data bases), while the other two categories are rooted primarily in practical experience and in terms of technology enhanced learning have been more problematic insofar as they require the availability of informal social channels. Apprenticeship is a fundamental channel for acquiring know-how knowledge: it represents the most important way for skilling newcomers in an organisation, but these protracted processes of learning by doing are also frequently the responsibility of those who are considered the experts in an organisation, capable of above-average performance. Technology can be used to bring together novices and experts Simulations can be used as shortcuts for reproducing the many aspects of the know-how acquisition available in real situations. Mobile technology can capture know-how in the application of knowledge within the workplace. Know-why can be facilitated by helping to make traceable the processes guiding expert workers’ decision making. In general, this points to a use of digital media going far beyond the transmission of information.
Lundvall. B.; Johnson, B. (1994) The learning economy, Journal of Industrial Studies, 1.
Rauner, F., Heinemann, L., Maurer, A., Haasler, B. (2013) Competence Development and Assessment in TVET (COMET), Dordrecht: Springer.
Project websites are usually pretty dire. A short piece about the project taken from the project application, a list of partners, news updates of meetings and links to downloadable products.
And that was how we started our website with the Learning Layers project. However, we soon realised that this would not suffice. Our aim is to dramatically scale up the use of technology to support informal learning in Small and Medium Enterprises. To do that we need a forward facing web site -something we can show off to SME managers and be proud of. But that in turn requires content which they will understand and engage with. That is a much trickier part. We need more of a newspaper or journal type website than a traditional project site. This has led to a lot of discussions and we haven’t got all the issues resolved yet. But one thing we have done is moved to an editorial model where instead of having a web site moderator we have an editor. His role is to commission content from the different partners in the project.
And I have been messing around with how to write about project development in a way that it is understandable to those without an advanced knowledge of the technologies, processes and ideas that we are developing.
Here is my first attempt – about one of the design ideas we are pursuing codenamed ‘Sharing Turbine’.
“The Learning Layers project aims to develop a number of new applications to support informal learning in the workplace. In the first stages of the project we are working with Small and Medium Enterprises in the Construction sector in north Germany and in the healthcare sector in north England.
We are aware that for any applications to gain widespread take up, we have to work closely with managers and workers from the industries. Therefore, we have adopted a user centred design process for iterative development.
What does this mean? We started out with a series of interviews with a wide variety of people from the sector. In construction e gave now made over 50 interviews, looking at work organisation, learning and peoples present use and attitudes towards technology. This was followed up with what we called Application Partner Days in both the UK and Germany, where we visited the workplaces and held a series of workshop activities with different practitioners.
The third stage in the development process was a two-day design workshop held in Helsinki. Building on the ideas from the interviews and visits we started to sketch out a series of design ideas for new mobile applications. The working groups for the four design ideas that emerged at the workshop brought together researchers, developers and industry practitioners.
Since then, the working groups have continued to meet online and are using a wiki to develop the design ideas.
Each of the design ideas has been given a working name. The idea for the Sharing Turbine design idea came from the construction industry but we hope it may also be of use in the health sector.
Apprentices in the construction industry in Germany learn their trade in three different locations: vocational schools, on the job in companies and in a training centre. At the north German training centre – Bau ABC – they undertake a series of practical projects. These last from o0ne to three days and may involve working individually or as a team. They are given project briefing sheets and save the report of their work on paper which is collected in a white ring bound folder. This has a number of practical disadvantages. Obviously paper folders do not last well on a building site. And although they can use photographs in the report on their work, the folders are predominantly text based. The use of multi media could allow much more detailed and rich reporting. It could also allow a richer representation of the different physical objects and tools used in construction. In fact one of the reason that elearning has been slow to take off in the workplace may be just this issue of how to combine learning through digital media with the physical nature of much work activity.
So the first idea behind Sharing turbine is to transform the present folders produced at the training centre into an electronic portfolio. This would also have the advantage of making it much easier to update the task sheets. Trainees could use a variety of different media directly from heir phones including audio, photos and video.
However the idea behind Sharing turbine goes much further. One of the aims of the Learning Layers project is to capture informal learning. Obviously when apprentices are working in their companies much of this informal learning takes place on the building site. And if they were able to use mobile devices and multi-media learning on the site could be linked to the skills and knowledge gained at the training centre. The portfolio could also become a resource both for dealing with practical problems occurring when undergoing training, but also after they have qualified. At the same time they can be linked to personal social networks, both as a means of sharing learning and knowledge, but also as a human resource for getting help and advice.
The German so called Dual System is rightly admired in Europe for providing high quality apprentice training> one of its bedrocks is combining practical training on the job with theory gained from block period in vocational schools. However, in practice it often proves difficult to link the different phases of training. Sharing turbine could be a critical tool in allowing these different phases of training to be brought together.
The use of Learning Analytics, a process of recording and analyzing learning as it happens – could also allow apprentices and trainers to understand what learning has happened and what new learning is needed – and to develop and refine curricula and training and learning opportunities and processes.
At the moment the Sharing Turbine working group is at the phase of developing wireframes. Wireframes are graphic mock ups of applications. They can be developed rapidly and used in design workshops to test and refine ideas, prior to programming prototypes.
In the next month workshops are planned with companies to get feedback from apprentices and skilled workers. These are not confined to project partners. If you are interested in our work and would like to contribute please get in touch.”
One of the issues which intrigues me about the Learning Layers project is the role of physical tools and objects. We are seeking to develop apps to support informal learning in the construction trade. And one of the big things about construction is that they use a lot of tools, machinery and materials – things that can be difficult to represent in a digital world. Indeed, that is one the the reasons I think elearning has been slow to take off in the workplace, despite the increasing power of mobile devices.
In past work we have tried to understand the learning and work eco-structures through the lens of activity theory. To an extent it is useful, but the bucket category of tools fails I think to represent the central role that artefacts play in work processes.
This morning I stumbled on a paper called ‘Towards a Theory of Social Practices‘ by Andreas Reckwitz. It is not an easy read, at least for me with my limited understanding of social theory. But i find his section on things interesting, particularly the idea that the objects – are the place of the social insofar as they are necessary components of social practices.
This is an excerpt from the section of the paper entitled ‘Things’:
For practice theory, objects are necessary components of many practices – just as indispensable as bodily and mental activities. Carrying out a practice very often means using particular things in a certain way. It might sound trivial to stress that in order to play football we need a ball and goals as indispensable ‘resources’. Maybe it is less trivial, meanwhile – after studies of the history of communicative media – to point out that writing, printing and electronic media ‘mould’ social (here, above all, discursive) practices, or, better, they enable and limit certain bodily and mental activities, certain knowledge and understanding as elements of practices (cf. Kittler, 1985; Gumbrecht, 1988). When particular ‘things’ are necessary elements of certain practices, then, contrary to a classical sociological argument, subject–subject relations cannot claim any priority over subject–object relations, as far as the production and reproductions of social order(liness) is concerned. The stable relation between agents (body/minds) and things within certain practices reproduces the social, as does the ‘mutually’ stable relation between several agents in other practices. Moreover, one can assume that most social practices consist of routinized relations between several agents (body/minds) and objects. At any rate, the social is also to be located in practices in which single agents deal with objects (besides, also in practices in which a single agent deals only with himself, with neither other subjects nor objects) and in this sense also the objects – television sets, houses and brownies – are the place of the social insofar as they are necessary components of social practices. There is no necessary link between the observability of social orderliness and ‘inter- subjectivity’.
For some reason the construction industry is not a sexy research area. Motor cars, yes, machine tools, yes, the computer industry, yes, yes, yes. But poor old construction, boring. Yet in economic terms, construction could be seen as the most important sector in Europe.
Our initial research under the Learning Layers project reveals some interesting contradictions. The construction industry is probably the biggest victim of the present recession. Even the neo liberal UK government is now taking actions to stimulate house building – through the partial nationalisation of mortgage debts. Probably an emphasis on infrastructure projects or on social housing would have had a bigger impact and would have avoided the risk of another house price bubble. But the fact they are doing anything at all shows the problem.
But whilst the recession has badly hit profitability and employment another concern has arisen in our interviews with construction companies. Managers are severely worried about the ability to recruit new trainees and particularly to recruit the better educated apprentices they see as critical to cope with the increasing use of technology in construction. Managers point to the major issue as being the image of the industry – just as in research they consider the industry not to be sufficiently sexy. They are less likely to discuss issues such as wages, opportunities for progression or just the sheer hard physical work involved in many construction trades. Having said that, reality may be very different from practice in other images which have a positive image. Work in the games industry can be hard, poorly paid and boring. And for every kid who makes a fortune out of a mobile app, thousands make no money at all.
Either way they are right in that there will almost certainly be demand for new skills to deal with technology – both in the uses of technology for construction but perhaps more important the changing materials being used in building today, not least due to ecologiocal and energy saving concerns and legislation. Whilst improving initial education training programmes is one response and attempting to improve the image of the industry, the big challenge may be to improve research and development and to develop more continuous training for existing employees. In this short extract form previous research, below, we provide an overview of the industry in Europe and Germany, together with issues in how training – or informal learning – might be improved.
The total turnover of the construction industry in 2010 (EU27) was 1186 billion Euros forming 9,7% of the GDP in 2010 (EU27). The construction industry is the biggest industrial employer in Europe with 13,9 million operatives making up 6,6% of the total employment in EU27. In addition it has a substantial influence on other industries represented by a multiplier effect. According to a study by the European Commission, 1 person working in the construction industry is responsible for 2 further persons working in other sectors. Therefore, it is estimated that 41,7 million workers in the EU depend, directly or indirectly, on the construction sector. Out of the 3,1 million enterprises 95% are SMEs with fewer than 20 and 93% with fewer than 10 operatives. The level of investment in R&D in the European construction sector is low compared to other sectors. The construction sector only invests a small portion of its total production value in research, development, and innovation.
The developments of new processes and materials provide substantial challenges for the construction industry. The traditional educational and training methods are proving to be insufficient as the rapid emergence of new skill and quality requirements (for example those related to green building techniques) require much faster involvement and action on all three levels (individual, organisational and cluster) in order to react quickly to these changes and exploit opportunities. Without this the market potential is hampered by lack of innovation skills and training gaps (Dittrich, Deitmer 2003). The increased rate of technical change introduces greater uncertainty for firms, which, in turn, demands an increased capacity for problem solving skills (Toner 2011, 7). This situation is aggravated in some fast developing European Regions because skilled craftspeople are missing. Therefore there is increasing need for rapid re- and upskilling of the building workforce across the construction cluster.
The construction industry in Germany is one of the country’s most stable economic sectors. Providing jobs to more than 2,2 million people it holds a market share of 21% making the German construction sector the largest in the EU27 in terms of production value. In Germany the federal states, enterprises and the apprentices share the costs of the dual education system (practical training in schools and on-site training). The German compensation fund for construction industry SOKA-BAU reported a total of 270 million Euros of training allowances and job training costs in 2010 making it just a little more than 0,1% of the total production value. In fact, the building trade has one of the lowest participation rates for employees towards further training provision than any other sector (TNS INFRATEST 2008). This is because much of the formal training offering is only weakly connected with real work tasks. The cost pressure in building enterprises limits chances for time-consuming training measures far away from the workplace (Schulte, Spöttl, 2009). Any mobile support for learning and informing at the work place would be welcomed by companies as well as by building workers themselves. With enterprises paying for all the costs associated with the on-the-job training, SMEs need a cost effective solution to overcome the issues that occur with the rapid development in the technologies, processes and materials.
I am spending a lot of time working on the Learning Layers project at the moment. There are two interlinked areas on which I have been thinking. The first is design processes – more particularly how we can develop a user centred or co-design process. And the second is how we can scale the uptake of applications and approaches to learning with technology to significant numbers of users.
the two are interlinked, I think, because if we involve users in every part of the design process, we have a reasonable chance of developing software which is relevant to users. However, having said that, we are realising that different users have very different interests. We are working in two main sectors – or industrial clusters – in the construction sector and in the health sector. Motivations and restrains on the use of technologies for learning vary greatly between the two sectors. In the construction sector there seems a general desire to use technology both to improve the image of the sector – and thus attract new trainees – and to update and improve the quality of both initial and continuing learning. In the medical sector, there is probably more concern on how to update learning and knowledge in a situation where time and opportunity for formal learning is very limited. But interestingly, attitudes towards technology also varies greatly between individuals, even in the same workplace.
The original EU specification for the project is that we focus on sectors where the take up of technology for learning has been limited and is lagging behind. This may be a misconception. In truth in both sectors we are finding plenty of examples of learning practice using technology. But we are also finding many examples where there is little use of technology and even where access to social networks or the use of mobile devices is banned. I suspect that we would find a similar pattern in other sectors. So challenge number one is how we involve workers in the codesign process. Should we focus on those who are enthusiastic – as early adapters – or should we try to involve those more sceptical about the potential of technology to support learning in the workplace?
Challenge number two is around the target to upscale to involve significant numbers of users. Although the project is targeted at workers in Small and Medium Enterprises, and we have a number fo these involved as partners in the project, it is clear that we will have to involve industry organisations in the upscaling. the original application was based on the idea of industrial clusters. There is a great deal of research on such clusters, which I will talk about more in a future article. Enough to say, that we are encountering different forms of organisations which bring together different SMEs. These include industrial clusters, usually around innovation such as the use of green technology in construction. But they may also include different networks and communities of practice which may be more or less fomalised. For instance, in Bremen the Electro Innung brings together over 120 SMEs in the electrical sector of the construction trade. It forms part of the structure of craft chambers through which craft trade companies in Germany are organised. And Communities of Practice can cut across more traditional organisations.
At the moment we are working on a User Engagement plan and looking at the potential interests of different stakeholders in the Learning layers project. The intention is that once we have such a plan we can work out a strategy for interacting with these organisations and for taking forward the user centred design process.
Interestingly Google searches on user engagement produce little of interest, mainly being driven by the concerns of social software companies to gain and retain more users. Hover changing the search string to stakeholder engagement yields far richer results. There seems a valuable tradition of research and development by economic and social development organisations and aid organisations seeking to consult with and involve users in various projects. In particular the Stakeholder Engagement toolkit (from which the diagramme above is taken), produced by the European funded REVIT project, provides a wealth of practical ideas.
I would welcome any feedback and ideas readers have found useful around both user centred design and user engagement.
Some time in the mid 1990s I can remember writing my first project web site – for a project called DETOP, I think. It was pretty crude – I got myself a teach yourself HTML book and away I went. Now of course very project has its own web site – and many have more than one. Content management Systems like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla have made the technical process pretty easy.
But that hasn’t done much for the quality of the content. In particular, most research projects are pretty dull stuff. The aims and objectives, a list of partners with their logos, various reports downloadable in Word or PDF format, a news page usually showing a picture of project partners at their last meeting and sometimes (but too rarely a blog).
These sites are basically a formality – to fulfil funding conditions rather than to involve users. We have been thinking about how to change this for the EU funded Learning Layers project. The project is researching and developing the use of technology for informal learning in Small and Medium Enterprises. And one of our targets is to engage with significant numbers of users – initially in two ‘industrial clusters’, a health cluster in north east England and a construction industry cluster in north Germany.
To help in this task we are developing a User Engagement Model. And of course, we have to develop a dissemination plan. I have been doing some literature searches around user engagement models. Surprisingly, not much came up. Most of it is either promotional materials offering (for a price) to help you gain users or ideas social software providers can fi9nd out more about their users. Changing the search string to Stakeholder Engagement, though, provides much richer results. Although many of the ideas have been written by NGOs or charities written from the viewpoint of engaging with stakeholders in their various projects or from local authorities and other organisations wishing to consult with service users, their is much which is relevant and well though through.
One research paper which particularly interests me is ‘An Organizational Stakeholder Model of Change Implementation Communication‘ by Laurie K. Lewis.
Implementation is seen as ‘‘the translation of any tool or technique, process, or method of doing, from knowledge to practice’’ (Tornatzky and Johnson, 1982 p. 193) and the authors quote Real and Poole (2005) who argue that ‘‘without implementation, the most brilliant and potentially far-reaching innovation remains just that—potential’’ (p. 64).
The paper argues that change models and processes need to be linked to communication strategies towards different stakeholders. They advance four dimensions of communication strategy choices:
Positive versus balanced message
In considering the positivity or the balanced nature of the communication messages, implementers decide whether positive aspects of the change should be emphasized or whether emphasis of positives should be balanced with acknowledgment of negative aspects of the change or the change process……
Dissemination focus versus input focus
In considering the focus of the communication campaign, implementers decide whether to orient their communication resources toward sharing information about change or toward soliciting input from stakeholders. This is essentially a question about whether to engage in a participatory approach to implementation wherein stakeholders at various locations around the organization are invited to be heard and/or are empowered to make decisions. The alternative approach emphasizes information or instruction about the change in top-down messages that attempt to influence compliance……
Targeted message versus blanket message
This dimension of the communication campaign deals with the degree to which messages created about the change will be customized, targeted to specific stakeholders or stakeholder groups, or whether the campaign will have a more blanket strategy wherein the same basic messages are repeated across all stakeholder groups…..
Discrepancy focus versus efficacy focus
This dimension of the communication campaign concerns the degree to which the message is focused on creating an urgency that motivates the need for the change (discrepancy) or on creating a belief that the organization and the individuals in it have the resources necessary to close the discrepancy gap (efficacy)…..
And whilst the research and model is intended as a scholarly contribution, it seems to me to provide some very real ideas and choices for how we might want to deign a communication strategy for different stakeholders, of which our project web site will provide a key element (more on these issues to follow).
Diagramme: @lee74 (some rights reserved) http://www.flickr.com/photos/lee8/7164889790/
One of the issues driving the adoption of technology for learning in organisations – particularly in sectors and occupations such as teaching and the medial sector – is the need to show continuing professional development as a requirement for continuing registration.
Many organisations are looking to some form of e-Portfolio to meet this need. Yet there is a tension between the use of e-portfolios to record and reflect on learning, as a tools for learning itself and as a means to assessment.
A recently published study, (lif)e-Portfolio: a framework for implementation (PDF downlaod) by Lee D Ballantyne, from Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) and University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations (ESOL) , examines some of these issues.
There has been much recent discussion (e.g. Barrett, 2009; JISC, 2012d) concerning the dichotomy of e-portfolios which have the primary purpose of learning versus those which have the primary purpose of assessment. E-portfolio systems developed specifically for assessment purposes often forgo key elements of the learner-centred e-portfolio: social tools, longevity, and personalisation. By contrast, e- portfolios primarily for learning often lack the award-specific structure and reporting tools required for assessment (see Appendix II). A suitable e-portfolio solution must take into consideration the backwash of assessment and that ―from the students‘ point of view assessment always defines the actual curriculum‖ (Ramsden, 1992, p 187), and when the purpose of an e-portfolio changes from a learning tool to summative assessment it becomes ―something that is done to them rather than something they WANT to maintain as a lifelong learning tool‖ (Barrett, 2004a). There is a clear link between an assessment purpose and lack of engagement (Tosh et al., 2005) and yet CIE and ESOL both have stakeholder groups (teachers and trainee teachers) who straddle both learner (professional development) and candidate (teaching awards). The main challenge is to convey the value of the whole e-portfolio to all stakeholders; to find the right balance between assessment-driven (institution-centric) requirements and learner-driven (user-centric) requirements; and to achieve a level of standardisation yet allow for personalisation and creativity (Barrett, 2009). This unprecedented link between teaching, learning and high stakes assessment is fundamentally disruptive: pedagogically, organisationally and technologically (Baume cited Taylor & Gill, 2006, p 4; Cambridge, 2012; Eynon cited Shada et al., 2011. p 75), and planning for successful implementation is critical (JISC, 2012e; Joyes et al., 2010; Meyer & Latham, 2008; Shada at el., 2011).
One of the major problems with Technology Enhanced Mobile Learning has been the split between the digital and analogue worlds. The digital world enables all kinds of personal interactions and interactions with digital artefacts. Some things are easier to digitalise than others. So books, diagrammes, audio, video can all easily be transmitted through digital media. But some artefacts are more difficult to capture in digital media – for instance a hammer, a saw, an earthmover. Of course it is possible to simulate some of these things – for instance flying an aircraft.
It is much more problematic to capture the haptics of using a hammer. Thus Technology Enhanced Learning has tended to focus on cognitive processes of learning. When it comes to practice we tell learners they should use their computers to assist in the process of reflection. That is fine but it is not enough. Many areas of work require real world interactions with both people and with physical artefacts. And I think that is why Technology Enhanced Learning has made only a limited inroad into work based learning and for that matter into learning in Small and Medium Enterprises.
The importance of tools and physical artefacts should not be underestimated. Artefacts are closely linked to practice. Wenger (1998) points out that amongst other features a Community of Practice is defined by “what capability it has produced – the shared repertoire of communal resources (routines, sensibilities, artefacts, vocabulary, styles, etc.) that members have developed over time.”
There are different approaches we can take to integrating physical artefacts with applications and technology for learning (and in a further post I will outline some ideas). At a more abstract level I think we have to progress beyond seeing technology (like Learning Management Systems) as a container for learning into using mobile technologies as a tool for working and learning. In other words mobile technologies themselves become an artefact, on the same level as other work tools. We also need to look at integrating learning with the increasingly sophisticated data that many machines and artefacts produce – data that at the moment often exists in a silo. Of course that means integrating learning in the work process, and bringing together digital work tools with digital learning tools. That learning needs to be scaffolded seems obvious. But the scaffolding should move seamlessly between the use of digital devices and interactions with real life objects.
And that again requires co-design approaches, involving potential suers from the start in designing and developing learning processes and applications. Learning layers is making good progress with this and I am increasingly confident that the project can transcend the divide between the physical and digital worlds.
My colleague Pekka from the University of Bremen has posted a series of useful reports on this site about the Application Partner Days, held as part of the Learning Layers project, funded by the European Commission IST programme.
Learning layers is aiming to increase the use of technology for learning in Small and Medium Enterprises in Europe, particularly through the use of mobile devices for informal learning in two ‘industry clusters, in the north German construction industry and in the medical sector in north east England.
Obviously such a project faces a number of challenges, given the slow take up of technology enhanced learning in SMEs. The Application Partner Days are designed to bring developers and researchers together with potential end users in organisations in the two sectors. And prior to the Application partner Days in north Germany, we also spent two days visiting companies and organisations in the sector responsible for education and training and for policy development in this area.
Rather than repeat Pekka’s excellent summary of the proceedings, I will offer a few observations, based on my own attempts to make sense of all we saw and of our discussions.
Firstly there is a perception that there are barriers to introducing technology for learning in small enterprises. But most people we spoke to were overwhelmingly positive about the potential especially of mobile devices. Although it was felt there may be some individual resistance, due to lack of familiarity or fears over privacy, in general it was felt that mobile devices would be easily accepted, especially by younger workers. Indeed, some people we talked to felt that introducing technology could make the construction industry more attractive and help overcome recruitment problems. The big driver for this seems to be the increasing everyday use of internet enabled phones. And flat rate data contracts mean more workers are prepared to use the ir own device for work purposes.
The issue of sharing between enterprises is more problematic. Some seem willing to share data, others less so. My impression is that this is a new situation where companies are undecided on the implications of sharing. And, of course there are worries over privacy and security, particularly and understandably in the medical sector. Interestingly, I was talking last weekend with someone responsible for the introduction of mobile devices in a major agency in the UK. One of their key requirements is that data is not held in the USA, due to fears over US security policies.
During the different workshop and focus group sessions we held in the Application Partner Days, we sought to gather ideas for applications which could be useful within the SMEs. A number of these =focused on better communication and information flows. The boundary between applications that support learning and those supporting communication and information exchange is becoming blurred. Better information provision can support informal learning but this may not be an automatic process.
Even though the Learning Layers project has relatively generous funding support from the European Commission, there are of course limits to what we can do. Even with the increasing functionality of Software Development Kits and frameworks, development takes time and resources. How do we decide what developments we wish to prioritise. And at the same time there is an avalanche of commercial applications being made available for both Apple and Android operating systems.
One answer may be to develop interlinked physical and on-line ‘Demonstration Centres’ which can bring together both relevant commercial Applications with apps produced through the Layers project.
A second approach may to to focus on boundary points. Obviously the medical and construction sectors both contain workers from different occupations organised through various structures and networks. These I would characterise as Communities of Practice. It is where innovations – both technical and social – occur that innovation occurs and new cluster emerge transcending the boundaries between traditional Communities of Practice and occupations and challenging existing occupational practices. It may be that it is at these points that the need for learning and new forms of collaborative working are at there greatest. Of course much of this learning is informal. And if the boundary points offer opportunities for the emergence of new innovation clusters, they may also serve to frustrate innovation where learning is impeded by existing organisational and occupational practices.
Lets try and provide a couple of examples to make this discussion a little less abstract! In the construction industry we can see a series of emergent innovation networks in the area of green or ecological construction. these involve collaboration by workers from different occupations using new materials, or old materials in new ways and developing new practices. Similarly, the use of Programmable Logic Controllers is crossing boundaries between programming and electrical installation. In the medical industry, we are looking at new practices and forms of organisation for supporting those with diabetes.
If we focus resources on such emergent practices, the result might be both to stimulate economic and social sustainability for small enterprises, to promote sustainable growth and the generation of new employment and at the same time support the development of knowledge maturing and informal learning within and between Communities of Practice.
Lastly but not least. The Learning layers project will run for four years and is keen to involve organisations and researchers interested in our work. You can sign up on the Layers website to become part of a Stakeholder Network, giving enhanced access to the work and to the applications being developed.
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