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More on Competence

January 27th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

More thoughts on competence – mostly in my attempts to develop an idea of how mobile devices could be used for learning in the workplace – and in particular for practice based and informal learning.

In my last post on this subject I pointed to definitions of competence from German research seeing the main aim of the development of competence is the ‘formation of personality structures with a view to coping with the requirements of change within the process of transformation and the further evolution of economic and social life.’

This definition is counter-posed to the more narrow and functionalist views of competence more common in the UK and USA research and education and training systems.

In this post I want to revisit earlier research work in Germany by Gerald Heidegger and Felix Rauner who looked at occupational profiles. Occupational profiles are in effect groups of competencies based on individual occupations. In Germany there are over 360 officially recognised occupations.

Heidegger and Rauner  were commissioned by the Government of Rhineland Westphalia to write a Gutachten (policy advice) on the future reform and modernisation of the German Dual System for apprenticeship training.

They recommended less and broader occupational profiles and, if my memory is right, the idea of wandering occupational profiles. By this term they were looking to map the boundaries between different occupations and to recognise where competences from one occupation overlapped with that of another. Such overlaps could form the basis for boundary crossing and for moving from one occupation to another.

Heidegger and Rauner’s work was grounded in an understanding of the interplay between education, work organisation and technology. They were particularly focused on the idea of work process knowledge –  applied and practice based knowledge in the workplace. This was once more predicated on an idea of competence in which the worker would make conscious choices of the best actions to undertake in any particular situation (rather than the approach to competences in the UK which assumes there is always a ‘right way’ to do something).

Per Erik Ellstroem from Sweden has put forward the idea of Developmental Competence – the capacity of the individual to acquire and demonstrate the capacity to act on a task  and the wider work environment in order to adapt, act and shape (design) it.

This is based on the pedagogic idea of sense making and meaning making through exploring, questioning and transcending traditional work structures and procedures. In a similar vein, Rauner has come up with the idea of holistic work tasks, based on the idea that a worker should understand the totality of the work process they are involved in. He has proposed collaboration between small companies to ensure broad based training for apprentices.

One of the major problems within the German apprenticeship training system (which accounts for over half of the age cohort leaving school each year) is lack of co-ordination between the school and company based parts of the training. However, a mobile based Personal Learning Environment could allow apprentices to control their own learning and sense making through linking up practical tasks in the workplace to the more theory based school learning.  Informal and work based learning could potentially be mapped against competences with such a system.

(References to follow)

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