Archive for the ‘Competence Development’ Category

Case study. The Ada chatbot: personalised, AI-driven assistant for each student.

March 31st, 2020 by Graham Attwell

As part of the AI and vocational education and training project funded through the EU Erasmus plus project we are producing a series of case studies of the use of AI in VET in five European countries. Here is my first case study – the Ada chatbot developed at Bolton College.

About Bolton College

Bolton College is one of the leading vocational education and training providers in the North West of England, specialising in delivering training – locally, regionally and nationally – to school leavers, adults and employers. The college employs over 550 staff members who teach over 14,500 full and part time students across a range of centres around Bolton. The college’s Learning Technology Team has a proven reputation for the use of learning analytics, machine learning and adaptive learning to support students as they progress with their studies.

The Ada Chatbot

The Learning Technology Team has developed a digital assistant called Ada which went live in April 2017. Ada, which uses the IBM Watson AI engine, can respond to a wide range of student inquiries across multiple domains. The college’s Learning Technology Lead, Aftab Hussain, says “It transforms the way students get information and insights that support them with their studies.” He explains: “It can be hard to find information on the campus. We have an information overload. We have lots of data but it is hard to manage. We don’t have the tools to manage it – this includes teachers, managers and students.” Ada was first developed to overcome the complexity of accessing information and data.

Student questions

Ada is able to respond to student questions including:

  1. General inquiries from students about the college (for example: semester dates, library opening hours, exam office locations, campus activities, deadline for applying for university and more);
  2. Specific questions from students about their studies (for example: What lessons do I have today/this afternoon/tomorrow? Who are my teachers? What’s my attendance like? When is my next exam? When and where is my work placement? What qualifications do I have? What courses am I enrolled in? etc.)
  3. Subject specific inquiries from students. Bolton College is teaching Ada to respond to questions relating to GCSE Maths, GCSE English and the employability curriculum.

Personalised and contextualised learning

Aftab Hussein explains: “We are connecting all campus data sets. Ada can reply to questions contextually. She recognises who you are and is personalised according to who you are and where you are in the student life cycle. The home page uses Natural Language Processing and the Watson AI engine. It can reply to 25000 questions around issues such as mental health or library opening times etc. It also includes subject specific enquiries including around English, Mathematics and business and employability. All teachers have been invited to submit the top 20 queries they receive. Machine learning can recognise the questions. The technical process is easy.” However, he acknowledges that inputting data into the system can be time consuming and they are looking at ways of automatically reading course documentation and presentations.

All the technical development has been undertaken in house. As well as being accessible through the web, Ada, has both IOS and Android apps and can also be queried though smart speakers.

The system also links to the college Moodle installation and can provide access to assignments, college information services and curriculum materials. The system is increasingly being used in online tutorials providing both questions for participants and access to learning materials for instance videos including for health and social care.

It is personalised for individuals and contextualised according to what they are doing or want to find out. Aftab says: “We are looking at the transactional distance – the system provides immediate feedback reducing the transactional distance. “

Digital assessment

Work is also being undertaken in developing the use of the bot for assessment. This is initially being used for the evaluation of work experience, where students need to provide short examples of how they are meeting objectives – for example in collaboration or problem solving. Answers can uploaded, evaluated by the AI and feedback returned instantly.

Nudging

Since March 2019, the Ada service has provided nudges to students with timely and contextualised information, advice and guidance (IAG) to support their studies. The service nudges students about forthcoming exams, their work placement feedback and more. In the following example, a student receives feedback regarding his work placement from his career coach and employer.

The College is currently implementing ProMonitor, a service which will offer teachers and tutors with a scalable solution for managing and supporting the progress made by their students. Once ProMonitor is in place, Ada will be in a position to nudge students about forthcoming assignments and the grades awarded for those assignments. She will also offer students advice and guidance about staying on track with their studies. Likewise, Ada will nudge teachers and student support teams to inform them about student progress; allowing for timely support to be put in place for students across the College.

A personal lifelong learning companion

For Aftab Hussein the persona of the digital agent is important.

For Aftab Hussein the persona of the digital agent is important. He  thinks that in the future that chatbot will morph into a personal cognitive assistant that supports students throughout their entire educational life, from nursery school to university and beyond.

“The personal assistant will learn from each student throughout their life and adapt according to what they like, while guiding them through studies. It could remind when homework is due, book appointments with tutors, and point towards services and events that might support studies, for example.”

 

 

 

Discussion: Learning and Training anywhere

March 30th, 2020 by Graham Attwell

The International Labour Organization (ILO) have launched a E-Discussion on Continuing online learning and skills development in times of the COVID-19 crisis. The discussion started on 27 March and runs to 9 April.

The ILO say “the virtual discussion provides an opportunity to explore the concept of “learning and training anywhere, anytime”, an idea central to the concept of lifelong learning. This, in turn, requires examination of a range of issues such as how technically prepared we are to support new ways of working in the face of disruptors like a pandemic, and how quickly we can organize digital education and training and mobilize teachers and trainers to maintain services to learners.”

You can join the discussion at the following addresses

 

AI, automation, the future of work and vocational education and training

February 17th, 2020 by Graham Attwell

Regular readers will know I am working on a project on AI and Vocational Education and Training (VET). We are looking both at the impact of AI and automation on work and occupations and the use of AI for teaching and learning. Later in the year we will be organizing a MOOC around this: at the moment we are undertaking interviews with teachers, trainers , managers and developers (among others) in Italy, Greece, Lithuania, Germany and the UK.

The interviews are loosely structured around five questions:

  • What influence do you think AI and automation is going to have on occupations that you or your institution provide training for?
  • Do you think AI is going to effect approaches to teaching and learning? If so could you tell us how?
  • Have you or your institution any projects based around AI. If so could you tell us about them?
  • How can curricula be updated quickly enough to respond to the introduction of AI?
  • Do you think AI and automation will result in less jobs in the future or will it generate new jobs? If so what do you think the content of those jobs will be?

Of course it depends on the work role and interests of the interviewee as to which questions are most discussed. And rather than an interview, with the people I have talked with it tends to be more of a discussion.

while the outcomes of this work will be published in a report later this spring, I will publish here some of the issues which have been come up.

Last week I talked with Chris Percy, who describes himself as a Business strategy consultant and economist.

Chris sees AI and technology as driving an increasing pace of change in how work is done. He says the model for vocational education is to attend college to get skills and enter a trade for ten or twenty years – albeit with refreshers and licenses to update knowledge. This, he says, has been the model for the last 50 years but it may not hold if knowledge is so fast changing. He is not an AI evangelist and thinks changes feed through more slowly. With this change new models for vocational education and training are needed, although what that model might be is open. It could be e to spend one year learning in every seven years or one day a week for three months every year.

The main issue for VET is not how to apply AI but how we structure jobs, Lifelong Learning and pedagogy.

One problem, at least in the UK. has been a reduction in the provision of Life Long Learning has gone down in the UK. In this he sees a disconnect between policy and the needs of the economy.  But it may also be that if change is slower than in the discourse it just has just not impacted yet. Tasks within a job are changing rather than jobs as a whole. We need to update knowledge  for practices we do not yet have. A third possible explanation is that although there are benefits from new technologies and work processes the benefits from learning are not important enough for providing new skills.

New ways of learning are needed – a responsive learning based on AI could help here – but there is not enough demand to overcome inertia. The underpinning technologies are there but have not yet translated into schools to benefit retraining.

Relatively few jobs will disappear in their entirety – but a lot of logistics, front of store jobs, restaurants etc. will be transformed. It could be there will be a lower tier of services based on AI and automation and a higher tier with human provision. Regulators can inhibit the pace of change – which is uneven in different countries and cities e.g. Self driving cars.

In most of the rest of the economy people will change as tasks change. For example the use of digital search in the legal industry  has been done by students, interns and paralegals because someone has to do it – now with AI supporting due diligence students can progress faster to more interesting parts of the work. Due diligence is now AI enabled.

Chris thinks that although AI and automation will impact on jobs, global economic developments will still be a bigger influence on the future of work.

More from the interviews later this week. In the meantime if you would like to contribute to the research – or just would like to contribute your ideas – please et in touch.

 

 

AI, education and training and the future of work

November 5th, 2019 by Graham Attwell

Last week was the first meeting of a new Erasmus Plus project entitled ‘Improving skills and competences of VET teachers and trainers in the age of Artificial Intelligence’. The project, led by the University of Bremen has partners frm the UK (Pontydysgu), Lithuania, Greece and Italy.

Kick off meetings are usually rather dull – with an understandable emphasis on rules and regulation, reporting and so on. Not this one. Everyone came prepared with ideas of their own on how we can address such a broad and important subject. And to our collective surprise I think, we had a remarkable degree of agreement on ways forward. I will write more about this(much more) in the coming days. For the moment here is my opening presentation to the project. A lot of the ideas come from the excellent book, “Artificial Intelligence in Education, Promises and Implications for Teaching and Learning” by the Center for Curriculum Redesign which as the website promises, “immerses the reader in a discussion on what to teach students in the era of AI and examines how AI is already demanding much needed updates to the school curriculum, including modernizing its content, focusing on core concepts, and embedding interdisciplinary themes and competencies with the end goal of making learning more enjoyable and useful in students’ lives. The second part of the book dives into the history of AI in education, its techniques and applications –including the way AI can help teachers be more effective, and finishes on a reflection about the social aspects of AI. This book is a must-read for educators and policy-makers who want to prepare schools to face the uncertainties of the future and keep them relevant.”

Circular Economy and Lifelong Learning: Scenarios – Methodologies – In action

July 31st, 2019 by Graham Attwell

2019 ACR ZWS Circular Economy Lifelong learning Cover
The momentum for the circular economy has never been stronger. Global issues, such as climate change and natural resource consumption levels, urgently require a change in our lifestyles and a transformation in our ways of thinking and acting. To achieve this change, we need new skills, new values and new behaviours that lead to more sustainable societies. But is it even possible to find a shared definition of circular economy (CE) education?

As part of the Erasmus+ CYCLE project, in which Pontydysgu are a partner, on 19 February 2019, ACR+, in partnership with Zero Waste Scotland, organised a workshop entitled “Circular Economy Competencies. Making the Case for Lifelong Learning”.  brought together local authorities, experts and practitioners in the field of environmental and sustainability education to discuss this topic. The speakers of the workshop shared stories of vocational training and green jobs, sustainable consumption education and system thinking, of pedagogical models capable of empowering learners and urging institutions to include the principles of sustainability in their management structures. I introduced the project at the workshop and have contributed to the publication.

What this publication is about

This publication aims to make those experiences a shared treasure by sharing them with educators, policymakers and managers of NGOs and training organisations that intend to promote the development of local loops of circular economy through educational tools. The three chapters of this booklet are structured to cover different areas of the lifelong learning landscape:

  • Circular thinking in education. Educational designers will find useful insights on: the promotion of circular holistic approach in schools; a bird’s-eye view on how tertiary education is integrating the circular economy into its educational offer; the creation of attractive learning pathways in adult training;
  • Upskilling waste, repair & reuse industry. Policy makers and professionals in the field of vocational training will find useful references on the development of professional standards and competence profiles for 3R’s industries;
  • Facilitating the transition towards circular economy. The last chapter contains an analysis of the links between Industry 4.0 and circular economy in Italy and the case history of a network of municipalities that have developed training courses to equip local authorities’ staff for the circular transition. In conclusion, a final article analyses the possible positive correlations between entrepreneurial education and circular economy.

You can download the publication here.

Finding strategies to promote digital competences of teachers and trainers – Part Three: Examining innovation paths in the field of vocational education and training

June 5th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my two previous blog entries I started a series of posts with which I have linked my work in our EU-funded TACCLE4-CPD project (with focus on vocational education and training (VET))  to the work of other partners in other educational sectors (general education, adult education). As a starting point I presented  the Four-Step Model of the TACCLE4-CPD project that was developed in the recent project meeting in Bucharest. I found this model very helpful for finding and developing strategies to promote digital competences.  In my second post I discussed, how the model can be adapted to the field of VET. In this post I referred to different strategic options for promoting digital competences in the context of vocational learning arrangements. In this post I will illustrate them in the light of my interviews. Below I will firstly recapitulate my starting point and then discuss four parallel innovation paths.

Strategic options for promoting digital competences in vocational learning arrangements

As I mentioned in my previous blog, there are different options for linking the introduction of digital tools (and enhancement of digital competences) to the development of vocational learning arrangements. Below these options will be discussed as parallel innovation paths:

1) In some cases the main thrust of innovation is the shaping of a new curricular framework for a new occupation or occupational field. In such contexts the introduction of digital tools and web resources is adjusted to the curriculum processes.

2) In other cases the main thrust of innovation is to introduce integrative toolsets that provide tools for managing training and learning processes and provide access to web resources. In such contexts the use of the tools supports the curriculum implementation.

3) In some cases innovation projects are launched to shape off-the-job learning arrangements to support work process -oriented learning arrangements at workplaces that do not provide opportunities for learning alongside working. In such contexts the main thrust of innovation is to shape a simulated or virtual learning arrangement that makes the real work process accessible for learning.

4) In some cases the starting point of the innovation is the enrichment of ‘ordinary’ vocational learning arrangements by introducing digital tools and web resources to support action-oriented learning. In such cases the innovations can be limited to particular occupational fields or they can be promoted across different domains.

Illustrations of different innovation paths

Below I will present specific projects or innovative approaches that can be considered as exemplary cases for particular innovation paths. All these cases have been described in my overviews on parallel projects or in my recent interview reports (see also my earlier blogs).

  1. The “Kompetenzwerkstatt” path: The Kompetenzwerkstatt project tradition grew from vocational curriculum development projects in which the project team mobilised vocational teachers and trainers to analyse their occupational field and to shape curriculum structures. Later on, the project tradition was enriched with digital tools for managing learning situations, checking prior competences and presenting learning achievements. In the current phase the Kompetenzwerkstatt approach is being implemented in an occupational field that is developing holistic curriculum structures for initial and continuing training (the occupations for sanitary, heating and air-conditioning technologies).
  2. The “Learning Toolbox” path: The Learning Toolbox (LTB) was developed as the main product of the EU-funded innovation project “Learning Layers” and its Construction pilot. After a complex iterative process the partners involved in the Construction pilot developed an integrative toolset to support vocational and work process -oriented learning. From the trainers’ and apprentices’ point of view it was essential that the toolset supported a holistic view on working and learning tasks and a culture of self-organised learning.
  3. The “Brofessio” path: The Brofessio project was launched to support work process -oriented learning processes in such industries in which it is not possible to provide learning opportunities alongside working. In particular this is the case with sealed processes with major time constraints. For such industries the Brofessio project developed the concept of agile learning – based on SCRUM project management techniques, inquiry-based learning strategies and interactive learning culture. Thus, the learning arrangements were organised as a series of learning sprints with key questions and with responsible coaches. In such an approach the use of digital tools and web resources is dependent on the policies of the partner enterprise.
  4. The Smart OER-users’ paths: The fourth type doesn’t refer to a major project but instead to parallel initiatives of responsible teachers and trainers.  The key point is to integrate the use of domain-specific Open Educational Resources into vocational learning arrangements. Due to the pattern variance it is more appropriate to to refer to paths (in plural) rather than to a single path. Also, it is worthwhile to highlight the creativity of the users in finding the appropriate learning resources (rather than celebrating the existing OER communities and their products).

I think this is enough of this topic. I am aware that I have only presented a rather vague outline and I have to do some further work with this theme. Yet, I believe that the above presented set of innovation paths is important for the efforts to develop continuing professional development for vocational teachers and trainers. In particular it is important when we try to get a deeper understanding on the role of digital tools and web resources in vocational learning contexts.

More blogs to come …

 

Cities of Learning

June 5th, 2019 by Graham Attwell

posterPontydysgu’s Spanish organisation is part of the EU CONNECT project. Funded under the Erasmus Plus programme, the CONNECT project aims to leverage the impact of Learning Cities through building urban ecosystems of lifelong learning that harness the assets of European cities and transform them into a network of seamless pathways of learning experience for adult learners. The project application says: “In a society where existing educational pathways no longer guarantee opportunity, and with a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots, connected learning for all citizens can open up new entry points and pathways to opportunity; in particular when integrating both the potential of ubiquitous learning technology and learning opportunities created by European cities.”

Pontydysgu have been working on two main things. Firstly, we have been doing a field study on Russafa, an area of Valencia, looking at different opportunities for non formal and informal learning, as well as at formal adult learning provision. One of our main conclusions is the importance of public spaces for learning to take place. To this extent history, culture and context play an important role and not least climate: in Valencia many learning opportunities take place outdoors! Urban design is another key contextual factor.

Secondly, we have been undertaking a literature review. One of the most interesting documents we have come across is ‘Cities of Learning in the UK’ – a “prospectus” published by the RSA. Cities of Learning (CofL), they say “is a new approach for activating a grassroots, city-based, mass engagement movement around learning and skills. It seeks to close gaps in opportunity and empower places to promote lifelong learning as core to their cultural and civic identity.”

“CofL can be a galvanising force for bringing people together with a city’s economic and social aspirations. It can open new sources of city leadership, learning potential and civic energy. Cities can both make visible and amplify nascent systems of learning – involving learners, institutions, employers, civil society and the voluntary and cultural sectors. Learners, especially those from underserved communities, can benefit from much greater access to the wealth of enrichment experiences and opportunities their city offers. By deepening social and civic connections, CofL can be a means to developing a sense of place, identity, mission, ambition – and learning.”

The Cities of Learning movement started in the USA but the Prospectus has been “adapted for UK.”

One thing I very much like about the CofL approach is the emphasis on place. As the RSA say “Learning systems – formal, non-formal, informal – are experienced by people in places and form a fundamental part of how they experience life within their neighbourhoods, communities, and towns and cities. They operate outside of the silos of traditional programmes, allowing organisations to work together to focus on shared outcomes rather than individual concerns.”

They go on to say that CofL “capitalise on crucial intangible factors that drive collective action, such as identity, heritage and community.” Certainly, from our research in Valencia we would concur – although I am not sure that heritage and community are intangible.

The Prospectus emphasises the widening participation and opportunity gap in society today.

It stresses the importance on non-cognitive as well as cognitive skills for future employment. Skills and calls for cities to develop learning pathways leading to Open Badges, recognizing learning or formal and informal learning experiences. Learning networks would incorporate a skills spine using both OECD core skills and competences as well as more locally developed learning needs. The report points to different Interest driven and destination driven learning pathways – destination driven meaning learning for employment. This seems to us too binary a division. Interest driven learning can often lead to skills for employment and vice versa. In reality people often cross over between different pathways.

Dense networks and relationships are seen to be central to the development of CofL with “anchor organisations” and “influential change makers” acting as “network hubs and stewards.” Three key factors are identified for developing CofL initiatives – leadership, networks and platform.

Although stressing the importance of networks and of community organisations, the examples provided seem to be driven by city governments. And the report also provides the example of a large employers overhauling their recruitment policy as driving change through their supply network, but there is no discussion of the importance of Small and Medium Enterprises who provide the majority of employment in cities like Valencia.

Cities are of course important but I do not see why the approach to learning in place based networks should not also include more dispersed population areas, including rural areas and towns in the south Wales valleys with different population structures.

One thing definitely welcome is that the technology plays an enabling function, supporting learning. Technology Enhanced Learning may have a weak link to place, but place is key to practice in learning.

Less welcome is the unnecessary emphasis on CofL as disruptive or as they call it a “quiet disruption.” Neither do I see Open Badges as a “disruption.” I can only see CofL and Open Badges as developing and extending traditional ideas of adult education.

The report also claims that CoFL challenges the fragmented rigid and centralised nature of public services. Certainly, education services have become fragmented but the major challenge is not that but is government austerity policies which have decimated adult education provision.

However, despite this, City of Learning is an exciting vision, and one I think which could spread beyond the RSA sponsored experiments and networks.

Finding strategies to promote digital competences of teachers and trainers – Part Two: Adapting the Four-Step Model for vocational education and training

June 5th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous blog entry I started a series of posts with which I try to link my work in our EU-funded TACCLE4-CPD project (with focus on vocational education and training (VET))  to the work of other partners in other educational sectors (general education, adult education). As a starting point I presented  the Four-Step Model of the TACCLE4-CPD project that was developed in the recent project meeting in Bucharest (in which I couldn’t participate). I found this model very helpful for finding and developing strategies to promote digital competences.  However, my critical point was that it focused primarily on schools, adult education providers and (general) educational authorities. In this post I will discuss, how the model can be adapted to the field of VET. Below I will follow the steps and make some comments from the perspective of VET.

The starting point: The education and training contexts in the field of VET

As I have mentioned, the Four-Step Model has been developed to support school managers, adult education providers and educational authories – to promote the digital competences of teachers. When shifting the emphasis to the field of VET, it is essential to take into account education and training partnerships between vocational schools, enterprises and intermediate training centres. In such contexts the schools are contributing to the enhancement of digital competences together with the other partners. Moreover, the introduction of digital tools for learning is part of the enhancement of digital competences in the occupational domain.

Identifying policies: educational, occupational and wider societal perspectives

When discussing with my interviewees in the field of VET I have come to the conclusion that there are multiple policies that have an impact on promoting digital competences in the field of VET. In this context it is worthwhile to mention government policies at the national (federal), regional (federal state), sub-regional and municipal level. In addition there are public innovation policies and sectoral stakeholder -led initiatives as well as local partnership-oriented initiatives. From this perspective it is appropriate to look at the VET-specific policy constellations that are being followed.

Identifying strategic initiatives and shaping action plans

In addition to the above-mentioned diversity, it is worthwhile to consider, what kinds of strategic initiatives are available for enhancing digital competences in the field of VET. From the perspective of curriculum design/development it is possible to specify the following options:

  • Introduction of vocational curricula to new occupational domains or reshaping the existing training with a new (whole curriculum) approach;
  • Enrichment of existing vocational learning arrangements with integrative digital toolsets;
  • Enrichment of particular vocational learning arrangements with domain-specific digital tools and web resources;
  • Incorporation of simulated learning opportunities into workplace contexts that do not provide opportunities for on-the job training.

In the light of the above, the educational actors can have very different starting points and strategic options.

The role of a “Routemap” and a “TACCLE handbook” in the field of VET

Considering the above presented comments, it is appropriate to take a closer look at results of the interviews with teachers and trainers and with the working perspectives that they have outlined. Once this has been completed, it is possible to discuss, how these products can be adapted to the field of VET. In my next blog post I will take a first step towards interpreting the findings from my interviews in terms of ‘innovation paths’.

More blogs to come ...

 

Finding strategies to promote digital competences of teachers and trainers – Part One: The Four-Step Model of TACCLE4-CPD

June 4th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my recent posts I have reported of my fieldwork for our EU-funded TACCLE4-CPD project. The aim of this project is to develop training models and pedagogic approaches to promote digital competences of teachers and trainers in different educational sectors. In my blog posts I have mainly emphasised the specific characteristics of my work that focuses on the field of vocational education and training (VET). With this series of posts I will try to link my work to the general framework of the project and to the work of other partners in other educational sectors (general education, adult education) and with school-based learning. The starting point is provided by the Four-Step Model that was developed in the recent project meeting in Bucharest (in which I couldn’t participate). In this first post I will present the outline of the model (as it was explained to me afterwards) and how it can be applied in schools and adult education providers. In the subsequent blogs I will discuss, how the model can be adapted to the field of VET and to my recent findings in the fieldwork.

The Four-Step Model for finding/developing strategies to promote digital competences

The Four-Step Model for finding/developing strategies was shaped in the project meeting in Bucharest, when the TACCLE4-CPD partners had workshops with interested schools. When analysing the experiences of the workshops the partners came up with the model that is visualised below.

Four-Step Model of TACCLE4-CPD

Figure 1: The Four-Step Model for finding/developing strategies to promote digital competences in educational contexts (credit to Graham Attwell and Angela Gerrard)

As we see, the left hand side presents the process steps with key questions and related options, how to proceed. In the middle we see the reference materials that can be used in the process. And on the right hand side we see the underlying questions that clarify, where the questions and answers lead us.

My interpretation of the four-step model (as it stands now)

As I read this model, it speaks out to school managers, educational authorities and curriculum developers. They are challenged to consider, whether their organisation(s) is/are following a policy for promoting digital competences. In this respect they are advised to inform themselves of the European DigCompOrg frameworks (prepared by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Union). In the next phase they are challenged to consider their strategic approach in terms of action plans and needs analyses. Here they are advised to have a closer look at the DigComgEdu framework (also by JRC) for specifying their strategic orientation. Then, in the next phases the model invites to discuss, how continuing professional development (CPD) can be organised and delivered. Here the model refers to  earlier TACCLE resources (Routemap) and to the new Handbook that is being prepared for the TACCLE4-CPD.

As I see it, this model suits very well school-based educational contexts. However, when we discuss the field of VET, we are dealing with a more complex policy environment and institutional/organisational landscape. Moreover, we are dealing with diversity of learning venues (schools, enterprises, intermediate training centres) and with domain-specific characteristics (different occupational fields, different production and service contexts). Therefore, it is appropriate to discuss the Four-Step Model in the light of these challenges. That is the task for my next blog post in this series.

More blogs to come …

Transferable skills and the future of work

April 9th, 2019 by Graham Attwell

There continues to be a flurry of newspaper articles and studies of teh effect of automation and Artificial Intelligence on employment and jobs. There are different predictions about the scale of the change and particularly about the numbers of jobs which are at risk. One cause of the difference is disagreements about how many new jobs will be created, another is the speed of change. This may in part depend on whether employers choose to invest in new technologies: in teh UK productivity has remained persistently low, probably due to low wage rates.

What we do know is that organisations will need to cope with many of the changes associated with changes in the skill mix required of their employees  through learning through challenging work, training and continuing professional development etc. We also know that the changes mean it is difficult to imagine exactly how the labour market will look in say ten years but understanding the labour market can help people make sense of the context in which they are working or are seeking to work

At the same time we do not know the exact skill demands associated with unforeseen changes in the labour market, but we do know that new technical skills will be required, individuals and firms may need to specialise more to compete in global markets, and that demand will grow for ‘soft skills’ which are very difficult to automate, including complex social skills, cultural and contextual understanding, critical thinking, etc.

Yet this debate is not new. In the 1990s there were similar debates around teh move towards the ‘knowledge society’. At that time it was being predicted that low skilled work was set to rapidly decline, a prediction that pre-dated the rapid expansion in low skilled (or at any rate low paid) employment in the service sector. the answer at that time was seen to be promoting transversal skills and competences, variously called core skills, core competences etc. These emhpasised teh important of literacy and numeracy as well as communication skills and Information Technology. The problem was that such skills and competences were, in general abstracted from the curriculum as stand aone areas of learning, rather than being integrated within occupational learning. Of course, the other tendency n many Euroepan countries was to increase the number of young people going to university, at the expense of vocational educati0on and training.

What was needed then as now was to develop technical skills coupled with soft skills. Mastery of a technical skill is itself be a transferable skill whereby other technical skills can be developed more quickly as they are required . Developing latest industry-integrated technical skills is easiers if an underpinning technical knowledge base has been developed through more traditional educational provision. Retraining while in-work is very much easier than getting redundant people back into work.

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.

As long ago as 1996, Gerald Heidegger and Felix Rauner from the University of Bremen 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 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 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. Rauner talked about holistic work tasks, based on the idea that a worker should understand the totality of the work process they are involved in.

In this respect it is interesting to see the results of recent research by Burning Glass, a company using AI and big data techniques to analyse labour market information. They say that in examine the role of Receptionist in Burning Glass Technologies’ labor market analysis tool, Labor Insight, “we can see that receptionists have a variety of related jobs they can do based on their transferable skills. Transferable skills are types of skills that a worker can use across many jobs, allowing them to more easily transition into a new role. A receptionist has many transferable skills such as administrative support, customer service, scheduling, data entry, and more. These transferable skills will allow a receptionist to move into related jobs such as Legal Secretary, Executive Assistant, or File Clerk.

According to Labor Insight, a Receptionist can transition into a Medical Secretary role which offers a higher average salary and is projected to grow by 22.5% in the next 10 years. This also offers an opportunity for the receptionist to venture into a new industry, allowing them to explore new health care roles such as Nursing Assistant, Emergency Room Technician, or Patient Service Representative.

The transferable skills that Burning Glass talk of are very similar to Rauner and Heidegger’s wandering occuaptional profiles. Rather than. as some commentators have suggested (see for example Faisal Hoque), a return to humanities based subjects in providing abstracted knowledge as the basis for future qualifications, the need is to improve vocational education and training which allows workers to understand the potentials of integrating automation and AI in the workplace. Creativity is indeed important, but creativity was always a key aspect of many jobs: creativity is part of the work process, not an external skill.

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    As reported by WONKHE, a survey of 1,200 final year students conducted by Prospects in the UK found that 29 per cent have lost their jobs, and 26 per cent have lost internships, while 28 per cent have had their graduate job offer deferred or rescinded. 47 per cent of finalists are considering postgraduate study, and 29 per cent are considering making a career change. Not surprisingly, the majority feel negative about their future careers, with 83 per cent reporting a loss of motivation and 82 per cent saying they feel disconnected from employers


    Post-Covid ed-tech strategy

    The UK Ufi VocTech Trust are supporting the Association of Colleges to ensure colleges are supported to collectively overcome challenges to delivering online provision at scale. Over the course of the next few months, AoC will carry out research into colleges’ current capacity to enable high quality distance learning. Findings from the research will be used to create a post-Covid ed-tech strategy for the college sector.

    With colleges closed for most face-to-face delivery and almost 100% of provision now being delivered online, the Ufi says, learners will require online content and services that are sustainable, collective and accessible. To ensure no one is disadvantaged or left behind due to the crisis, this important work will contribute to supporting businesses to transform and upskilling and reskilling those out of work or furloughed.


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    The European Commission has published an annual report of the Erasmus+ programme in 2018. During that time the programme funded more than 23,500 projects and supported the mobility of over 850,00 students, of which 28,247 were involved in UK higher education projects, though only one third of these were UK students studying abroad while the remainder were EU students studying in the UK. The UK also sent 3,439 HE staff to teach or train abroad and received 4,970 staff from elsewhere in the EU.


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    A new report by the Learning and Work Institute for the Local Government Association (LGA) finds that by 2030 there could be a deficit of 2.5 million highly-skilled workers. The report, Local Skills Deficits and Spare Capacity, models potential skills gaps in eight English localities, and forecasts an oversupply of low- and intermediate -skilled workers by 2030. The LGA is calling on the government to devolve the various national skills, retraining and employment schemes to local areas. (via WONKHE)


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