Archive for the ‘Eurotrainer2’ Category

Rethinking school: Ivan Illich and Learning Pathways

March 8th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

The first of a new series of articles on rethinking education. This one – on rethinking schools – is a quick review of an excellent article by Ivan Illich, published in The New York Review of Books, Volume 15in 1971, and entitled ‘A Special supplement: Education without School: How it Can Be Done‘. Illich, best known for his groundbreaking book, Deschooling Society, remains as relevant today as he was 40 years ago. And in many ways he anticipated the use of computers for social networking and collaborative learning.Many thanks to Barry Nyhan for sending me the link to the article.

Illich starts the article by contrasting the function of school with how people really learn.

In school registered students submit to certified teachers in order to obtain certificates of their own; both are frustrated and both blame insufficient resources—money, time, or buildings—for their mutual frustration.

Such criticism leads many people to ask whether it is possible to conceive of a different style of learning. The same people, paradoxically, when pressed to specify how they acquired what they know and value, will readily admit that they learned it more often outside than inside school. Their knowledge of facts, their understanding of life and work came to them from friendship or love, while viewing TV, or while reading, from examples of peers or the challenge of a street encounter. Or they may have learned what they know through the apprenticeship ritual for admission to a street gang or the initiation to a hospital, newspaper city room, plumber’s shop, or insurance office. The alternative to dependence on schools is not the use of public resources for some new device which “makes” people learn; rather it is the creation of a new style of educational relationship between man and his environment. To foster this style, attitudes toward growing up, the tools available for learning, and the quality and structure of daily life will have to change concurrently.

illich saw the schooling system as a product of consumer society.

School, ….. is the major component of the system of consumer production which is becoming more complex and specialized and bureaucratized. Schooling is necessary to produce the habits and expectations of the managed consumer society. Inevitably it produces institutional dependence and ranking in spite of any effort by the teacher to teach the contrary. It is an illusion that schools are only a dependent variable, an illusion which, moreover, provides them, the reproductive organs of a consumer society, with their immunity.

In contrast to the consumer driven schooling system Illich proposed developing learning networks.

I believe that no more than four—possibly even three—distinct “channels” or learning exchanges could contain all the resources needed for real learning. The child grows up in a world of things, surrounded by people who serve as models for skills and values. He finds peers who challenge him to argue, to compete, to cooperate, and to understand; and if the child is lucky, he is exposed to confrontation or criticism by an experienced elder who really cares. Things, models, peers, and elders are four resources each of which requires a different type of arrangement to ensure that everybody has ample access to them.

I will use the word “network” to designate specific ways to provide access to each of four sets of resources. …. What are needed are new networks, readily available to the public and designed to spread equal opportunity for learning and teaching.

Illich was particularly concerned over open access to educational resources. her put forward four different approaches for enabling access.

1.) Reference Services to Educational Objects—which facilitate access to things or processes used for formal learning. Some of these things can be reserved for this purpose, stored in libraries, rental agencies, laboratories, and showrooms like museums and theaters; others can be in daily use in factories, airports, or on farms, but made available to students as apprentices or on off-hours.

2.) Skill Exchanges—which permit persons to list their skills, the conditions under which they are willing to serve as models for others who want to learn these skills, and the addresses at which they can be reached.

3.) Peer Matching—a communication network which permits persons to describe the learning activity in which they wish to engage, in the hope of finding a partner for the inquiry.

4.) Reference Services to Educators-at-large—who can be listed in a directory giving the addresses and self-descriptions of professionals, para-professionals, and free-lancers, along with conditions of access to their services. Such educators, as we will see, could be chosen by polling or consulting their former clients.

Illich was concerned that modern industrial design was preventing access to the world of ‘things’ or ‘educational objects’ which are critical for learning.

Industrial design creates a world of things that resist insight into their nature, and schools shut the learner out of the world of things in their meaningful setting……At the same time, educational materials have been monopolized by school. Simple educational objects have been expensively packaged by the knowledge industry. They have become specialized tools for professional educators, and their cost has been inflated by forcing them to stimulate either environments or teachers.

Skill exchanges would be central to networked learning in a deschooled society and despite the uses of new technology face to face communication would remain important.

A “skill model” is a person who possesses a skill and is willing to demonstrate its practice. A demonstration of this kind is frequently a necessary resource for a potential learner. Modern inventions permit us to incorporate demonstration into tape, film, or chart; yet one would hope personal demonstration will remain in wide demand, especially in communication skills.

The schooling system was leading to a skills scarcity.

What makes skills scarce on the present educational market is the institutional requirement that those who can demonstrate them may not do so unless they are given public trust, through a certificate. We insist that those who help others acquire a skill should also know how to diagnose learning difficulties and be able to motivate people to aspire to learn skills. In short, we demand that they be pedagogues. People who can demonstrate skills will be plentiful as soon as we learn to recognize them outside the teaching profession.

Illich put forward the idea of a ‘skills bank’ for exchanging tecahing and learning.

Each citizen would be given a basic credit with which to acquire fundamental skills. Beyond that minimum, further credits would go to those who earn them by teaching, whether they serve as models in organized skill centers or do so privately at home or on the playground. Only those who have taught others for an equivalent amount of time would have a claim on the time of more advanced teachers. An entirely new elite would be promoted, an elite of those who earn their education by sharing it.

As well as access to skills models peer learning would lie at the centre of a new learning society, with computers allowing peer matching.

The operation of a peer-matching network would be simple. The user would identify himself by name and address and describe the activity for which he seeks a peer. A computer would send him back the names and addresses of all those who have inserted the same description. It is amazing that such a simple utility has never been used on a broad scale for publicly valued activity.

In its most rudimentary form, communication between client and computer could be done by return mail. In big cities, typewriter terminals could provide instantaneous responses. The only way to retrieve a name and address from the computer would be to list an activity for which a peer is sought. People using the system would become known only to their potential peers.

A complement to the computer could be a network of bulletin boards and classified newspaper ads, listing the activities for which the computer could not produce a match. No names would have to be given. Interested readers would then introduce their names into the system.

School buildings would become neighbourhood learning centres.

One way to provide for their continued use would be to give over the space to people from the neighborhood. Each could state what he would do in the classroom and when—and a bulletin board would bring the available programs to the attention of the inquirers. Access to “class” would be free—or purchased with educational vouchers. …..The same approach could be taken toward higher education. Students could be furnished with educational vouchers which entitle them for ten hours yearly private consultation with the teacher of their choice—and, for the rest of their learning, depend on the library, the peer-matching network, and apprenticeships.

Whilst traditional teachers would no longer be required there would be need for a new ‘professional educators.’

Parents need guidance in guiding their children on the road that leads to responsible educational independence. Learners need experienced leadership when they encounter rough terrain. These two needs are quite distinct: the first is a need for pedagogy, the second for intellectual leadership in all other fields of knowledge. The first calls for knowledge of human learning and of educational resources, the second for wisdom based on experience in any kind of exploration. Both kinds of experience are indispensable for effective educational endeavor. Schools package these functions into one role—and render the independent exercise of any of them if not disreputable at least suspect.

Finally, students would develop individual learning pathways through networked learning.

If the networks I have described can emerge, the educational path of each student would be his own to follow, and only in retrospect would it take on the features of a recognizable program. The wise student would periodically seek professional advice: assistance to set a new goal, insight into difficulties encountered, choice between possible methods. Even now, most persons would admit that the important services their teachers have rendered them are such advice or counsel, given at a chance meeting or in a tutorial.

Apprenticeships in Computing: a Vygotskian approach?

February 28th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I am much taken with David Hoover;s Top 5 Tips for Apprentices, based on his book ‘Apprenticeship Patterns‘, and reported on by James Taylor in the O’Reilly Radar blog. Although the book is looking at the Computer Industry the pedagogic approach could hold true for any knowledge intensive industry. Critically Hoover sees computing as a craft skill.

James Turners says:

“According to Hoover, one way to ease the transition into real life development is to use an apprenticeship model. His book draws on his own experience moving from being a psychologist to a developer, and the lessons he’s learned running an apprenticeship program at a company called Obtiva. “We have an apprenticeship program that takes in fairly newcomers to software development, and we have a fairly loose, fairly unstructured program that gets them up to speed pretty quickly. And we try to find people that are high-potential, low credential people, that are passionate and excited about software development and that works out pretty well.”

Hoover bases his approach to apprenticeship on Vykotsky’s idea of a Significant Other Person who he describes as a mentor.

“For people that had had successful careers, they only point back to one or two people that mentored them for a certain amount of time, a significant amount of time, a month, two months, a year in their careers.”

He also points to the potential of a distributed community of practice for personal learning, including finding mentors outside a company the ‘apprentice’ is employed in.

For me personally, I wasn’t able to find a mentor at my company. I was in a company that didn’t really have that many people who were actually passionate about technology and that was hard for me. So what I did is I went to a user group, a local Agile user group or you could go to a Ruby user group or a .net user group, whatever it is and find people that are passionate about it and have been doing it for a long time. I’ve heard several instances of people seeking out to be mentored by the leader, for me that was the case. One of our perspective apprentices right now was mentored by the leader of a local Ruby user group. And that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re working for the person, but you’re seeking them out and maybe you’re just, “Hey, can you have lunch with me every week or breakfast with me every other week.” Even maybe just talking, maybe not even pairing. But just getting exposure to people that have been far on the path ahead of you, to just glean off their insights.

And he points out the value of being that Significant Other Person to those providing the mentoring.

At a certain point in your career, your priorities shift from learning being the most important thing, to delivering software is the most important thing, then mentoring becomes part of your responsibilities. It’s something you take on if you’re following the craftsmanship mentality of apprentice to journeyman to master. And transitioning from apprentice to journeyman, part of that is taking on more responsibility for projects and taking on more responsibility for mentoring.

Although there is no explicit reference to Vygotsky in James Taylor’s review of Hoover’s book, the Top five Tips for Apprentices correspond to Vygotsky’s model of learning through a Zone of Proximal Development.

  1. Understanding where you’re at.
  2. Find mentors who are ahead of you in the field
  3. Find some peers to network with.
  4. Perpetual learning.
  5. Setting aside time to practice

I haven’t read the book but intend to. It is rare to find an such a model for learning in an advanced knowledge based industry like computing. And the drawing of parallels with the craft tradition of apprenticeship provides a potential rich idea for how learning can be organised in today’s society

Projects, groups, networks, collaboration, sharing and social software

January 20th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Pontydysgu is involved in a number of European projects. Typically, these projects involve partners from five or more organisations in different countries working together around a hared work plan. Projects can last from two to four years.

One of our main roles is to provide technologies to support project development. This is not unproblematic.

Whilst three or four years ago most projects were content with a simple web page giving access to project objectives and results, we have been trying to use technology to improve collaboration between the partners, who due to distance will usually only meet face to face two or three times a year.

Levels of experience and confidence in technologies varies greatly.

One of the biggest changes in the last two years has been the use of Skype and Flash Meeting for regular audio and video communication between meetings. Both are far from ideal. ‘Can you hear me?’ is still the most common sentence to be heard in many of these meetings. Talking participants through the Windows microphone and video set up panels is still a pain. But overall the use of such simultaneous communication tools has changed both the form and intensity of collaboration.

We have also seen a slow move towards using multimedia. The days when the outputs of projects were limited to downlaodable Word or PDF files is passing. More and more project members are experimenting with podcasts and video, although once more levels of expertise and confidence vary greatly.

Platforms have remained problematic. We experimented with ELGG and Joomla before moving to WordPress. The problem with all is that they were really too difficult for project participants to use. We largely failed to break the pattern to project partners ending us their content to put on the site. And without regular participation, project web sites remained largely static, with only flurries of activity as they were updated.

We have also experimented with social software platforms including Ning and Facebook. Ning is relatively easy to use, although limited in terms of design etc. And critically you lose control over your own data, when using externally hosted applications. Facebook groups are great for notification of events etc. but offer little else. Ownership issues are even more problematic.

We have also initiated a number of bulletin boards but these once more require a critical mass of activity before they really become of social use.

The reason we have looked at these platforms is the desire for more sociability in platforms for projects. That includes the look and feel and ease of use, but especially the foregrounding of presence. Who are the members of a project or network. Who are they working with? What are their interests and what are they doing? WordPress blogs are great but the reality is that few participants can be dissuaded to blog regularly on a project platform.We customised WordPress with a plug in called Freefolio and that helped in terms of showing presence but it was still hard showing participants remotely how to use the back end of WordPress.

Our latest experiment is with the Network for Trainers in Europe website.

The Network has the following aims:

  • Provide an opportunity for exchanging experiences and knowledge though an easy to use web portal. Enable policy makers, managers and trainers to access ideas, materials and opportunities for professional development.
  • Undertake a small-scale survey of the work of trainers and their professional support.
  • Provide access to research and ideas through the organisation of workshops and on-line conferences.
  • Enhance the quality of support for trainers by sharing effective practice.
  • Stimulate new approaches to the training of trainers related to the concept of lifelong learning, knowledge sharing and peer learning.
  • Encourage researchers and trainers to share information and materials based on practical experience.
  • Bring together research and practice from different projects and initiatives throughout Europe.

Essentially the network is designed to bring people interested in the training and support of trainers together to share materials and experiences. We have migrated from the previous WordPress Freefolio site to Buddypress. And although the site is by no means finished (especially the stylingl, NB setting up new accounts is suspended at moment but will be back on by the weekend), I am enthusiastic about the potential of Buddypress. Firstly Buddypress is centred around people and the activities of members, offering much functionality often associated with commercial social software sites. secondly it is easy to use, with little need for users ever to go to the back end. thirdly, through the affordances of the individual and group wires (walls), friending etc. it makes it easy for members to contribute through gesturing rather than being forced to write substantial blog posts.

The proof of the pudding is of course in the eating. Will members use the new site. To some extent that will depend of what activities the project undertakes. But it will be very interesting to see if the use of a full blown social networking application can lead to enhanced communication and collaboration between researchers and trainers drawn form every European country.

Innovation in Training practice

November 11th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

For the last two days I have been moderating at the second on-line international confernce on innovation in training Practice. the conference, organised by the EU funded Network of Trainers in Europe, took place on the Elluminate platform and attracted some 70 participants from twenty or so countries.

The conference was seen as an experiment: whilst on-line conferences are becoming more common in the educational technology community, they are rare in wider professional areas like teaching and training. For many who attended it was their first experience of such an event and despite the occasional bandwidth glitch, most seemed happy with the event.

In contrast to the first conference, held last November and largely organised and moderated by Pontydysgu, other members of the network took an active role in organising this years conference and also moderated the different sessions. This was exemplified by the second day bilingual session from Spain, with a link up with a live audience from Madrid.

There were four main themes for the conference:

  • Innovations in Work-based Learning for VET Teachers and Trainers
  • Equality and Diversity – Innovations in training practice for socially disadvantaged group
  • Technology Enhanced Learning / ICT for innovation and training practice
  • Innovations in company-based training

In his presentation on Creativity as a starting point of Innovation process, Stanislav Nemerzitski, from Estonia expored the idea of innovation and what it means within our society. Individual creativity, he said, was linked to societal ideas of innovation.

throughout the conference, presenters provided exampales of innovation. What made this conference special for me was the strong focus on practice, rather than systems. however, most of the examples were based on projects or initiatives, giving rise to the question of how such innovation could be sustained and how it could be mainstreamed through institutions. One presenter,  Anna Grabner from Austria suggested that it was through conferences such as this that innovations in practice could be shared and thus transferred and adopted to new working situations. She saw processes of institutional change as coming from a boottom up direction, based on innovatory practice.

The conference once more highlighted the importance of teachers and trainers. Not only were more and more people involved in training as some part of their work practice, but the roles of trainers were becoming broader and in many cases involved some degree of specialisation. This poses questions about the initial training of teachers and trainers and about opportunities for professional development.

Although the first afternoon of the conference was devoted to innovation in the use of Information and communication technology, the theme of technology and learning ran through the conference. It seemed apparent that the use of technology is now impacting on training practice – particularly through social networking and Web 2.0 technologies.

In parallel many contributions focused on the move towards more work based learning. Work based learning was often being driven by the rate of change in  products and processes and in work organisation. Within such a focus informal learning was also receiving more attention. However, work based learning also required attention to be paid to the design of work and of the workplace in order to facilitate learning.

The role of research was another ongoing point of discussion. Research was seen as important in theorising innovation in practice in order to allow their sustainability and transfer. This required new tools to help practitioners and researchers gain a deeper understanding of processes and outcomes of innovation.

In terms of the skills and knowledge required by trainers pedagogic skills (in tecahing and learning) and a knowledge of the labour market were highlighted. many of the presentations highlighted the need for professional development and the training of trainers, especially in the area of new technology. this raises the issue of who such professional development can be organised. it was suggested that networking is important in this regard through the development of Personal Learning Networks. Indeed going further, it might be that involvement in innovation and projects might be the basis for Professional Development. In her keynote presentation, Lilia Efimova from the Netherlands looked at how blogging could support reflection and learning. Reflection in innovation could possibly provide support for teachers and trainers to take part in further innovation, thus developing an ecology of sustainable innovation in practice.

If you missed the confernce and would like to catch up on the sessions, the first day recordings are already available on the Network of Trainers in Europe website. And the slides from the seventeen presentations can be found on the slideshare embed at the top of this post. Check them out – there is some good stuff there.


Implementing a socio- cultural ecology for learning at work – ideas and issues

November 9th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I have been invited to particpate in a workshop on ‘Technology Enhanced Learning in the context of technological, societal and cultural transformation‘, being sponsored by the EU funded Stellar Network of Excellence at Garnisch in Germany at teh start of December. I am contributing to a session on Work Based Learning and have written a short position paper on the subject, a draft of which is reproduced below. I have to say I am very much impressed with the work of the London Mobile Learning Group and my paper attempts to look at  the idea we have developed for a Work Oriented MoBile Learning Environment (WOMBLE) through the Mature-IP project in the light of their framework for a socio-cultural ecology for mobile learning.

1. A socio-cultural ecology for learning

In his paper, The socio-cultural ecological approach to mobile learning: an overview, Norbert Pachler characterises current changes in the world from a perspective on mobile learning as “akin to social, cultural, media related, technological and semiotic transformation”. The world around us, he says, is “marked by fluidity, provisionality and instability, where responsibilities for meaning making as well as others such as risk-taking have been transferred from the state and institutions to the individual, who has become a consumer of services provided by a global market”. The paper, based on conceptual and theoretical work being undertaken by the London Mobile Learning group, proposes a socio-cultural ecology for learning, based on the “new possibilities for the relationship between learning in and across formal and formal contexts, between the classroom and other sites of learning.” Such an ecology is based on the interplay between agency, cultural practices and structures.

In this short discussion paper, we will consider the possibilities for such an ecology in the context of work-based learning. In particular, we will examine work being undertaken through the EU funded Mature-IP project to research and develop the use of a Work Oriented MoBile Learning Environment (Womble) to support learning and knowledge maturing within organisations.

2. Work-based Learning and Technology

Although it is hard to find reliable quantitative data, it would appear that there has been a steady increase in work-based learning in most countries. This may be due to a number of reasons: probably foremost in this is the pressures for lifelong learning die to technological change and changing products, work processes and occupational profiles. Work-based learning is seen as more efficient and effective and facilitates situated learning. The move towards work-based learning has been accompanied in many countries by a revival in apprenticeship training. It has also been accompanied by a spread of the training function (Attwell and Baumgartl (eds.), 2008), with increasing numbers of workers taking some responsibility for training as part of their job.

The move towards increased work-based training has also been accompanied by the widespread us of Technology Enhanced Learning, at least in larger companies. However, this has not been unproblematic. Technology Enhanced Learning may be very effective where the work processes themselves involve the use of computers. It is also possible to develop advanced simulations of work processes; however such applications are complex and expensive to develop. More commonly, in the classical sense of the dual system, formal Technology Enhanced Learning has been used to support the theoretical side of vocational learning, with practical learning taking place through work-based practice (with greater or lesser face to face support). Given economies of scale, Technology Enhanced Learning has made most impact in vocational learning in those areas with a broad occupational application such as management, sales and ICT. In a previous paper I suggested that the development of technology for learning has been shaped by an educational paradigm, based on an industrial model of schooling developed to meet the needs and forms of a particular phase of capitalist and industrial development and that this paradigm is now becoming dysfunctional. Friesen and Hug argue that “the practices and institutions of education need to be understood in a frame of reference that is mediatic: “as a part of a media-ecological configuration of technologies specific to a particular age or era.” This configuration, they say, is one in which print has been dominant. They quote McLuhan who has described the role of the school specifically as the “custodian of print culture” (1962.) It provides, he says, a socially sanctioned “civil defense against media fallout” — against threatening changes in the mediatic environs.

Research suggests there has been little take up of formal Technology Enhanced Learning in the Small and Medium Enterprises which comprise the greatest growth area in many economies (Attwell (ed.), 2004). However the research, undertaken through an EU funded project into the use of ICT for learning in Small and Medium Enterprises, found the widespread everyday use of internet technologies for informal learning, utilizing a wide range of business and social software applications. This finding is confirmed by a recent study on the adoption of social networking in the workplace and Enterprise 2.0 (Oliver Young G (2009). The study found almost two-thirds of those responding (65%) said that social networks had increased either their efficiency at work, or the efficiency of their colleagues. 63% of respondents who said that using them had enabled them to do something that they hadn’t been able to do before

Of course such studies beg the question of the nature and purpose of the use of social software in the workplace. The findings of the ICT and SME project, which was based on 106 case studies in six European countries focused on the use of technologies for informal learning. The study suggested that although social software was used for information seeking and for social and communication purposes it was also being widely used for informal learning. In such a context:

  • Learning takes place in response to problems or issues or is driven by the interests of the learner
  • Learning is sequenced by the learner
  • Learning is episodic
  • Learning is controlled by the learner in terms of pace and time
  • Learning is heavily contextual in terms of time, place and use
  • Learning is cross disciplinary or cross subject
  • Learning is interactive with practice
  • Learning builds on often idiosyncratic and personal knowledge bases
  • Learning takes place in communities of practice

However, it is important to note that the technology was not being used for formal learning, nor in the most part was it for following a traditionally curriculum or academic body of knowledge.

Instead business applications and social and networking software were being used to develop what has been described as Work Process Knowledge (Boreham, N. Samurçay, R. and Fischer, M. 2002).

The concept of Work Process Knowledge emphasises the relevance of practice in the workplace and is related to concepts of competence and qualification that stress the idea that learning processes not only include cognitive, but also affective, personal and social factors. They include the relevance of such non-cognitive and affective-social factors for the acquisition and use of work process knowledge in practical action. Work often takes place, and is carried out, in different circumstances and contexts. Therefore, it is necessary for the individual to acquire and demonstrate a certain capacity to reflect and act on the task (system) and the wider work environment in order to adapt, act and shape it. Such competence is captured in the notion of “developmental competence” (Ellstroem PE, 1997) and includes ‘the idea of social shaping of work and technology as a principle of vocational education and training’ (Heidegger, G., Rauner F., 1997). Work process knowledge embraces ‘developmental competence’, the developmental perspective emphasising that individuals have the capacity to reflect and act upon the environment and thereby forming or shaping it. In using technologies to develop such work process knowledge, individuals are also shaping or appropriating technologies, often developed or designed for different purposes, for social learning.

3. Knowledge Maturing, Personal Learning Environments and Wombles

MATURE is a large-scale integrating project (IP), co-funded by the European Commission under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). It runs from April 2008 to March 2012. The Mature-IP aims to research, develop and test Personal Learning and Maturing Environments (PLME) and Organisational Learning and Maturing Environments (OLME) in promote the agility of organisations. Agility requires that companies and their employees together and mutually dependently learn and develop their competencies efficiently in order to improve productivity of knowledge work. The aim is to leverage the intrinsic motivation of employees to engage in collaborative learning activities, and combine it with a new form of organisational guidance. For that purpose, MATURE conceives individual learning processes to be interlinked (the output of a learning process is input to others) in a knowledge-maturing process in which knowledge changes in nature. This knowledge can take the form of classical content in varying degrees of maturity, but also involves tasks and processes or semantic structures. The goal of MATURE is to understand this maturing process better, based on empirical studies, and to build tools and services to reduce maturing barriers.

The Mature-IP project has undertaken a series of studies looking at learning and knowledge maturing processes within organisations. Based on this work, in year 2 of the project, it is undertaking a series of five Design Projects, developing and testing prototypes of technology based applications to support knowledge maturing within these organisations. One of these projects, the Work Oriented MoBile Learning Environment (Womble), is designed to enable workers to appropriate the mobile phone as a Personal Learning Maturing Environment (PLME) and to support contextualised Work-based Learning, problem-solving, interaction and knowledge maturing via a user owned, mobile PLE.

The design study/demonstrator includes support for structured learning dialogue frameworks, with a social software ‘substrate’ and multi- user / multi-media spaces that will provide workers with the ability to collaborate with co-workers. At the most basic level, Womble services will, for example, allow workers to tag fellow work colleagues (contacts); when a problem arises this service will enable collaborative problem solving. At a more advanced stage a ‘lite’ dialogue game service will be linked to the tagging of personal competencies to scaffold workers in their active collaboration and ‘on the spot’ problem solving.

4. The Womble and a socio-cultural ecology for learning

The conceptual framework proposed by Norbert Pachler and the London Mobile Learning Group (LMLG) proposes a non-hierarchal model based on the interaction between agency, cultural practices and structures. In the penultimate section of this discussion document, we examine how the deign of the Womble matches the framework proposed by the LMLG.

4.1 Agency

Agency is seen by Pachler as “the capacity to deal with and to impact on socio cultural structures and established cultural practices” and “to construct one’s life-world and to use media for meaning making…..”

The aim of the Womble is to develop a “participatory culture” in the workplace including ludic forms of problem solving, identity construction, multitasking, “distributed cognition,” and “transmedial navigation” (Jenkins at al, 2006). It is designed to scaffold developmental competence through sense and meaning making in a shared communicative environment, though exploring, questioning and transcending traditional work structures. Situatedness and proximity are key to such an exploration, the ability to seek, capture store, question and reflect on information, in day to day practice. This the use of the Womble for meaning making goes beyond the exploration of formal bodies of expert knowledge to question manifestations of cultural practice within communities.

A further aspect of agency is the ability to shape the form of the Womble as a user configurable and open set of tools. Wild, Mödritscher and Sigurdarson (2008)suggest that “establishing a learning environment, i.e. a network of people, artefacts, and tools (consciously or unconsciously) involved in learning activities, is part of the learning outcomes, not an instructional condition.” They go on to say: “Considering the learning environment not only a condition for but also an outcome of learning, moves the learning environment further away from being a monolithic platform which is personalisable or customisable by learners (‘easy to use’) and heading towards providing an open set of learning tools, an unrestricted number of actors, and an open corpus of artefacts, either pre-existing or created by the learning process – freely combinable and utilisable by learners within their learning activities (‘easy to develop’). ”

4.2 Cultural Practices

By cultural practices, Pachler, refers to “routines in stable situations both in terms of media use on everyday life as well as the pedagogical practices around teaching and learning in the context of educational institutions.” He points out that the multimodality of mobile and media technologies names: them more difficult to map onto traditional curricula and puts pressure on established canons.”

One key idea behind the Womble is that Personal Learning Environments are owned by the user.But at the same time, the Womble tools are designed to make it easy to for users to configure their  environment.

Critically, the pedagogy, if it can be described as such is based on shared practice with learners themselves actively developing learning materials and sharing them through reflection on their context. Whilst such materials might be said to be micro learning materials, the semantic aggregation of those materials, together with advanced search capabilities should provide a holistic organisational learning base. As such the Womble is designed to support , the recognition of context as a key factor in work related and social learning processes. Cook (2009) proposes that new digital media can be regarded as cultural resources for learning and can enable the bringing together of the informal learning contexts in the world outside the institution, or in this case the organisation, with those processes and contexts that are valued inside the intuitions. Cook also suggests that informal learning in social networks is not enabling the “critical, creative and reflective learning that we value in formal education.” Instead he argues for the scaffolding of learning in a new context for learning through learning activities that take place outside formal institutions and on platforms, such as the Womble, that are selected or configured by learners. Such ‘episodic learning’ is based on Vygotskys idea of ‘zones of proximal development’. However, we would agree with Pachler, that in the need for a departure from the terminology associated with Vygostsky’s work. Rather than viewing developmental zones as mainly temporal within a life course, they should be seen as situative contexts within work practice, which both allow the production of user generated content in response to such a situation and reflection on content generated by other users in such situations.

In this context digital artefacts can assist in sense making through the process of bricolage (Levi Strauss, 1966) The concept of bricolage refers to the rearrangement and juxtaposition of previously unconnected signifying objects to produce new meanings in fresh contexts. Bricolage involves a process of resignification by which cultural signs with established meanings are re-organised into new codes of meaning.

This approach to work-based learning through the use mobile devices and services such as the Womble is the relation between work-based activities and personal lives. This goes beyond worklife balance, or even digital identities. It involves agreed and shared understandings of what activities and digital practices are acceptable in work time and work spaces, ethical considerations especially in with regard to work practice involving clients and how private use of social media impacts on work relations.

4.3 Socio cultural and technological structures

Of course critical to such an approach to situated learning, is the ability to utilize mobile devices within work situations. However for this to take place requires more than just the appropriation of user owned technologies (indeed our initial studies suggest resistance to user owned mobile devices being used for work purposes unless funded by the employer. More important is the expropriation of work processes and technologies used for monitoring and recording work processes as the basis for learning. Indeed one aim of the mature project is to overcome the divide between the use of technologies of learning and for knowledge management. Without the ability to transcend these technologies sit is unlikely that the Womble or any other PLE based applications will gain traction and usage. The use of such a learning and knowledge sharing platform has to take place without imposing a substantial additional work and attention burden on the user.

5. Organisational and developmental learning

The use of mobile devices to support situated work-based learning is base don the idea that appropriation of both technologies and processes will lead to the formation of developmental competences based on intrinsic motivation. Barry Nyhan (Nyhan et al, 2003) states “one of the keys to promoting learning organisations is to organise work in such a way that it is promotes human development. In other words it is about building workplace environments in which people are motivated to think for themselves so that through their everyday work experiences, they develop new competences and gain new understanding and insights. Thus, people are learning from their work – they are learning as they work.”

He goes on to say: “This entails building organisations in which people have what can be termed‘ developmental work tasks’. These are challenging tasks that ‘compel’ people to stretch their potential and muster up new resources to manage demanding situations. In carrying out ‘developmental work tasks’ people are ‘developing themselves’ and are thus engaged in what can be termed ‘developmental learning’.”

This notion of developmental competences and learning, using mobile devices and environments such as the Womble, would appear as a way of building on the conceptual framework for a social cultural ecological approach advanced by the London Mobile Learning group.

6. Questions

  • Can developmental competences be acquired in the absence of formal and institutional learning?
  • How can developmental competences based on informal learning be recognised?
  • How can we develop intrinsic motivation for work-based learning and competence development?
  • How can we recognise development zones for reflection and learning?
  • Is it possible to appropriate social and business processes and applications for learning?
  • Is there a continued role for educational technologies if learning materials are user generated and technologies and applications are appropriated?
  • What are the socio – technical competences and literacies required to facilitate learners to appropriate technologies?


Attwell G and Baumgartl B. (ed.), 2008, Creating Learning Spaces:Training and Professional Development for Trainers, Vienna, Navreme

Attwell G.(ed) 2007, Searching, Lurking and the Zone of Proximal Development, e-learning in Small and Medium enterprises in Europe, Vienna, Navreme

Boreham, N. Samurçay, R. and Fischer, M. (2002) Work Process Knowledge, Routledge

Boushel M, Fawcett M, Selwyn J. (2000), Focus on Early Childhood: Principles and Realities, Blackwell Publishing

Cook, J. (2009), Scaffolding the Mobile wave, Presnetation at the Jisc Institutional Impact programme online meeting, 09/07/09,, accessed 10 July 2009

Ellstroem P. E.  (1997) The many meanings of occupational competence and qualifications, In Brown, A (ed.) Promoting Vocational Education and Training: European Perspectives,University of Tampere Press, Tampere

Friesen N and Hug T (2009), The Mediatic Turn: Exploring Concepts for Media Pedagogy

Heidegger, G., Rauner F. (1997): Vocational Education in Need of Reform, Institut Technik und Bildung, Bremen

Jenkins, H., Purushotoma, R., Clinton, K.A., Weigel, M., and Robison, A. J. (2006). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. White paper co-written for the MacArthur Foundation. Accessed July 14, 2008 from:

Levi Strauss C. (1966). The savage mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [first published in 1962]

McLuhan, M. (1962). The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Nyhan, B et al (2003). Facing up to the learning organisation challenge. Vol. I. Thessaloniki, CEDEFOP,

Oliver Young G (2009), Global Enterprise Web 2.0 Market Forecast: 2007 to 2013, Forrester

Pachler (forthcoming) The Socio-cultural approach to mobile learning: an overview

Wild F. Mödritscher F. and Sigurdarson S., (2008), Designing for Change: Mash-Up Personal Learning Environments, elearning papers,, accessed 2 September, 2008

International Open On-line Conference on Innovation in Training Practice

November 4th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Next week – 9 and 10 November – sees the Second International Open On-line Conference on Innovation in Training Practice.

Although on-line conferences are becoming common in technology related fields, it is particularly heartening to see such practices spreading out to wider communities of research and learning. The free conference, organised by the EU funded Network to Support Trainers in Europe,  is for all those interested in the training and professional development of teachers and trainers. This includes teachers, trainers, researchers, managers and policy makers.

  • Innovations in Work-based Learning for VET Teachers and Trainers
  • Quality and Diversity: Innovations in training practice for socially disadvantaged group
  • Technology Enhanced Learning / ICT for innovation and training practice
  • Innovations in company-based training

Each theme lasts half a day, with two or three speakers from a wide range of countries per theme, with plenty of space for discussion. You can find the conference programme on the Trainers in Europe web site. The conference is open – you can find the links for the Elluminate rooms for the different sessions on the Trainers in Europe Web site but please register here so we can send you out more details.

Online conference on Innovation in Training Practice

August 6th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Last year Pontydysgu organised the first online conference on the training of trainers as part of our work with the Network for Trainers in Europe. Some seventy participants joined the conference from twenty-six different countries.

This year on 9 and 10 November we are organising a follow up conference on “Innovation in Training Practice.” The conference if free and open to all those interested n the subject. An online enrollment form will be made avaiable in the next two weeks. In the meantime we have put out a call for particpation. Wales Wide Web readers will be very welcome to take part.


About the Network

The European Commission funded Network to Support Trainers in Europe examines the role of trainers by looking at different aspects of training practice and policy. A key objective is to foster exchange between training practitioners, researchers, policy makers and stakeholder institutions. Topics that the Network addresses include trainers’ work, skills, status, professional profile, the recognition of their work and trainers’ continuing professional development.

While the Network seeks to establish support structures for trainers in different European countries, we also have created an on-line platform to link different initiatives, studies and activities on trainers at the European and international level. The platform provides access to research results and recent developments in policy and practice as well as practical tools for practitioners and the training of trainers. A communication forum for practitioners, researchers, managers and policy makers is also available.
In 2008 a main activity of the Network was an online conference which involved some 70 participants. Given that this conference was highly successful, we wish to build on this with a second online conference this year.

Who is the conference for?

The conference is for all those interested in the training and professional development of teachers and trainers. This includes teachers, trainers, researchers, managers and policy makers.

About the conference

The conference will take place on through the internet. We hope this will not only reduce the carbon footprint of our activities, but will allow wide participation by those who might not be able to travel. The conference will utilise simple web-based tools and will be accessible by anyone with an internet connection and a web browser.

For those of you not used to presenting on the internet, we will provide full technical support and a short pre-conference training course.

Conference themes

The conference will be organised around four themes.

Theme 1 – Innovations in Work-based Learning for VET Teachers and Trainers

Work-based learning is seen as being based on practice and supporting the development of applied work practice knowledge. Against classroom-based training it tends to be more authentic and situated and may be more cost-effective in contributing to production processes. Issues to be explored in this session include:

  • How can the work environment be organised to support work-based learning?
  • What are the pedagogic approaches to work-based learning?
  • What role does work process knowledge play in the context of work-based learning?
  • How can the curriculum be organised to support work-based learning?

Theme 2: Equality and Diversity: Innovations in training practice for socially disadvantaged groups

The provision of training for socially disadvantaged groups is a high priority for the European Commission and for many European governments. Social disadvantage may have a wide variety of meanings – including gender, ethnicity, the long-term unemployed, ex prisoners, refugees etc. Targeted provision for these groups is usually focused on social inclusion within education and training or within the workforce. Issues to be explored in this session include:

  • Approaches to mainstreaming for socially disadvantaged groups;
  • Innovative pedagogic approaches to training targeted at socially disadvantaged groups;
  • Innovative institutional arrangements for the training for socially disadvantaged groups;
  • Recognising prior learning and achievement for socially disadvantaged groups;

Theme 3: Technology Enhanced Learning / ICT for innovation and training practice

e-Learning is increasingly impacting on training. Larger enterprises are developing in-house e-learning programmes for employees. The internet is increasingly being used for informal learning. Internet-based tools offer opportunities for accessing learning in the workplace and for communication. E-portfolios can be used to record and reflect on learning. Web 2.0 tools offer opportunities to develop customised multi-media materials to support training. Issues to be explored in this session include:

  • What is the impact of e-learning on training and the activities of trainers?
  • How can we best use e-learning to support trainers?
  • How can we encourage and recognise informal internet based learning?
  • What is the impact of social software and Web 2.0 on training and learning?

Theme 4: Innovations in company-based training

The present high rate of change in processes and products and technology implementation is driving a focus on lifelong learning and company-based training. This can take different forms including formal courses, on the job learning, coaching and Technology Enhanced Learning and includes both initial and continuing vocational training. There is also increasing interest in informal learning in companies and in the recognition of informal learning. Competence development and frameworks for competence development are another theme which has attracted much debate over the past period. Issues to be explored in this session include:

  • Innovative learning arrangements in companies;
  • Developing learning rich or learning conducive working environments;
  • Fostering and facilitating informal learning in companies;
  • Developing strategies for competence development and organisational learning within companies.

Conference Structure

The conference will take place over two days. On each day there will be two formal sessions, one for each of the themes. Each session will last for about two hours, allowing four presentations of 15 minutes each, with 15 minutes of discussion.

The live sessions will utilise on-line e-conferencing software, allowing video and audio presentations and feedback from participants. Sessions will be recorded and made available for later viewing. Papers will be made available to participants in advance and the conference will also provide opportunities for asynchronous text-based discussion.

There will also be an parallel on-line exhibition. Details of this will be the subject of a later call.

Call for participation

We invite ideas from people who are interested in contributing to the conference. We are especially interested in supporting contributions from those who have not presented before at an online conference. Support will be available for participants in developing their presentations and in using the online conference platform. We are open to different formats for the sessions. We are not requiring a formal abstract but would like to here your ideas on what you might wish to present and any ideas you have on how you might do this.

Ideas for participation might include (but are not limited to):

  • Informal conversations
  • Workshops
  • Petcha-kutcha
  • Showcasing examples of practice, artefacts, handbooks etc.
  • Videos about practice or projects
  • Research, papers

Please email your ideas to Cristina Costa cristinacost [at] gmail [dot] com and/or to Graham Attwell graham10 [at] mac [dot] com to discuss your ideas.


October 4 – Deadline for submission of ideas
October 20 – notification of results of review

More information

If you would like more information you can access the Network’s web site at You can also email the project coordinator Simone Kirpal – kirpal [at] uni-bremen [dot] de– or the conference organiser Graham Attwell – graham10 [at] mac [dot] com. Registration details and further information about the conference will be available on the platform shortly.

An online conference checklist

May 29th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I spent most of yeterday writing interim reports for the European Commission funded Eurotrainer Network project. Report writing is not one of my favourite activities. Anyway the main things Pontydysgu is responsible for in the project is developing and maintaining the network platform and tools and organising an annual online conference.

firstly, I was surprised at how many different tools we have used. In addition to the main platform, which is a WordPress site with the  Freefolio plug-in, we have used the following web tools and services (as taken from the platform report):

  • Google forms for conference and event registration. These can be embedded within the platform and generate an automatic spreadsheet
  • A Network of Trainers in Europe Facebook group – This currently has 220 members and provides a valuable and easy way to mail directly information to participants.
  • A PB wiki – this was established to provide a quick and easy to use platform for the exhibition area associated with the online conference.
  • An email list server. This is maintained by the UK higher education Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). It currently has more than 70 members.
  • A video and audio Flash meeting platform. This is hosted by The UK Open University.
  • The Elluminate suite for online conferencing. This was provided by the Conference sponsors, the UK JISC Evolve network.
  • A Diigo site for collecting and sharing bookmarks (this is displayed through a widget on the platform)
  • A Flickr site for collecting and sharing photographs (this is displayed through a widget on the platform).

I also had to write an ‘activity report; for the work undertaken by Pontydysgu for the project.  I have written yet another report on the online conference itself, so in the activity report I limited myself to a bullet point list of what we did. I think it serves as a useful check list for those seeking to organise online events. I like running on line events but if people think they are less work than face to face seminars and meetings they are sadly mistaken!

  • Development of concept and format for the conference and presentation of concept and format to the network partners
  • Writing, production and dissemination of call for papers and presentations and exhibition materials
  • Contacting potential contributors to the conference
  • Production and dissemination of publicity materials for the conference
  • Development of conference pages on Network web site
  • Production and management of conference sign up form
  • Contacting and liaising with other networks, projects an organisations to publicise the conference
  • Production and dissemination of pre-conference newsletters
  • Organisation of conference platform through the conference sponsors, the UK Jisc Evolve network
  • Organisation and moderation of pre-conference training sessions for conference presenters
  • Dissemination of help materials in use of the platform
  • Provision of a technical help line for conference participants
  • Organisation of session moderators and organisation of training sessions
  • Overall conference moderation
  • Organisation, technical hosting and dissemination of conference exhibition
  • Recording of conference sessions (as Elluminate recordings and as downloadable MP3 recordings) and development of web pages for viewing these materials
  • Development and distribution of online evaluation questionnaire.
  • Analysis of evaluation returns and production of report on the conference

What is innovation?

February 24th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I am still at CEDEFOP at a conference entitled ‘Teachers and trainers at the heart of innovation and Vocational Education and Training reforms’. Snappy!

This morning I participated in an interesting workshop where we discussed the link between innovation, education and training and teachers and trainers.

Last December when I participated in a workshop organised by Jay Cross, two fundamentally different ideas were expressed on the purpose of VET. Whilst Jay said the purpose of education and training is preparing learners to adapt to their environment, I put forward the idea that education and training should  faciliate learners in changing the working environment. That, for me, is at the heart of innovation. All too often, the idea of innovation is reduced to the implementation of new technologies.  When asked what leads to innovation, particpants in the conference in Thessaloniki said creativity. But creativity requires the ability and the autonomy to shape and change the way we live and work. Indeed in the ICT and SME project in which we particpated, we found that the use of ICT for learning in small andmedium enterprises was largely dependent on the freedom they had to organise their own work. My feeling is that all too often work organisation inhibits creativity and innovation. No amount of changes in our education systems will overcome that problem. Rather, we have to look at both education and training and autonomy and responsibility in the workplace together.

Trainers, identities and qualifications

February 23rd, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I am in Thessaloniki at a conference on vocational teachers and trainers organised the the European Agency, Cedefop. Whilst everyone is convinced of the key roles  of teachers  and trainers (it is interesting that no one ever stops to question that), and agree that we need better training and professional development for trainers, there remains little agreement on how this might be done.

Presenters from OECD and the European Trades Unions ETUCE) seem convinced the answer is higher levels fo academic qualifications for teachers and trainers – the ETUCE going as far as to say all vocational teachers and trainers should have ‘Masters degree level’ qualifcations.

This, forme raises all kinds of questions related to identity. Vocational teachers have dual identities – as a teacher and as a skilled workers. Many of those responsible for the learning of others in the workplace – I prefer this clumsy phrase to the word trainer – may not even identify themselves as trainer at all, but rather as a skilled worker in their occupation.

Leaving aisde the issue of whther or not masters level qualification helps teachers and trainers in their practice, I wonder how the imposition of such an academic qualification impacts on the identity of a teacher or trainer. I wonder, too, if we are confusing competence and expertise in teaching and training with univeristy degrees?

As an aside, one thing the ETUCE speaker put forward that I agreed with was the idea of autonomous work as a competnce for teachers. But does a univeristy degree result in the development of autonomous thinking?

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    This is from a Tweet. In 1994 Stephen Heppell wrote in something called SCET” “Teachers are fundamental to this. They are professionals of considerable calibre. They are skilled at observing their students’ capability and progressing it. They are creative and imaginative but the curriculum must give them space and opportunity to explore the new potential for learning that technology offers.” Nothing changes!

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    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.

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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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