Despite the weather bureau's promise of snow, rain has been settling over Copenhagen for the past few days. The bitter cold contrasts with the steaming warmth inside, so I'm forever removing and replacing gloves, scarf and jacket.
From Thursday to Saturday there has been an interesting mix of presentations from organisational development through interventions to descriptions of learning rallies. All with the focus on developing competence - sometimes the workers, but more often the overall competence of large organisations. The majority of presenters were from the higher education sector, and a large number were PhD students presenting works in progress.
Summary (very brief) of my learning from the conference:
- Worker's identity are seen as being either in a struggle against the workplace domination, or expressed through emancipation into more challenging roles.
- That organisational theory was never far from the surface - where I would talk of education/training, presenters talked in terms of interventions.
- Many were concerned about transfer of school learning to the workplace, or continuance post-intervention.
Through my project this year I have been pondering how to capture informal learning. Some argued that it should not be formalised in this way, but rather 'valued'. Yet within the VET sector, we need evidence of competence, and informal learning would seem to be a key part of the process.
more to come...
On the final day of the conference David Boud and Knud Illeris both presented keynote speeches, which I guess where most in alignment with my current thinking about issues in workplace learning. The subtitle of the conference had attracted me greatly, but it was ‘from the learner’s perspective’ which I found a little lacking. On this final day the learner emerged as a distinct individual. Perhaps this was more due to the majority of presentations being given in the author’s second (or more) language. I think that if I had not studied organisational theory earlier in the year, much of the conference would have been difficult to connect with. Reflection was a strong theme in the learning strategies, in some ways this was the dominant learning strategy represented.
In one of the breaks I spoke briefly to Steen Elsborg about a project in the construction industry (project website here) In this project the main focus was about finding the best way of running the large construction sites. Workers were involved in weekly meetings, during which the next week’s work would be planned and also learning sessions would take place. Acceptance by the workers was helped through the early implementation of their suggestions for changing practice and the project as a whole has led to higher workplace and employability skills (as they are termed in Australia). Through this process workers were awarded a Diploma of Communication. Teachers from vocational colleges were involved and each week would prepare a session – sometimes the workers would suggest a topic, other times the teacher would select. This required a greater degree of flexibility than the teachers were used to, so there were learning experiences for them too. Further projects will continue to explore this process, and managers will also be offered training.
still more to come...
A mindmap of notes taken during my conversation with Pernille Bottrup of Kubix Consulting Click on the image above for more detailed information.
It has been a fascinating and busy 12 days in Denmark - Over this time I have been able to participate in the Workplace Learning Conference hosted by Learning Lab Denmark, and also met with many interesting people. This has included researchers who investigate workplace learning from a sociological perspective, practitioners designing elearning programs, consultants in VET programs and a technical school. At Roskilde Technical School, it was interesting to compare similarities and differences between the systems in Denmark, Australia and the Netherlands, as some Dutch VET educators were also visiting at the same time. The institutions service particular industry areas, and can roughly be divided into technical, business and service schools. In the Netherlands, colleges appear to be more like my institution where a wide range of industries are served.
When students first start at the college they have two main choices - either to specialise straight away or to do a 'themed' course. In the themed course students get to experience related trades eg Auto mechanics, metal work, welding, and so on. At the end of their 10 or 20 weeks, then the students can make a more informed choice about their career direction. I can see that this would be very useful for many students. To participate in these courses the students do not need employment, and by the end of the first six months of training, many students have gained employment in local industry and start the apprenticeship part of their training program.
The emphasis in the Danish system on contribution and influence by both the trade unions and the industry groups was very interesting. Formally, a qualification must be approved by a committee of trade unionists and industry representatives. Within the Danish technical colleges the focus is very much on the apprentices and young people entering the workforce. Older workers are more catered for through other systems such as the AMU centres, and Adult Education.
One of the projects that students work on at the Roskilde Technical School (scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the UK flag for the English version of the site) is to design basic vehicles. There is an example vehicle which is the starting point, and the students work in teams to develop their own version. This includes metal work and welding to construct the frame of the vehicle, adding in brakes and steering, building axles and reusing some elements such as seats.
Unfortunately I did not have my camera for this part of the tour. To see the students working so cheerfully and enthusiastically together was great. One of the female students explained that there are teachers available to help, but that her group was able to solve most of the problems between them, and they really felt like they were doing something practical. The integration between the different skills needed for the project were evaluated holistically through observation and discussion at the group level. Assessment takes place through the duration of a course, and frequently there is also a 'journeyman' test at the completion of the training contract. In this for example an electrical apprentice will need to develop a project eg in process control and then be able to demonstrate and answer questions about it to a panel of assessors which includes representatives of local industry and trade unions. Linkages to local industry through formal processes seem to be very strong.
In all three countries represented at the visit, there is desire from both the colleges and the government policies for more flexibility and integration between theory and practice. Discussion areas and computers are moving into practical workshops, with the computers mainly being used as a resource for research more than the location of formal learning activities. Flexibility in the types of projects that the students undertake is also increasing - Technical design students are now asked to design a pump, and can tackle it in any way that will meet the specifications, whereas in the past, students would all draw then create the same pump.