Tag Archives: innovations

Reflections on the impact of the Learning Layers project – Part Four: What all has contributed to the sustainability of the Learning Toolbox?

With my three previous posts I have started a series of blogs that report on the discussions of former partners of the Learning Layers (LL) project on the impact of our work. The discussion started, when I published a blog post on the use of Learning Toolbox (LTB) in the training centre Bau-ABC to support independent learning while the centre is closed. This triggered a discussion, how the digital toolset Learning Toolbox – a key result from our EU-funded R&D project – is being used in other contexts. This then gave rise to collect such experiences and to start a joint reflection on the impact of our work.

In the first post I gave an overview of this process. In the second post I presented the main points that I and my co-author Gilbert Peffer outlined on the use of LTB to support vocational and workplace-based learning in the construction sector. In the third post I gave insights into the use of LTB in other contexts based on spin-off innovations and on refocusing the use of the toolset. With this concluding post I try to summarise – from my perspective – what factors have contributed to the sustainability of the Learning Toolbox. Here I will make use of some aspects that were outlined for the authors of particular case studies that were brought together in our joint discussion. The points that I present below reflect the views of me and my co-author Gilbert Peffer on our experiences with the construction pilot of the LL project and its follow-up phase.

Strong focus on co-design and stakeholder engagement

As we see it, the co-design, pilot implementation and wider deployment of LTB in the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup underlines the importance of well-functioning research & development dialogue. Many elements in the project design of Learning Layers provided favourable starting points – e.g. the emphasis on co-design practices, iterative processes and flexible teamwork. Yet, during the work, the partners had to find their ways – time and again – to adjust the guiding principles, the practical pedagogic orientations and possible software solutions to each other.

Flexible collaboration between partners during the follow-up phases of the project

By the end of the project it was not certain, in what ways the innovations could be sustained and the collaboration between researchers, technical partners and practitioners could be continued. From this perspective it was essential that the developers of the LTB and the accompanying researchers from research institute ITB  took several initiatives to launch follow-up activities with partner organisations  in the construction sector. These efforts were not always successful in terms of acquisition of new funded projects. Yet, they provided new insights into potential use of the LTB in organisational contexts and between dispersed work processes.

Rethinking the contextual opportunities and applying technology in previously unforeseen contexts

Due to many intervening factors the progress with the follow-up activities had not been a direct process of  scaling up the innovation. Instead, the interested partners have had to find new paths for working further with the Learning Toolbox in new contexts. Partly the success in using Learning Toolbox in vocational training and partly the spread of using ePosters in conferences have inspired new users. Partly the feasibility studies in the construction sector have opened new prospects for using Learning Toolbox for organisational knowledge sharing – as has been the case latterly in the healthcare sector.

Shaping of R&D projects as innovation hubs/ platforms

On this point our experiences suggest a common success conclusion: R&D projects should not be understood and planned out as mere research studies. Neither should they be looking for allegedly integrated solutions (‘one size fits all’, ‘one format suits all’). Instead, they should rather be shaped as networked innovation hubs or platforms. In such context research elements can receive initial validation and a team to start an innovation process. As we see it, the strength in the construction pilot of the LL project was the continuity of a participative research & development dialogue that kept the processes vivid and helped to overcome difficult periods. Moreover, the multiple support activities helped the practitioners to take ownership of the innovation and become multipliers of new practices.

I think that this is enough of our reflections for the moment. I will get back when we know, on what forum and in what way we will be presenting our joint findings and conclusions from all case studies.

Reflections on the impact of the Learning Layers project – Part One: New discussions in the project consortium

Three weeks ago I published a blog post in which I reported on the use of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) to support vocational learning during the corona crisis (see my previous post). I shared it on the mailing list of the partners of the former Learning Layers project consortium. As an immediate reaction some partners from the UK healthcare sector informed, how they have made wide use of LTB among general practice (GP) units for sharing knowledge on the patterns to prescribe certain medications. Also, this exchange of messages brought into picture the growing use of LTB as support for e-posters (see my previous post).

This gave rise to the initiative of Tobias Ley, the leader of the former Learning Layers consortium, to report on such sustainable use of Learning Layers tools after the end of the project in a conference paper. And this led to a rapid process of collaborative writing that involved several research partners of the former consortium. The results are now being finalised and will be presented in the respective conference (provided that the proposal will be accepted). Therefore, it would be premature to discuss our findings in toto before the submission has been reviewed and accepted. However, I think that it is appropriate to discuss some of the cases that were examined in this discussion and some lessons that I and my co-author Gilbert Peffer have highlighted in our contributions to this process.

Altogether, this has been an interesting collaborative reflection process that brought together several partners that have been working with the two pilot sectors of the project (construction and healthcare). Also, it has given us a fresh picture on the development of the ePosters (powered by LTB) as a spin-off innovation emerging from the Learning Layers project. So, in my next posts I will discuss different topics that were taken up in our joint discussions.

Quiet period in education and training activities – What news on the project fronts?

Normally I am populating this blog with reports on field visits and project meetings or on emerging results. Right now we are in the middle of a very quiet period. The hitherto normal activities of education and training providers have been closed due to the spread of the corona virus. And in a similar way all face-to-face meetings – whether project meetings, field visits or workshops with local/regional partners – all such events have been cancelled or postponed. So, it is very quiet right now. But yet, it is worthwhile to look at the possibilities that digital tools and online services may provide under such circumstances.

Indeed, as Graham Attwell mentioned in the online meeting of our TACCLE4 CPD last week, this crisis has been a strong push for teachers and trainers to move their activities online. What has been so far considered as a sideline opportunity – something complementary to the ‘regular’ teaching and training in presence – has to be considered as the remaining main option. From this point of view teachers, trainers and university lecturers are making rapid progress in implementing new online learning solutions in their own context. And at the same time developers of online learning platforms and software solutions are doing their best to support such transitions. All this is reflected in many online conferences and meetings. So, even during this quiet period, there are several new developments that need our attention.

From this point of view we discussed the role of our next transnational meeting – which we cannot organise as a face-to-face meeting but as an online meeting. Nevertheless, we agreed to book time slots to catch up with these new developments in online learning and in knowledge sharing within online communities. Also, we discussed the prospects to organise the forthcoming Multiplier events of the project as online events (and to use new formats for such events). Here, we need some time for further planning. BUT, if we want to capture the most valuable fruits of the new developments, we would need to organise the events at a time when our target groups – teachers and trainers – are getting back to the new normality after the period of lockdown. Therefore, I hope that the funding agencies are flexible enough to extend the working periods of projects like ours.

At any rate, I am trying to bring myself back to working mode (at least after the Easter period) and catch up with my friends and colleagues who are closer to new developments. Let us see, what all we will find out.

Learning Toolbox going strong to the year 2020

Yesterday I had a lengthy catch-up talk (via Skype) with my Barcelona-based friend Gilbert Peffer. As regular readers of this blog know, we had worked together intensively in the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project and in the follow-up phase. For the success of the LL project it was crucial that Gilbert (on top of his other duties) engaged himself in the development of the Learning Toolbox (LTB). And as we know, the LTB was the key product of the project – and in particular of the Construction pilot. Yet, although the LTB was successfully implemented by construction sector partners, the follow-up phase has not been that easy.

No question, the LTB has pointed out to be a powerful digital toolset for supporting learning in different contexts of Vocational Education and Training (VET). Thanks to the successful implementation of LTB, the LL project was awarded with the VET Research Project Award of the European Vocational Skills Week in Vienna 2018. And during his visit as ‘apprentice’ in the training centre Bau-ABC the prime minister of the Federal State of Lower Saxony, Stephan Weil was very impressed of the use of digital tools that were presented to him by apprentices. Here, the use of LTB was essentially part of this success story.

Also, as we have noticed it during the years after the project, the ePosters powered by LTB have been taken up in numerous conferences. With this spin-off innovation the LTB developers had reached numerous conferences that have started used ePosters powered by LTB as an alternative for traditional posters or alongside them. Also, on this front the LTB developers have received several awards as remarkable service providers.

Indeed, I have blogged on all these success stories and celebrated with the LTB developers. And indeed, in my reports for the EU-funded TACCLE4 CPD I had highlighted the use of LTB with the expression “The Learning Toolbox path”. In this way I had set the approach to a wider context. I see it as one of the innovation paths for promoting digital competences of teachers, trainers and learners in the field of VET and as a contribution to vocational learning culture. So far so good. However, now that I am in the transition to the full retirement phase I was afraid that I loose sight of the development of this innovative approach.

From this perspective it was rewarding to hear the news of Gilbert. It strikes me that the LTB developers are making progress on all fronts – with uses of LTB in training and in events. Now the LTB developers are working with several German training centres in the construction sector – and our partners in the LL project serve as multipliers in promoting the use of the toolset. In addition it strikes me that they have found new ways to use LTB in the healthcare sector in England – and the healthcare pilot partners of LL have been co-developing the new working perspectives. Furthermore, other healthcare service providers in Spain have identified new ways to use LTB to support the relatives of patients who need training for sensitive issues in their engagement with the patients.

This all has shown me that the work with the LTB is not fading away – on the contrary, it is conquering new terrains. This triggered once again my instincts of accompanying researcher and of inspired blogger. Even if I go on retirement, I want to follow these processes as best I can and support my colleagues via blog posts. So, we agreed with Gilbert on a new format for our cooperation – a monthly Blogchat. In this way Gilbert (who is very busy with the practical work around LTB) can report in a quick way on recent developments. And I can then write blogs that give visibility for the innovation. In this way we are continuing our long and successful cooperation with the innovation that is worth celebrating.