The Learn@Work Socrates-Minerva Research Project 2005–2007
What did it do and what happened with it since?
The Dublin pilots
The Learn@Work team in the Dublin Institute of Technology was essentially made up of the three authors of this paper: an academic development expert with a particular track record in adult education, and two e-learning experts. The team used the technique of inner and outer circles of expert critical friend to assist in defining the most sustainable and immediately useful ‘resource’ to be tested with pilot groups. Among the outer circle were representatives of Fásnet E-college (a division of the national training authority), Skillnets (business networks), The National Adult Literacy Agency, City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee, EdTechUsers, Enable Ireland, and the Trainers Network. The outer circle was expected to contribute to the evaluation of the induction materials in relation to their suitability for the target groups and the future sustainability of the materials on an expanded scale in its specific socio-cultural context.
The inner circle was made up of academic colleagues with expertise in e-pedagogies, links with industry, apprentice training, web-design, student retention, mature student access, and continuing professional development. The function of the inner circle included offering advice on design and content, e-accompaniment of participants in the pilots, and evaluation of all elements.
The team isolated three discrete activities within which the circles of experts would contribute differently, namely: producing a state-of-the-art report on work-based learning and work-based e-learning in Ireland; developing and piloting an e-learning induction package with a range of potential users of e-learning at work; producing an enhanced package for dissemination to multiple users based on the findings of the pilots. The final focus of the project was agreed as the development of a locally informed induction and support package for worker-learners with whom we currently worked, including apprentices, adult learners in their communities, workers engaged in continuing professional development, part-time student generally regardless of the level. The aim was to introduce these potential users to computers generally, to basic ICT skills, to e-learning, to the use of the WebCT platform, and to the academic study skills required for sustainable participation in formal, work-related training and education. It was essentially an induction and capacity-building package to essential skills for successful learning with the use of ICTs, whether that learning was formally structured or occurring more informally and embedded in work practices.
State-of-the-art and contextual policy discourses
The state-of-the-art report about induction and support for worker-learners using e-technologies in Ireland produced in 2005–2006 presented an employment landscape somewhat different to that pertaining at the time of writing of this article in late 2009, where there is a considerable reduction in numbers employed in all sectors and at all levels. In 2006, however, there were circa 40 software and IT companies employing in excess of 20,000 workers. A favourable tax regime and the encouragement of inward migration were incentivising the growth of high-technology companies in a national strategy to move to a knowledge economy. However, the profile of work-based learning, unsurprisingly, revealed that new entrants were more likely to be offered training than older workers; that workers with low levels of education were unlikely to receive any training opportunities; that part-time and temporary workers rarely received training; that union members and employees in large companies were more likely to be offered training than vulnerable, contract workers in small and medium enterprises.
In relation to ‘e-learning’ in Irish workplaces, a precise profile was difficult to draw since the term itself is vague and ambiguous. However, a survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) in 2003 found that large, multi-national companies used generic e-learning as normal practice as did private non-national organisations. The survey also found that Irish companies preferred face-to-face training or customised e-learning packages to generic products and that e-packages alone were rarely used (CIPD 2003a). A 2005 study by the Forfás Expert Group on Future Skills Needs found that education providers rarely included sufficient theories of instructional design and pedagogical methods in their e-learning programmes and were insufficiently aware of what workplaces actually need from e-learning packages in a rapidly changing economy. They particularly identified the dearth of academic–industry partnership in e-learning development as a weakness. A second report for the CIPD in November 2003 and a Skillnets survey identified infrastructure, bandwidth, remote wireless access, availability of competent e-expert trainers and traditional workplace cultures as important factors in future expansion of e-learning. The term ‘techno-economic paradigm’ was used to capture the need to link economic development policy with how education and training were likely to fuse in the future.