The Learn@Work Socrates-Minerva Research Project 2005–2007
What did it do and what happened with it since?
Reflections two years on
For the purpose of this journal article, and considering the likely global readership, it would be useful – but prohibitive – to permit individual reflections from the range of persons involved in the Dublin pilots. What we can reflect on with consensus, however, is the sustained interest in the materials since the project ended. There has been multiple usage of the paper-based handbook for adult learners and new postgraduate students. An even wider range of users have requested access to the accompanying, interactive on-line version of the handbook. Versions have been produced for community-based education, for apprentices, for off-campus learners, and as programme resources for traditional students. It would be fair to say that there was sustained interest initially in the ICT section with increasingly more interest recently in study skills and academic writing skills specifically. Additionally, there is increasing interest in reflection on prior learning and preparation of career portfolios: doubtless an indicator of the negative employment landscape and the increased need for re-skilling.
What was less used was the inter-active version of the materials probably because of difficulties with passwords and changing web systems when it was on the college intranet: a valuable lesson in design for access and equity.
However, we addressed this latter issue by updating the materials using funding from a national project related to learning in employment and made it freely available without restriction on our Institute website to workers seeking to improve their life chances through up-skilling and capacity building. We also intend to disseminate the materials through our circles of experts and their organisations.
What may still be worthy of consideration toward better e-practice by higher education practitioners for worker-learners are the following emerging design principles:
- E-induction and support materials may have a generic core, but will inevitably be re-designed for the context of the particular programme of study concerned
- Useful materials will be written in plain language, free from jargon and assumptions
- Materials will be ‘adult-friendly’ to be useful for any level of study from initial training to graduate level
- The focus will be on capacity development for learning rather than on achievement of curriculum goals
- Models will draw on adult learning theory rather than on standard instructional design theory
- E-designers will offer a theoretical defence of their design principles and pedagogical models to academic staff who actually need to implement such designs
- E-designers will field-test their proposals themselves with ‘real’ worker-learners prior to proposing them to programme teams.
Where to next for Learn@Work?
The evaluation of the project identified areas which could be immediately developed to a further level. These included the game-based and social-software based induction and support for workers into a new job, new role, or new working culture, as developed by the Belgian and Austrian partners. The Scottish and Irish partners focused on induction and support for worker-learners in relation to higher education and lifelong learning, and here too, there was an identified need for further research into how e-learning designers understand the worker-learner (Murphy et al. 2008). Closely related to this was the need to further understand the process of induction and support in contemporary workplaces and how they might interface with academic processes. There were possible future research possibilities in exploring how the models could be scaled up without loosing their local significance, and indeed, how such research projects might seek to influence policy at the local and national level.
What has not yet become clear is how well induction and support models travel across continents with different context and expectations from higher education providers. Where traditions and technologies facilitate e-induction and e-support the task is relatively easy. Where inequities of access are a significant feature, there may be an argument that the digital divide only gets wider if there are reductions in traditional models and approaches. With this concern to the fore, the Dublin Institute of Technology has a long tradition of making ICTs available in community housing contiguous to its campus sites with structured support and training with the expectation of facilitating increased access to social and economic capital. The Learn@Work materials will continue to be just one element in such a strategy and sight will not be lost of the human element in generation of sustainable cultural and social capital.