Phase III Consultation Seminar - Cardiff, Tuesday 12 June 2001

Aims

The aims of the seminar were:

  1. to identify some of the problems in teaching and learning in the particular fields of the participants.
  2. to identify and prioritise questions for the Phase III research agenda and
  3. to take advice on achieving research impact in the field.
Context

The context of Phase III was perceived to be daunting in its scope (FE, HE, work based learning, CPD, lifelong learning), in its ever challenging economic, political and policy context and in the relative absence of a research culture related to teaching, learning and training.

That being said, it was recognised that a great deal was at stake. Spending in the domain was enormous (estimated spend on work based training provision ran from 20bn to 60bn pa). The sector engages vast numbers of people in learning and, at the same time, perhaps bigger numbers were not engaged at all. Engaged or not, learning was perceived to be a significant determinant of individual's self-confidence, potential for self-fulfilment and of economic prosperity. Policy in the field was perceived to be driven by economic considerations and practices to be determined largely by custom and habit. Ever changing policy initiatives, usually most manifest in funding mechanisms, had left little time for sustained professional development amongst providers.

Values.

There was a shared concern that the individual learner had been, contrary to the rhetoric, lost in modern provision for learning. There was perhaps more concern about learners lost from systematic provision or opportunity either because they perceived themselves to be failures from schooling or because there was no provision available that they could realistically take advantage of. The central issue of inclusion was manifest throughout the seminar.

Problems of learning, teaching and training.

These were discussed in the context of the various settings in which participants worked.

Work-based learning.

  • It was felt that where work based training was aimed at the development of specific skills it was largely unproblematic. Problems arose where provision has aspirations to promote 'soft' skills or 'people' skills or more general 'capability'. Doubts were expressed as to whether it was clear what was meant or entailed here. How should the broader aims of work-based learning be conceptualised?
  • Further questions were raised about the management of work-based learning. It was felt to be poorly designed in terms of progression and coherence. It was perceived to be not well adjusted to meet the needs of individual learners, not well matched to their attainments and learning styles and not well pitched in level and pace to sustain confident progression.
  • Very large numbers of people involved in training in the domain were not themselves trained for the role. It was felt that training trainers would be a significant challenge particularly given the need to respect, accommodate and respond to the requirements of different cadres of learners (novices, mid career experienced/advanced learners) and different settings (large organisations, SMEs, service/production undertakings).
  • The matters of qualification and assessment were seen to have significant impacts on provision, engagement and success in the field. Questions were raised about the validity of qualifications, certificates and records. How far did they reflect capability and operational skills? Assessment processes were seen to bedevil work in teaching/training. In particular there was perceived to be significant problems in assessing practical performance across work settings and professions. This was seen to be particularly pertinent in medicine and healthcare, HR, social work and hospitality professions. Assessment practices were felt to be either too tight and constraining (where sought for reliability threatened validity and motivation) or too vague as to threaten pace and progression.
  • It was felt that a great deal of research was necessary as a basis on which to enhance the management and assessment of work-base learning.

The voluntary sector.

  • Here is was recognised that a vast amount of learning progressed in the absence of formal provision. The voluntary sector was dedicated to promoting informal training and to connecting it to formal provision, progression and qualifications where appropriate.
  • This raised questions about the nature of informal learning, how to promote it, what works in terms of responsive provision and what might be the best way of sustaining progression for learners towards, where appropriate, more formal learning.
  • Particular concerns were raised about the demand for and effect of accreditation processes in the field. Accreditation brought recognition and status but contemporary accreditation processes were perceived to be constraining (focus on 'passing the test') and distracting (from transfer of training, capability, 'real work use').

Lost learners.

  • It was felt that whilst most people, most of the time were engaged in that learning necessary to solving life's quotidian challenges, there were significant numbers of people not involved in learning beyond that and, in some groups (older, male, unemployed, unqualified) a majority were perceived to be 'learning nothing'.
  • These groups were seen, in the light of democratic processes and the principle of inclusion, to be as 'at risk' and the most significant pedagogic challenge to society.
  • Many of these 'lost learners' were described as casualties of schooling - a process in which they achieved little and from which they left with a deep lack of self confidence in regard to learning. How were they to be re-motivated? What forms of pedagogy would be most appropriate for 're-entry' to a 'learning career'?

Widening access.

  • Following on from concerns with lost learners, the broader issue of widening access was raised. Current provision in the form of community education, family education, the UFI, the transitional programmes (access programmes) operated by institutions, was cited.
  • It was argued that we need to know a great deal more about 'what works' in this provision. What combinations of provision have been tried? How did they fare?

Transition and progression.

  • Learners move through stages of provision through what might be called a 'learning career'. At any particular stage they learn and operate in a number of settings, (institution, work place, and community). In these different settings they experience different learning cultures. Research from the compulsory years of schooling has shown that such transitions cause problems for, and impediments to learners' sustained achievements. The experience of seminar participants suggested that such problems were significant too in post compulsory education.
  • What are learners' experiences of transitions in this sense? How, if at all, are transitions managed? With what effect? How might teaching and learning be optimised across transitions? How can teaching and learning in transitional settings be conceptualised and managed to maximise the learning potential in such contexts?

Learning processes.

  • It was felt that there were some issues common to all the settings considered in post compulsory educational experience. In all settings it was recognised that both teachers/trainers and learners had a variety of learning goals. Included here were; the acquisition of knowledge; the refinement of a range of types of skill (motor, human relations, team skills); the development of positive attitudes and the enhancement of capability.
  • It was held that different learning goals necessitated different learning and teaching approaches. How can trainer's best enhance their 'pedagogic' tool kit'? Which methods or combination of methods works best for which goals? How do pedagogic methods impact on different learning styles and how do learning cultures mediate these processes? At the heart of these questions was a concern for the individual learner and the aspiration to develop a knowledge base appropriate to maximising the learner's potential.

Research priorities.

The following research areas were seen to be particularly relevant to enhancing achievement in the post compulsory domain;

  1. what is the impact of assessment, validating and qualifications systems on teaching and learning processes and outputs? from this; what would be the design specification for assessment systems which promote learning rather than merely appraise it?
  2. how are learner identities shaped? What factors best promote productive learner identities?
  3. how do teaching practices and cultures interact with learner styles and propensities? how can teaching cultures best promote learner centred learning environments?
  4. how do transitions impact on learning? How can transitions be put to best learning advantage?
  5. more generally, how can formal/informal learning best be brought into interaction with formal learning to sustain learning progress?