Phase III Consultation Seminar - Edinburgh, Monday 18 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 and values

  • In common with many societies, it was agree that there is a widespread recognition in Scotland of a need to agree a concept of and then maintain support for a working, developing model of a learning society.
  • An extensive review of current provision, in which fundamental as well as pragmatic questions should be asked, was felt to be timely. There was felt to be an across-the-board willingness to engage in this review. The contribution of existing learning sectors should be recognised, strengthened and, where appropriate, unified.
  • No sector should be excluded in the examination of the needs and expectations of learners. There should be a drive for excellence as well as inclusion.
  • There were perceived to be a growing number of groups that were non-participant in the learning society. The needs and expectations of these groups must be identified and appropriate integrative provision made.
  • The concept of partnership between the large number of providers and beneficiary constituencies were felt to be fundamental to the notion of a successful learning society. A great deal of work was implicated in conceptualising, instituting and managing such partnerships.
  • There was a perceived need to integrate the values of both the 'supply side' and 'demand side' of educational and training provision. There should be a strong, 'customer' re-orientation in conceptualising and planning for provision.
  • There was perceived to be a fundamental need for an extended knowledge base relevant to the design of learning environments to meet the needs of ever challenging learning cultures. The design characteristics of learning environments must meet the personal, social and economic needs of learners.

Networking and partnerships

Throughout the seminar there was strong emphasis laid on the necessity of an integrated system to meet the very diverse needs of a learning society. Integration necessitated the development of networks and partnerships between formal and informal provision, between public and private sectors and between providers and potential beneficiaries.

These partnerships would, it was agreed, encourage a flow of information across the field, ease problems of transition for learners, maximise opportunities for knowledge transfer and application, reduce wastage, encourage investment, reduce replication and maximise return on effort and value for money.

Teaching and learning: Broad issues

Whilst it was acknowledged that much is known about learning relevant to academic subjects in the years of schooling, there was felt to be significant gaps in knowledge and understanding of learning in the post compulsory sector. At the core of these lacunae was the view that what might be considered the curriculum of a learning society was a vast, amorphous and probably even indefinable, corpus of knowledge skills and attributes which learners would meet across many decades in a multiplicity of ever changing settings. Knowledge about learning relatively tightly structured bodies of knowledge, such as the academic subjects of compulsory schooling, left a lot of questions unanswered relevant to the post compulsory sector. The string of basic questions raised included; what is the relationship between learning and experience; how do we learn what is, in important respect, unknown (e.g. wisdom, judgement, knowledge creation); what is the relationship between social participation and learning; how do we acquire the capacity for 'just-in-time' learning, so essential to success in adult life and commerce; what are learning styles and what relationship do they have to learning progress; how does learning in one context transfer to performance in another context; what is the significance of 'learner identity' and how are such identities formed and subsequently shaped by experience?

It was felt that the design and management of learning experiences and environments for adults would be considerably enhanced following advances in or understanding of the above issues.

The view was taken that post compulsory education, training and learning took place in a very wide range of settings and environments across considerable time scales and including a very wide range of experiences and relationships. This potentially amorphous structure brought both benefits and problems. The immediate benefits lie in the potentially rich array of settings and modalities of learning affording multiple opportunities for acquisition and application of new knowledge and skills. At the same time it was recognised that accidental or ill-managed transitions across learning settings pose problems for learners and impede their progressive development. How might learning transitions be best conceptualised? How can the management of transitions be enhanced in favour of sustained progression in learning?

There are large numbers of people engaged in training in post-compulsory education who are not themselves trained. Many do not have training as their main role or job title. What is the knowledge base relevant to learning and training of these people? How might they best be trained? How might their continuous learning as educators be conceptualised and implemented?

There was considerable concern expressed about the role of accreditation of learning and the provision of qualifications in the sector. The formal or public recognition of achievement was considered to have its attractions (the positive effect on morale; the portability of a record of achievement) but questions were raised about the impact of accreditation and assessment processes on teaching and learning. There was a view that assessment processes defeated as many learners as they encouraged, that assessment processes had limited validity and low perceived relevance in many cases and that teaching and learning focussed on meeting assessment demands which were not seen as synonymous with the acquisition of capability. There was felt to be an urgent need to understand the relationship between accreditation, assessment and the development of capability.

It was felt that little was known about pedagogy in many areas of the post compulsory sector. The questions posed were, 'What is going on in the name of teaching and learning in this sector?' How might teaching and learning be appraised at the level of the operational unit (e.g. the course)? What can be learned from current activity? What works? What is best practice? Where and in what form are cutting edge developments taking place? How are researchers and providers currently learning about teaching and learning?

Teaching and learning: contextual issues

Particular attention was given in the seminar to three sectors in the field of post compulsory education, namely, home and community-based learning; work-based learning and CPD.

It was felt that the time was ripe for a re-appraisal of the potential for community based learning particularly in regard to current non-participant groups. It was felt that the home/family as a unit represented a significant multiplier effect for achievement broadly conceived. A better understanding of work in this field was needed. What are the barriers to community based learning? What practices work best? What skills are needed by providers for maximum impact? How can achievements in community based provision be progressed in links to more formal or institutional provision? What would motivate non-participants to engage systematically in learning? What are the learning cultures of non-participant groups and how might providers capitalise on these extant learning cultures?

Work-based learning was seen to have become dominated by the 'competency movement' which, it seemed attempts to reduce learning to skill acquisition. This not only threatens the broader educational potential of the work place but, it was suggested, does not lead to the acquisition of capability since there seems to be little evidence of skills transfer. In regard to work-based learning, how can capability best be conceptualised and achieved? How can skills transfer from learning settings to practice settings, be maximised? How can formal teaching/learning experiences be arranged to capitalise on the informal opportunities for learning in the work place?

It was felt that the stressful nature of work-place learning was often not recognised. Stress was frequently induced by the prospect of learning, the actuality of learning experiences and by the consequences of learning. Many workers have bad memories of school learning and the prospects of 'more of the same' are not necessarily welcome. In the work place setting 'learning' is often associated with management demands for efficiency leading to redundancy for some and unwelcome new work targets and responsibilities for others. In this light, how can learning be best conceptualised and managed in the work place to meet more of the needs, of more of the potential learners, more of the time?

Work-place learning excludes large proportions of the work force and all of the unemployed. In regard to the former, it appears that most workers are employed in SME's, many of which are on a microscale. There is little evidence of systematic (or perhaps even unsystematic) provision of work-based learning in these settings. How can SME's be engaged in learning provision? What is known about the modes of partnership and organisation that might motivate learning provision here?

In the field of CPD there was felt to be very extensive provision and activity across a large number of professions and yet it was felt that very little was known about teaching and learning in this field. What was going on in the name of teaching and learning in CPD? What was working best? What changes were evident in teaching and learning cultures in the field over the last 10 years? Where were the cutting edge developments in the use of new techniques? What lessons have we learned from recent developments in accreditation, distance learning, the use of new media for example?

Research agenda priorities

There was an extreme reluctance to identify priorities for research amongst the questions raised in the seminar. That being said, it was accepted that there were some groups particularly at risk of losing out in the learning society. Research to enhance their engagement would be particularly valuable on the grounds of inclusion. It was also agreed that there were some issues that cut across all the contexts and settings and which might well meet the needs of many learning constituencies.

Research priorities related to non-participant or marginally participant groups should address the following questions: what lessons could be learned from current practice in the field of family and community education; what are the extant learning cultures of these groups and how can providers capitalise on these; how are learner identities in these groups formed and how can they be enhanced; how can learning provision in SME's be maximised?

In regard to issues common to all learners the following were thought to be especially significant: what is the relationship between formal and informal learning; how can potential linkages here be enhanced; how can learners' transitions between settings and forms of provision be best managed to secure maximum progression in learning; how can pedagogically relevant learning of teachers, trainers and all those with a training function be maximised; what is the effect of assessment and accreditation procedures on teaching and learning?

Impact

    The field of teaching and learning in post compulsory education was felt to be under researched. At the same time it is a field inundated with initiatives of various kinds most of which were barely, if at all, informed by evidence. There was felt to be a need for the Programme's research and findings and yet there was a recognition that even with the earliest possible start to projects, findings were many years away. It was also noted that what research there was in this field had had little impact. In the light of these views the following advice was offered.

  • The Programme should consider that it has a lot more to offer the field than 'findings' which were, in any event, a distant aspiration.
  • The Programme would immediately have a number of assets following funding. These would include general research reviews; literature reviews specific to funded projects, research plans, and research conceptualisations of teaching and learning, research instruments and impact plans. As work developed there would be interim findings, further reviews and working documents. Other assets include a corpus of highly skilled people and an ever increasing body of experience relevant to managing research and educational change in the field. All these assets would be of potential significance to practitioners and policy makers in the field.
  • The above assets, together ultimately with the final research findings and educational artefacts, should be grist to the impact mill. In this respect a linear, dissemination model of impact should not be entertained. The Programme should recognise that working for impact is a constructive, transformative, interactive and distributed processes best conducted in partnership with potential users. In these terms the Programme should offer up its assets on a continuous and negotiated basis with user communities. Considerable resource should be committed to this process.