It has often been suggested that one major weakness of on-the-job learning in apprenticeship is the inability for apprentices to acquire theoretical knowledge. To remedy this situation, apprenticeship on-the-job learning is often supplemented with off-the-job instructor-led learning. I believe that there is the need for such off-the-job learning, but would like to argue that the learning of theoretical and practical knowledge should be integrated and not to be treated as two separate processes.
In a study I conducted about workplace learning of IT professionals, quite a lot of the subjects reported that what they learned from books or training courses were often superficial. Mastery of the computer technologies they needed to learn was possible only when they had the chance to use them at work. What is more interesting is a case reported by one of the subjects about his experience of learning a technology from an instructor-led training course. He said because he had quite a lot of practical experience with the technology before attending the course, he learned much more effectively than other students in his class who had not. What this seems to suggest is that very often learners need hands-on experience to make sense and understand the significance of theoretical and conceptual knowledge they needed to learn.
From a socio-cultural perspective, knowledge is socially constituted. Each domain of knowledge is rooted in its own social practice, and maintained and developed by its community of practitioners. It follows that to help learners to master a domain of knowledge, they should be given ample opportunities to participate in the social practice which gave rise to the knowledge. Very often people might think that practical experience is necessary only for the learning of practical knowledge, I think that it also applies to the case of theoretical knowledge.
It is true that workers sometimes have the practical skills to perform effectively at work, but lack a comprehensive understanding of the theoretical basis of those skills. One of the computer programmers in my research who was quite proficient with a computer language admitted not having a solid understanding of the relevant theoretical basis. He believed that the theoretical knowledge is not important to his work. The reverse is often true for fresh graduates, who often have a basic understanding of the theories, but lack practical skills and experience to perform well at work. I would argue that this reflects different ways of knowing with regards to the knowledge domain. Professional programmers whose duty is to writing programs would try their best to polish their programming skills, but university students whose aim is often to obtain good grades would focus on learning what would be assessed in exams, which often has a heavy theoretical component.
Now if workers can perform effectively at work without a solid basis in the relevant theoretical knowledge, then we need to ask if there is a need for them to acquire such knowledge. I believe the answer to this question is complex and depends on the knowledge …Continue Reading
How do learning technologies impact apprentice learning? What are the impacts on skills? What are the strategies for success? These are the questions trainers, college instructors, and employers tackled during a recent session at the CAF-FCA 2012 Conference held in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Conference participants enthusiastically shared their experiences with their colleagues. Highlights from their discussion are included below to stimulate your own reflection on this topic. In your experience, how do you see technology impacting apprentice learning either during technical training or on-the-job? What, in your opinion, are the challenges and benefits? CAF-FCA welcomes your feedback as we explore this topic through our research project: “The Impacts of Technology and Innovation on Apprenticeship.” Stay tuned! Research results will be available in March 2013.
USES OF TECHNOLOGY IN APPRENTICE LEARNING
- E-learning, distance learning, and blended learning are the common ways technology is being used during technical training.
- Smart phones (iPhones, BlackBerrys, etc.) are also being used by apprentices. Apprentices can now have their electrical code books on their smart phones. Smart phoneS can also be used to demonstrate things being learned in the classroom. One apprentice used his iPhone to illustrate vibration analysis.
- YouTube is also being used to demonstrate certain tasks. These YouTube videos can supplement and reinforce what the instructor is doing in the classroom.
- Social media is being used by learners to connect outside of formal technical training hours.
IMPACT ON SOFT SKILLS
- According to some participants, the impact of learning technologies on apprentices has a bigger impact on their soft skills than Essential Skills. Time management skills, initiative, and self-motivation are important when doing independent learning and this can be a challenge for some apprentices. Opportunities to build team work skills, which are very important in the trades, can be minimized when doing independent learning on a computer.
STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESS
Based on their experiences, participants shared tips for incorporating learning technologies into technical training:
- Buy-in from all stakeholders involved was considered important as well as listening to student feedback.
- This type of learning works best when it is as interactive as possible.
- A key to success at some colleges is an orientation session at the beginning that is compulsory for all students. The orientation uses learning technologies employed during technical training to prepare the apprentice for the online learning experience. It is a good opportunity for apprentices to try out and get used to the technology before their technical training officially begins.
- Apprentices need access to a contact they can go to if they need it.
- It is helpful to have an expert who knows how to use the technology and can help the instructor if they are less familiar with it.
- Participants said that it is important to embrace the technology that the apprentices bring with them and to encourage them to integrate it into their learning. Instructors should not be afraid to introduce new technologies in the classroom.