Friday, 6 July 2012

Zen and the art of competency measurement

It's not what you know that makes you an effective worker. It's how you understand your role that makes you effective.
In other words, says Professor Jorgen Sandberg, competence is not attribute- based, but understanding based.
Our understanding of what our work is would then inform our subsequent actions in that particular role.
The problem, Prof Sandberg says, in measuring competency via attributes is that it does not necessarily reflect the in-work performance of the individual.
In other words, just 'cos someone has skills doesn't mean he would use them effectively.
Don't look at competence from the outside, exhorts Prof Sandberg, look at it from the "inside". Don't divorce the attributes of a worker from the worker himself.
Of course, attributes are necessary -- a doctor still needs to study medicine (and pass his exams!) to be a doctor. The question here is: "What makes one doctor better in his job than another doctor in his job?"
And here's the bad news: There is no one single answer to that.

Associate Professor Leesa Wheelahan's Friday keynote presentation

Associate Professor Leesa Wheelahan from the University of Melbourne's L.H. Martin Institute spoke on 'The link between post-compulsory education and the labour market: revitalising the vocational in flows of learning and labour.' While Leesa emphasised she remains a 'critical friend' of Australia's Vocational Education and Training(VET)sector, she nevertheless is critical of its current structures and suggested ways in which it could be changed to reflect better outcomes for individuals and enterprises. She considers that there are several 'intractable' challenges in the relationship between the Australian labour market and VET training: skill shortages, a flexible but unresponsive system in relation to the creation of forward thinking training programs, a loose fit between qualifications and jobs, a failure of most VET graduates to progress in their jobs, and a contradiction between a CBT training system that only teaches defined skill sets while concurrently encouraging innovatory practices. While these circumstances create a set of problems for training policy and practice, there are also presented internal challenges within the sector itself. Key amongst these is the weak link between school and work and the failure if the job market to facilitate flexible movement within and across and individual's life career choices. Part of this may be due to a lack of 'intermediate' qualifications between low and high skilled occupations and related qualifications. This 'gap' can hamper career progression from lower to higher levels. A solution from the VET sector may be a stronger emphasis on the Diploma qualification as a 'crossover qualification' between the two as it enables progression to higher education programs and its association with professional careers. Leesa calls for a more responsive VET sector with both liberal (for example, Australia and Singapore) and coordinated (for example, the Scandinavian countries) economies, though holds out better hope for the latter because of their more closely integrated social, economic and educational systems. A key to facilitating vocational education change may be replacing the current CBT curriculum conceptual framework with a capability framework that relies less on CBT's atomised approach to skills training for jobs and more on developing individual skills within contextualised and community-based workplace learning environments. Such an approach would facilitate a focus on the relationship between work and education and not just education. It would also focus on the way labour is deployed at work while establishing minimum standards of knowledge, skills and attributes. Local accreditation by experts and key stakeholders would also be possible within a national assessment framework, to ensure quality. Associate Professor Whelahan's address was warmly received and provoked much discussion during and after her presentation.

Adult learners don't want to go to school, really

So are we ready for a national model for continuing education and training?
Professor Stephen Billett certainly thinks we are.
Singapore's great challenge for CET is that we are playing catchup in terms of training our adult workforce, especially for the 40+ age group.
Unlike initial preparatory training, which comes under the purview of MOE, CET has been supported by MOM, mainly through initiatives by WDA and IAL.
We can do more, says Prof Billett.
He envisions a national CET model, which marries MOE and MOM, where WDA and IAL focuses on providing dedicated CET centres, and where grassroots organisations, through People's Association and community centres, help adult learners pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
The key, he says of adult learners, is not to treat them as students, but to engage them through learning dialogues.
CET should be more than just training programmes, it is about a learning process.
In other words, adult learners don't want to go back to school, they simply want to learn.
While it may be easy to quantify CET simply by administrating courses and, as Prof Billett puts it, counting bums on seats, the challenge is for us to go beyond the orthodoxy, to focus on helping those who want to learn, learn.
And maybe merge a couple of ministries while we're at it, eh?

Degrees of separation

Ever met a taxi driver who has a degree? If your answer to that is yes, then Professor Alan Felstead's lecture would have resonated.
His quantitative research into skills utilisation in the UK has thrown up a host of interesting conclusions.
He found that the UK government has had great success in equipping people with degrees, but has not been so successful in providing jobs that required said degrees.
He also found that over the years, people feel that they have had to work harder, and have less control over what they get to do in their jobs.
On the plus side, more people have had more training over the years, although this training seems to be overly concentrated on a smaller, younger, more prominent group.
Worryingly, his data shows that as workers get older, training slows down, which is a challenge for the adult continuing education sector.
While all his data has been culled from UK sources, IAL has carried out its own survey in skills utilisation in Singapore, so it would be interesting to see how similar (or different) the results may be.
But even without looking at these results, I find Prof Felstead's results distressingly familiar to my experiences in Singapore.
Disagree? Have you been reading our newspaper headlines recently?

Be capable, not just competent

Vocational education and training focuses too much on meeting required roles and tasks and too little on developing the individual.
And that is a big problem, says Professor Leesa Wheelahan. It is a big problem because many students don't end up in jobs that they train for.
It is a big problem because in liberal economies like Australia and Singapore, vocational education and training is often treated like a lesser cousin to higher education.
It is a big problem because by focusing on rote learning and following formulae, students are not empowered to go beyond what they are "qualified" to do.
In other words, a plumber will be a plumber will be a plumber forevermore.
If someone wants to be a plumber, then it's all fine and good, but what if he wants something else? How has he been equipped to do so?
All these questions are extremely relevant to Singapore. Just think about our ITE system. Can you imagine an ITE graduate managing an NUS grad? Now ask yourself, why not?
Prof Wheelahan's passionate argument is to move away from competency-based training and into capability training. Focus on using skills as a lens to view the world, not just on applying said skills. Teach math, she says, not just formulae.
This, she argues, would help not just graduating students, but adult learners, in their transitions from one job to another, from an occupation to the next.
Strong words, bold vision.
Now, how do we do it?

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Mr Eric Lee, Facilitating learning in mid-career transitions

Mr Eric Lee is the Principal Research Manager in the Research Division of the Institute for Adult Learning. Eric reported on some interesting outcomes from his recently completed Masters dissertation on facilitating learning in mid-career transitions. In an age of rapid economic and social globalisation, particularly within local contexts of job redefinition and redundancy, many workers are often forced to shift into new roles, which is often threatening. Eric has developed a three phase facilitation process that hopes to reduce the potential anxieties faced by transitees. He calls this 'Ready (functional), Realise (advanced), Respond (professional).' The aim of the process is to re-form, support and build transitees' new feelings of workplace self-efficacy. In this way workers should feel more comfortable and proficient in their new surroundings. Eric presented a wide-range of transitee case-studies to support elements of his model. In many ways, Eric's work re-emphasises IAL's role to conduct research that is theoretically and methodologically sound, is based on Singaporean labour market needs, and produces pragmatic outcomes of value to individual workers.

Keynote from Professor Diana Lourillard

Professor Laurillard spoke forcefully on the need for educators to engage in learning about the possibilities of new e-learning technologies and applying them creatively in collaboration with learners. Central to her presentation on 'New design tools for teachers as innovators in e-learning' was the encouragement of learners to be self-directed but not without careful and organised guidance by an experienced educator in the skills demanded for independent inquiry and learning. She argued that setting up such programmes may require lengthy planning and construction but there are considerable time-saving rewards after two years. Professor Laurillard also previewed some excellent curriculum and lesson planning technologies to enable collaborative learning between educators.

Learner, learning; teacher, teaching; teacher, learning?

We have one big assumption when it comes to e-learning.
Just because the resources are available, it doesn't necessarily mean that students know how to use them.
Of course, Wikipedia and other web-based resources have made online knowledge acquisition much easier, but telling students to simply "google it" is like letting a bunch of kids loose in a candy store.
And you can be sure that it'll end in tears.
"Learners need to learn how to learn," says Prof Diana Laurillard in her keynote address at the ALS.
In other words, you must be able to structure e-learning and set proper goals for it -- that is, we need to have a proper pedagogical framework.
In the rest of her speech, Prof Laurillard sketches out her argument for this framework, concluding the teachers must function more like scientists, especially in collaboration arena.
Actually, there is another key assumption we have about teachers.
We believe all teachers know how to use the latest technology. After all, they're teachers, right?
Prof Laurillard stressed that we must not be simply driven by technology and lose sight of the goal of educating our students. To do so, teachers must know about developments in e-learning, so that we won't get dazzled by the latest toys. The key therefore, is to recognise that technology is an enabler, and not the end goal in itself.
As NTU'S Associate Professor Daniel Tan puts it, we must focus on how these tools benefit the students.
Consistently during the address, and in the panel discussion afterwards, the point that kept coming up is that teachers must receive training to harness technology.
And that they must be given the time to do so.
A footnote, however, that the panellists brought up, is that the teachers themselves need to be receptive to being taught.
Attitude, in the end, is key, they say.

Mr Peter Schwartz, Keynote Speaker

Mr Peter Schwartz,Senior Vice-President, Global Government Relations and Strategic Planning,, gave an inspiring address to set the scene for ALS12. While complimenting Singapore on it dynamism and capacity to meet tha challenges of globalisation and economic sustainability, he warned that no country or individual can afford to be complacent about the future and its unpredictability. Central to the challenge, he argued, is a requirement for individuals to remain open to change and reskill through continuous learning. He used the example of himself as having, at age 65, to reinvent himself several times over his lifetime to undertake roles and occupations that did not exist even a few years before. He urged all nations to face the current global economic challenges through cooperation rather than conflict and was optimistic about the future. Mr Schwartz received warm applause for the insights he provided to the ALS12 delegates.

Learning good, discovery better

Everything Mr Peter Schwartz knows, he learnt after he graduated from school.
"I studied as an aeronautical engineer, with a smattering of biology," he says, noting that now, advancements in science and technology have progressed so far and so fast that he has had to re-learn everything.
And that is probably our new reality today.
So, how?
The metaphor that Peter used at the start of his keynote address today at the ALS sums up our response perfectly.
"When white-water rafting, the key to staying in control is to move a little faster than the water."
In other words, stay ahead of the curve, else you're going to get swept away.
And that really would be where adult education comes in -- which I reckon, we'd be talking about a lot more over this two days.
Peter did a great job of weaving various thematic threads of what is happening in the world today to project possible views of the future.
But where are we in all this?
Peter brought up opportunities for the future in science, in technology, in medicine, in education, but all his examples were from other countries.
Yes, Singapore is a world leader in human capital development, and we have one of the highest per capita incomes of the world, but listening to his speech, it seems to me that discovery is the key to surviving the future.
What have Singaporeans discovered recently?
Any thoughts?