Recognising the opportunities and challenges of digital learning!

Dear readers

The coronavirus pandemic has unleashed a surge of changes in many areas, including in vocational education and training. Learning processes have had to be transferred into digital forms within a short space of time in order to keep the initial and further training system going. All of this was accompanied by new impetuses for the shaping and assessment of learning. Nevertheless, it also became apparent that there are limits to digital learning. The articles in this issue address the question of how innovations in the field of digital learning can enrich face-to-face VET teaching and also look at the associated demands being made both of pedagogic concepts and of the learners themselves.

Thinking about the links between technological options and didactical and methodological concepts

The deployment of digital technologies in an occupationally practical way is successful if guided by clear didactic and methodological principles.

Digital assistance systems, for example, are able to use visualisations and additional information to support trainees in developing comprehensive employability skills. Linking equipment (such as machines or tools) with digital assistance systems allows complex and highly realistic learning situations to be created and structured in line with basic pedagogic principles. Virtual learning environments also provide an opportunity for learners to relate to production and business processes in a realistic manner and thus to gain an understanding of procedures and risk situations. Compared to the actual world, virtual environments are more tolerant of error and also offer trainees the benefit of being able to gather experiences within a protected space.

The possibilities of learning analytics have only been granted a small degree of attention in vocational education and training thus far. The focus here is on using targeted evaluation of extensive data in order to align learning processes to the needs of individual learners more effectively. Data generation and assessment take place parallel to learning processes, meaning that learning tasks and requirements can be adapted at short notice. The result is that the “one-size-fits-all” pattern of occupational learning can be overcome by shaping learning processes individually. The development of learning analytics is currently mainly being driven forward in the field of higher education. As far as vocational learning is concerned, greater research and development emphasis should be placed on the opportunities which are emerging. These opportunities also need to be systematically integrated into occupational practice.

Digital learning is a demanding proposition for both learners and teachers

The overall conclusion to be drawn is that digital learning places high demands on vocational trainees, and these need to be taken into account in the way in which learning environments are structured. Particular attention should be paid to fostering learning motivation in digital processes. During face-to-face teaching, training staff are able to ensure that contents are imparted directly. In the case of digital learning, however, learning progress must be secured by making greater use of motivational forms of task design and feedback. Digital learning also requires a high degree of self-learning competence, something which must be systematically expanded on an ongoing basis and with a pedagogic approach in mind.

This makes reference to the fact that the didactic and methodological competency of training staff constitutes the foundation of digital learning. BWP will consequently be devoting a separate issue to this topic later in the year.

Prof. Dr. Hubert Ertl
Director of Research and Vice-President of BIBB

Translation from the German original (published in BWP 2/2022): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin