New learning – or learning something new?

Digitalization is making its way into all spheres of life and vocational training is also being impacted. But how far will this transformation go? Are just a few new topics involved, or will significantly more change occur?

A recent article in a news portal dealt with ground-level traffic lights for smartphone zombies. People who walk around while staring at their smartphones are becoming more and more common – they’re so busy with checking their e-mails or sending messages via messenger services that they entirely forget the environment. Digital whiteboards are now being used in schools instead of traditional blackboards. Learning films dealing with this issue can be viewed on YouTube. And things are changing in the factories too – the maintenance technician no longer has a pad of paper and a toolbox in his hands and is automatically brought to the next “patient” by an autonomously controlled mobile robot while being informed by a tablet how the software of a given system needs to be adapted. Is this the image that comes to mind when we think of daily life, school and industrial production ten or fifteen years ago? Certainly not. The world has changed.

New technologies from yesterday

Due to rapid technological development, ever increasing internationalization and the meanwhile wide-spread availability of Internet with the ability to retrieve data via smartphones, new opportunities for getting involved with relevant topics and learning content are cropping up all the time. In addition to this, the trainer’s typical target group, i.e. “digital natives”, are growing up with smartphones and tablets and find it strange that these media are considered “new”, and that their legitimacy is sometimes even questioned.

The transformation has begun

The balancing act is a tremendous challenge in particular for trainers. On the one hand they’re faced with the training requirements of future employees, and on the other hand they’re dealing with the target group which obviously has the greatest affinity to these media but unfortunately often demonstrates deficits in other school subjects (or at least this is the general feeling). Stated briefly, the training content (“what”) is changing, as well as its didactization (“how”), i.e. the way in which the (new) training content is being (can be) imparted. Learn a few new words while waiting at the bus stop, watch a training video from sofatutor or the khan-academy on the smartphone on the way to work – this could be entirely relevant in the future. And thus the “where” is also in a state of flux.

4.0 training elements

Training at Festo has already undergone considerable change due to these developments. Steps taken already will certainly be unable to encompass digitalization in all of its complexity, but they’re important steps which are moving in this direction at the doing level. Technical content (for example from the field of sensor technology) is experienced and made tangible in various projects. Interest in the new and unknown is strengthened as a result. Concrete projects such as “Sensor Pong” and the “Balance Board” unite technical and emotional learning in the field of sensor technology for Industry 4.0. And the “new” media are used to this end. In addition to the trainers’ smartphones, tablets or 2-in-1 notebooks are also made available from the equipment pool which can be taken advantage of by the trainers as required. However, in some cases the trainees use their own smartphones, for example in order to be able to control a small robot with an app. An open guest Wi-Fi system is of course indispensable for this purpose.

Ideas evolve into workpieces

Within the framework of Industry 4.0, the manufacturing lot size of 1 plays an important role, not least of all from the standpoint of Festo’s automation division. This mind-set should become established at an early point in time. Everything is aligned to the customer, and should of course nevertheless be economically efficient. Even if only a single product is involved which is only ordered once. This is why student interns and trainees at Festo are already being confronted with 3D printers, which make it possible for them to immediately print out self-developed ideas – if time permits. In this way, ideas are transformed into tangible workpieces in no time at all.

The known and the new are merging together

In addition to the requirement for corresponding equipment, the question also arises as to whether or not new job specifications are necessary, or if – and if so how – current job specifications can be appropriately adjusted. Festo doesn’t yet see the necessity for creating entirely new job specifications. To a much greater extent, current job specifications are being reflected upon and enhanced with additional topics and training – for example at the company’s own training factory directly in production. Furthermore, rotation of the trainees through the various departments during the course of their apprenticeships is already being adapted in certain vocations.

Trainers in training

Trainers need to prepare themselves proactively for 4.0 topics. In the final analysis they serve as multipliers for the trainees. This is what Festo calls “train the trainer”. An internal “4.0 Circle” has been organized in addition to these training offerings, for example, in which the trainers think about what will be possible, as well as relevant and feasible in the future. After all, not everything which is possible is also feasible, economically sensible and above all helpful where training is concerned. In any case, process competence is extremely important with regard to basic and further technical training. It will be imperative in the future, in order to be able to understand and master processes even where obscure technologies are concerned. Festo’s trainers are already preparing themselves and their trainees for this scenario. An important tool in this respect is a feedback and development system which ideally depicts the evolution of the competencies of each individual trainee.

Industry 4.0 – is it everything or nothing at all?

Technological further development has been around since time immemorial, and presumably there will be no cut-off date after which everything changes. To a much greater degree it’s a gradual process – and we’re in the middle of it now. These are exciting times for trainers and human resources managers. Tomorrow’s skilled personnel will have to know more, have more skills and be prepared for far-reaching change. It will still be important to develop the technical fundamentals, but this will be accompanied by new content, as well as new teaching and learning media. But in this regard the question needs to be asked as to whether or not the new media will solve all of the problems, and whether or not the “brain’s structure” / neurological development will progress at the same pace. After all, the human being and his receptive capacity are subject to limitation.

It all depends on the mix

On old saying may help to explain things: it’s the right mix that counts. Retaining that which has proven its worth and creating the new, which translates into: continuing to use the “old” methods while integrating new technologies may make good sense in some areas. But new methods are necessary for the new content in other areas. And to this extent, differ entiation will be made between “learning something new and new learning” by trainers and trainees in the future. Making conscious use of the more or less “new” technical possibilities will hopefully allow us to avoid the implementation of ground-level traffic lights.

  1. This article has been published in our trends in qualification customer magazine 2.2016
  2. Photos: Fotolia, Festo