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University of Helsinki Center for Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research

Center for Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research

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Center for Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research
Department of Education
P.O. Box 26 (Teollisuuskatu 23)
FIN-00014 University of Helsinki

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Workplace Learning and Developmental Transfer

The group studies collaboration between school and work from the viewpoint of transfer and boundary crossing.

Collaboration between school and work has been the main focus on improving vocational education in Finland in the new millenium. This has also been the trend in other European countries, workplace learning being discussed as the trans-European feature in vocational education. However, in trans-European comparisons, Finland still represents a system, in which greater emphasis is put on learning at school.

The problem of integrating theory and practice has traditionally been approached as a problem of transfer. Traditional approaches to transfer are based on the notion that knowledge is transferred from task to task in the school context. This static notion of portable knowledge has been challenged by theories of situated learning, notably by arguing that learning and knowing are processes of participation and apprenticeship in communities of practice. Traditional approaches to transfer do not, however, give tools enough for developing the collaboration between school and work, because they concentrate either on individual learning in the school context or situated learning at the workplaces.

Theoretical framework

Our work is based on a conceptualization of transfer, which we refer to as "developmental transfer". In this view, meaningful transfer of learning takes place through interaction between activity systems. The school and workplace engage in collaborative interaction in which both activity systems learn something from each other. What is transferred is not packages of intact knowledge and skills; instead developmental transfer involves an active reconstruction of the skills and knowledge to be transferred. Teachers and students are used as change agents in the various transformation and redesign projects at work organizations. Thus, students and their teachers act as mediators and boundary crossers between the school and workplaces. The basic theoretical idea of developmental transfer can be described with the following figure:


The research group has already produced significant results. In our multiorganizational and multivoiced research process, we have produced new theoretical concepts for understanding transfer between school and work. It is meaningfull, that this process has lead to the implementation of the new concepts as tools for new pedagogical practices (e.g., the learning studio, boundary-crossing place, cultural laboratory, matrix for the development of the boundary-object characteristics of learning tasks, method of horizontal working, boundary-zone activity) and for new work practices (e.g. mirror therapy).

Members of the group

The participants of our research group have implemented and analyzed different kinds of collaboration projects between school and work in different levels of vocational education, aiming to promote developmental transfer.

Ritva Engeström, PhD
Senior Researcher,
Head of the group

Terttu Tuomi-Gröhn, Professor

Pirjo Lambert, docent, EdD
Principal lecturer,
HELIA School of Vocational Teacher Education
University of Helsinki
Topics: 1) New tools for partnership building between education, work and research
2) Development of the genre of polytechnic writing

Tapani Heikinheimo
Lecturer in violoncello and pedagogy
Helsinki Polytechnic, Stadia
Music department
Topic: Multivoice intensity of music studies

Marja-Leena Iivonen, M.A.,
Teacher of nursing, principal lecturer
Helia School of Vocational Teacher Education
Topic: Teacher students as change agents and learning tasks as tools for developmental transfer

Riitta Konkola, LicEd
Principal lecturer
Helsinki Polytechnic, Stadia
Degree Programme in Occupational Therapy
Topic: Developmental needs of working life as challenges for teaching: Developing new pedagogical practices at polytechnics.

Tuula Lukkarinen, M.A.(Educ.)
Lecturer, teacher of nursing,
Helsinki City College of Social and Health Care
Topic: The process of cooperative developmental project at the workplace: Changes and expansions at the workplace and expansions to other organizations.

Tiina Rautkorpi, Lic.Soc.Sc./Senior Lecturer
Radio and TV Studies (research and development)
Helsinki Polytechnic, Stadia
Topic: Televisuality and the challenge to develop discursive society - a developmental work research project that will focus on the co-operation between the content team and the camera team in tv-conversation programme production.

Marianne Teräs, PhD, M.Health Sci
University of Helsinki

Liisa Vanhanen-Nuutinen, PhD
Principal lecturer
Helia School of Vocational Teacher Education
Topic: Narratives as tool in vocational learning

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