Renewing Practices of Vocational Education and Training for Construction Sector in Finland

Main impacts

  • Empowered learners to become creators of learning resources
  • Enabled learning in real work context
  • Enabled knowledeg sharing across sites

The situation before Layers


In Finland, vocational education and training is in change and new regulations and practices will take effect in 2018. Several educational organizations and employers have ongoing pilots that aim to develop the current practices and thus improve the field of vocational education and training. One of the pilot practices has been carried out in construction sector and has been based on so called 2+1 model. The model envisages two-year education at vocational school (as an upper secondary school student) and one-year traineeship or apprenticeship training with employment contracts with the company). The Learning Layers pilot came in on an ongoing vocational education and training pilot in construction sector in Finland and provided the Ach so! mobile application as a solution to the challenges of workplace training of that moment.


The current 2+1 model is promoting a transition in organising the workplace learning on the basis of apprentice training contracts. Thus, the status of workplace learners would no longer be that of external trainees (to be hosted as visitors) but of apprentices (with employment contracts with the company). In that particular 2+1 pilot program in construction sector, where Aalto organised a small-scale pilot with the construction sector stakeholders and vocational schools to use AchSo for workplace learning, the 2+1 model consisted of two-year studies at vocational school and one-year apprenticeship training at construction sites. Before joining the 2+1 program, the vocational students had shown their capability to apprenticeship with employment contracts as workplace trainees during their studies and as summer job workers in previous summer in the same construction company. Later, well performed training and studies in the 2+1 program could lead to making a contract of employment after the apprenticeship training period.

In 2+1 training period, students worked and studied as apprentices with employment contracts and completed field-specific tasks according to the school curricula requirements, personal study plans and tasks available at a given construction site. All tasks were not necessarily known in advance, which might cause a conflict between the plan and tasks that apprentices were possible to do. Missing tasks were later completed at the vocational school or at another construction site.

At the construction site, apprentices had personal supervisors who guided their work. In addition, a vocational teacher made occasional monitoring visits. In case of many apprentices doing their trainings at the same time in different locations, vocational teachers may have difficulty in monitoring apprentices’ processes regularly enough.

One part of vocational studies is the demonstration of skills that the apprentices perform during training at a vocational school or at workplace, if the task is possible to do at that construction site and if a teacher is present there. If a teacher cannot attend, for instance because of limited time and many apprentices in different locations, apprentices give the demonstrations at vocational school, which means absence from work and also costs to employer.

Practices in conducting the demonstration of skills varies between vocational schools but always consists of a written plan and demonstration, that are compulsory in all vocational education, and often also a written report with pictures of different work stages that is a requirement from vocational schools. Digital technologies have not been used as learning tools in training with the exception of the use of digital cameras for documenting the stages of work for study reports.

What Layers did


The Learning Layers intervention contributed to the ongoing 2+1 pilot in construction sector and provided mobile technology solution that construction sector stakeholders and educational actors appreciated. The project introduced the Ach so! mobile application in the real learning and working context in construction sector and conducted pilots with apprentices, vocational teachers, workplace trainers and company representatives. The pilots linked workplace learning to the vocational education and to got the learners better integrated to the workplace context. In addition, the pilots provided feedback from the end users to the application design and development.


The Learning Layers project touched the field as it was in 2015 and 2016 and inspired 2+1 practices at construction industry and education. The Learning Environments research group at the Aalto University designed and developed a mobile video annotation application called Ach so! particularly for in-situ informal learning at work in construction industry and extended the use of the mobile application to vocational education and training. Ach so! was designed for workplace learning in construction, as knowledge in that field is highly contextual. For such working and learning environment Ach so! was designed particularly for knowledge creation, reflection and knowledge sharing.

Ach so! is an open source mobile application (for Android, iOS) for video recording, annotating and sharing. With Ach so!, users record short videos, add textual annotations to videos and share the annotated videos. Annotations are placed to points of interest on the screen and are displayed in the video timeline for quick navigation. Videos are shared in cloud with groups of co-workers and collaborators or publicly to all Ach so! users. Ach so! service includes a browser-based video player for viewing and annotating videos on other platforms. Special features that make Ach so! unique compared with other applications and connected the app to the needs of informal learning at work were: 1) an easy creation of annotated videos, 2) possibility to add annotations to videos of other authors, which increase interaction between workers, 3) a controlled sharing of annotated videos with selected groups of people, 4) a keyword-based search function that results in videos from an extensive repository of the Ach so! videos in cloud and plays only the selected points of videos according to search.

To collect preliminary evidence, a pilot with ten construction students, their vocational teachers and workplace trainers used the Ach so! mobile application for enhancing students’ learning at work and for improving vocational training practices. The construction company provided full support to the trials by purchasing mobile devices for the students and allocating resources for trainers as a part of training period. During the training, the students used Ach so! for studying safety at work and for documenting their skills demonstrations. They recorded short videos about safety observations and their demonstration of skills, commented videos by adding written annotations and shared the commented videos with their teachers and workplace trainers who added their annotations and so gave feedback to the students. Students and teachers also watched some of the videos together and communicated them though as for learning purposes.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Example of an annotated video on safety at work observations

The situation after Layers


The learning Layers project contributed to Finnish vocational education by applying mobile apps for learning at work as a pilot in the pilot. Field trials got full support from participating organizations that saw mobile technologies as a possibility for renewing practices in learning at work. The use of Ach so! mobile app continued in vocational training at construction sites after the Learning Layers project ended and resulted in performing demonstrations of skills at workplace instead of school and using annotated Ach so! video for teacher-student communication and student evaluation. Skills demonstration at workplace with video documentation is a small but a remarkable achievement in renewing practices in vocational education.


The Learning Layers intervention contributed to the ongoing 2+1 pilot in construction sector and introduced Ach so! mobile application that construction sector stakeholders and educational actors appreciated. Mobile learning and mobile applications provided working solutions to the current challenges of vocational training, which encouraged the stakeholders to continue the app use after the Layers project pilots. One of the main achievements was conducting demonstration of skill at workplace that was one of the challenges before. By using Ach so! an apprentice did not need to take a day-off and go to the vocational school to give the skills demonstration but was able to do it at workplace by recording an Ach so! video. The video presented the work done with spoken commentary and was shared with the vocational school teacher for getting initial feedback. The teacher added added feedback to the video as annotations by using Achrails Web Player. The evaluation of skills demonstration is still ongoing in November 2016 and the final evaluation and review evaluation will take place later. As planned, annotated videos will partly replace apprentice’s written closing report on the demonstration of skills. Completing skills demonstrations in distance by using Achso! mobile application will be used as an exemplar for implementing the practice at other construction sites and vocational schools as well.

The number of apprentices in the 2+1 program has been small, which has been the reason for small-scale exploitation of the Ach so! mobile application in Finnish pilots. As new apprentices join the program, mobile learning and Ach so! is expected to be used for as a solution to the known challenges in the field. In the coming apprenticeship training periods, apprentices will use Ach so! for safety at work observations, which links the use of Ach so! to vocational studies and learning of good safety at work practices at construction sites. Ach so! will be used also for following apprentices’ working and learning process in distance, which is a solution to vocational teachers’ limited resources for monitoring the training period. Apprentices will use Ach so! for recording and annotating their work, which will be used for the reflection of work processes during training. Similarly, apprentices will use Ach so! for documenting their demonstration of skills, which probably changes the practices most.

To conclude, construction trade and vocational colleges had a growing interest in improving practices of learning and training and work by using mobile technologies. It is expected that technologies, such as mobile devices and applications, provide solutions to known challenges in the field, such as needs for improving practices of work documentation, developing communication between construction sites as sharing of practices, and opening new possibilities to give skills demonstrations at work. Ach so! is worth to be considered as mobile technology solution to launch new learning practices in vocational education and training.


Impact that Layers created

Changed learning practices

The Ach so! mobile app changed learning practices in terms of knowledge creation, knowledge sharing and reflection on following ways:

  1. Ach so! Promoted digitization of vocational training practices. Video enriched documentation by showing the whole process as it happened in real situation and annotations deepened reflection on learning. Annotated videos replaced written documents and the use of photos in documenting of work processes in demonstration of skills documentation.
  2. Ach so! enabled remote demonstrations and follow-ups. Videos made it possible to students to carry out demonstration of skills in situ and share the performance to teachers in cloud. Shared annotated videos gave teachers the possibility to follow their students work distance, which eased following work simultaneously in many construction sites.

Extended trust building and personal networks

Ach so! enhanced trust building and personal networks as:

  • It changed roles in learning. Students were empowered with creating and sharing of knowledge and thus led their own learning, which changed vocational learning practices from teacher-led activities to student-led activities.
  • By the introduction of the tool and by empowering the learners as users of tools the Ach so! pilot managed to generate relations of trust and mutual adjustment.

Improved the creation and use of learning resources

Ach so! improved the creation and use of learning resources by giving possibility to

  • create knowledge in a form of annotated videos
  • share knowledge by sharing annotated videos

Enhanced digital competence

Ach so! enhanced digital competence by

  • introducing mobile learning for in situ learning at construction sites
  • use of mobile technologies and new apps

Bridging learning contexts

Ach so! indicated its potential for bridging learning contexts as it was suggested to be used

  • for sharing good practices between construction sites
  • for documentation and communication tool between different organizations for improving practices

Reflections on other effects

The 2+1 model that the main construction pilot implemented was awarded in the Best Practices of Vocational Education competition by the Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland, in October 2016. The model was acknowledged for increasing students’ professional competence for working life and for employment. Potential and an impact of the 2+1 model were evaluated high as well as its applicability to other fields. Altogether 151 vocational education proposals were submitted to the competition and five of them were awarded.

Further Reading

Virnes, M., Thiele, J. (2016). Working paper: Applying mobile learning to vocational training at construction sites: barriers and possibilities.

Tuominen, E. (translated by Kämäräinen, P.) (2016). Construction sector apprentices’ secret weapon at the construction site: A tablet PC donated by the company Skanska. Rakentaja Magazine

Bauters, M., Purma, J., Leinonen, T. and others (2014). In-time on-place learning. 10th International Conference on Mobile Learning 2014, IADIS Press.

Contributing Authors

Marjo Virnes, Matti Jokitulppo, Jukka Purma