Learning How to Learn

Steinbeis team crafts continuing professional development strategies for production technology companies

In German companies, learning most commonly takes place in informal settings. In order to add value for the employees, it is essential to adhere to systematic learning strategies. Educational concepts for continuing professional development (CPD) in production technology are being developed at the Steinbeis Transfer Center Institute for Transfer Technologies and Integrated Systems SITIS at Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences.

German companies understand the value of continuing professional development (CPD) [1]. Almost three-quarters of German businesses offer their employees continuing professional education and development activities. At 80%, the mechanical engineering sector [2] is above average. Here the participation rate in CPD courses was 58.6%, making this sector of industry the frontrunner in CPD participation [3]. Most CPD involves in-house training activities (66%) held in informal settings, which means that learning more often takes place through information events, job rotation and self-directed learning than in training seminars and courses [4].

However, it is not always apparent how effective and efficient this form of in-house learning is. Like in-house training activities, learning in informal settings is usually managed by other employees with specialist skills or knowledge. Sometimes these people are also higher up in the company hierarchy. One advantage of this kind of informal learning is how close it is to actual practice – the problems are not theoretical, the solutions can be applied directly and the event takes place in the location where it’s actually needed. However, the advantages of these informal learning models can quickly turn into disadvantages. The immediacy of the real problems often means things are rushed, which doesn’t allow for trying out new things or weighing up different alternatives. In addition, successful teaching not only requires knowledge of the subject matter, but also didactic knowledge and teaching skills that most employees simply do not possess. Furthermore, the communication takes place between individuals who are bound by their specific roles within the company and cannot stand above personal issues – often crucial when moderating discussions or discourse. These are only three reasons why learning processes in informal settings often do not produce the desired results, although they meet some of the prerequisites for successful learning. Loss of time, delay in the company’s processes and the associated costs are only a few consequences that can result from this type of CPD activity.

Steinbeis experts emphasize that the full potential of informal learning scenarios should not be squandered. “It’s a hidden resource of in-house continuing professional development that is not fully exploited,” explains Prof. Dr.-Ing. Rudiger Haas, director of the Steinbeis Transfer Center Institute for Transfer Technologies and Integrated Systems (SITIS). However, learning does not take place on its own. It requires methods and strategies that are appropriate to the situation and topic at hand. To develop educational concepts for CPD in production technology companies, it is necessary to have a good working knowledge of the CPD situation within the company. For this reason the team from SITIS worked in cooperation with the Karlsruhe University of Education to conduct interviews as part of study looking at production technology companies in Baden-Wurttemberg. The target group included executives as well as people in charge of production. An initial analysis of the interviews shows that in-house training and on-the-job learning are the most common forms of CPD and are viewed by the participants as particularly beneficial [5]. In addition, the majority of those interviewed felt that processes could be improved by optimizing communication. Heavy workloads and a wide spectrum of responsibilities were singled out as reasons for insufficient communication. For example, the majority of senior employees are tasked with providing instruction to employees who do not yet possess the necessary experience or skills, but are also responsible for a wide variety of other tasks which often have to be carried out at the same time. All levels of the hierarchy identified the need for training in interpersonal and teaching skills. The results of the study were used to plan certified CPD activities. SITIS will offer these in collaboration with the Institute of Materials and Processes (IMP) at Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences and Karlsruhe University of Education.


[1] Data provided by the 4th round of the European Union’s Continuing Vocational Training Survey (CVTS4).

[2] This includes other segments besides mechanical engineering: manufacturing of DP equipment, electronic and optical products, electronic equipment, repair and maintenance of machines and equipment.

[3] German Federal Statistical Office (ed.) (2013): Weiterbildung 2013. Wiesbaden.

[4] Vollmar; Meike (2013): Berufliche Weiterbildung in Unternehmen 2010. Methodik und erste Ergebnisse. Ed.: Statistisches Bundesamt, Wirtschaft und Statistik. (German Federal Statistical Office, Wiesbaden)

[5] Armbruster, Christine; Jeretin-Kopf, Maja (2015, in progress): Intergenerationelles Lernen in fertigungstechnischen Unternehmen. 


Prof. Dr.-Ing. Rudiger Haas
Steinbeis Transfer Center Institute for Transfer Technologies and Integrated Systems SITIS (Karlsruhe)

Dr. Maja Jeretin-Kopf
Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences Institute of Materials and Processes (IMP) (Karlsruhe)

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