Author(s):Heta Rintala (presenting), Petri Nokelainen (presenting), Laura Pylvas

Conference:ECER 2017

Network:02. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)


Session Information

02 SES 09 B, Learning and Adaptation of Students and Apprentices

Paper Session



Chair:Johanna Lahja Lasonen


Apprentices As Adaptors And Innovators In Workplaces

Recent changes in educational policy in Finland aim at shifting vocational education and training from vocational schools to authentic workplaces. Workplaces have been characterized as learning environments based on their affordances for learning (Billett, 2001) or on structural conditions and work organization (Ellström, 2011). Previous research has shown that workplaces vary as learning environments, some providing expansive opportunities for developing expertise, while others restrict the possibilities of learning (Fuller & Unwin, 2003, 2004). James and Holmes (2012) have designed a survey to identify aspects of the workplace that contribute to offering more expansive working environments and thereby providing better opportunities for developing skills and knowledge. This sociocultural perspective connects learning to organizational conditions and practices (Ellström, 2011, p. 108), although it is recognized that besides the learning context, the learner factors influence learning in the workplace (eg. Billett, 2001; Felstead, Gallie, Green, & Inanc, 2015; Tynjälä, 2012). This study focuses on individual’s cognitive style, which is a stable and preferred cognitive strategy of dealing with creativity and problem-solving and decision-making processes (Chan, 1996; Kirton, 1976, 1980). The Adaption-Innovation theory (Kirton, 1976, 1980) is premised on the idea that individuals can be placed on a continuum ranging from an extremely adaptive to an extremely innovative style. Cognitive style is distinguished from cognitive level (ability to successfully solve problems), and adaptive and innovative styles are both creative but in different ways (Chan, 1996), suggesting that both adaptors and innovators have their own characteristic strengths and weaknesses which are useful and harmful to organizations (Kirton, 1980). Adaptors prefer to operate within agreed paradigms and to create change by improving on the existing structure. They also favour staying in groups by maintaining cohesion by following the accepted ways and solving problems in a disciplined and predictable manner. (Chan, 1996; Kirton, 1994.) Contrarily, innovators break away from the existing framework and are associated with originality of ideas and less concern for efficiency and rule or group conformity. Innovators may ignore the rules or invent their own rules, as they prefer to stay as individuals and create change by altering the existing paradigm by coming up with new ideas (Chan, 1996; Kirton, 1994).

The purpose of this paper is to extend the study of person-environment fit to apprentices entering organizations and work-based learning environments. In this study (n = 305), we examine (1) how apprentices locate on a continuum of cognitive style ranging from adaption to innovation and (2) how the dimensions of WLE (Workplaces as Learning Environments) relate to KAI (Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory) scores. The aim of this study is to operationalize two concepts in a survey context: one, the idea that individuals can be classified according to their cognitive style; and two, the idea that workplaces can be classified as expansive or restrictive learning environments.


The quantitative data was gathered using self-report measures, which were administered on a single occasion. A survey was distributed to vocational students in educational institutions, but this study focuses on the sub-sample consisting of 305 apprentices. Of the respondents, 233 (76.4%) were women and 72 (23.6%) men, and they ranged in age from 16 to 64 years (M=40.4, SD=10.4). Participants completed the measures of cognitive style (KAI) and workplaces as learning environments (WLE).

Workplace as learning environment. WLE (James & Holmes, 2012) includes 22 items on a 5-point self-rating response scale (1=totally disagree; 5=totally agree). The survey addresses seven main areas related to expansive learning environments, which are: 1. Participation and understanding of the workplace; 2. Task performance; 3. Access to resources to help learning; 4. Judgement, decision-making, problem-solving and reflection; 5. Experience, task transition and career progression; 6. Status as a worker and a learner; and 7. Organisational development.

Cognitive style. KAI (Kirton 1976, 1980) consists of 32 items and uses a 5-point self-rating response scale (1=totally disagree; 5=totally agree), offering a theoretical range of 32-160 and a theoretical mean of 96. Low scores indicate styles toward the adaptive end and high scores indicate styles toward the innovative end of the continuum. Different studies undertaken in different countries have yielded stable general population norms with an observed range of 45–146 normally distributed about a mean approximating 95 (Chan, 1996). Inventory includes following three factors: 1. Sufficiency v proliferation of originality (SO); 2. Efficiency (E); and 3. Rule/group conformity (R) (Bagozzi & Foxall, 1995; Kirton, 1994). For the purpose of the current study, we created a self-report version of KAI based on pilot interview study. Participants’ responded each item on two scales, first one measuring their own A-I style (e.g., “I proliferate ideas.”), and the second the style of their workplace (e.g., “My workplace encourages to proliferate ideas.”).

Data analysis
The survey data was analysed with non-parametric frequentistic (descriptive statistics, correlational analysis) and non-frequentistic methods (Bayesian classification modeling) due to discrete measurement level of variables.

KAI score distributions for individuals and their workplaces in the current study were close to normal: skewness=.209 (SE=.140) and -.174 (SE=.140), kurtosis=.137 (SE=.278) and 1.212 (SE=.278), respectively. The mean KAI score for apprentices was 92.8 (range from 61 to 119, SD=9.880) and 90.4 (range from 50 to 124, SD=10.176) for their workplaces.

Expected Outcomes

Non-parametric correlations (Spearman rho) between WLE dimensions and apprentices’ KAI scores were calculated. Results showed that adaptive apprentices found more learning resources in their workplaces [r(338)=-.248, p<.001]. Similarly, earlier research has suggested that innovative individuals may seek ‘out of the box’ solutions and be more detached from their surroundings (Chan, 2000). Adaptive apprentices gained holistic work experience, had more opportunities to develop their work related skills, and were more aware of their career opportunities [r(338)=-.134, p=.019].

Correlations between WLE and KAI dimensions revealed that all WLE dimensions correlated statistically significantly positively with the first KAI dimension (Proliferation of Originality). This indicates that apprentices who self-assessed themselves to able to produce original ideas, also felt that their working environment was more expansive (r range from .367 - 463, p<.01). Two other KAI dimensions (Efficiency and  Rule/group conformity) had negative (and in most cases statistically significant) correlations with all seven WLE dimensions.

Participants were categorized into three groups based on their difference between individual and workplace KAI score (M=2.45, SD=9.402, range -28-46) and standard deviations. First group (n=37) contained apprentices who were more adaptive than expectations of their workplace (KAI gap scores more than -2 SD from the mean, range -28- -7). The second group (n=234) showed match in A-I between individuals and workplaces (KAI gap score value range from -8 to 12). Third group (n=34) contained more innovative apprentices than their organizations (KAI gap scores higher than 2 SD from the mean, range 13-46). Bayesian classification analysis was performed, using KAI gap score as class variable, and seven WLE dimensions as predictor variables. For example, results (2. WLE) showed that apprentices who experienced themselves more adaptive than their workplace (group 1), reported to perform well in complex tasks, utilize wide range of skills and collaborate successfully with others in their workplace.


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This proposal is part of a master or doctoral thesis.

Author Information

Heta Rintala (presenting)
Tampere University of Technology, Finland
Petri Nokelainen (presenting)
Tampere University of Technology, Finland
Laura Pylvas
University of Tampere, Finland