Facebook Pedagogy and Education in Apprenticeships


This article describes how social media pedagogies create meaningful provision and an opportunity space for the emergence of ‘apprentice as subject’.

Bruner (1960) advocated meaningful curricula, asserting that if prior learning was going to make subsequent learning easier, then it had to provide students with a general picture of the ways in which different subject matter relate to one another and unless detail is placed into a structured pattern, it is rapidly forgotten. My study found that classroom plumbing teaching rarely related to what students did in the practical sessions or at work, meaning it was diminishing classroom motivation. I also found that apprentices were more engaged and productive in the workplace than in college, suggesting the plumbing curriculum was more meaningful to apprentices in workplaces, where knowledge was ‘presented’ first-hand. Most students regard theory lessons as a means of passing tests, and few see classroom theory as important to job performance or productivity.

Facebook Pedagogy harnesses mobile technologies as networks of apprentices and college staff, including training-provider officers, assessors, plumbing tutors, managers and college directors. It relates apprentices’ work experiences to the classroom as compatible with e-portfolios. Apprentices respond to the initiative posting pictures and experiences of practical work, and of poorly installed plumbing systems, which are often impossible to replicate in classroom contexts:

vermin by Mark Cokayne
Pipe damaged by vermin (Picture courtesy of Mark Cokayne)

A growing library of real-life plumbing scenarios helps contextualise the curriculum with real case studies that assist students in identifying and understanding the technical plumbing components, systems and occupational processes and principles involved. Some systems shared by apprentices are old-fashioned and corroded, often very different to the new types of systems taught in college. Photos show unpredictable boiler problems, stimulating discussion between apprentices in class and improving technical knowledge and problem-solving approaches.

While simple faults can be simulated in college, it is impossible to predict specific boiler faults and plumbing problems in the uncertain context of the workplace.

Rob Davis boiler problem
Unpredictable boiler fault (Picture courtesy of Rob Davis)


When a boiler fault that is difficult to diagnose occurs, and the apprentice investigates and shares pictures on Facebook, the space of the possible is enlarged. Facebook Pedagogy creates a type of knowledge in real time, which is ‘emergentist’ and different to the prescribed ‘represented epistemology’ found in most types of college learning. Facebook Pedagogy enables apprentices’ to participate in technical discussions and present ongoing elements of their work, not normally covered in the college curriculum.

The Venn diagram below shows how Facebook can explain the socialising of an apprentice (object) into a professional plumber, while distinguishing this from educating an apprentice by creating a space for their emergence as a subject human being.


facebook pedagogy
Facebook Pedagogy located in Biesta’s (1990) Three Functions of Education Biesta (2009; 2009a); (Osberg et al, 2008); (Reddy, 2014)

Biesta’s first function of education is ‘qualification’, which is about the complex and rich experience of becoming qualified to do things that involve knowledge, action (skills and attitude) and judgement (values). However, some skills and knowledge taught in the college context may simply be ‘representative’ of the real world compared with knowledge ‘presented’ first-hand at work (Osberg et al, 2008).

The second function of education is described by Biesta (2009) as ‘socialisation’, or the way in which ‘object’ individuals are socialised into existing ways of being. Apprentices are legitimised on the peripheries of practice by other workers, and their apprenticeship journeys are directed towards the centre of practice. Thus, apprentices are being socialised as ‘objects’ into a ‘professional identity’, or an existing way of being (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Biesta, 2009). Although socialisation is certainly an appropriate aim of technical education, education is not just about producing unquestioning ‘objects’. Therefore, Biesta (2009: 356) argues that education must mean something other than socialisation:

It is not about the insertion of ‘newcomers’ into existing orders, but about ways of being that hint at independence from such orders

Finally, subjectification involves the emergence of the ‘subject’ apprentice, who has the space to respond by taking pictures at work, posting pictures on Facebook and asking questions in college, while engaged in industry, promoting real-world motivation, collaboration and problem-solving.


Dr Simon Reddy is a master plumber, plumbing teacher, researcher and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering @reddyplumbing

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Biesta, G.J.J. (2009) ‘On the weakness of education’, Philosophy of Education Yearbook, pp. 354-362.

Bruner, J. (1960) The process of education, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Osberg, D., Biesta, G. and Cilliers, P. (2008) ‘From representation to Emergence: Complexity’s challenge to the epistemology of schooling’, Educational Philosophy and Theory, vol. 40, no.1, pp. 213-227.

Reddy, S. (2014) ‘A study of tutors’ and students’ perceptions and experiences of full-time College Courses and apprenticeships in plumbing’, University of Exeter PhD thesis, [Online], Available: https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/15728

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