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How can we empower adult learners to use self-assessment in the learning process?

How can we as educators help adult learners become aware of the skills they possess?

Within the Information Centre of Foundation Tempus we have the chance to talk to people who wish to find out more about ways to present their skills using Europass tools (language passport, CV, Europass mobility). At the same time, within the trainings and the activities of Euroguidance centre in Serbia with the professionals in adult education a question arises how to assess the acquired competences of adult learners and which guidance and counseling activities could help them become aware of the skills they possess. Taking into account the perspective of adult learners and their ability to assess their own skills and competences, we will propose suggestions which adult education professionals can use in their daily practice in order to make the process of monitoring skills development more effective.

Agreeing on the goal: What do I want to learn?

One of the necessary steps in the process of creating a training is defining goals and outcomes – what the learners will gain from it, which skills and competences they will develop. However, while teachers and educators clearly have these set and defined, the learners most often do not have a clearly defined goal or if they do, they lose sight of it along the way. One of the ways to ensure that both educators and learners have a clear perspective of the goal of the training is to agree on what the goal actually is and how it will be achieved. The task for the educators and trainers is to explain the aims and outcomes of the training and to emphasize how the training activities are connected with the aims. This should be explained in a clear way and simple language that learners understand. Learners’ task would be to actively seek clarifications when necessary, to express their expectations and choose their aims in relation to what is presented, with regard to the proposed methodology. For example, learners should clearly communicate when the schedule does not suit them or when there is too much homework for them to handle….

Achieved agreement can be presented in written form as well, while some AE practitioners prefer it to be signed by both parties. The possibilities for realization are manifold: individual and group activities organized before the training itself, or as introductory part of the training, or during the initial skills assessment (placement tests). One of the examples of such a process is creating (non)formal learning contracts which later on are quite helpful when creating Europass mobility document. When the goal is clearly set, both educators and learners have a reference point for the progress assessment and a clear division of responsibilities, while at the very end of the training it is simpler to summarize the experience and identify the achievements by looking at the points agreed in the contract.

Building a culture of reflective analysis and self-assessment during the training

Discussion about expectations and goals of the training on the very beginning is one of the first steps in establishing a culture of reflective analysis and self-assessment during the training. It is important to bear in mind that each learner comes to the training with different background and experiences and perhaps they did not have the chance to learn how they can look back on their own experiences and why this matters. It is crucial to highlight the importance of reflective analysis during the learning and working process and include activities that enable the learners to adopt different methods of assessing their own experience. One of the common activities is a Learner’s journal where the learners can make notes on what they had been doing, how they felt and what they were thinking, how this is connected to their previous experience, what conclusions they have drawn and how they can apply them in the future. Learner’s journal is a comprehensive activity which sometimes requires more time than the learners actually have, but it can be an inspiration for using the elements of the reflexive analysis through certain parts of a training, for example, during evaluation or during practical exercises. Furthermore, various techniques of evaluation, feedback to the learners, various tools such as Europass tool for assessment of language and digital skills, reflecting on the goals and expectations  show to the learners different ways of assessment and  place it in the context of the next expected step of the training which gives us an overview of the current status and the future direction. At the same time creating a culture of self-assessment during a training enables us to show assessment in a different perspective – it is not a final, determining and stressful moment of the evaluation, but an integral part of the learning process and learner’s progress.

Pointing out the factors that may be distracting for the learners during the self-assessment 

As teachers and educators, we often notice that the learners can be too (un)critical during their assessment. Also, different convictions can distract learners to show their knowledge and be involved in the training process and therefore the assessment process as well. For example, the fear of making a mistake or the fear of the reaction of other learners. Often, the learners believe that self-assessment is not their responsibility; instead, someone else should evaluate whether they have learned something or not. Fostering an atmosphere of cooperation and reflective analysis can help us answer some of these challenges without addressing each individual learner, for example this way it is demonstrated that an active role is expected from each participant in the process. A specific and clear feedback which is present throughout the entire training can motivate learners to reassess their beliefs about their own capacities and achievements. However, sometimes it is necessary to give a direct criticism and point out the mistakes the learners make, using techniques of non-directive communication and active listening such as: „It seems that you believe that you do not know enough, even though you excelled at the tests”.

We believe that the practitioners are already familiar with most of these suggestions and we hope that this blog will serve as a reminder and an inspiration for using various techniques, tools, for creating assessment activities which should be present during the whole training process. The experiences of colleagues across Europe related to assessing adults’ skills can be found in the summary of EPALE's June focus, prepared by Thematic Coordinator Markus Palmen and we invite you to share your experiences and examples of good practice in the comments below.

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