On October 1st and 2nd 2019 I was fortunate to attend the EPALE conference in Warsaw together with NSS staff, ambassadors and stakeholders from twenty six countries. The conference programme was an interesting blend of presentations, discussions, workshops and inspirational testimonials from six EPALE users, all skilfully moderated by Tasmin Rose.
On the first morning Christian Friedrich from Wikimedia Deutschland described the benefits of having an online “joint campfire” where those with shared interests and concerns come together to discuss issues and find solutions with a focus on the personal connections people can make through their online learning experiences. I felt this was a perfect description of EPALE.
Throughout the conference there were several reoccurring discussions and issues that were shared by EPALE users around the “campfire” in Warsaw.
Who is EPALE for?
There was some debate around whether EPALE is for adult education practitioners only or also for adult learners. Clearly in some countries learners were signposted to the site but in other countries it is seen as a source of continuous professional development for tutors and other staff. This led to discussion about how EPALE is used. Should it be merely a teaching tool or a community for all those interested in adult education? It is also important not to lose sight of the fact that adult education exists to benefit learners and so the learner voice should not be ignored. Distinction was made between establishing a community of residents and merely collecting data about the number of visitors to the site.
Quality v Quantity
Ambitious targets have been set to increase the number of registered users to the EPALE site in every country. This is seen as a challenge partly because it is possible to visit the site without logging in and so not every visit counts towards the targets. However, if the platform becomes more open in order to attract more users there is a risk that the content may be less controlled and therefore the high quality of the resources will not be maintained. The quality and the opportunity for peer learning is highly valued.
A lot of excitement was created when Willhelm Vokovich from the European Commission announced that one of the next phase developments will be an EPALE App. This will enable a wider range of content to be included on EPALE such as video, MOOCs and webinars. It was felt during discussions that this would make EPALE more up to date. However, it was also felt that as a community we need to be clear what we want. There was some caution expressed about trying to compete with widely used sites, that were described by one delegate as “the Silicon Valley products,” rather than trying to be bespoke for the adult education community in Europe.
Delegates as learners
Several of the workshops were led by practitioners and provided an opportunity for peer learning. These included workshops about target groups, learner voice, vocational education and training and a guide to the EPALE platform. There was also a very interesting guided walk through Warsaw old town in the evening. Tasmin Rose enabled us to learn interesting and comical phrases about the weather that are used in different countries, so we all learned something new!
The final session of the conference was a think piece by Lene Rachel Andersen entitled “The Secret behind Nordic Adult Learning”. Lene explained the way in which the Nordic approach to developing in the industrial age linked philosophy and education. She introduced us to the concept of Bildung, which she described as “a peculiar blend of individual freedom and personal development” and the connection between people, their community and society. She described the development of the Folk High Schools in Denmark and how this initiative spread to Finland, Sweden and Norway.
Lene’s presentation was an inspiring finale to a vibrant conference that inspired us all about the future of EPALE.
Cath Harcula is an EPALE UK Ambassador who frequently contributes content to the platform. She recently won a blog writing competition for her post focusing on the positive impacts of adult learning on health and wellbeing. Cath has worked for over 30 years as a tutor, manager and senior manager. She chairs the National Family Learning Forum in England.
You might also be interested in:
- EPALE 2019 Stakeholder Conference, Warsaw (blog) - a PhD student from Lancaster University discusses her experiences at the EPALE Stakeholder Conference in Warsaw, which focused on the imapct EPALE has had on adult learning and considered ways to improve the platform
- Picture this! Wellbeing and older learners (blog) - Cath Harcula is a previous winner of the EPALE UK Star Supporter Competition - see her winning blog post about adult learning and the positive impact it has on health and wellbeing
- EPALE UK Star Supporter Competition Final Round for 2019 - adult learning in the workplace (blog) - enter our final competition for this year - submit a mini blog post focusing on the positive impacts of adult learning in the workplace and you could be in with the chance to win £100 in book token vouchers!
- Friday the 13th (blog) - Dafydd Rhys contiributes a blog post to our series relating to the Healthy, Wealthy and Wise: implications for workforce development report that will form a big part of discussions at the EPALE UK and EAAL joint conference in October 2019