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Creative means of expression as a way of empowering adult learners

How to use digital and art-based methods for empowering adult learners? ARTicipate: KA2 in the field of adult education as an example of good practice

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Katarzyna Kowalska

Working with adults with fewer opportunities is a constant search for new methods and approaches for supporting them in a way that truly matches their educational needs and expectations. As educators, our aim is to empower our learners, to help them grow, and to create a safe space for them for learning, experimenting, and developing their skills. 

However, in our efforts to support the people we work with, we sometimes forget to ask ourselves a very important question: What does empowerment really mean? The term is becoming increasingly popular among educators, because on the first glance the concept sounds great – hearing it makes us envision our beneficiaries improving their life conditions and becoming happier. However, from our work practice at Upstream Stories, it seems the concept is not as simple as it might sound. 

The main challenge is that as professionals who work with people with fewer opportunities, we very often approach them with the attitude of “we know better what is best for them”. In result, we design projects that fit our idea of what our beneficiaries need and want, and sometimes this is not in accordance with our learners’ true needs and expectations. Can we really empower people when we don’t give them space for expressing themselves and finding their own solutions to their challenges and problems? 

In the projects we implement, we find it crucial to give our participants an opportunity to reflect, share their needs and wants, discuss their challenges and connect with others to find creative and inspiring solutions. We do that by using artistic and digital means of expression, such as filmmaking and photography. For us empowerment is not only giving voice to people, but also teaching and supporting them in the process of using it, so that by expressing themselves, they can actually become changemakers.

In ARTicipate! Engaging Adult Learners at Risk of Exclusion Through Participatory Methods, we joined forces with other organizations and adult educational institutions from Finland, Greece, Slovenia, and Spain, to investigate how creative and artistic methods can be used for supporting and empowering our beneficiaries, while giving them space for expressing themselves. Within the project we are exploring four main participatory methods: 

  • digital storytelling, 
  • participatory photography, 
  • participatory podcasting,
  • participatory theater. 

Our aim is to not only learn new approaches and methodologies, but to also test them with learners, adjust them to their needs, and create educational content (workbooks on each of the method and an inspirational pool website with good practices). In this way, we hope to gain and promote new understanding of empowerment and disseminate practical, creative methodologies to support other educators in their work with adult learners at risk of exclusion. In ARTicipate, Upstream Stories is responsible for delivering trainings for educators on digital storytelling and participatory photography, as well as coordinating the development of the workbooks.

The project is an Erasmus+ KA2 in the field of adult education, coordinated by Keski-Pohjanmaan koulutusyhtymä (FIN) and supported by the Finnish National Agency for Erasmus +. 

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