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Digitalisation and adult learning: the Norwegian approach to inclusion in a digital society

06/02/2018
by EPALE Österreich
Language: EN
Document available also in: DE

by Graciela Sbertoli

The level of digitalisation in our societies is rapidly increasing. Therefore, there can be no real inclusion without a functional level of digital competence. Learning to use mobile devices and digital tools can also make basic learning processes more flexible, adequate and efficient – provided teachers know how to use them! Adults can actually learn to read and write by using digital tools.

Introduction: ICT in Norwegian education

Education today, no matter what the age and characteristics of the target group, should focus primarily on “learning to learn”, or giving learners the tools that empower them for further learning. The Norwegian Centre for ICT in Education (www.iktsenteret.no/english ) states on its website that ‘Today’s education should contribute to learning at all levels while ensuring the future skills that Norway needs. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) are important tools, not only for increasing quality, innovation and creativity, but also for efficiency and simplification of processes and services. Consequently, digital skills are among the five basic skills in taught in Norwegian schools. This also sets requirements for kindergartens and teacher-training programmes.’

The need to let Digital Competence permeate all levels of education has been officially recognised in Norway for more than a decade. The ‘Knowledge Promotion Reform' was introduced in 2006. The reform covers primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education, including vocational education and training (VET) and adult learning at these levels. The focus of this reform is the strengthening of basic skills and a shift to outcome-based learning. Digital competence is included as a basic skill in all formal education in Norway and ICT-based educational tools are expected to be used at all levels and in all subjects.

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Key note at Austrian EPALE Conference 2017 by Graciela Sbertoli

The SkillsPlus programme

Because digital competence is seen as a basic skill alongside literacy, numeracy and oral competence, it is also an important focus of the national programme for basic skills in the workplace. The programme was established in 2006 as “Basic Competence in Working Life”, and was renamed SkillsPlus in January of 2017. Since 2016, it also funds trainings organised by civil society. The programme’s aim is to give adults the opportunity to acquire the basic skills they need to keep up with the demands and changes in modern working life and civil society. Funding and participation have increased every year since the programme was established and the number of participants who have received training now exceeds 30.000. Any enterprise in Norway – private or public – can apply for funding. For more information about the SkillsPlus programme, see www.kompetansenorge.no/english.

Training for immigrants

All adults with low levels of qualification and/or low levels of basic skills are a policy priority in Norwegian adult learning, but adult immigrants are a special priority target group. The Introduction Act of 2003 states that refugees, persons granted humanitarian status and persons who have collective protection are to be offered a two-year introductory programme which includes Norwegian language training.

Functional literacy in a digitalised society

European adult educators are aware of the difference between initial, or basic, literacy and functional literacy, which is a relative level that depends on the setting in which the adult will find him- or herself. The inherent challenge to functional literacy is that it is a “moving target” nowadays. As our societies keep developing, the level needed to function in society keeps increasing. In most European countries today, a functional level of literacy implies being able to read and write through digital devices. The OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) focused on the skills that allow adults to solve problems in technology-rich environments. Digital Competence does not only involve the ability to use the tools, but to use them wisely and safely. Teaching all European adults these skills is an important mission for adult educators.

Digital tools for initial literacy

When can we start using digital tools in adult learning? From day 1, it is both possible and advisable to teach initial literacy through digital devices. A Swedish app originally created for children has successfully been used in Norway to teach adult immigrants the first steps to literacy. The method “Skrive seg til lesing” (writing yourself into reading) is explained on the Skills Norway website.

Unfortunately, most apps designed to ease literacy training have been created for children. Some apps, however, include authoring tools enabling adult educators to create tailored materials. The work can be time-consuming, which is why teachers are currently creating communities of practice where they can share their work. EPALE, the Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe, has a unique position as the arena for the creation of such communities of practice, also making it possible to cooperate across national borders.

Using everyday apps in the adult classroom

It is rather important to note that the adult education sector has been a bit slow in recognising the rapid changes to the digital world. Computers are no longer essential. Mobile devices are much easier to access and smartphones are in daily use among our target group.

For several years, Norwegian teachers have been encouraging each other to develop teaching methods that make use of what they call “everyday apps”, i.e. applications that have not been designed for learning purposes but to ease everyday activities like transport schedules, online shopping, banking services, etc. Such apps are both cheap and user-friendly, and are extremely motivating for the adult learner.

The use of mobile devices for language learning has been revolutionising Norwegian immigrant education in recent years. The current government’s policy has a strong focus on the swift integration into working life as a decisive element for integration. The model that is currently being piloted in several locations in Norway is based on the belief that immigrants should have access to the workplace as soon as possible, with no need to wait until they have learned the language.

Success criteria for this integration model:

  • A “language rich” and inclusive working environment
  • Cooperation and good communication between the workplace and language teacher
  • Trained mentor in the workplace and trained teachers in the educational institution
  • Adequate tools and instruments: mobile devices and mother-tongue assistants
  • Focus on “learning to learn”: creating habits in the students, empowering them to continue learning the language in any new situation they encounter.

The model, called “Work Oriented Language Learning” combines classroom learning with workplace learning and makes use of so-called “integration tasks”. Students are trained in the school setting to perform a variety of workplace-relevant communication tasks. Thus equipped, they are instructed to try out the communication tasks in practice. If they encounter difficulties or challenging situations where they don’t know how to communicate, they can videotape or record the situation and take the example back to the classroom. The circle of learning between the classroom and the practise field continues to grow. Learning is made relevant, and the use of digital devices is essential in this context.

Success criteria for the inclusion of Digital Competence in adult learning

  • Teacher competence
  • Constant critical evaluation
  • Adequate tools
  • Cooperation with software providers
  • Didactic focus
  • Sharing in communities of practice (through EPALE)

Policy development at a national and European level: the European Basic Skills Network and EPALE

Teaching digital competence to all European adults is an important challenge and it places great demands on policy development, on the professional preparation of the teaching staff and on European cooperation at all levels. The European Basic Skills Network, EBSN, was created in 2010 and has since been working to promote quality policy development in this field. The EBSN has also been involved in EPALE since its conception. For more information about the EBSN, see basicskills.eu.


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Graciela Sbertoli

European Basic Skills Network

Graciela Sbertoli holds two university degrees in philology and has worked in adult education since 1980. She became the Director of Research and Development at the Norwegian State Center for Adult Education, SRV, in 1995. From 2001 until August 2017, she was responsible for international affairs at Skills Norway (formerly Vox). She has represented Norway in several EU working groups, has led the Norwegian EPALE NSS and is currently the General Secretary of the European Basic Skills Network, EBSN.

Contact: secretary.general@basicskills.eu; www.basicskills.eu


This article is part of the publication "Digital Participation. Digital literacy for participation in the society of the future" published in November 2017 by EPALE Austria.

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  • Gaelle Gautier's picture
    EPALE Deutschland und die VHS Leipzig organisieren am 20.04.2018 ein Barcamp zum Thema "Digitalisierung des gesellschaftlichen Zusammenlebens gestalten". Für weitere Informationen klicken Sie hier.