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General education for a digital society

30/08/2019
by Dagmar Wenzel
Language: EN
Document available also in: DE HU

Reading time approximately four minutes - read, like, comment!

Original language: German


Following publication of Germany’s National Strategy for Continuing Education, the wb-web pages provide links to several texts that detail how general adult learning also requires greater funding and support in order to develop competencies for life in a digitalised world and to enable equal opportunities for social participation. The following text offers examples which demonstrate how general adult learning can be a strong partner in this regard.

The significance of general adult learning

Too little attention is paid to general adult learning with regard to digitalisation! Lars Kilian correctly reaches this conclusion in his blog post Darf es ein bisschen mehr Erwachsenenbildung sein? [DE- How about a bit more adult learning?]. And this despite the fact that adult learning offers solutions to issues that cannot be overcome with purely professional training.

Offliners and work

According to Digital-Index findings, a remarkable 82% of offliners do not work (D21 Digitalindex 2018/19, p.19). Not all offliners are senior citizens. Without access to general education about digitalisation and a general qualification for dealing with digital media, these offliners find it more difficult both to return to work or start a new career path and to participate in social developments and discourse.

Motivate and address needs

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Lifelong Learning
It is important for learners to know why they are learning something. Among offliners, the top motivator for internet use is: “When I can see a clear benefit for myself.” (D21 Digital-Index 2018/19, p.19). The use of digital media requires conceptual and content-related context, and a reflected approach when dealing with the respective media and their content. In other words, you need interesting content to make others use the medium. Publicly-funded adult learning fulfils this requirement via diverse general education offers ranging from basic education to school leaving certificates, family education, political education, and specialist events relating to art and culture. Such offers appeal to people from all levels of society and with the most varied educational backgrounds. With a content-led approach, digital media can enrich collaboration in both attended and digital phases, and thus contribute to the development of competencies for social participation in digital media.

Knowledge and competencies

The Digital-Index did not only concern itself with offliners. After all, the majority of the population possesses some digital media competencies. The important question is therefore what competencies and knowledge the German population has regarding digitalisation. The Digital-Index surveyed the “resident population in Germany aged 14 and over”, and offers a “multi-layered, representative sample of the population” (D21 Digital-Index 2018/19, p. 6).

On the whole, competencies have been increasing for years. However, it is important not to underestimate the degree to which “one’s own competence [...] [is] partly over-estimated. Many people match concepts that they claim to understand to the wrong explanation” (D21 Digital-Index, p. 31). 52% of those surveyed claim to understand or be able to explain the well-known term “artificial intelligence”. However, out of four possible answers (Answer 4 = Don’t know/cannot say), only 34% mark the correct one. The results are even worse when it comes to the terms “algorithm”, “bot”, and the “Internet of Things”. The Digital-Index sums it up as follows: “The majority of Germans remain unaware of what most specialist digital terms mean. In fact, competencies in this area tend to be declining.” (D21 Digital-Index 2018/19, p. 29)

Fostering participation in society

Anyone who takes social participation seriously must recognise that a knowledge deficit is emerging here. This can lead to frustration when, for example, an authority such as the regional government of Lower Saxony, under the title “Big Data for Digital Business Models” in its Digitalisation Master Plan, announces its aim of “expanding the amount of freely available state data to all citizens under the motto ‘Open Data’”. (Masterplan Digitalisierung. Die Strategie Niedersachsens zur digitalen Transformation [DE- Digitalisation Master Plan. Lower Saxony’s Digital Transformation Strategy], p. 56). The Master Plan is billed as a “milestone in communication between the state and its citizens” (p.124). But citizens also need to have a chance to understand the topic. In this context, the offer is not only an opportunity for industry, but also a task for political education—to dig deep and ensure that democracy is lived and communicated in a credible manner.

The strengths of publicly funded general adult learning

The manifold offers and learning topics of publicly funded adult learning are an ideal basis for improving individual opportunities to act, alongside competencies and knowledge in dealing with digital media. The broad spread of respective institutions in both urban and rural locations makes it possible to reach people in many different living situations. Local presence can be used to discuss the use of digital applications with the population and to develop strategies for dealing with the tools.

The need for publicly funded adult learning

Resources and qualification are required—on the part of learners, teachers and institutions. In contrast to schools and universities, publicly funded adult learning institutions have not yet received comprehensive support for digital infrastructure, organisational development, training measures and conceptual development. There are also almost no initiatives to comprehensively promote digital competencies among all adults or to train teachers, trainers and course instructors, who, due to their often precarious working conditions, have little time and money for continuing education in this area. Back in 2017, the publication Monitor Digitale Bildung. Die Weiterbildung im digitalen Zeitalter [DE- Digital Education Monitor. Continuing Education in the Digital Era] called for the training of continuing education staff for digital learning and the establishment of a grant programme for teachers who want to continue to educate themselves in this area. (Monitor Digitale Bildung. Weiterbildung, p. 51).

The publicly funded area of adult learning and continuing education, in particular—an area in which government investment dropped by 41 percent between 1995 and 2012 (Monitor Digitale Bildung. Weiterbildung, S. 51)—requires more time as well as financial and staffing resources if lifelong learning for citizens in Germany is to remain affordable and safe with respect to data. Following funding programmes for schools and universities, it is high time for a nationwide strategy that encompasses all publicly funded adult learning and continuing education institutions.


Sources and further reading

D21 Digital-Index 2018/2019: https://initiatived21.de/app/uploads/2019/01/d21_index2018_2019.pdf (As of: 3 July 2019)

Masterplan Digitalisierung. Die Strategie Niedersachsens zur digitalen Transformation. https://www.niedersachsen.de/download/135219/Masterplan_Digitalisierung_Die_Strategie_Niedersachsens_zur_digitalen_Transformation.pdf (As of: 3 July 2019)

Monitor Digitale Bildung. Die Weiterbildung im digitalen Zeitalter.  https://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/fileadmin/files/user_upload/BSt_Monitor_Digitale_Bildung_WB_web.pdf (As of: 3 July 2019)

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Critical Media Literacy and Adult Education

Does the digitalisation of the world of work hold new opportunities in store for adult learning?

Just bold or smart, too? MILLA wants a digital shift in continuing education

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  • Christine Bertram's picture
    Das sind alles sehr valide Punkte. Solange der Fokus jedoch auf Kenntnissen und Kompetenzen für den Arbeitsmarkt liegt (wie jetzt auch letztlich wieder in der versuchten Umsatzsteuernovelle vertieft), und nicht das Verständnis zum weitgreifenden Nutzen der allgemeinen Erwachsenenbildung erhöht wird, sehe ich leider kein Geld in die allgemeine Erwachsenenbildung fließen. 

    Kenntnisse und Kompetenzen für Lehrpersonal können durch die gesteigerte Nutzung der Mobilitäten für Lehrpersonal aufgebaut und vertieft werden. Ich empfehle dazu unsere Themenwoche.