The renewed European Agenda for adult education and training (2011) reiterates the need, for poorly qualified people in particular, to improve their personal and professional skills on a regular basis to cope with the volatility of the labour market and the difficult economic climate. The document also highlights the vital importance of defining a continuing education policy which focuses on learner autonomy in the acquisition of key skills, through the use of flexible methods suited to their needs.
The Ateliers de Pédagogie Personnalisée (APP) are perfectly in tune with this idea. More than 480 continuing education providers who hold this label have decided to adapt their systems to follow this fully personalised educational approach which is designed to make learners responsible for their own career progression. This is achieved thanks to a unique protocol, which is tailored to their circumstances and in which “learning to learn” is the core skill.
The APP Label is awarded to bodies which apply for it (following an external audit and a ruling by a National Labelling Commission) and undertake to respect national specifications based on seven fundamental principles:
· personalised training
· learner support
· links to the local community
· diversity of participants
· areas of training which relate to the eight European key competences
· diversified sources of funding
· networking at national and regional level
The methodology itself is based on the principle of “supported self-study”: learners sign a contract specifying the objectives, content, duration and pace of the training, along with evaluation methods tailored to their particular circumstances and any difficulties they face in their personal and professional lives. Therefore, a sequence in which a dozen people participate could consist of learning modules totalling up to 300 hours of study in a resource centre with several hundred themed resource packs (scientific culture, writing...), all backed up by different levels of progression. Learners receive support in the centre from a single contact person who will have worked with them to diagnose their needs and draw up their training contract.
This educational approach, focused on key skills, and especially core skills, is particularly suitable for vulnerable participants in all their diversity. Karin Tudal, director of Bergerac APP Centre (and also the Departmental federation of the Ligue de l’Enseignement - département 24), explains that she is just as likely to work with learners from a rural background who are partially illiterate (with difficulties in writing) as with immigrants who are learning French through a partnership agreement with the French Immigration Service (OFI). Over a number of years, she has observed an upsurge in the number of poorly qualified learners in economically depressed regions. A large number of APP branches also work in prisons. The methodology enables participants to take on board not only the principles of self-study but also to gain a certificate of skills acquisition at the end of the course. They can then use this to increase their employability or, perhaps, use it to apply for recognition of prior learning (RPL). Sometimes, APP centres award additional qualifications, depending on the funding arrangements which exist between them and their backers.
In fact, as a result of a decentralisation process, the centres have not been directly funded by the Ministry of Labour since 2008. Instead, they have been obliged to respond to calls for tenders from the regions, because vocational training, in its entirety, has now been relegated to this level by the constitutional law of 2003. The Bergerac APP Centre, for example, responds as a network to calls for tenders as a means of securing funds for safeguarding the career paths of employees with a low level of basic education. APP centres can also receive funding from other sources (depending on the organisations concerned) such as partnerships with businesses or bodies such as the OPCA (Training Funds Collection Organisation) or the CNED (National Centre for Distance Learning).
Since, in accordance with the basic principles of popular education, the APP method is open to all, the access it provides to training (including distance and e-learning, for those who are most independent) is a very important element, embodied in a very strong local presence. Based on a system of regional contacts, the network has grown considerably since 1989 and can congratulate itself on the fact that it has played a part in the professional development of three million French people. The formation of an association (Apapp – Association pour la promotion du label APP) by the APP bodies in 2008, when the state subsidy ended, also provided an opportunity to systemise and improve mechanisms for monitoring learners, sharing good practice and providing professional development for teams, whilst preserving the specificity of the method through the introduction of the label in 2012.
Alexia Samuel, domain expert in learner support and social inclusion in France. In particular, she has worked for the European Commission and as the policy officer for a European lifelong learning association.