Reading time approximately five minutes – read, like and comment!
Original language: German
Topics such as artificial intelligence and digitalisation are undoubtedly challenges that must now be met by adult and continuing education. It’s not alone in this. In light of the “digital transformation”, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are also faced with the question of how their own companies’ employees can keep pace with the changing technology.
Changed learning in the digital space
A skills shortage, additional family demands and different ways of spending free time are pushing traditional classroom-based teaching to its limits. In demand are individual formats that facilitate learning irrespective of time and location and offer targeted practical knowledge. Online elements that can be completed as flexibly as possible, so the request goes, should be alternated with classroom-based sessions, which are particularly well suited, thanks to the personal support, to immersion, reflection and breaking down fears in the face of changes brought about through digitalisation.
The OpenDigiMedia project run by Leibniz University Hannover and the Agentur für Erwachsenen- und Weiterbildung [Adult and Continuing Education Agency] is taking on this challenge and, in collaboration with practitioners from adult and continuing education in Lower Saxony, is developing a tailored concept for the needs of local SMEs which combines the benefits of classroom-based and online learning.
A mixture of learning platform…
Since 2018, the six-member project team has been developing the digital learning platform OpenDigiMedia.de. Here, content is being made available on all aspects of digitalisation for specialist staff from SMEs in the manufacturing sector. The learning platform provides free access to an extensive range of pre-structured courses on the topics “Basic Principles of Industry 4.0”, “Information and Data”, “Production Technology”, and “Work 4.0”. By the summer of 2020, at least ten courses comprising a total of approximately 30 hours of learning material will be available on the platform.
The topic of artificial intelligence is already leaving its mark on the “Big Data” course, which focuses on machine learning, a sub-area of artificial intelligence. An application scenario for this form of automated data analysis is presented in the “Production Technology” course. It is envisaged that additional courses will be developed that will have artificial intelligence at their core. It is then intended to provide practical relevance through a practice area where there will also be various programming exercises.
In addition, there are links on the platform to various advisory services, such as on the option of an advanced qualification in the context of a higher education course. OpenDigiMedia provides most of the content under a free licence as OER (Open Educational Resources). There is an extensive OER pool on the platform that adult education personnel, in particular, can avail of easily. External users can also contribute to the project with their materials, by sending their own materials to the project team, which incorporates the educational media into the public pool following a completed quality check.
Elements of storytelling were drawn on when the content was being developed: A factory shop floor forms the background against which the fictional identification figures Lisa and Rolf solve problems creatively with digital support and consequently transform the factory shop floor into a “smart factory”. Following the “gamification approach”, the content is presented in a diverse way, in the form of videos, quizzes and interactive images.
… and classroom-based elements
Aside from the learning platform, the work of OpenDigiMedia is concentrated on developing the skills of continuing education providers. The latter are taken into account in innovative disseminator training courses and specifically designed advisory services. The qualification includes dealing with specialist, media-didactical and organisational questions. In collaboration with various publicly-funded adult and continuing educational establishments in Lower Saxony, a nuanced blended learning programme was developed on the basis of acquired skills. A classroom-based phase, in which the participants are taught about the structure of the course and the associated (technical) requirements, is followed by an online component during which the specialist personnel work through the content of the learning platform using a self-directed approach. This enables them to review their own learning progress by means of tests. A digital portfolio is simultaneously compiled, which guarantees transfer into practice. The final element is another classroom-based phase, involving reflection on and reinforcement of the content of the online phase.
In-house programme starts in the spring
More than five institutions took part enthusiastically in the experiment and, starting in the spring of 2020, are offering the blended learning format in-house. In this respect, networking with local stakeholders plays a particularly significant role. Those responsible are anticipating an enthusiastic reception on the part of the SMEs, as a programme like this, despite the high level of demand, has only been available to date in publicly funded adult and continuing education in stages. As early as November, the institutions raised awareness among representatives of SMEs, via an interactive webinar, of the changes being brought about by digitalisation.
A project of excellence
OpenDigiMedia has now been awarded the distinction of “Digital Locations in Lower Saxony”. This is recognition by the Ministry of Industry, Employment, Transport and Digitalisation of Lower Saxony for the outstanding involvement of OpenDigiMedia in actively supporting the digitalisation process in Lower Saxony. OpenDigiMedia is represented throughout Germany at conferences and conventions, and, particularly in the OER domain, is regarded in professional circles as an example of good practice for free educational materials in the thematic area of continuing education.
OpenDigiMedia is a project designed in a highly interdisciplinary way. It is run by the Institut für Berufspädagogik und Erwachsenenbildung (IfBE) [Institute of Vocational Education and Adult Education], the Institut für Fertigungstechnik und Werkzeugmaschinen (IFW) [Institute for Production Technology and Machine Tools] as well as the Zentrale Einrichtung für Qualitätsentwicklung in Studium und Lehre [Centre for Quality Enhancement in Teaching and Learning] - eLearning Service (ZQS/elsa) at Leibniz University, Hannover. The Agentur für Erwachsenen- und Weiterbildung [Agency of Adult and Continuing Education] (AEWB) is an external partner.
The project is supported by funds from the European Social Fund and the state of Lower Saxony within the framework of the ESF guideline “Opening Universities”.
About the author: Steffen Münch is an educational assistant at the Agentur für Erwachsenen- und Weiterbildung (AEWB), Hannover in the OpenDigiMedia project. Since 2006, the AEWB has been the main service provider for adult education in Lower Saxony for all recognised, publicly funded institutions and their employees.