Original language: German
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Something has been set in motion in Berlin: Politicians have recognized that adult and continuing education must adapt to the age of digitalisation and that a new government stimulus is necessary to do so. This stimulus, called MILLA within the CDU fraction of the German Bundestag, is set to cost the government between one and three billion euros. Peter Brandt outlines how MILLA could turn out to be something positive.
MILLA, short for “Modular Interactive Life-accompanying Learning for All”, aims to revolutionise the digitalisation of adult learning. The concept was developed as a reaction to the glaring discrepancy between the supply and demand of labour. This applies to far more than just the much bemoaned shortage of skilled labour. It is predominantly about the growing chasm between the competencies currently available and those now demanded by digitalisation. The plan is to bring about a continuing education transition by creating a sort of “Netflix for continuing education”. The idea is that men and woman can spend their evenings on the couch acquiring competencies. The learning content is to be packaged as bite-sized, digital, entertaining “nuggets” of information supposed to increase their abilities—especially those necessary within the digital industry. This state-funded micro-learning targets the middle class rather than, say, particularly underprivileged groups, which tends to be the case for other government continuing education programmes. MILLA aims to be interactive by using smart algorithms to offer personalised learning opportunities. And the sums at stake are impressive, too. Annual funding of between one and three billion euros is on the table. That would mean allocating an additional amount around the size of what the federal government currently already spends on continuing education.
Idea vs. reality
MILLA also intends to make the newly acquired competencies measurable so that they can be used as a new type of currency on the labour market. A government-authorised centre of operations should award relevance points to training offers, according to which the public financing for providers is then decided. It is not yet clear how they plan on assessing relevance—the needs of the labour market will play a vital but not exclusive role. All in all, MILLA is an ambitious plan. It attempts to address different long-term desiderata in the discussion about continuing education: government responsibility for modern digital infrastructure, modular self-determined learning, competency assessment, improvement of open-access educational materials. Oh, if it weren't for reality!
For starters, MILLA is still nothing more than an idea of the CDU fraction in the German Bundestag; it has yet to be introduced into government policy making. The coalition contract between the CDU/CSU and the SPD includes a national strategy for continuing education, for which concepts and ideas are still being developed. Whether or not MILLA will make it to this stage depends on the quality of these competing concepts and ideas. This will likely be resolved in spring 2019.
Secondly, the concept does not seem able to keep its promises. This assessment was made by the author of this article during a late January expert meeting in the German Bundestag organised by the working group around Thomas Heilmann, the head of MILLA. The members of the Bundestag underestimate the role of the chambers and unions when it comes to developing a reasonable certificate structure. They still lack the skills and expertise for a thorough understanding of the complexity behind modelling and measuring competencies by learning outcomes.
How can MILLA keep its promises?
Is MILLA nothing more than an ill-fated fantasy? As someone unaccustomed to the federal government potentially considering investing billions in adult learning and education, I am not quite ready to abandon MILLA just yet. I consider it too precious a goal to use government support to direct the creation of a free of charge and relevant continuing education offer and to develop competency-based modular and digital assessment systems, which are market-relevant. I believe that the following four points are critical for MILLA’s success:
- MILLA should seek to affiliate itself with existing platforms and infrastructure. Particularly, MILLA should try to join forces with the German Eduserver (Deutscher Bildungsserver) and its InfoWeb on continuing education IWWB, which already allows for fruitful meta-searches across 89 further education databases and offers access to over three million training courses. This core infrastructure for training searches could be usefully expanded upon, for example by adding more learning opportunities—particularly those which are accessible online. At the same time, this expansion plan should be combined with the idea of a reference system for distributed open educational resources, which was promoted in the feasibility study conducted by the German Eduserver.
- MILLA could try to establish a modern system of competency assessment for individual non-regulated occupations. (For the regulated occupations, any such attempt would cause an unpredictable power struggle between the government and the chambers—something of which the MILLA-working group is understandably weary.) Occupations which are not (yet) formalised (e.g. some within the IT-sector) could implement badges, nano-degrees or whatever you want to call certificates earned online, as a useful currency on the labour market. Considering its financial scale, MILLA should measure actual output factors (e.g. learning outcomes) rather than merely tallying participation slips. The latter can be indicated in someone's continuing training profile, but they are not truly meaningful on their own.
- MILLA has to be fast, but at the same time still slow enough to allow current stakeholders from the field to get on board. This could be accomplished with a participation-based format, in which everyone would have the opportunity to offer their input on how to make MILLA a success. One suitable possibility would be a BarCamp.
- Finally, if MILLA wants to determine the relevance of listed offers, it will also have to consider each offer’s impact on society and the community rather than just focussing on the needs of the labour market. This would allow online continuing education for all of society to be a medium- to long-term benefit to society and not just a short-term technocratic assimilation adjustment. Of course, the federal government must also consider that—due to federalism—its competencies and scope of influence lie primarily at the level of continuing vocational training. As far as regulatory procedures are concerned, however, it would be tenable for infrastructure based on a federal stimulus to include general and political adult education offers funded at the state level. In fact, IWBB is already doing just that.
Despite its shortcomings, it must be borne in mind—particularly for readers outside of Germany—that MILLA is the boldest development concept that the nation has seen in years within the field of continuing education. Within the coming months, we may find out if MILLA is not just bold, but smart as well.
About the author: Dr. Peter Brandt is the head of the knowledge transfer department at the German Institute for Adult Education—Leibniz Centre for Lifelong Learning (DIE) in Bonn.
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