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Looking back on predictions for the adult learning sector this year

The end of the year is always the time to look back at the past year and look at ahead to the next. Simon Broek ended last year with looking forward to what would be important trends in 2015 - but how many of them came true?


The end of the year is always the time to look back over the past 12 months and look at ahead to the next. I ended last year with predictions of what would be the important trends and emerging topics for discussion on adult learning in 2015.

To halt any rumours that I have fortune-telling abilities, I wanted to look back at my predictions and indicate what was right - and what I missed.

What did I predict again? Both at policy and provider level, I gave the following adult learning forecasts for 2015:

  • Recognition of qualifications and learning outside the formal system
  • National Qualifications Frameworks: qualifications outside formal systems and quality assurance
  • Digital learning and assessment of learning outcomes
  • Adult learning for all or only for some?

I’ll deal with them one by one and indicate whether they were true, somewhat true or not true at all.

Recognition of qualifications and learning outside the formal system (somewhat true)

In this area, Europe and the Member States are slowly progressing. The Learning Outcome Approach is increasingly taken as a reference point, and emphasis is shifting from an input-based to an outcome-based approach of valuing qualifications. The emphasis on apprenticeship systems and other work-based learning systems is an indication that learning outside the formal initial education system is more and more valued. It's even seen as partial answer to the challenges posed by the economic crisis (high levels of youth unemployment, transition from school to work, etc).

National Qualifications Frameworks: qualifications outside formal systems and quality assurance (somewhat true)

This prediction concerned developing and implementing NQFs. For some countries this meant reviewing and revising the frameworks, for others, it meant working on the inclusion of qualifications provided outside the formal system. What can be observed over the year is that only a few countries have been able to reference their NQF to the EQF (uploaded referencing report here). This being said, there are indications that the EQF and NQFs are becoming more mature in terms of them being better populated with qualifications. More advanced procedures are also being developed to guarantee quality of referencing. Finally, more work is being put in place on international qualifications.

Digital learning and assessment of learning outcomes (not true at all)

With regards to digital learning and assessment of learning outcomes I provided the most specific prediction: “2015 could be the year in which we find solutions for this: solutions to make examination and assessment in an online way a trustworthy exercise creating learning pathways between the non-formal and formal adult learning systems.” I don’t think we are there yet as no mainstream solutions are available as of now. Maybe 2016 could be the year for that?

Adult learning for all or only for some? (true)

Over 2014 I saw a general trend emerging, which led me to predict that “partially due to cutting budgets, adult learning will become less of a public service responsibility. Adult learning is more and more provided privately and by employers, and facilitated through online platforms. On its own this is not problematic (why would a government want to fund something that is sustainable by its self?), however there is an increasing threat that adult learning becomes something for the well-off and those who can. The group of persons that are not well-off and have difficulties using online learning are increasingly left out in the cold.”

Unfortunately, this ‘prediction’ could be true as I do not see any developments reverting this trend. But perhaps it might be more important to focus on what I missed in this prediction; the refugee-stream towards Europe, the human tragedy it consists of and the ability of European leaders to effectively solve the problem. Adult learning could play a role when we consider learning to a right to all (including refugees), but this is often problematic as no services can be provided to illegal migrants.

My ‘predictions’ were of such a level of abstraction that there is always some truth in them. Maybe that is indeed the trick of fortune tellers: never be too specific.

What I missed in my predictions is the even more increased need to have (adult) learning systems enabling (young) people to reach a good position in the labour market and society, and support them in their own personal growth. This also as a response to radicalisation, extremism and terrorism.

Let's work together in the new year to achieve these goals!

Simon Broek has been involved in several European research projects on education, labour market issues and insurance business. He advised the European Commission, the European Parliament and European Agencies on issues related to education policies, lifelong learning, and labour market issues, and is Managing Partner at Ockham Institute of Policy Support.


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