Learn to learn

An overview of what happened during the online discussion of 2021 Thematic focuses.

Learn to learn

Are you familiar with EPALE online discussion? The many interesting views will enrich our perspectives and practice as adult education practitioners. Exchanging views and experiences is one of the key strengths of EPALE, and as online discussions foster this sharing practice we wanted to enhance the discussion with an introductory livestream.

In the first 2021 discussion we touched upon the three 2021 EPALE Thematic Focuses to gather feedback and suggestions on priorities in the field of adult education and what topics were becoming increasingly relevant in the light of recent months. It was a lively discussion in which many points of view emerged which added relevant nuances to the Themes.

Antonella Cesari’s contribution started with the idea that if adults and young adults are to play an active part in all dimensions of life, they will need to navigate through uncertainty, across a wide variety of contexts: in time (past, present, future), in social space (family, community, region, nation and world) and in the digital space. They will also need to engage with the natural world, to appreciate its fragility, complexity and value. To be prepared for the future, individuals have to learn to think and act in a more integrated way, taking into account the interconnections and inter-relations between contradictory or incompatible ideas, logics and positions, from both short- and long-term perspectives. They have to learn to be system thinkers.

Inguna Kucina said she was very pleased with the Thematic Focuses chosen for this year. Digital skills, re-training opportunities, motivation of learners and the ability to return to the labour market are important. But, unfortunately, in some cases, these topics have only been relevant in the past years in the framework of strategic planning, when thinking about future needs and future agenda. The current situation has seen them become a key issue of the day. The current situation calls for a reassessment of resources and opportunities, which will show how much of what we have planned can really be put into practice today.

Life and Work Skills

Life and work skills for empowering adults to learn and participate

This session raised many interesting questions to reflect on priorities, challenges and changing scenarios.

Dora Santos made a very comprehensive and well-rounded point. In fact, from her point of view, this focus is related to some important changes we are facing today. These include, the emergence of a new industrial era, the digitalisation of all aspects of our daily life, and automation and connectivity in workplaces. Thus, adults need new skills to tackle new challenges, they need specific and technical competences as well as soft skills to deal with a new way of living and working. Education and training systems, in turn, also need to find a way to reach these low-qualified adults and provide them with the necessary qualifications so that these adults can succeed in their lives and in the labour market. Changes in the demographic and climate also require the consideration of a new approach to skills and learning. Qualifications need to be much more democratic, inclusive, green and digital. Therefore, in addition to their curricular design, qualifications should be provided in a flexible way and adjusted to the needs of different audiences, as well as to the labour market which is changing fast. So, the urgent points to address are: what kind of curricular changes do we need in adult learning for adult upskilling and reskilling? How can adult learning be made more flexible (and more attractive for less qualified adults) and how can it be adapted to the specific needs of each citizen and, at the same time, to the labour market?

David Lopez is convinced that we need to organise discussions between enterprises, education systems and learners, since this trio is essential to matching work skills and needs.

Sanita Baranova argued that during a time of rapid change when we need to adapt to working remotely, new challenges are emerging which require us to improve work skills so that we can continue working successfully. Given the instability caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, we should update the gaining of work and life skills such as adaptability and resilience, self-directed learning and remote collaboration.

Agnese Pašāne stressed the importance of basic skills, especially information literacy, for any profession and job. In fact, regardless of the position, each person has to be able to independently look for information, to manage it and evaluate it. It has been a surprise to Agnese to notice how even younger people lack these skills, despite being more advanced in terms of technology, media etc.

Linda Romele argued that research shows that in the future, there will be less routine in the workplace, in favour of more autonomy, more information and communication technologies, fewer physical tasks and more social and intellectual tasks. Other studies are proving that social skills are becoming increasingly valuable. In the US, the economic return on social skills in the labour market (by comparing earnings) has increased significantly over the last twenty / thirty years, and high-paid jobs require social skills. So, which are more valuable - social skills or professional skills?

György Vartmann believes that all skills that are useful for life can be considered a life skill. There are some life skills that almost every employer looks for when searching for new employees. Organisations look for candidates who are well-equipped for common challenges that arise at work, and life skills help them with this. People with strong life skills are more likely to be pro-change, and they are more self-aware.

Martin Dobeš smartly pushed the button on some unsolved issues. What do we think we can do in this situation, apart from taking the magic crystal ball? Are we able to determine which skills will be relevant in the mid-term? Should the adult education industry be more specialised in predicting future skills? Should we be more active in training companies, educational institutions and industries in this?

Looking at the policy side, Anita Līce’s voice emerged from the discussion: Who should determine which skills should be supported – learners themselves or their employers? How should state aid schemes be designed and evaluated? In Latvia, there is an ongoing discussion and contradictory opinions about this question: should only employers have a say in which learning opportunities should be paid for?  Should people shape their personality and career development themselves? Is it necessary to target support for people without basic skills, given that otherwise state aid quickly gets used up by people with higher education, leaving those with fewer opportunities outside the state aid schemes? And, above all, which of the measures is really a priority?

Digital Transition  

Digital Transition and the opportunities of blended learning

Many participants argued that there is still a great need for digital skills of adult educators, who – using Nicoletta Ioannou’s words - generally use more traditional teaching approaches and they have to get acquainted with new pedagogies such as online teaching. These new professional skills call for intensive professional development courses for adult educators.

Elena Trepule reinforced this perspective, arguing that in the digital transition many teachers found that the teaching strategies that were successful in direct teaching are not necessarily as effective in an online version. In many cases interaction with learners has become too limited due to the teachers’ lack of skills on how to do this online and their lack of knowledge of what methods and tools to use. Online teaching requires different skills from teachers. Not just in terms of technology, but also in terms of pedagogy.

Viktorija Aleksejeva added that we have access to plenty of digital tools, webinars and tutorials. Some educators are using them, but are they really aware of the link between digital tools and learning outcomes? What is the purpose of using certain tools? Now is the time to not only find out how to use these tools technically, but more importantly to understand for what purpose a tool is used and how it will help to achieve the learning outcomes. Are they suitable for adults or for other target groups? With what tool can a particular teaching method or technique be implemented?

Inclusive Social Change

Inclusive Social Change for Sustainability and Fairness

Nicoletta Ioannou highlighted that adult learners come from diverse social, economic and in many cases vulnerable social groups (e.g. elderly, prisoners, adults with low digital skills, unemployed adults, NEETS, early school leavers, refugees) adult education needs to make sure that all groups of learners continue to participate in education and training. Thus, measures should be taken to tackle existing inequalities and barriers to participation and ensure that adult learners have both the skills and the infrastructure to participate in these new modes of learning.

In the case of older persons for example, Erika Novotná argued that it is essential that we strive to develop digital skills in seniors. This is becoming a fundamental condition for life and well-being. Many systems and processes are being digitalised, and many adults and seniors are unable to keep up and participate on their own and need support. Recent events show us that registration for COVID-19 testing, Coronavirus vaccination orders etc are managed through online platforms, and the older generation cannot cope without the help of their family or friends.

Iveta Cirule stressed that digital inclusion in adult education for older learners is essential as now-a-days there is a great phenomenon of seniors joining adult education. 

Ilze Sumane said she was delighted to see that EPALE focuses on Inclusive Social Change. In this context, it is important to promote inclusion in the workplace by promoting employees' understanding of an inclusive organisation's culture and the socio-emotional security of each employee in the workplace. She suggested expanding the reasoning on developing diversity competencies in the workplace to promote a positive career experience and inclusion.

Finally, the perfect summary of this discussion and this year’s Focuses can be found in Heike Kölln-Prisner’s words: not one of these themes can be fostered and improved without the others. There cannot be an increase in digital education without keeping in mind that no one should be excluded, and that digitalisation has an impact on our green future. And with fewer digital skills people have fewer chances to take part in work related training.  So, it may be a vicious circle and we will have to take a holistic approach.

To read all the contributions, please visit the discussion's page.

…and now, are you ready for the next online discussions?

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