Dörte Stahl: digital learning scenarios and continuing education
I have been a freelance adult educator since 2001. I currently focus on the following topics: social media for NPOs, ideas for digital learning scenarios and continuing education in adult learning, including the shaping of learning settings, competence orientation, and media competence. I work in Germany with various associations, foundations, social institutions, and education providers. I also sometimes carry out media-based education projects with adolescents.
I discovered EPALE in 2016 and was quickly impressed by the extent of information and the various perspectives. The exchange and networking with other adult educators are also very beneficial for my professional development. My enthusiasm for the community and its possibilities inspired me to become an EPALE Ambassador in 2019, a role I still have today.
Encouraging autonomous learning and strengthening informal learning
One focus of my learning provision is social media and applications such as the blog-publishing and CMS system WordPress. Such fields evolve at a rapid pace. If the participants are lucky, the practical knowledge they acquire in my seminars might be applicable for twelve months, at other times, perhaps only four weeks. Interfaces get a fresh design, new functions appear while others disappear... In this sense, the practical aspects of my seminars (where do I click? where do I find the function?) are of very limited value. Only fundamental content relating to, for example, social media use or digital communication remains valid in the longer term.
The short-term practical knowledge often strikes me as a burden I would be better off without. But that would mean the seminars lack certain practical aspects and would fail to fulfil the participants’ perfectly reasonable expectations. The only way to ensure that my seminars proved valuable in the long run was to give participants the tools they need to continue learning on their own. The journey to that point was not always straightforward.
Obstacles to acquiring and strengthening autonomous learning
Participants have not always welcomed the fact that learning does not end with the seminar if they want to successfully make use of their presence on the web. Our educational biographies are the main reason why autonomous learning is not always received enthusiastically. That is also why fostering autonomous learning can be difficult.
Experience and habit
Most of us gain little to no experience of self-guided learning during our years of formal education. Our experience of learning centres on the teaching of fixed content which must be acquired in a certain spatial and temporal environment. The means and methods for learning are prescribed by a central person – the teacher. The competence of autonomous learning contradicts this approach. It involves, for example, independently determining learning goals and content, as well as the way learning, is organised. Their experience makes participants feel that they are not responsible for these learning components – they are someone else’s responsibility. My teaching experience has taught me that these are my tasks, and I have long believed that I am fully responsible for them.
What are my tasks?
In order to promote autonomous learning, I had to start by looking at my teaching experience and habits. I asked myself what I need to do to encourage learning which takes place without me i.e. informally.
If I am not there, I cannot explain anything. Rather, I explain less. I purposefully ask questions and let participants explain. At the end of the seminar the learners encounter problems that need to be solved (these are their learning goals). So I create problems and encourage participants to solve them. In other words, my main task is to provide fewer answers and instead support learning.
I give learners the necessary tools to continue learning. Such tools include carefully selected resources, topic-specific online groups that learners can join, and sometimes also tips on effective online research.
I also think carefully about what concepts and connections learners need to know in order to quickly get to grips with changes. There are quite a few of them, and I found it useful to follow the principle of didactic reduction in order to make the right selection.
Learning competence orientation
For the most part, I taught myself how to promote the competence of autonomous learning, with help from EPALE and some specialist literature. When we talk about “learning to learn” on my continuing education courses for trainers, the topic arouses a lot of interest. Lots of teachers want to help learners continue learning informally. I therefore hope that this topic is incorporated more into continuing education provision. Promoting this competence not only helps prepare people for the future, but it is also extremely rewarding.
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