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EPALE Discussion: How can digital learning be used in the Upskilling Pathways initiative?

As part of EPALE’s March focus on digital and e-learning, we would like to hear your views on how digital learning can be used in the Upskilling Pathways initiative.


As part of EPALE’s March focus on digital and e-learning, we would like to hear your views on how digital learning can be used in the Upskilling Pathways initiative.

The discussion will be moderated by EPALE’s Thematic Coordinator for Learning Environments, Simon Broek. Don’t miss this opportunity to share with the EPALE community your experience, views and questions about digital learning.

The discussion took place on 23 March 2017 at 2:00pm CET and we covered the following broader questions:

  1. How do we ensure that digital tools have a valuable contribution in providing basic skills for all adults (i.e. making upskilling pathways a reality)?
  2. What is needed at the level of the adult learning professional, the institution level and the policy level?

**This discussion has now beel closed.

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Upskilling pathways targets adults with a low level of skills, e.g. those without upper secondary education and who are not eligible for youth guarantee support. They may be in employment, unemployed or economically inactive, with a need to strengthen basic skills. Member states may define priority target groups for this initiative depending on the national circumstances. Great post. Thank you so much for sharing this information. Very useful.

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Hi Simon and colleagues

Very sorry to have missed the real time virtual gathering this afternoon. A quick read through though has given me plenty of ideas so thank you for sharing your thoughts and projects.

A couple of comments to offer over and above the blog on referenced on p2.

Its important to consider digital in its widest sense and see how content can be repurposed across many platforms, some very cheap and accessible. In Ireland we have found that TV producers (like us all) must find ways to do more with less and through collaborations with NALA and others, it has been possible to explore linking basic skills content to nature programmes, health programmes, consumer programmes. Think Open University for upskilling but financed through State support for public broadcasting. Its a very attractive hook that can ease access to more formal learning. We will be looking at it in relation to how it might address letting the nation know about learning opportunities.


David Puttnam, a man who knows a lot about this area, is Ireland's digital champion and you can hear his views on the subject in an excerpt from a recent 4 part documentary NALA contributed to called Making Ireland Click 





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Thank you to everyone that has taken part, I think we can all agree that this afternoons discussion has covered lots of interesting information. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our Thematic Coordinator Simon Broek for his time and input, who will be closing the organised discussion now. We will however be leaving comments open so please feel free to continue the discussion.

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We discussed two issues:

How do we ensure that digital tools provide a valuable contribution in providing basic skills for all adults (i.e. making ‘upskilling pathways a reality’)?

We saw that many of you have examples of good practices on using digital tools in basic skills acquisition.

The discussion also highlighted some factors for success, such as:

  • learning needs to be relevant
  • learning needs to be tailored to life of the learners
  • accessible (via own device/phone)
  • supported or provided in a blended way
  • professionals need to be qualified and have expertise in using digital tools
  • Learning needs to be individualised, not based on stereotypes. Every learner is an individual.

What is needed at the level of the adult learning professional; the level of the institution; the policy level to ensure effective use of digital tools?

Here we moved towards what needs to be done at different levels to make better use of digital tools for basic skills acquisition.

We saw that many of you have clear ideas where there are challenges:

  • Digital is definitely not for all (some might miss out if provision is primarily online). Policy makers need to be aware of this
  • You need professionals that can deal with digital tools
  • Digital needs to be used for quality reasons not out of efficiency reasons
  • All learning (also digital learning) should be attuned to individual needs
  • Intergenerational learning could provide an answer in the workplace

This is definitely not the end of this discussion; rather I hope it is the start for continued fruitful exchanges (either bilateral or on EPALE) and that it adds to the knowledge base of all those involved in adult learning in Europe.

To speak for myself, I learned a lot! Thank you,


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This is a very important issue of our discussion today. Digital learning is often a pre-requisite to any other kind of learning nowadays, especially for adults that are not familiar with technologies and their advantages. Therefore if they learn how to utilize those digital tools, they already have gained skills. Only then, policy makers, developing institutions and trainers can make the other step of using digital tools of adults to help them acquire other skills.

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It's tricky to know which way round - probably because it's both simultaneously.   But it's complex too... My generation is interesting (50-55). My friends tend not to use Facebook but use tablets and laptops all day long...!  They can't see the point of Facebook, but there is a reason to shop online...

Maybe finding individual motivations needs individual knowledge of learners - but adult educators are well equipped in that respect :)

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In April our regional group will be engaged in a mobility activity in Finland. The aim is to explore how Finnish schools use technologies to improve L2 teaching and learning and to enhance migrants inclusion.

We are interested in visiting projects and groups working in the same issues.

Thanks a lot for this inspiring discussion, feel free to contact me

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This seems like a great initiative! My PhD research is focusing on the same topics: how digital learning among newcomers can enhance their social inclusion. I would like to hear more about your experiences and the impressions you gather in Finland! Unfortunately, I have to leave the discussion already. I will catch up on all of your posts. Thanks for the great inspiration and discussion everyone.

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Hi Flavia,

Thank you very much for your contribution! EPALE members can contact you through your profile (clicking on your name and then clicking the 'Contact' button). I'd recommend that you click 'Edit' under your comment and remove your emails from there to avoid receiving SPAM. SPAM bots can crawl websites on the web and search for 'exposed' emails such as these ones above.

I'd also recommend using EPALE's Partner Search tool as a way of finding relevant projects and working groups. You can learn more about EPALE's partner search and how it can help you here.

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Hello Everybody,

I am Roseline Le Squère, expert EPALE,from the university of south brittany.

I am working about relations between education and employement.

Digital is THE topic at this moment.

Digital is changing our practices.But it also calls into question the modes of management, the accompaniment of professionals in the continuity of their tasks.The university of south Brittany is a partner of the NetMe-In project, which aims to create a community of European practices on the uses of social networks as a tool for employability : @NETME_INThe region of  South Brittany  has also set up a collective of professionals and citizens to improve the digital transitions: RN165.

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The new generations enter in the labor market with a capacity to think and act transversally.Digital brings this ability there, to new generations.Previous generations still have a vertical mode of operation: vertical hierarchies.These two modes of operation will face more and more.With the need to review more transversal management methods.It is a digital contribution.Digital will continue to act on professional practices.The need for training will also be important to deal with.Young generations arriving in companies will sometimes "educate" their leaders on digital practices / tools.

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So education must not fall behind the wider social and business trends...Indeed it should move ahead of them!

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The new generations enter in the labor market with a capacity to think and act transversally.Digital brings this ability there, to new generations.Previous generations still have a vertical mode of operation: vertical hierarchies.These two modes of operation will face more and more.With the need to review more transversal management methods.It is a digital contribution.Digital will continue to act on professional practices.The need for training will also be important to deal with.Young generations arriving in companies will sometimes "educate" their leaders on digital practices / tools.

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In terms of what can be changed on a provider level: The JISC guide is a great example for how skills providers can make the most of digital technology to support their learners to gain employment and progress in their careers. The report is structured around five themes:

  • Developing your digital vision
  • Building a robust digital environment
  • Developing staff digital capabilities
  • Empowering and engaging learners
  • Embedding technology within inclusive curriculum and assessment practices


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Motivation to learn is most important for older people and socially socially excluded. It's important that success stories would reach those who are demotivated to learn. An example from Lithuania: when implementing a project "Libraries for innovation" (implemented with support from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, similar projects have been implemented also in other European countries - Poland, Latvia, Romania) there was a motivational movie "1000 Opportunities" created. Storyline is based on 3 true life stories that reveal the daily life in villages and efforts to improve life quality and opportunities by gaining digital competences. These examples were selected out of almost 500 stories that were told by library visitors who got trained on computer literacy. Thousands of people have been encouraged to learn.

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This is an excellent initiative that, I think, creates a social bond that digital technology will not replace.It is a change of society in which the links, the interconnaissances, the sharing to which the digital must contribute.

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Dear all, thanks for your comments and inputs! I am Cristina Santini and I work as assistant professor @ an open University, the Università San Raffaele in Rome, Italy.  

I am resposible for graduate program and I have found your comments extremely useful. 

Thanks again. 

Feel free to contact me @ 


Cristina Santini 

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Something I sometimes hear is that institutions are interested in going digital as a means to safe (staff) costs. This is not the right reason and not true.

I conducted a study once (on digital in HE) and developing digital content in the right way is very costly: it requires you toe rethink and re-structure your instructional design, digitise materials and allow the training to be tailored and responsive.

The right reason (as indicated in eealier comments) for providers to go digital is quality (meaning relevance, accessibility, effectiveness etc.)

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Indeed, things can be standardised, but if learners have the impression that they use standard exercises which are not in any way attuned to their needs, expectations, life, it is easy to loose interest. This hence calls for adult educators that have the knowledge and experience to tailor the digital offer for their learners (just like they do in an analogue world).

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Quoting: "calls for adult educators that have the knowledge and experience to tailor the digital offer for their learners" - I totally agree! IMO, adult educators offen thinks that digital tools are "next level" of learning and teaching. But they are learning resource as pens and papers. Technology supports the learning only then, when we use this purposefully, so if the learning objectives enables the use of technology we should use this. If there are no why we can do this learning using digital tools, then we should push it. What I try to tell, is that in learning process, we should treat use of technology as it was something special. It should use hand to hand with the learning objectives and outcomes. But this is actually the new approach to learning and this requires the new webinar-time J

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In his President’s Lecture for 2016, Simon Nelson explores how increasing access to education, delivered online in a flexible way, can help towards addressing some of the world’s future needs. He suggests the transformation that needs to take place to make the education system fit for purpose, and outlines new approaches to emerging societal challenges that will ensure generations of learners are inspired, engaged and empowered.

It's quite a long video but maybe people can save it for later:

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In sweden we have the problem of that people that made decsions about digital upskilling belive tha people already are digital included. Its a problem when they only talk about the technical side. There are so much more about it that concearns the knowing and understanding skills of how to - why to - what to skills. 

The more people centred view, work with people so that they could be part of the digital society are perspektive left out. The decionsmakers the people in leadership of organizations neglect the problem with those who have acsess to but don´t know how to use....

The PIACC survey did show this problem a bit but here should be even more statistic about what kind of divide and costs it´s consecvensis give. It will give costs for the european socitey in different ways if we dont take people further on the pathway. We need more statistics.

It needs funds to day a lot of people do this work to support people voluntary. Yes its good but to come further on there need to be a greater funding to initiatives and organisaations to do the work.

Leadership need to get aware about the real situation and focus on this need in the strategical programme before its to late. Programmes toward leadership on the situation and needs needs to be made. 

All of our contires need to get people in diffrent courses and training programmes to be equipped with 

digital skills to be active citizens in the society for : everyday life, working life, life in the society and for lifelong learning. Its a huge challenge! But theres no other way...


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Policies are sometimes developed on the basis of assumptions, or the skills levels of majorities ('most people can use digital tools'). This is problematic when discussing basic skills acquisition as it creates additional barriers; some of which digital can also remove...


Related to this, Barry Hake points to a broader concern in his recent blog: /en/blog/digital-learning-young-wine-looking-old-bottles

Online communication for older people should be a question of enhancing their ‘social connectivity’, reducing their sense of exclusion from the local community, and enhancing their contacts with other people in their day-to-day lives. This can involve organising local study groups to:

1) discuss how digital technologies are changing older people’s lives;

2) exchange positive and negative experiences of the digital world;

3) explore how digital skills can help them improve their quality of life.

How to convince the leadership in policy making, companies, communities and providers?

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Yes, we do keep repeating the same things, don't we? But we are advancing little by little, creating consensus at European level about what is needed, and sharing good examples, proven methods, ideas to adapt...

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When we talk about the need to upskill teachers in their digital competence, we often forget that teachers are busy and that their time costs money. We need efficient, pragmatic and flexible systems for the professional development of staff. 

One way of doing this is facilitating communities of practice where good didactic approaches can be shared. Very much what we are doing here right now, but maybe with a narrower focus on a particular target group.

In Norway there is a very successful Facebook group for teachers of initial literacy to adult migrants. I am often surprised at the richness of the peer learning that goes on there!

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Hello everybody, my name is Martin Dobeš, I am in the EPALE expert team of the Czech Republic and for the past 10 years, I have been been trying to bring innovations and new approaches in adult education, mostly being part of the NGO sector. I see one of the theme of the disscussion is smart technology and how to make it use widely in the population. 

Some reflections to the theme - I am not an expert on the theme, so please take it as only some ideas. Not only here in the Czech Republic, but basically anywhere in the world, the issue of digital inclusion of adults is not so much about IT or hardware skills or even about having the right hardware – it is much more about motivation. As I have travelled long time in countries generally considered as developing countries, I have seen that more and more people even from the bottom social classes are in possession of a smart phone or a simple PC in many cases and they do have some basic IT skills. We all have seen pictures and videos of refugees arriving in Europe with smart phones in their pockets, communicating via Facebook in a desperate effort to get as much information about their potential future as possible. Most of these people belong to younger generation, however. They use social networks, Skype, Google, and they know how to get information there which they need. I have encountered numerous situations where young people, adults or youngsters from countries like India, Pakistan, Syria, Oman etc. deal with their smart phones, computers and other devices with ease, while their parents and grandparents live in a completely different world. These elderly people often have fears from the digital world, they are often much more conservative than their Western counterparts and do not have a motivation to upskill digitally. To a certain extent, this applies to elderly people in Central and Eastern Europe as well.

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The problem as I see it is fear and doubts of those who do not live in the digital world or refuse to live in it. What is needed at the policy level as well as the level of an institution and a professional is an increased ability to promote and advocate. We need to understand why an adult from a certain country or region might need to use more IT skills, how the digital world might improve his/her everyday life and generally benefit from it. It is about profound understanding of individual needs on one hand and individual benefits this person can have from having IT skills on the other hand.

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As Ben Vaske from the Netherlands (he couldn't join today) in his blog writes:

“We need to move from the idea of classroom teaching to a fundamentally different approach where ICT solutions play a large part, where there is plenty of recognition of both informal and non-formal schooling, where we recognise that adults develop their own learning patterns and take control of their own development, and where we use other forms of guidance, incorporating  marketing techniques and stimulating partnerships in order to help develop that market properly from the start.” /en/blog/opening-new-market-adultbasic-education

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Motivations are great but also understanding of that there need to be time for upgrading for all of us. Not during a certain course and you are ready. In the society we live in this is a continous work and something we need continususley need time and space for. It need to be part of policys and workstrategies of teachers but also as a understanding of conditions for our lifes. 

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I agree. We must pay attention to those who never have learned how to learn. Unicef estimates that 263 million children are not in school. Children become adults, some of who were married when they were 13-15 yrs of age, and they raise children. We encounter these adults in our program, They do not use the internet or devices, often they can't read/write, but most importantly: they have barriers in their learning capacity because of a life long internal and external process of exclusion > low self esteem and self-confidence. 

In other words, learning needs are sometimes very fundamental: learning to speak one's mind, to express feelings and opinions, to hold a pencil or pen, to read the clock and structure daily life.

I think digital media can help, but as an instrument. The pedagogical aspect should be leading, not technology.

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This is indeed a very interesting blog, dear Simon and David – thank you! Sorry to say: I have to leave the discussion for the reason of other obligations but also technical problems. I want to say a big THANK YOU to everybody for sharing ideas and projects!!

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Digital can indeed not be the 'silver bullet' for solve all problems for all target groups. This does raise the issue to what extent can digital provide an answer in the 'Upksklling Pathways' initiative. It could work for quite a large group, but surely not for all...

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You make some very good points Martin. Understanding adults' motivation is a central issue. In a blog for Digital Learning Week I wrote about the importance of including the concept of digital taste in our discussions. Once adults see the benefits of engaging with technology in this context, once they have ‘taste’ for digital, the next step, learning how to use it, becomes more meaningful. 

Your two example groups suggest that while we should build on the younger generations’ familiarity with mobile technologies to deliver and support learning, we should be aware of the need to help other groups to first see the benefits of digital technology before subsequently acquiring digital skills.


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As we already move into discussions on what is needed to facilitate basic skills acquisition through digital tools, let’s discuss the second topics of our discussion which concerns:

What is needed at the level of the adult learning professional; the level of the institution; the policy level?

Here I would like to discuss:

  • What is needed in terms of skills and confidence for adult learning professionals to use digital tools?
  • How can institutions support the use of digital tools?
  • How can policies support the use of digital tools in upskilling those with low levels of basic skills?

Please share your experiences on this!

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In Sweden we, FSO, have made a digital guide for teachers and pedagogs to be safer and comfortable in using digital methods and digital tools in the groups and classrooms. Sorry it´s in Swedish but you find it here

We do Workspace tranings as follow ups. Workspace are what it say: Working time on a safe place together with collageues where you can develop the knowledge and digital materials you need to come on the track of using digital tools in your classes and courses. Practical in a supportive environment for one or two days. 

We are still making even more material for teachers in adult education to give basic knowledge of basic usages of digital tools as a result of what we find out many times when we meet teachers.

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