Can digital and online adult learning increase employability?
The global information society brings rapid technological, economic and social changes, requiring constant adjustments in all areas of human activity, including education. To make the modern society efficient, education should enable higher level of knowledge and capacity for different tasks in life to every individual, as well as provide equal opportunities and social inclusion for all.
Development of information and communication technologies has significantly impacted the change in access to learning and education, particularly when it comes to adults. Quick and easy access to information means creating conditions for the development of new forms of learning (like digital and online learning), facilitating adult inclusion into the world of knowledge. New forms of learning are more adjusted to individual needs of learners. Learning is performed via computer and the Internet, enabling learning from any place, any time. Educational process is carried out in constant interaction, in the direction learner-educational content-teacher, without the need for teachers and course participants to be physically at the same place. Learning is carried out through the full interaction of learners. Multimedia teaching aids are used for teaching.
But can these new forms of learning (like digital and online learning) be used for all learners? To what extent can they be used with the adults who were educated in a traditional way? Are the adults interested? Do they have the skills necessary for e-learning? Are they familiar with e-tools? Do they have the possibilities to use and apply them?
Researches show that adults included in the learning process usually know what they want and what they should learn. Most of them are familiar with the framework within which they can obtain information and knowledge, they know where to search for learning opportunities, and they possess the skills for their development in practice. They are self-motivated and want to learn relevant information find answers and solve problems. They have an already created perception of themselves and it is more difficult for them to accept failure. Still, if they previously had negative experience, it is more difficult for them to master the new skills.
They are not as ready to learn and accept new ideas as the younger learners. That is why they usually do not possess skills for using the new media in learning, and they should be prepared to function in the new media environment.
Adults also have less time for training and development (because of work, family, health status, financial and other reasons). It is interesting to mention that researches show that adults are usually unaware of free time they have available after the completion of work duties, and that they are not motivated enough to give up their lifestyle (leisure, hobbies, socializing, watching TV...).
In developed countries, digital and online learning are widely accepted and popular with adults because of their flexibility and cost efficiency. In Serbia, although numerous strategic documents recognize the importance of these new forms of learning, they are still not used by many people.
Why are these forms of learning not used more frequently in Serbia, even if the educational structure of adults is rather unfavourable (a large share of persons without qualifications and with lower qualifications and low degree of education), and if there is a need for upgrading the competences and adjusting them to the labour market requirements? All the statistical indicators show that in Serbia there is a gap between the structure of workforce and labour market demand, and that more and more individuals are excluded from the labour market (as reflected by the high unemployment rate, low activity rate, high NEET rate, long-term unemployment, job vacancies that cannot be filled, impediments for the investors due to the lack of appropriate workforce etc.), (Source: Serbian Census for 2012; ARS, 2018; NES newsletters, 2018).
How can digital and online education be used to strengthen competences of unemployed adults in Serbia? Can they contribute to acquiring transversal competences and adopting the knowledge and skills that enable employability and increased mobility of workforce on the labour market? Finally, can we talk about digital and online learning as a potential new measure of active employment policy?
The answer is YES.
Digital and online learning may be one of the solutions for overcoming these problems. As the budgets are limited and as they frequently represent a limiting factor for the attendance of a higher number to educational programmes, they may contribute to an increased inclusion of adults into educational programmes. They may also contribute to the increased inclusion of adults from the unemployable categories into educational programmes (particularly the adults from rural and less developed areas, with lower degree of education, socially vulnerable, marginalized, the ones whose competences and qualifications are not in demand on labour market, that are excluded from the world of education, work and training), and their increased activation (primarily of those from NEET category).
They may also contribute to the current educational offer and increased quality of teaching, better adjustment of training structure to the needs and interests of course participants. Through learning, adults can recognize and better understand the values of lifelong learning both in terms of interests and in terms of career advancement.
Finally, they can help adults overcome psychological barriers (lack of self-confidence, self-respect, sense of social exclusion, fear of failure...), which frequently represent an impediment for the inclusion into lifelong learning programmes.
How can we overcome the issues related to providing capacities for digital and online learning in Serbia, as many people do not have the appropriate equipment? At this moment, the problem could be solved through the use of the resources in Job Search Clubs, Information and Psychological Counselling Centres (CIPS) and similar places.
We should focus on eliminating prejudice about new technologies in particular, as well as prejudice regarding adults.
Digital and online learning could be efficiently introduced as a new measure of active employment policy (APZ) within a package of services, with numerous activities (steps) to facilitate preparation and delivery of training in a new media environment. Among other things, the package should include: motivation and activation of potential course participants, mastering the terminology and technology used in these types of education, free access to aids for digital and online learning and teaching.
Considering the possibility of mass inclusion of the unemployed persons into the lifelong learning process, the effects of such active employment policy measure would be significant, as they would accelerate the process of training and development of adults, contribute to an increased activation and employability of adults, first of all the ones from the unemployable categories.