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Digital transformation of education - increasing "life-wide" learning accessibility

The impact and consequences of digital transformation in increasing the accessibility of informal and non-formal learning opportunities.

Epale - Altheo VALENTINI - 02/11/2021

Digitalisation has changed the way in which we work, live and learn by requiring a constant updating of our skills, reskilling, upskilling and by pushing us to acquire new skills. We will never stop learning throughout our lives. That’s “life-wide learning”. But are all EU citizens equal when it comes to life-wide learning? Are there any gender, technological or age gaps? How can citizens be turned into ‘life-wide’ learners?

These are some of the questions that I have received in preparation for a podcast, which will soon be published on the DigiEduHack platform. It has given me the chance to reflect on the impact and consequences of digital transformation in increasing the accessibility of informal and non-formal learning opportunities for the adult population.

DigiEduHack is an EIT initiative under the European Commission's Digital Education Action Plan, led by EIT Climate-KIC and coordinated by Aalto University. This year’s edition will take place on 9-10 November 2021 in a series of online, blended and in-person events. The main stage event is hosted by the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union in cooperation with the International Research Center on Artificial Intelligence (IRCAI) under the auspices of UNESCO.

Many initiatives have already been implemented to favour the innovation of formal adult education programmes and environments thanks to the adoption of digital technologies and practices. However, we are still lacking a full and clear vision of how and to what extent the digital transformation of our society is influencing the cognitive and emotional dimensions of lifelong and "life-wide" learning.

What is certain is that the increasing exposure to, and interaction with, digital contents greatly widens the spectrum of educational scenarios that can be experienced in our everyday life. But this does not necessarily mean that the individual will retain the knowledge acquired while experiencing these contents.

Within this framework, self-awareness and self-assessment are key elements to fully recognise yourself as a ‘life-wide’ learner, including all types of learning and personal development. These include, learning and development in formal educational environments which is directed or self-managed and learning and development in informal (non-educational) situations. In fact, although I am not aware of studies that have categorised or profiled ‘life-wide’ learner personas so far, there are certain competences that should be practiced and developed if one wants to make the most of it:

  • the ability to recognise and take advantage of opportunities and the will and capability to get involved;
  • self-awareness derived from consciously thinking about and extracting meaning and significance from the experiences that populate our lives.

A perfect example is the senior citizen who is supposed to learn how to use a computer in order to access their online banking. The chances that this will happen are very low and, most probably, he or she will need help (from another person or written instructions) and the same will be true for similar activities in the future. Indeed, "life-wide" learning happens only if and when all the six assumptions of Knowels on adult learning are in place, and the need to learn is just one of these!

The development of competences starts at a deeper level than the repetition of concepts or actions. It embraces important aspects such as retention of knowledge, autonomy and self-direction.

Such an attitude is even more important when the learning process has a specific objective for the personal and professional development of the individual. Development which is no longer only aimed at the achievement of a faster economic growth, but that is also crucially important for the sustainable well-being of both people and societies.

Making education available and accessible to all citizens has always been one of the key priorities of the European Union. But there is still a lot that needs to be done in order to achieve satisfactory results, also in relation to ‘life-wide’ education. Indeed, many different aspects contribute to citizens being excluded from learning opportunities, not only at the level of formal education systems, but also from every-day non-formal and informal "life-wide" learning. For years social inclusion policies (including those on digital inclusion) have been trying to identify and rank the causes of the lack of accessibility to lifelong and "life-wide" learning.

Most of the time, the provided solutions have been based on the provision of equal opportunities. In my opinion, equality-based policies have failed (at least in the field of education) and there is an urgent need to switch to a more equity-based approach that values difference and inclusion as the main strategy. This is necessary in order to widen the access of education as much as possible, as well as to design and deliver flexible, modular and personalised training offers.

Immediate action should be taken by the relevant authorities and stakeholders to increase and improve the level of information and sensitisation among the adult population on the learning opportunities offered through the many initiatives supported by local and EU funds all over Europe.

In the light of this, All Digital, the pan-European network of digital competence centres, has recently published a revised version of the Manifesto for enhancing digital competences across Europe.

Digital skills and jobs are a key action area in the EU’s digital strategy (2019 – 2024) and the 2030 Digital Compass supported by a variety of initiatives announced as part of the European Skills Agenda, European Education Area and Digital Education Action Plan. The Manifesto seeks to contribute to dialogue, implementation, and co-operation on these and other actions in order to deliver Europe’s digital future, including key principles and recommendations under 5 main areas:

  1. The education and training offer
  2. Access to education and training
  3. Quality of education and training
  4. A European approach to digital competence
  5. Sustainability and development

Where to start? One of the first things to consider is that we need to anticipate the needs of the future. The skills which will be required in the future are not the same as those required just two years ago and will certainly be different again in another two years. We will need to be able to adapt to the needs and demands of the public sector and the world of work. But even those involved in training will have to be able to exploit the innovations that are now in the embryonic stage of development in order to gather useful data for new scenarios. For example, artificial intelligence or new integrated teaching methodologies.

While there are many experiences that bring excellent results, it must not be forgotten that the ability to integrate the various sectors and levels of education is still lacking.

Le contenu de cet article est de la seule responsabilité de son auteur - Epale - Altheo VALENTINI
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