New Pathways for Adult Education and Life-Long Learning

Author: Dr Svetlana Belic Malinic, Academic Director at LINK Educational Alliance, Serbia

The new EU Digital Education Action Plan 2021-27 (DEAP) has put a great emphasis on fostering the development of a high-performing digital education ecosystem and enhancing digital skills and competences for the digital transformation. This emerged not only from the recent pandemic crisis but also from the studies carried out pre-Covid, which showed that on average “less than 40% of educators across the EU felt ready to use digital technologies in teaching”. However, there is scarce research on how digitalisation affected adult and life-long education, which prompted organisations and institutions, which focus on these areas of education, to react.

What is missing in the DEAP?

The AGE platform, a European network of non-profit organisations of and for people aged 50+, claims that the EU “seems to overlook the potential of learning and digital education for older persons in improving their skills and life projects”. They argue that the EU education and training policies often target only learners who are active in the labour market, with a special focus on reskilling and upskilling while there is obviously a lack of educational opportunities relevant for persons who have left the labour market.

The European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA), which monitors and impacts European policies on non-formal adult education, called on the EU to update the DEAP and extend its impact on non-formal adult education as “an imperative channel to promote life-long learning skills, social cohesion and resilience, indispensable to cope with in any crisis”. Needless to say, it is indeed the adult learning and education (ALE) that equips learners with life skills and competencies, which transcends the mere concept of education for employability

A call for change

The new Eurydice report on adult education and training in 42 education and training systems across 37 European countries, investigates current approaches to promoting lifelong learning, with a particular emphasis on policies and measures supporting adults with low levels of skills and qualifications to access learning opportunities. It strongly supports transformative agendas that would ensure flexible learning pathways, validation of non-formal and informal learning and guidance services, among others.

The EU’s response to this trend, the European Skills Agenda, aims to help individuals and businesses develop more and better skills through upskilling and reskilling programmes reaching the target of 47 % of adults participating in learning activities every year by 2025. This objective has been scaled up in the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, which aims at 60% of adults participating in education and training every year by 2030, as endorsed during the Porto Social Summit in May 2021.

A new pathway for ALE

“Digital learning that is suitable to all is based on a competent ALE workforce”, claims the EAEA. They explain that the pandemic left this sector with a scarce number of experienced trainers and train-the-trainer programmes in ALE while thousands of the freelance educators are left in precarious situations. This calls for an immediate action and a new path for ALE, which would ensure that the digital future would embrace methodological, pedagogical and technological innovation and educational changes, which would allow for participatory and reflective learning.

With a view to making online learning opportunities more accessible and agile, the integration mechanisms should complement it with offline guidance services, which would not only ensure access but also raise awareness about existing programmes, scaffolding digital non-natives into a giant leap towards Europe’s new digital era.

Some of these ideas will be presented at the EPALE conference, 12 – 13 October 2021, which will provide and an opportunity to discuss how adult education and learning can help reshape our society, promoting inclusive and sustainable models. Digital education and learning that is empowering will not only prepare learners for new challenges, but also contribute to digital transformation and innovation across Europe.