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Marking Adult Learning

December 23, 2009

As I announced in Adult Learner: Speak out, we had our 1st Distance Transnational Conference on Adult Learning past Thursday December 17, 2009. The main objective was to close off the 2 year ongoing QUALC project (QUality Adult Learning Centres).

The conference took place both offline and online. Offline they were various national workshops. The online part aired in Live Stream and was open to all on the QUALC website and the Adult Learning NING.

The morning: Presentations and Workshops

In the morning, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Wales and the United Kingdom, presented their project findings. Romania didn’t partake due to technical fallout. The community in Second Life also joined in. The facilitators, Biancaluce Robbiani and James O’Reilly, took us on an extended journey through the virtual Adult Learning landscape.

During the presentations, we had several reactions on the twitter back channel. So off and on, Claudio Dondi — project head and the day’s chairman — commented on the updates. Half way through the morning, all withdrew to discuss the posed statements:

  1. Which is the best possible quality approach for Adult Learning: Quality Assurance or Quality Development?
  2. A European Network for the Adult Learning Centres: a potential opportunity to share learning and create innovation in reality and on the web?

Our facilitator Tim Casswell (UIA – Union of International Associations), recapped the morning findings: “Self-assessment is very important to the Adult Learning Centres; as is relating more to the community. And secondly, most centres have a curriculum that’s made up of artistically based courses”.

The afternoon: Video and Statements

We kicked off the afternoon with a video presentation made by NIACE, the United Kingdom group. The video emphasises among others that adult learners need a tutors’ empathy and a conducive learning environment. As this contributes to a pleasurable learning experience.

As for QUALC as a quality assurance procedure, NIACE explains: “The UK already has quality learning marks and frameworks. The question needs to be explored on how QUALC can fit in with the existing ones.”

Following up on the video, the groups all presented their conclusions to the national workshops held earlier. Dondi rounded it up into six main subjects.

Roundtable discusses

The roundtable panel consisting of Gina Ebner (EAEA – European Association for Education of Adults), Hans-Detlev Küller (ETUC – European Trade Union Confederation), Dondi and yours truly (representing the group of Adult Learners), proceeded to discuss the six subjects.

#1. Accreditation. Accreditation is common and often even regulated by law for the formal learning sphere. Yet it’s very much lacking in non-formal and informal learning. And, most Adult Learning Centres operate in the non-formal learning sphere.

The need was voiced by the participants to have accreditation as soon as possible for non-formal Adult Learning. One important question is though whether this should be on a national or transnational level.

#2. Certification. One participant expressed the fear that we end up focussing too much on accrediting and certifying non-formal Adult Learning. Adult Learning Centres striving for the certificate status, risk ignoring the curriculum of their courses and the actual needs of their learners.

Okay. It’s a possibility. Getting certified can become a goal on its own. But I believe we’re right there. There’s no need for us to fall asleep on the job.

#3. Competencies. Another participant suggested creating a framework of competencies. In fact, this can be a logical next step in the accreditation process. Indeed a difficult task, seeing the diversities of the courses the centres present. But when accomplished, it brings the needed recognition to the Adult Learning curriculum.

#4. Collaboration and Peer review. Then there’s the question of collaboration and peer review. As most centres operate regionally, the tendency is to compete with each other rather than collaborate. Ironically, it’s easier to collaborate on a transnational level than with your next door neighbour.

In my opinion this needn’t be a problem. The key to collaboration is the willingness to communicate and agree. I’m sure that the smaller centres can work something out concerning territorial claims. As long as they keep an open mind.

#5. Network. Adult Learning in the non-formal sphere is a substantial part of social learning. And with the available social media networking tools out there, it’s just wrong to ignore the opportunities on offer.

QUALC’s a proposed network for Adult Learning. As one conference participant puts it: “It would be excellent to develop social accounting methods across Europe as part of our quality development”. What better way to do this than through social networking?

#6. Grassroots vs. Top-down. I definitely favour a grassroots approach where control lies with the centres. Nonetheless, I also see the advantage on a regulatory level or with collaborative projects like QUALC. They’re needed to set out the broader framework in which the centres can operate.

Amazing mindmapping

The QUALC conference was all in all a valuable experience. The interaction was dynamic and vibrant, under the well executed management of Rolf Reinhardt. Without a doubt, my personal favourite highlight remains Tim Casswell’s graphic panel.

As he facilitated, he also graphically summarised the day. It was a visual and mental pleasure seeing the mindmap panel grow as the various comments and statements came rushing in. What appealed to me most was how it contrasted with and complemented the whole Live Stream setup and Second Life session. It totalled the conference perfectly.

More Information

An official conference video will published soon. I’ll keep you posted on that.
In the mean time, if you want to learn more about the day itself, please use #qualc on Twitter to follow up. You can also check out the QUALC ‘unofficial video snippet’.

Extra information on QUALC

Join the QUALC Group on LinkedIn
QUALC’s own Weblog
Follow Adult Learning on Twitter
EFQUEL (Foundation behind QUALC project)

A few Best Practices in Second Life on Learning

Using Second Life in an English Course
The School of Second Life: Education Online

The partners that participated in the conference

Germany: Institut für Lern-Innovation
Italy: SCIENTER
Romania: Innovate4Future
Sweden: CFL Söderhamn
United Kingdom: NIACE
Wales: University of Wales Newport

This is my personal view of the day. If you’ve got any questions or if there’s anything at all you’d like to add, please feel free to do so in the comments.
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