In today’s fast-paced world, the need for continuous learning among adults is more important than ever, particularly during times of crisis. This is a sentiment that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) emphasised already 50 years ago, highlighting in their report ’Recurrent Education: A Strategy for Lifelong Learning (1973)’. Today, the OECD, in collaboration with the Global Commission on the Future of Work, has found through its PIAAC survey that societies with declining literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills suffer from economic underdevelopment and social disintegration. The ILO also supports the same idea, highlighting in their report “Working for a Brighter Future” (2019) that lifelong learning is key to proactively responding to crises and building more resilient organisations.
The EU has also arrived at the ambitious goal of the New European Action Plan on Adult Learning (2021) to raise participation in adult learning annually to the rate of 60% as an average of member states, and at the same time, pointed to the importance of professionalisation in adult education. We must realise that not only the complexity of early school leaving but the neglected matter of quality basic skills provision and second chance schooling are two severe issues which may go hand-in-hand with limited or missing attention to the professional development of adult educators in several member states of the EU. These issues directly impact competitiveness, employability, mobilities, social inclusion, identities, and active citizenship across Europe.
In some countries, the Council’s Recommendation on Upskilling Pathways sparked new national initiatives for offering opportunities for basic skills learning and upskilling for adults with low levels of education and basic skills in the last couple of years. Special tools like ILA and micro-credentials to increase participation may get highlights and support through upcoming national strategies and actions. But besides creating new incentives and tools and upgrading the training supply for the quantitative expansion of participation, the professional development of adult educators has yet to receive more recognition and attention in many European countries. This is a crucial aspect of quality provision, which ensures a relevant and engaging learning experience for the learners, and highly contributes to the retention and progression of the learners and to achieve their goals effectively. One must mention, too, that literacy and basic skills are often missing or underrepresented in professionalisation programmes for adult educators, even at MA levels.
The European Basic Skills Network (ESBN) and its partners are strongly concerned that basic skills development and, accordingly, professional development for basic skills teachers is a relevant response at times of crisis to enhance the skills of adults in Europe, to increase resilience and to develop essential transversal skills necessary for the workplace and community engagement.
Starting the European Year of Skills for 2023, the Professional Development Series (PDS) of EBSN has reached an advanced phase of applying MOOCs to develop the professional skills and competencies of basic skills teachers helping adult learning to improve with better performance.
Providing contributions to policy cooperation at the European Union level, the KA3 Action of the Erasmus+ programme supported the development of six innovative Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) as part of the project Professional Development Series for Basic Skills Teachers (PDS4BST). These MOOCs are designed to engage teachers, educators, mentors, and facilitators of adult learning to develop professionally in a digitalised learning environment adaptable to changing learning needs.
The MOOCs cover a range of topics responding to challenges basic skills teachers face during their day-to-day practice: Approaching Digital Teaching & Learning, Basic Literacy, Diversity & Interculturalism, Empowering Adult Learners of Basic Skills, Digital Basic Skills Programs for Adults, and Facilitating the Learning Process. The MOOCs include four units with six to seven hours each, self-instructed study with self-checks, and thematic forums to ensure active professional development. Facilitators also directly support learners to overcome obstacles and effectively process learning content. At the same time, participants can also reflect on their experiences and participate in peer learning events via three interactive live webinars. The MOOCs are extended into eight weeks, and participants can earn a certificate and an EBSN digital badge after completing each of the 25-hour courses.
The MOOCs are designed to offer flexible accreditation options for higher education institutes and bridge the Professional Development Series to micro-credentials, essential to enhance flexible learning, recognition, and validation of formerly collected skills. Each MOOC might be recognised as 1 ECTS point by a higher education institute or adapted and incorporated into national frameworks for CPD by relevant authorities.
While the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the PDS4BST project by at least 6 to 8 months, the commitment of EBSN and its partners has helped to step forward since the Spring of 2022. The project has undergone challenges and faced strict timelines. Still, the PDS activities will be channelled into further developing the six MOOCs to reach better quality, transparency, and effectiveness.
This blog provides a platform for participants to share their reflections and recommendations on the structure, content, focus, and usefulness of this MOOC-based format. Moreover, it offers the opportunity to signal the progress and results of ongoing testing of some MOOCs between March and late May 2023 and further project development for the rest of this year. Interested professionals can continue to register for new online courses offered for teachers of basic skills through the EBSN Professional Development Series in the following years.
The EBSN Annual Conference 2023 will be connected to quality aspects in basic skills development, with specific attention to the training of teachers and adult educators to generate further dialogue towards challenging issues of professionalisation of basic skills provision.
The MOOCs are an innovative and effective means of professional development for Basic Skills Teachers, especially in today’s fast-changing world. The MOOCs’ flexibility and adaptability to changing learning needs and national contexts are essential for developing transversal skills necessary for workplace and community engagement.
Dr. Prof. Balázs Németh – University of Pécs
Zoltán Várkonyi – The European Basic Skills Network (EBSN)