Recently, Walt and I participated in the Annual Conference and AGM of the Educational Centres Association (ECA), held in Leicester. The ECA supports LSEN in our work, and is a key educational organisation at a national and European level, which has been putting the learner at the centre of education for very-nearly 100 years.
York educational settlement, circa 1938 (I didn't take any photos of the recent meeting itself!)
The conference was titled 'Changing States - Lifelong Learning at a time of Transition', which, as the title indicates, was an appropriate and timely space for reflection on the turbulent state of adult, community, family, informal and lifelong learning, both in this country and across Europe.
Jim Bradley, from Stirling University, started off the day's talks with an engaging account of an initiative to help people who have been working in the field of adult education for years, but in which they may not have accrued the appropriate qualifications. The project Jim is developing is called the Real Project - Recognising Prior Learning and involves aggregating the training undertaken, and skills and knowledge gained over years (and, possibly, spanning separate careers), and mapping these activities and learning outcomes to national and other qualification frameworks. The work is advanced in Scotland, with partner pilot projects ongoing in Ireland and Estonia. The project will build on the success of the ECA’s Flexi-Path project and extend, adapt and develop the Flexi-Path toolkit so that it can be used by anyone teaching adults who wishes to accredit their competences based on relevant experience. It will use national qualification frameworks of the partner countries to help develop a toolkit focused on enabling learners to validate their own experience against their own national framework. It also hopes to change the power relationships which currently favour the receiving institution and tend to work against both the applicant and the whole ethos of recognising prior (experiential) learning.
I was prompted to think here about other initiatives which explore post-hoc qualifications, such as Wikiquals, as well as other open accredited initiatives such as Mozilla Badges or, possibly, MOOCs. This is certainly a turbulent but potentially very exciting avenue for education, and one which, I believe, is set to become increasingly significant over the next year or two. LSEN are currently engaged in thinking about how we might promote or make more use of Mozilla Badges – so, watch this space or, even better, get involved and share your thoughts!
Judith Robinson, ECA Trustee, then talked with passion about intergenerational learning, and Appreciative Inquiry. She introduced its concept of replacing the familiar SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) approach with SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results) - as a way of framing thinking about developmental processes in the positive and aspirational, and without becoming entrenched in problems and obstacles. She also recommended the AI Commons site as a key resource for anyone wishing to find out more about Appreciative Inquiry. I found it useful, and I think it's a nice methodology to think about how our groups, organisations and initiatives can 'soar'.
Bernard Godding, ECA chair, then gave an overview of the ECA's work in the last year or so - including the wonderfully acronym-ed 'Teddy Bear' project ('Twinning the Elderly Disadvantaged and Disabled with the Young By Enabling Active Reminiscence'), which is an innovative approach to intergenerational learning. See more here and, for more detailed info, there is a write-up of the Teddy Bear project in the journal 'Lifelong Learning in Europe'. There was so much other work, from projects around celebrating green spaces, and creating intergenerational artworks, to consultations on links between lifelong learning and wellbeing – if you want to be kept updated about the ECA's work, contact Bernard here.
After lunch, Mark Ravenhall, director of Policy and Impact at NIACE, gave a presentation on the work that NIACE does in promoting adult learning and how this fits within NIACE's mission and strategic objectives. I was pleased to hear Mark emphasising that NIACE is keen on strengthening the links between adult learning and local democracy - a view which we share in LSEN. He also gave a lovely example which illustrates the varied and meandering paths that a learning journey will take us on. A woman was asked by a colleague, having seen that she had a degree in Military History how she had got involved in the subject. The answer that came back – “Bellydancing”!!!
The discussion moved onto strategic activity at a European level, with a presentation by Gina Ebner on the work of the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) This involved a 'behind the scenes' look at the negotiations between the European Commission, European Parliament, and various other organisations on defining the direction of the EU's learning programmes. 'Erasmus for All' is the working title of the overall programme - and there was also detail on the continuance of 'Grundtvig', the lifelong learning / adult education strand, which has supported and facilitated several ECA projects. Sue Waddington, president of the EAEA, then summarised key points about these strands of activity, and outlined thoughts and challenges for the future.
In summary, it was a very stimulating day. The ECA is a fantastic organisation which, as I've mentioned, has a wealth of history. On the train down to Leicester, Walt gave me a detailed and passionate account of the ECA's history, the learning and networking initiatives it has facilitated, the archives it has amassed - and I was thinking, as he was speaking, that I really should have been filming or somehow capturing this story, this enthusiasm! But like so many initiatives around adult and informal learning, the ECA is struggling to sustain itself within the resources available - and it needs supporting.
LSEN would obviously like to see the ECA continue into its second century - and we are proud to announce that Walt was elected Honorary Secretary for the ECA, at the AGM held at lunchtime, in recognition of his work with the Association for a number of years.
With a great deal of resources currently being channelled into the development of Community Learning Trusts, I think it's essential that the wealth and depth of knowledge in an organisation like the ECA is kept relevant for inspiring and promoting learning, and not lost in the turbulent rush of ‘the new’.