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Socially inclusive ICT based adult learning

Although participation in adult education is increasing in Belgium, it is still below the European average. In 2010 only 3.1% of low-educated Belgian adults participated in adult education. The EU has set a 2020 target for average participation in lifelong learning at 15% for adults aged 25-64. The challenge is therefore to provide opportunities of adult education, especially for disadvantaged groups, e.g. low-educated, minorities, elderly people... This research programme brings together complementary knowledge in e-/blended learning and adult education, to explore the social and professional inclusive function of ICT-based adult learning - with a focus on disadvantaged groups.

The research programme is designed against the background of two global trends in (adult) education. On the one hand, the steep rise of computer- and web-based technologies has led to the development of blended learning environments whereby students’ learning activities are supported by ICT- and face-to-face based instructional interventions. On the other hand, adult education is confronted with the need to serve heterogeneous target groups and to expand its offer to learners with higher educational and social challenges. ICT-based adult learning lies at the intersection of these trends. Despite multiple ‘conveniences’ and potential advantages, its potential has so far remained largely untapped. ICT-based learning is especially appealing for adult education as adult learners have specific needs and confront specific challenges such as combining a job and participating in an educational program. Some Flemish CVOs and other adult training centers have adopted e-/blended learning trajectories to meet the needs of adult learners and to support workplace training in cooperation with employers. However, dropout is an issue adult education is facing. Learners participating in adult education are very diverse, with many of them in an educationally or socially vulnerable situation; therefore, addressing the needs of this specific learner group is of critical importance.

Based on consultations with partner CVOs and VDAB, scientific questions have been formulated in view of challenges facing providers of adult education in Flanders and Brussels while introducing and further developing technology enabled learning opportunities for adult learners. The research theme was subdivided in two research lines. The first one deals with the question “To what extent can ICT-based learning increase the access to and participation of adult learners in formal adult education?”, the second aims to answer “To what extent can ICT-based learning play a role in strengthening the social and professional inclusion of adult learners?”. In this way, the research programme aims to produce the lacking evidence and empirical research on social effects of ICT-based adult learning.

The results will be integrated within a coherent theoretical framework focusing on how ICT-based learning can meet the needs of various social groups, particularly disadvantaged learners, and how ICT-based learning experience can influence their social and economic situation. In this way, the research team will build knowledge in these overlapping areas: adult education, ICT-based learning, social inclusion and professional competences. Community-wise, this research will address adult learners and non-learners from disadvantaged groups in Brussels and Flanders, and will thus be relevant for the implementation of Brussels Action Plan for Fight against Poverty and the EU Digital Agenda.




Prof. Dr. Chang Zhu
Department of Educational Sciences
Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences
02/629.26.30, Chang.Zhu@vub.ac.be

Prof. Dr. Tom Vanwing
Department of Educational Sciences
Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences
02/629.26.24, Tom.Vanwing@vub.ac.be

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