Towards flexible learning models
Organised together with the University of Warwick, The Guild’s virtual seminar explored the potential of lifelong learning models, as representatives from European University alliances, the European Commission and EdTech providers debated the concrete benefits and challenges of flexible learning and micro-credentials. The seminar also provided a timely contribution to the European Commission’s public consultation on micro-credentials for lifelong learning and employability which is open until 13 July.
The Guild’s latest Insight Paper, launched in June, argues that universities should lend their distinctive strengths to lifelong learning, to open up programmes and adapt the curriculum to the needs of all students and a changing societal context.
Presenting the recommendations of the Insight Paper, its lead author Jo Angouri, Academic Director for Education and Internationalisation at the University of Warwick, explained that universities are required to strike the right balance between providing for long and short-term societal needs. “Universities need to train for a mindset–creativity–problem-solving attitude rather than either predicting a future that will constantly change or narrowly focusing on skills for jobs,” she emphasized.
Koen Nomden, Team leader in the Transparency and Recognition of Skills and Qualifications Unit at DG EMPL, highlighted the growing need for reskilling and upskilling throughout working life, with around 60 million low qualified adults and 44 percent of the population without basic digital skills. “Higher education institutions play an important role as providers of training,” Klara Engels-Perenyi, Policy Officer in the Higher Education Unit at DG EAC, noted. Regarding the current work on the EU’s approach to micro-credentials, she explained that stackability is useful to enable combining and building up towards bigger credentials. “What we hear from stakeholders, however, is that micro-credentials should not be combined into full degrees without a further final examination,” she told.
Providing a view from EdTech companies, Rajay Naik, Chief Executive Officer of Skilled Education, noted that higher education should be seen as a spectrum of learning, from short uncredentialed courses to micro-credentials to full degrees. “We need to make sure that this is a catalyst of increased access rather than reduced access for learners. There is a risk that we entrench some of the social disparities that we had before rather than widen access for everyone,” he told.
Speakers from European University alliances shared tangible examples of including flexible learning models into curricula. Rosette S'Jegers, Education Coordinator of EUTOPIA and Policy Advisor for the Vice-Rector at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, presented EUTOPIA’s pilot experiment where connected learning communities enable teachers and students to cooperate across disciplines and institutions. Courses are then reintegrated in existing curricula, making the model cost-efficient. Aleksandar Šušnjar, YUFE Institutional Coordinator and Student Journey work package co-lead at the University of Rijeka, highlighted individualised outcome and reward systems which enable students at YUFE to choose different sets of learning units that will lead to outcomes shaped by the student’s interests.
Zooming in on the opportunities of micro-credentials, Heli Harrikari, Director of Continuous Learning at Tampere University, explained that for ECIU, micro-credentials are at the core of a broader systematic change of higher education towards focusing on skills and competencies, instead of degrees, courses and credits. Frederik De Decker, Head of International Relations Office at Ghent University, representing ENLIGHT, emphasized the potential of micro-credentials in providing inclusive opportunities for learning, bringing individuals with diverse backgrounds together with traditional university students and in this way creating a powerful learning environment across age groups.
We also welcome a continued dialogue through our Padlet, and look forward to engaging with this and other topics as part of our series of reflections, workshops and discussions in the autumn. Stay tuned for the next seminar, hosted by the Aarhus University, taking place on 23 September.