EU: Learning in Informal Online Networks and Communities

Published on: 26/02/2010
Last update: 10/11/2010
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Description (short summary):  
In 2008, as part of its policy support for the General-Directorate for Education and Culture of the European Commission, the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) launched a study to explore the innovative social and pedagogical approaches to learning that are emerging in new ICT-enabled collaborative settings. This is the final report on the project.

Lifelong learning plays a crucial role in society today as jobs, and the skills they require, are changing. Recent technological and social developments in online settings have the potential to support lifelong learning in new ways. Online collaborative spaces can support both intentional and non-intentional learning in new ways through various forms of participation.

These online platforms, networks and communities support learning all the key competences for lifelong learning, including new transversal skills and personal growth in a social context. However, ensuring digital fluency and self-regulated learning skills for all becomes a crucial challenge and enabler for lifelong learning. Furthermore, individuals need to be prepared for and interested in learning.

Communities can encourage their members to participate and learn with a sociable, openly-managed and developing culture. The report argues that online networks and communities can contribute to all the major European Education and Training policy objectives, i.e. modernising educational institutions to support the lifelong learning continuum with new opportunities for equity, quality and efficiency, and learning key competences and transversal skills.

However, a new learner-centred approach for lifelong learning by learners, education providers and employers is needed. All education stakeholders should engage in developing lifelong learning opportunities through collaboration and new partnerships.

Online communities can enable participation and through it more active citizenship on the part of people at risk of exclusion, such as disabled people, sexual and other minorities, or immigrants. The opportunity for anonymous participation can also be an important enabling factor for advice seeking or accessing a new community. For people who have problems in expressing their identities in the local neighbourhood and community, online communities can provide a sense of belonging, help them to accept themselves, improve their experienced quality of life and also make them more engaged in other activities in society.

Many online networks and communities encourage people, regardless of their ethnicity, geographical background, or education, to participate. They therefore provide an equal setting for collaboration and participation in tasks based on personal skills that can be further developed through participation. However, in reality, many requirements need to be met before people can start participating: for example, they must have access to ICT, the skill to use ICT confidently, communication skills (often in English language), some previous knowledge of  the community topic, and sometimes a particular membership or a professional certificate. These requirements may mean that a person who needs to learn about a particular topic or profession cannot enter the relevant online learning community. People with higher educational level tend to be more motivated and aware of opportunities to continue lifelong learning. Therefore, empowering and engaging people with lower education levels or social class need special attention, the report finds. 

Number of pages: 80

Description of license: © European Communities, 2010 - Reproduction is authorised provided the source is acknowledged

Nature of documentation: Official reports and studies

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