What was the main purpose of this project?
“Adult education is a very heterogenious field. Estimated more than 100.000 people are actually working in this sector all over Austria, but there is no clear occupational profile, no standardised education or training and no specified pathway to this sector. People are working in adult education on a regular base, in a second job, as volunteers or as freelancers – but there was no clear standard defining what competences are necessary for working in this sector.
Over the years many of the traditional adult learning centers had created their own educational pathways for their staff, for trainers, for counsellors or managers in adult education. These qualifications are existing in parallel, there was no systematical approach for comparing or harmonising them and very often the adult education centers did not recognise the training offers of the others.
There was obviously an urgent need for developing a common understanding of what an adult educator should know and be able to and which competences are essential for this job. That’s why the major umbrella organisation for adult education in Austria, the Conference of Austrian Adult Education (Konferenz der Erwachsenenbildung Österreich) with its 10 important and big adult education centers, decided to create the so called “Austrian Academy of Continuing Education” (Weiterbildungsakademie, for short: wba). There was a strong wish to professionalise the education of adult education staff and to create a standard with defined competences. Thereby the profession “adult educator” was given profile and a quality development within the sector was pushed.
This new umbrella qualification called “wba-certificate” and, on a level of specialisation “wba-diploma” can be reached through validation, i.e. the recognition of prior learning from formal and non-formal settings or of informally acquired competences. Gaps of competences can be filled by attending modular courses offered by adult education centers all over Austria. The decision for this model was taken on purpose because the two ways of obtaining a qualification in adult education – traditional courses and the new validation pathway – can coexist.”
How did the project foster cooperations and partnerships?
“The Austrian Academy of Continuing Education (wba) is a cooperative project par excellence. It was founded by a huge partnership within adult education, the so called Cooperative System of AE (Kooperatives System der Österreichischen Erwachsenenbildung) which includes all member institutions of the Conference of Austrian AE (Konferenz der Erwachsenenbildung Österreichs) and the Federal Institute for AE (Bundesinstitut für Erwachsenenbildung). Yet the development and creation of wba was a participative process involving the already mentioned institutions, universities and research centers. They installed working groups and developed together qualification profiles (= curriculum) as well as the structure and organisation of the validation process.
Stakeholders and important partners were permanently included which represents one of the most important achievements. The vision of creating a validation offer for adult education which is over-institutional and not part of one of the members themselves could only be achieved by cooperation of all members. All involved people used their networks to find more supporting partners.
But not only the initiative and foundation of wba was based on cooperation, all developments and changes over the years were depending on partnership and cooperation as well. Just to name some examples: permanent development is managed by the steering commettee and an operational working group composed of representatives of all partner institutions. They are meeting several times a year to discuss strategic topics. Development and updates i.e. of the qualification profiles, the multiple-choice-test or the development of quality criteria are realized in working groups that are created whenever needed.
Transfer of knowhow from/to other good practice examples has always been an important factor in the development of wba. New networks are being established through the participation in international exchange projects. One successful European project in validation was the project “Transnational Peer Review in Validation of non-formal and informal learning Extended” which took place from 2015-2018. This project fostered the creation of a European network of validation providers and supported quality development in validation by using the instrument of Peer Review (which in its name already emphasises the idea of cooperation and peer learning). wba-staff is regularly present on national and international conferences (i.e. UNSECO-conference in New Delhi in 2012) and is going abroad for exchange (Study Visits, Erasmus+ mobilities etc.).
Resuming one could say that cooperation was and is the main success factor for the development of wba.”
Estimated more than 100.000 people are actually working in adult education sector all over Austria, but there is no clear occupational profile, no standardised education or training and no specified pathway to this sector.
What was the best practice learnt from this project that you want to share?
“The example of wba shows that there is no future without cooperation. All conflicts and problems that occurred over the years had their reason in a lack of integration and involvement of important stakeholders or partners. So a main factor of success is to stimulate and encourage participation and inclusion and to build strong and sustainable networks.
Another important practice learnt over the years is to keep in mind the needs of the target groups you are working for. Never forget why you are doing all this work: Not for yourself, not for your partners, but for your clients, the individual learners. That’s why at wba the needs and requirements of the candidates are always in the center. We had to find out step by step what our candidates need – the founders of wba still thought that they would find their way through the validation process on their own without individual guidance. What we found out was the opposite: Candidates need a lot of support and want to be guided through the process. That’s why counselling and guidance took an important role in the validation process of wba – just as international studies like the “European Guidelines for validating non-formal and informal learning” published by Cedefop are stating nowadays.
Last but not least: We found out that learning and being ready to develop is one of the most important factors. Never stop learning individually, but just as much as a whole organization. Stopping would lead to standstill and decline. That’s why I am encouraging my staff to learn, in structured courses as well as in exchange projects. This is motivating at the same time because it opens your eyes for new horizons. And in return, you are sharing your newly acquired knowledge afterwards with the organisation and that leads to new organisational developments and visions.”
Category: National projects
Coordinator: Weiterbildungsakademie Österreich
Focus: Validation of informal and non-formal learning, professionalisation of staff
Innovative cooperation: Strong support from a big umbrella organisation
Text: EAEAPhotos: Weiterbildungsakademie Österreich