Conference participants discussing values in adult learning and education policies

EAEA Annual Conference 2022: Searching for the role of adult learning and education in a transforming world

EAEA Annual Conference on Transformative Learning and Values was held in Mechelen Cultural Centre, Belgium on 30-31 May 2022. The event gathered around 80 adult education professionals from 25 countries.

The purpose of the Annual Conference was to explore EAEA’s annual theme 2022, Transformative Learning and Values, linking it to the challenges that European societies are confronted with, such as green and digital transitions.

“We are in the middle of multiple transformations,” said EAEA President Uwe Gartenschlaeger opening the Annual Conference. “Much of the certainties in Europe are at stake at the moment.” Gartenschlaeger encouraged the participants to discuss the role of adult learning and education in the changes. How can we support the discussion?

Questioning and self-reflection are at the heart of transformative learning

The panel discussion, hosted by EAEA board members George Koulaouzides and Dina Soeiro, highlighted the key aspects of transformative learning. It was inspired by questions posed by the audience.

The panellists proposed that questioning and self-reflection are key to transformative learning. Transformative learning often happens in difficult circumstances. Also, participatory methods and clear guidelines are needed.

When conflicts about ideas are raised, transformative learning can happen.

“When conflicts about ideas are raised, transformative learning can happen,” stated Professor Laura Formenti from University Milano Bicocca. “We need to push people to ask questions: what are our assumptions, values, and perspectives? We should find ways to rephrase our questions and demands to other people who do not share the same values.”

Four women sitting on chairs, smiling
Deborah Oniah, Laura Formenti, Sophie van Vyve and Diana Soeiro at the panel discussion
A man standing, talking to microphone and holding a paper
George Koulaouzides

Inviting everyone to contribute

The panellists agreed that good environment for transformative learning is based on inclusion. Sophie van Vyve from Holocaust memorial Kazerne Dossin stated that open-mindedness, authenticity and inviting are the three most important values of the museum.

Inviting is the most important starting point of a conversation.

“In Kazerne Dossin, we try methodologies where we try to get in people involved who do not necessarily believe in a conversation. Inviting is the most important starting point of a conversation.”

A woman sitting on a chair and talking
Deborah Oniah
Three women sitting, one talking in microphone in the middle
Laura Formenti, Sophie van Vyve and Dina Soeiro

Transformative learning allows each learner to take individual learning lessons from the shared curricular in the classroom.

According to Deborah Oniah, who represented AONTAS, a teacher needs to provide a safe space and focus on the strengths that people bring with them, including all their experiences and skills.

“Transformative learning allows each learner to take individual learning lessons from the shared curricular in the classroom,” stated Oniah.

Oniah shared her story about finding her voice as a migrant in Ireland and overcoming trauma through learning. She also stressed that learner voice is an important testimony on the transformative power of learning and should be used when formulating adult learning policies.

The panellists also emphasised that hope is needed in these difficult times.

“In my work we are confronted with the horrors of history every day, so we rely on hope – in small and big contexts” said van Vyve. We can nurture hope by being hopeful ourselves.”

George Koulaouzides summarised the insightful roundtable discussion: “We created a disorienting dilemma in this room and brought you to a junction. You can decide where to go from here.”

A paper with a lot of post its attached to it, describing different values
Conference participants came up with a variety of values adult education should promote

Imposed, proclaimed and lived values in adult learning

On arrival to the conference the participants were asked “Which values do you think adult education should promote?” The result is a rich collage of values, which was used as a starting point of the group discussions. Maja Maksimović from the University of Belgrade introduced the topic saying that values are very difficult to grasp.

“We need a mental map about the values we believe in, also in adult learning and education. Where do we want to go, which values are proclaimed, which values are imposed on us, and which values are lived?” asked Maksimovic.

We need a mental map about the values we believe in, also in adult learning and education.

The participants were divided to discussion groups which were dedicated to institutions, learners, educators, policies and European values. All the groups agreed that there are tensions between lived, imposed and proclaimed values.

Participants of the discussion on providers’ values
a group gathered around a paper, attaching post its
Mapping the learners’ values

How to bring values to action?

In the group discussion on institutional and providers’ values, it was stressed that we should not just use big words but find a way to bring them to action. The meaning of values depends on the context, so it should be always explained by the organisation. Regarding lived values, important questions are: How do you exist as an organisation with your own set of values? What is your role in this world?

In the discussion on learners’ values the participants stated that lived values depend on the individuals, but also their communities, families etc. Recent developments such as the war in Ukraine, climate crisis and the pandemic have all had an impact on the values of learners.

How do you exist as an organisation with your own set of values?

Educators are navigating between various sets of values: personal values, professional values, imposed values and proclaimed values, not to mention the values of the learners. The group discussing educators’ values suggested that educators work as “a buffer” between learners and the society.

The group discussing European values proposed that “unity in diversity” is the core value of the European Union. It is connected to human rights, freedom, equality and dignity. The group also questioned whether the European values are shared if they are just imposed on us. There is often too many declarations, not enough action. A fundamental question is, what does it mean to be European? We should not forget the countries outside the EU.

Unity in diversity is the core value of the European Union.

The group discussing the values in policy perceived the objective of employability and the practices of standardisation as imposed on adult learning and education. This can restrict the creativity and the scope of the learning offer. In contrast with some of the imposed values, those that are lived in the sector relate to social and community dimension, namely socialisation, co-production and sense of wondering.

Two women around a screen presenting different aspects of sustainability in organisation
Sabine Bertram and Susanne Rodemann-Kalkan hosted a workshop on green transition
People eating and discussing around a table
The annual events were a great opportunity to meet in person again

Becoming a “Greenfluencer”

The workshops focused on the topics of green transition, citizenship education and digital transition.

The workshop on green transition explored how educational organisations can use transformative approaches to build pathways for green transition, both on personal and institutional level. The workshop was facilitated by Susanne Rodemann-Kalkan (futurlabor) and Sabine Bertram (Bildungsfrauen) who provided many inspirational tools for the participants.

“You need to have a connection to greener future in your organisation’s vision and live what you preach. By involving your learners, staff and volunteers, you can an become a motor for change in your network, a “Greenfluencer”, said Bertram during the workshop.

You need to have a connection to greener future in your organisation’s vision and live what you preach.

Daiana Huber from Centre for Promoting Lifelong Learning in Romania facilitated an workhop on using digital tools in education. The interactive workshop provided ideas on how to support adult educators in becoming more confident in the use of digital tools. What needs to happen at the systemic level to ensure that the digital transition does not leave anyone behind?

The workshop on citizenship education aimed to reply to a question, how can citizenship education be transformative and engage people in active dialogue. According to workshop facilitator Cathy Del Rizzo from European Peer Training Organisation, a big challenge is to find the right target groups and use curriculum which gives students agency in the process.

“It’s important to be vulnerable and authentic towards the learners. Aim is to transform learners from customers to citizens, stated Del Rizzo at the workshop.

Transformative learning happens in dramatic circumstances.

At the end of the conference, Klara Engels-Perenyi from the European Commission underlined the importance of cooperation between adult education and other education sectors. European programmes can support the exchange of good practice and ideas. Engels-Perenyi also emphasised the right to lifelong learning as the first principle of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

“We were really thirsty to meet again and talk to each other,” concluded Uwe Gartenschlaeger in his final words. “We learned that transformative learning happens in dramatic circumstances. All of us will encourage learners to be part of the changes ahead,” said Gartenschlager closing the Annual Conference.

EAEA General Assembly, Grundtvig Award Ceremony and the Annual Conference were held in Mechelen 30-31 May 2022.

Text: Sari Pohjola
Photos: EAEA

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