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Digitalisation of education has both personal and social aspects

"Crises are social disruptions. Though they are mostly thought of as misfortune, crises are anything but misfortune," argues Michel Onfray, the founder of the Open University in Caen. But crises can become misfortune if new opportunities are neither searched for nor found. In crises, you have to prove that you are flexible and able to embrace change while building new scripts for the future.

Over the last decade, Slovenian Third Age University(link is external) together with its European partners, has devoted all of the projects to new educational topics and formats to enhance digitalization of older people's education. To be honest, the digitalization of its programs could have been more efficient, though older students prefer social and physical contacts within their study groups to the digital ones. Using digital methods was more a matter of students’ curiosity than a true desire to learn. Then in March, all suddenly turned upside down.

All over Europe, adult educators started dealing with the issue of digitalization of later life and older people's education. In Slovenia, adult educators have participated in numerous digital conferences as both participants and lecturers. They wrote articles, participated in radio programs, digitalized 30% of their educational programs, and trained more than 400 mentors and students on how to use Zoom and TeamViewer. Consequently, one of the most recent Slovenian conferences was entirely devoted to the digitalization of older people's education. The conference gathered 55 leaders of third age universities, members of Slovenian Third Age University Network. The focus of the conference was on personal and social aspects of digitalization of later life education.

Dr. Ana Krajnc argued, and so did other speakers later on, that "having access to the digital procedures is both a privilege enjoyed by few and a right. Distance education enables you to live normally in the midst of the sanitary crisis and to survive it while included in education. Zoom offers a few opportunities. It is cosy, for instance. In lecture rooms, students remain seated and “caught”, listening to the lecturer, though they may not be interested in what is being said and their span of concentration is not long enough. Zoom makes it possible for you to listen and simultaneously carry out some other tasks. However, there is one condition sine qua non for distance learning to be performing. Learners must have become autonomous learners, listening and learning with a pencil in their hand, not just listening. Learners that have forgotten “schooling” start stepping over into the world of learning."

While digitizing education, mentors of older students play new roles animating them to join the “Brave new world”. A great number of older people have voluntarily cut themselves from the digital world, which they do not know well enough. The world that can be brave, once older students learn to manage it if their mentor and their social environment do not oppose them but trust them truly believing digital learning.

Digital inclusion into the contemporary world is a privilege since only 53% of the world population has access to digitalized procedures. "Digital learning enables older people to estimate themselves" emphasized Ana Krajnc. It has to do with a decent living. Tone Dol?i?, a lawyer speaker pointed out at another international conference organized by BAGSO and Age Platform Europe. He stressed the need to devise a law on everybody’s right to be part of the digitalized world. In the times of digitalization, nobody should be left behind, including older people in institutional care facilities. We should all have this right. Moreover, the right to be digitally included should be part of planning policies on digitalization.

Distance learning is an old phenomenon in Slovenia and elsewhere

In 1948, a Secondary Correspondence School of Economy was established in Ljubljana. The new socialist state that emerged after the Second World War created many new jobs opportunities for adequately educated employees. This school later led to the Correspondence Workers’ University. In England, the industrial growth needed secretaries who were trained in Pitman’s Correspondence School for Typists. In 1966 came on the educational stage Open University, the most famous innovation in adult education. It was located in a small village near London since hiring offices in London was expensive. There, in that village, a high-rise building was built hosting a post office. Each day, parcels of learning and exam materials were sent off to students who in this way could learn at their own pace and what they wanted to learn. In the first decade, 150 000 adults received their education there.

Quite early in Shanghai, it was possible to study architecture at distance. Students were supposed to help each other studying being in positive interdependence. Nobody could be left behind. Today, this type of studying is being called collaborative learning. Moreover, Jeremy Rifkin, the economist, argued that systems “dwelling on cement” should be forgotten. Traditional educational systems need buildings, whose blocks are joined by cement; while adult education today cannot be dependent on buildings. In these transitional times, education will have to move online.

Dr. Dušana Findeisen centred around the new definitions of social inclusion and exclusion since these phenomena are different today. In the past, the socially included were those who had a bad economic status and had to be brought back into and by strong society. Today social exclusion is a massive phenomenon and social inclusion is not only about overcoming economic but also relational precocity, people being deprived of stable and non-interrupted relations of social, physical and digital nature. In the times when we are left with fewer relations of the first two kinds, maintaining digital relations has become essential. Man cannot be deprived of relations. Being alone too long you feel social pain resembling the pain one feels when in urgent need to drink or eat. "Without relations, the immune system suffers", as argued by neuroscientists and you become sick.

When 37 years ago we were founding Slovenian Third Age University. We did not have in mind only the transmission and creation of knowledge! What we wanted to create was public space for humanizing older people’s lives, where older people could be performing, innovative but also seen and heard and socially included. Today’s public space is being moved to the web. Having a number of functions. Public space belongs to each of us. Moreover, those who fail to be in public space are already socially dead.

Dr. Dušana Findeisen is a teacher of English and French language and literature and andragogy. On her own or jointly with her colleagues she introduced a fair number of innovations in theory and practice in the field of adult education: socio-cultural animation and education for local development, older adult education, Slovenian Third Age University, Summer School for Adult Educators. She contributed to the development of study circles in Slovenia; she co-founded the Journal of Andragogic Perspectives and is on its editorial board. For five years, she was an Age Platform Europe expert in the field of employment and education of older people and an external expert of the European Commission in this field. So far, she has coordinated and delivered about twenty-five transnational projects. She is currently the Head of the Institute for Research and Development of Education at Slovenian Third Age University. She is vice-president of DANET, Danube Networkers for Europe. She published five monographs and several hundred articles. Research areas: community education, older adult education, dyslexia in adults, diversity in companies, but also burn out at work, identity at work, migrations and migrants, integrated counselling for older adults, film education in adult education, pre-retirement education, socially engaged education of older workers, digital inclusion versus digital exclusion, functional illiteracy, etc. So far, she has published 5 monographs and hundreds of articles.