Education, a Dimension of Digitalisation – Digitalisation, a Dimension of Education

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Does digital transformation in the field of education come along as just another change? A change similar to the other ones that during the past 25 – 30 years especially the formal education systems in Europe underwent, often under the external demands and pressures such as economy, skills gaps etc. The transformation of educational systems in Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the iron curtain are although worth mentioning. In the field of higher education, the Bologna Process is an example of a big transition of the European universities resulting in harmonisation and a standardized model of learning. Also in adult learning in Europe we have faced several changes of headlines in the past 20 years.

Ongoing reforms in school systems in all European countries are often driven by reactions to the OECD PISA comparative studies. These have, among other things, established a system of strict benchmarking and resulted inter alia, in a quite competitive learning climate and a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), in learning. There is also, in line with the lasting trend toward individualisation, a partially misunderstood competence orientation in education resulting in an over-focus on individual learning and individual competence development. Partially this contradicts the idea of social learning and the recognition of the social aspects in learning and how they are formulated in a perspective of lifelong learning, applying to youth work or in adult learning in the tradition of Grundtvig.

Learning beyond Classrooms

All in all, one could state that while formal education has been in the focus of political reforms – the effect in the discourse about education has been a high orientation towards the formal education systems as such, which brings along difficulties for other fields such as non-formal education or the field of informal learning. These vitally risk Lifelong Learning being usurped by the logic and leading discourses of formal education, without accepting the inherent logic, scopes and professions of other forms of education.

An Already Ongoing Process

Digital transformation is also not new for education. Concepts like the flipped classroom, the use of learning platforms, the development of MOOCs and activities of self-directed or supervised online learning have a long-lasting history of roughly 20 years and are not a result of COVID-19 alone. Even long before the Internet evolved into the medium of online distance learning, there were the so-called educational television/broadcast programmes, such as the Telekolleg in Germany to name one example. These served mainly the further qualification and training of adults and provided one of the conceptual foundations for e-learning.

In looking at the context of education for democratic citizenship and human rights education, there is lasting experience of cooperating in Europe and at the international level via the opportunities provided by Erasmus+ and other programmes. It needs to be noted that the field of international encounters has a lasting practice of digital cooperation, of blended and online learning, which was set up and in active use substantially earlier than in national, traditional learning settings. Even in the formal educational sector, European initiatives such as e-twinning and others were established earlier, providing a means for online cooperation and learning to a greater extent than in national arenas.

Background: Digital Education Policy

No Lane Change but a New Reality

So if the premise, experience and concepts are there, why is the digitalisation of education and learning perceived by a big part of NFE, AE, VET and the youth fields as being such a fracture from the norm? It is undeniable that within education, other paradigms have changed. For example, with COVID-19, we’ve seen the resulting crash of the underlying educational concept (e.g. face to face learning, residential learning, etc.) or of the underlying business models (which was based on financial support for activities and participants).

The debates often rotate around the analogue educational concepts (and of the analogue oriented profession of educators) into digital ones, focusing very much on the processes of the lane change. But is digitalisation only a lane change? Our assumptions support that it is not a replace of the analogue sphere but has to be understood as a new reality entering and influencing our known analogue realities.

Such education through, about and within the field of the digitalised realms also has an independent quality, with applying inherent logics, that probably are yet to be understood.

The Stock of Experiences

What is already there in adult learning and on what stock of experiences can we build? Is digital transformation just another totally new, big challenge ahead of us? For sure, it largely affects our teaching/learning environments, it also affects the profession of the educators as well as opportunities and pathways learners can follow. Depending on what focus we put on the learnings there are different experiences where EDC/HRE learning is already involved and can vitally build on:

The practice of international cooperation

In particular projects in international exchange in formal and non-formal learning have welcomed digital tools from their very first appearance. These were the first complementing preparatory video conference meetings, adding web-based boards, where people from different country groups could place their research, media or texts in preparation of the analogue gathering during an exchange program. In consequence, they have used email and messengers for connecting and communicating, and also experimenting with small digital tools for entertainment and evaluation in the seminar room.

History and remembrance work

Worldwide, museums and archives have developed offers and opportunities encompassing individual deepening and learning. In many museums, whole collections can already be visited completely online, a potential widening of access to a vast audience, going far beyond traditional groups of visitors. Historical and remembrance sites with app-based guides and learning tools, training tools and curricula based on non-formal learning offers for educators are tackling certain fields of EDC/HRE and also embed digital methodology and material.

Tremendous efforts to digitalise the experiences of historical eye-witnesses, of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and the vast victim groups of the National Socialist regime and its vasalls in Europe were initiated already twenty years ago. An example are the digital collections of the Yad Vashem archive: Other projects document mainly the Nazi-occupation in Europe as for example done in the occupation memories database, documenting the Nazi-occupation of Greece

Game-based learning approaches are represented by the game,, about survivors involved in Operation Anthropoid, the Heydrich Attentat 1942 in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

Immersive approaches using digital and analogue media and instruments such as conducted by the research theatre project Blodveger/Blood Roads: This is a production about Nazi forced labour in Norway.

Surveillance, privacy and data protection

Many concepts facilitating these topics make use of non-formal education settings. “The glass room”,, is a misinformation toolkit and educational exhibition developed by the tactical tech collective. “Fake it to make it” is a game, where learners might experiment with disinformation. Various arts based concepts and instruments exist to explore the digital realms in our mixed digital-analogue world, as for example introduced in the context of

Adult Learning

The VHS Munich’s program “Connected. Living in Digital Worlds”,, is providing learning about core questions related to digitalisation, such as: can machines be creative?; does artificial intelligence make our work superfluous?; does digitalisation make us freer? And is there a right to analogue life? It links knowledge with an attitude of active citizenship as it invites learners to become active!

Forms for providing and managing content

TED Talks introduce a specific form for attracting attention on topics, but also the broad availability of digital media collections of TV channels – have both incrementally changed the way learning is happening. Partially inspiring and explanatory videos are replacing traditional text work or lectures.

Similarly, AI-driven language tools such as translators or even text writing programmes offer unknown forms of global knowledge management.

As for the field of formal education, it seems YouTube has become “the big education machine”. It is especially the dozens of curricula-oriented specialist channels and specialist videos providing sound support and transmitting for school-based content, in a sometimes extraordinary way. In posing the question of whether the STEM orientation within school is not an outdated focus, or vice versa if this does not again push for a change of focus in traditional learning settings, stepping away from explanation and providing room for experimentation, application and reasoning. Similarly, the digitalised reality has resulted for teachers in an unlimited number of templates, didactics, tailor-made materials ready for use with students, which in the non-formal field has its counterpart for example in the SALTO database on methods.

Organisational Perspective

Although there are plenty of didacticised materials and concepts available, it seems that the institutions and the profession of (adult) educators being directly involved in civic education are not on the forefront of actors turning to digitalisation of learning, but seem to be reluctant.

How should digital learning teaching and training look? Does it just make use of digital instruments and seeks to replace or substitute a well-reasoned and argued for analogue practice? Is a practice of digitalisation something different from digital learning and how should it look? What efforts need to be made? Where are positive gains, or where are critical points?

Relation between digital practice and competence development


Toward a holistic understanding of learning in, about and for digitalisation

Looking into the underlying ideas of Human Rights Education and Education for Democratic Citizenship, it is worth remembering their model following a simple basis:

HREdimensions.png CDCdimensions.png

Both models, as simple as they look, enable deep learning and reflection processes and offer various entry points to the topics of learning, the learning processes themselves, dimensions to be included, the role of educators/facilitators of EDC/HRE processes and the design of learning activities. Also, they show limits and boundaries of education.

Connected with the idea of digitalisation/digital transformation, a model if digitalised education could look like the following proposal and be integrated with the schemes of EDC/HRE:


Holistic Digital Transformation Learning

  • Learning for digitalisation: co-determining the digital transformation in society.
  • Learning about digitalisation: social, cultural, economic impact of digitalisation in society.
  • Learning through digitalisation: digital learning, digital tools and services.

Georg Pirker

Person responsible for international relations at the Association of German Educational Organizations (AdB), president of DARE network.

Education and Learning


This text was published in the frame of the project DIGIT-AL - Digital Transformation Adult Learning for Active Citizenship.

Pirker, G. and Martínez, R. (Ed.): Education and Learning (2020). Part of the reader: Smart City, Smart Teaching: Understanding Digital Transformation in Teaching and Learning. DARE Blue Lines, Democracy and Human Rights Education in Europe, Brussels 2020.





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