Role and Importance of Learning Cities
There is no doubt that the society of the future will be a learning society, and education and training whether acquired in the formal education system, on the job or in informal ways, has become the key for everyone to controlling their future and their personal development. Citizens are required to constantly update their competencies, not only with regard to the world of work but in an encompassing approach to participating in contemporary societies. Governments around the world have started to create strategies for building learning societies, including EU member states, which over the past two decades have promoted structural change in order to make their educational systems more flexible, permeable and inclusive.
However, „lasting change requires commitment at the local level. A learning society must be built province by province, city by city, and community by community“ (UNESCO). In order to accommodate this need, governments through recent years have stimulated the development of local networks for lifelong learning. Examples are the British Learning Cities and Towns Initiative and the German federal programme schemes „Learning Regions“ and „Learning on Place“ (Bildung vor Ort). Learning Cities and Regions are supposed to play a key role towards building local capacities for lifelong learning. They are defined to promote a broad range of learning, from individual to organisational, learning for the job and for personal fulfillment, formal, non-formal and informal learning. Learning Cities and Regions shall not only support the development of skills and competences needed to adapt to new circumstances, like a stronger competition, but also motivate their citizens to become lifelong learners, to cultivate shared values and support the transformation of their community. Their overall mission is to promote lifelong learning in both respect, as a personal outcome and collective good.
Learning Cities now develop in many places around the world, and only recently a worldwide Learning City initiative has been initiated by UNESCO, which aims at establishing a Global Learning City Index, an indicator-based instrument that can be used by local stakeholders in order to monitor progress towards developing quality learning cities. Moreover, UNESCO is promoting the Global Network of Learning Cities, which brings together stakeholders and experts from all over world, in order to join their efforts towards building learning cities. However, European Learning Cities in comparison to their international counterparts still lag behind. Until recently they “remained occasional, interest-driven and short-lived” (EAEA) and there is a danger to loose connection with the most competitive regions in the world.
International research indicates that China now has become the global leader in terms of number of learning cities. According to a survey by the Department of Vocational and Adult Education of the MoE, the number of pilot learning communities organised by provincial authorities now exceeded 4.000. They have not only have become a powerful driver for both economic prosperity and social cohesion, but with the aid of non-formal community educational provision the country has been able „to absorb the young unemployed and unskilled as well as the retired who need a decent life and leisure. In these activities, residents share their personal competencies and cultural collective intelligence to produce a new value system that can lead the community to create a new vision.“ (Han, Makino / Carlsen, Yang).
Aims and objectives
CONNECT is a new European strategic partnership, which aims at unleashing the learning potential of urban spaces by building and piloting an urban ecosystem of lifelong learning, that aims to leverage the educational impact of European cities and b) to develop a learner-centered approach to learning, which harnesses the assets of a city and transforms them into a network of seamless pathways of learning experience. At the heart of CONNECT lies a digital learning hub, which by citizens can be used to set up personal learning projects and share their learning journey with the local community. The role of CONNECT is to build and facilitate access to networks that can support a person’s learning goals and career development over a lifetime.
While the Internet over the past decades has put the focus on distance education and on collaboration among people that are geographically distributed, CONNECT seeks to bring again into the picture local issues, recognizing the critical role of technology-enhanced learning, supporting not only interactions with others around the world, but also and, perhaps more importantly, with people and organisations nearby. Ubiquitous technologies nowadays allow for learning anywhere and anytime, which causes a shift from education to learning in open learning architectures. Moreover, learning which was previously based on consumption of information now shifts to participatory learning. Learning happens best when it is rich in social connections, especially when it is peer-based and organized around learners’ interests, enabling them to create as well as consume information. Finally, learning in institutions shifts to learning in networks. In the digital age, the fundamental operating and delivery systems are networks, not institutions, which are one node of many on a person’s network of learning opportunities. People learn across institutions, so an entire learning network must be supported.
CONNECT builds on the assumption, that in a society where existing educational pathways no longer guarantee opportunity, and with a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots, networks can open up new entry points and pathways to opportunity in particular for those who are distant from learning or disadvantaged. Learners who have peers and mentors who share their interests, can make a better connection from learning outcomes to real world opportunities. It goes without saying, that education works best when it connects with and builds on other initiatives, like community issues, and when it links learning to opportunity creation, like jobs and skills needed by the wider community. Last but not least the project aims at facilitating access to upskilling pathways by encouraging learners to develop a sense of ownership for their learning, along with a change of attitudes towards learning, so habits of lifelong learning can take route. Moreover, the CONNECT partners assume that the outcomes and impact of adult education in the digital age can be significantly improved, when shifted from siloed to open learning architectures, from consumptive to participatory learning and, from institutions to learning in networks. The project supports this shift by encouraging adult educators to take on new roles, such as becoming facilitators of personal learning projects and brokers of learning within networks.
CONNECT will guide adult educators on their way to the digital learning society, and equip them with the skills needed in order to guide and support the adult learners of the future. CONNECT in this sense extends and develops educators' competences, ensuring the effective use of ICT. CONNECT supports the open education and innovative practices in a digital era by building city-wide digital platforms, that enable adult learners to set up personal learning projects based on their passions and interests; build connections with learning that appears across multiple contexts of the city; collect, mix and remix local learning resources and, with the help of peers and facilitators leverage their skills and competences; share learning outcomes with others, get feedback and ideas for improvement and gain recognition of their learning.
CONNECT is a KA2 strategic partnership, which brings together 7 partners from 5 EU member states, contributing to the project through profound expertise on learning cities and regions, community development, neighbourhood learning, local education management, lifelong learning development and technology-enhanced learning.
The 2 years project is coordinated by the Ludwig-Maximilian-University Munich, the second biggest university in Germany.
Partners: City of Munich (DE), P&W Praxis und Wissenschaft Projekt GmbH (DE), Pontydysgu Bridge to Learning (ES), IDEC (EL), NEXUS Research (IE), ISE Institute of Educational Sciences (RO).