Entrepreneurship training needs stronger competence assessment. / Photo: Wikimedia

Making sense of competences: E-learning boosts self-awareness

The EU prioritises competence building of its citizens, but competences are rarely assessed. E-learning and social media can help in the assessment.

Introduction

How to connect the development of key competences (e.g. entrepreneurial competences) in informal learning contexts with learning technologies and competence validation?

Two ERASMUS+ knowledge alliances EDUCCKATE and PROMOTE have been working on this theme between 2013 and 2017 with young adults.

These two projects are based on an innovative learning approach, which has been developed to promote entrepreneurial competences in internships and mobility activities in more than 15 European member states.

Both projects offer several social media functionalities through an interactive learning platform: the „my-vita platform“ in which the learners can collect the evidences of their work and experiences and connect them with their CVs such as the EUROPASS.

EU wants competence boost for its citizens

In 2006 the European Parliament adopted the European Framework on Key Competences for Lifelong Learning.

It is a compendium of descriptions of eight central competences a European citizen should require for their personal fulfilment, social inclusion, active citizenship and employability.

Among these eight key competences one finds

-KC5: learning to learn competences

-KC6: social and civic competences

-KC7: sense of initiative and entrepreneurship

Social and personal key competences are hardly to be acquired in lectures, frontal teaching and self-learning.

The ideal learning contexts to develop these competences are open informal and non-formal learning contexts such as learning in mobility (work or study exchanges) and in traineeships.

Competence assessment is lacking

However, up to now only singular attempts have been made to assess these competences, to give evidence of their development in the learning activity, to connect them to existing certification systems and to offer a European-wide validation approach.

The EDUCCKATE and PROMOTE projects have been aiming at promoting the aforementioned social, personal and organisational key competences.

Both projects have been carried out by consortia consisting of universities, adult education institutes and practice (business) partners.

An expanded view of “competences”

The projects make use of an innovative, competence-oriented learning approach (LEVEL5).

“Competence-oriented” in this context means that it is based on the understanding that the concept of “competences” is based on three dimensions: “knowledge”, “skills” (acting) and “attitudes” (values).

This is in contrast to sheer “qualifications”, which merely focus on the acquisition of knowledge and skills mostly in formal settings.

Methodology

Learning in informal or non-formal settings is different from formal in-house learning. Sometimes the learners do not even have an explicit “learning objective”.

In internships, mobility learning or entrepreneurial job-placements the learners are merely interested in concrete actions and action goals. Hence “learning” is a side effect from acting. Any web-based technologies are acknowledged by the learners if they deliver practical tools and support.

Therefore the two projects connect technology with face-to-face learning to deliver concrete support and guidance.

The projects make use of a blended learning approach that connects the face-to face (f2f) units with e-learning and practical learning situations. The E-learning happens on the my-VITA e-learning environment, which is used to facilitate the planning, delivery, validation and evaluation of the learning.

This is what happens in practice: Before young entrepreneur students start an internship abroad, they enrol in the project’s learning program. Prior to the practice phase they take part in face-to-face training about entrepreneurship and business studies. The internship is accompanied by assignments and materials provided on the my-VITA platform. In most cases the whole learning phase was accomplished by a f2f-feedback session which combines self-, peer- and external assessment.

Furthermore, in many cases, traditional internships or learning on the job -learning projects do not lead to tangible and comprehensible (learning) outcomes. This often leads to a lack of motivation and efficiency.

To avoid this the LEVEL5 learning suite for young entrepreneurs is based on an approach in which the students plan their internships as professional projects in preparation to their practice in the businesses. This way they (and also the educational staff and the mentors in their host organisations) can follow the progression of both their practice projects and the competences they develop.

Here, the young entrepreneurs use the my-VITA portal not only to receive learning materials and assignments but also to construct and document their own projects and to connect and exchange good practice with their peers.

They do this with competence related assignments, collect artefacts of their practical work (e.g. pictures or little video takes), solve quizzes and other tests (in the beginning and at lower competence levels) and write essays and develop their own projects (at later stages and on higher competence levels).

Assessment is strengthened

Assessment and evidencing of competence developments is integrated in the whole process.

If, for instance an interview video with learners’ expectations before the placement is compared with the interview after the experience it can be easily connected to a reflection task, which can be linked into the e-Portfolio. It can then be shared with peers or learning groups and becomes an impulse for further developments.

In general, the whole system is highly adaptable. As contents, competence levels and also the assessment methods are strongly related to the context of the learning (target group, envisaged competences etc.) a standardised assessment method is not recommendable in these informal settings.

The selected competences (and consequently the assessment methods) vary widely. In their internships some young entrepreneurs focused on customer relation management; others on intercultural competences while other students related their internships on project development or networking competences.

The learning technologies offer an open space in which the learners can organise the plans and the evidences of their learning in an individual and creative way, for instance supported by photos and videos in connection with the platforms they use in their daily life.

Good didactics is fundamental

However, the most important element for the learning success in our setting is still a good learning design and the concrete learning project offered to learners on the my-VITA platform.

The project has to be needs-driven: it has to tackle a concrete problem or improve a specific situation. Only this way are the learners sufficiently motivated to work and to learn.

According to our experience those e-parts failed where these principles were not followed, where clarity and relevance of the task were missing and where learners were lost in web-space.

If, for instance, the provided materials and/or the assignments are too theoretical, unclear or do not relate to the needs of the interns in their working situation, the learners will be confused and reluctant to work with them.

A good case in point is our first pilot version of the learning suite. We included some paragraphs of learning theory because we thought that it would help them to understand better how and what they would learn. From the feedback we received this “additional input” was seen as superfluous and more confusing than supportive.

With a shorter and clearer learning suite (provided on the platform) we achieved better results and a higher level of satisfaction.

This goes to show that especially in an e-learning or blended learning setting a good didactic design is a key factor for success since there is less space for improvisation for the teaching staff.

The learning technologies and social media offer a rich communication and cooperation space; however, they have to be seen as what they are: They are media, synchronous and/or asynchronous communication tools, in good cases supportive and worse cases they are even de-motivating.