Skip to Content

“A book, paper, pen – that’s all we need”

Authors: Michael Sommer Published:

The digital transformation has revolutionary consequences also for our continuing education system. It is the trainers that should lead the way, not the students. The text is a column written for issue 3/2019 on Adult Education and Megatrends.

There is hardly an economic forum, a political battle paper or a pedagogical learning catalogue in which the necessity of digitalisation is not emphatically demanded.

The so-called “digital revolution” is profoundly disrupting our society and posing a huge challenge for education systems. Only those who can function digitally are prepared for the future. All others, the “digital illiterates”, are considered lost.

What role could adult education then play in preparing for digitalisation?

The development of technology is currently taking place at an impressive pace. The first computers that could convert information into binary form have been around since the 1940s, and 1969 marks the birth of the internet. The dynamics in technology development are serious.

Digital natives encounter teachers who have been working with typewriters.

Today, “digital natives”, those who grew up with the new digital world, encounter teachers who have been working with typewriters. Such asynchronous relationships are typical for this time of digital transformation.

Technical innovations, provided they are used by people, always give rise to learning processes, be they fire, the steam engine or the smartphone. Adaptation to change, learning, is a fundamental principle of biological, and even more of human existence. Adult education responds to the ever-changing requirements to make people fit for their lives.

The biggest challenge can be training the employees, who are very experienced educators and might not be very eager to change.

Very often though, it is the young students of our academy who are the ones explaining to our trainers how the newest smartphone works or what the newest online trend looks like – and not the other way around.

The biggest challenge can be training the employees, who are very experienced educators who work successfully and competently with their methods that have worked for so long. They might not be very eager to change.

“Why do I need a fancy whiteboard?” “People should leave their smartphones at home and not bring them to class!” “A book, paper, pen – that’s all we need”.

These arguments are not understandable and comprehensible to younger generations.

ALONG WITH THE DEVELOPMENT OF STORAGE MEDIA, the amount of data collected is increasing to gigantic proportions. At present, there are 33 zettabytes of data, that is 1 trillion gigabytes, stored on computers worldwide. By 2025, it is predicted to be 175 ZB, mainly fed by real-time data, machine-to-machine communication, production and video surveillance. Before us lies a “data age”.

Human knowledge is universally available. The need for experts to teach us facts has become questionable, as “Google knows everything”.

Some skills and competences, such as creativity, decision-making skills, ethics, social skills, are becoming increasingly important.

For the education sector this means: do we still need people who know a lot? Even with foreign languages, we are getting better and better with technical aids.

On the other hand, other skills and competences, such as creativity, decision-making skills, ethics, social skills, etc., are becoming increasingly important. This also includes democratic education, humanity and human rights. The debate over how fake news and algorithms threaten our society makes this very clear.

All these competences can best be taught by a skilled trainer, with the help of the newest and tested best technology.

WHETHER YOU FAVOUR THE TRADITIONAL BLACKBOARD or digital devices in language learning, there have always been technical aids in learning and in the validation of learning. This is not a unique feature of digitalisation.

However, thanks to digitalisation, there has been great progress. Tests can be easily done online, videos make it easy to learn procedures, and apps, webinars and eMoocs increase reach and access. Digitalisation expands and enriches adult education.

I wonder what a trainers’ work will be like in 30 years. Will there still be people working with erasers, paper and pencil? Is the computer a historical instrument of ancient times?

Whichever direction, the world is moving forward – and adult educators should move along.

Share the article


Michael Sommer (PhD) is an ELM magazine editorial board member. He was the editor of the German magazine "Erwachsenenbildung" (until 2021) and works as a project developer for the Akademie Klausenhof. Email: sommer(at) Show all articles by Michael Sommer
Back to top