Press release: Informal learning could be a leveller for excluded groups

Informal learning could be a leveller for excluded groups

Informal adult learning should target the socially excluded, and make the most of new technologies to level the learning playing field. 

The message comes from UK online centres, who today welcomed John Denham’s White Paper, which puts informal learning and widening participation firmly back on the adult skills agenda. 

Managing Director Helen Milner said:   “It’s great to see the value of informal learning being recognised and supported.  At its best, informal learning isn’t just a gateway to ‘formal’ learning or a home for hobbyists – it can be a route to social inclusion and mobility.  That’s where this paper can make a real difference to real lives.”

The organisation runs a network of computer centres helping people in deprived communities get online, and informal learning is very much at the crux of what they do and how they do it.  Helen continues:  “Digital skills appear in The Learning Revolution as both a subject for and means of informal learning.  New technologies really can empower and motivate people to discover and create in whole new ways, and at UK online centres that journey often starts out as informal as information gathering.  It’s then built up by responding to an individual’s priorities and needs, focussing on the person rather than the course or qualification. 

“For the most socially excluded, ‘formal’ education can be inaccessible, intimidating and impractical.  If you need to bid for a council house online, for instance, you don’t want to wait until term starts and sit through an entire ICT qualification for the internet bit to come up.  That’s where UK online centres come in – supported by a huge range of third sector intermediaries and partners.  Learning and support are local, personal and flexible, often long term and often don’t include traditional educational milestones.  I’m delighted to see the value of that work officially recognised and endorsed in this White Paper.” 

Indeed, the network is seen as central to the Learning Revolution the paper wants to see instigated across the country, and a clear role is outlined for centres to champion both digital inclusion and informal learning.  UK online centres were involved in the consultation process around the paper and were on hand at the Tate Modern to see its official launch.  UK online centre learners showed the Secretary of State some of their work, and told them how informal ICT skills had helped them improve their lives. 

Helen adds:  “It’s because UK online centres have a local presence that we’re in a prime position to help government realise this very important vision.  UK online centres are already taking laptops out to pubs, community centres and even empty shops to make access to digital skills and support as easy as possible for as many people as possible.  The Learning Revolution ‘open space’ announced in the paper will see us build on that work across the country.  In addition, our annual Get online day campaign in October will fit perfectly into plans for the Autumn Learning Revolution Festival. 

“This is an exciting time for skills, and a chance to really make learning a possibility and a reality for those who most need opportunities and support to see them through the economic downturn.  This ‘revolution’ is about bringing learning back to the people, so they can own it, direct it and follow it as they see fit.  That’s something I’m excited to be a part of.”

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