Training and validation of non-formaly attained competences are key issues for youth workers all over Europe since in many countries there is no or little formal education for this profession and non-formal methods play an important role not only in the learning of youth workers themselves but also in their activities with young people. Although the importance of training is seldom questioned, the resources available for it often are, mainly due to limited budgets within the field.
Therefore online courses are often discussed as a possible solution and many initiatives are seen lately to get existing training programs in the youth work field online. All creativity and good intentions honoured, still there is some room for development since existing online tools and methods are often created for formal learning settings such as universities and the question how to adapt those to the needs of youth work is still under debate.
NAPOR, the National Association of Youth Workers in Serbia is a good example of an organisation striving for professionalization of youth work by also creating training programs and validation systems, sharing their experience later on in a Capacity Building Project with six other partners from Europe.
NAPRORs training programme for youth leaders and youth workers is created as multi-modular course, covering different topics and competences important for the vocation, including also practical implementation of project or programme for and with young people. It was implemented by NAPOR and its member organizations several times before the need for revision appeared.
One part of revision process went in the direction of economizing resources as one of the challenges was fundraising for a course that lasts for almost a year and requires 4 residential modules of 4 to 5 days. Another issue was time participants needed to take from their regular work or studies in order to spend it on those residential modules. Online learning came as a natural solution for both of those challenges, so a preparation phase to each of the modules was introduced, enabling participants to get to know the topics covered by the module before coming to the residential part. The assumption was that this would reduce the amount of theoretical input during the time the group spends together in a physical space and enable trainers to use that time to work on practical skills, as well as attitudes and values so crucial for youth leaders and youth workers.
The first experience in implementing the course with a blended learning approach was with the generation of youth leaders in 2015/16. As it usually happens, once tried in practice, new challenges arose. One of them was the capacities of trainers to create online sessions following the same quality standards and methodology that is used in „offline“ trainings. In addition some disadvantages of available online learning tools, when trying to use them for non-formal education, were discovered.
To address those and some other challenges of online learning in non-formal education, NAPOR initiated an Erasmus + Capacity building project „European Wide Web of Youth Work“ and gathered 6 partners that shared the motivation to bring online learning closer to methodology of non-formal education and build capacities of trainers to create online educational content for youth leaders and youth workers.
The partnership is diverse bringing together youth organisations, experts in the use of online tools and umbrella organisations of professional youth work on national and European Level. The different partners therefore have different perspectives on the topic, but all share the wish to create better offers and tools for inspiring learning in an online environment for youth workers.
The project aims to support the development of online educational programs for youth workers, approaching it from two aspects; one is working with youth workers and trainers to introduce online learning and its advantages to them, as well as discuss its challenges and limitations, and the other is adapting existing and creating new tools that would enable non-formal education online.
The project is now in the second half of implementation, currently supporting youth workers who attended training course on online learning to develop and implement their online courses, giving them opportunity to wrap up their learning experience and multiply its effects by involving colleagues. With different approaches to online learning, different topics covered and using it in different contexts, many important conclusions can be drawn. The collected experiences will be summarized in manual for online learning in youth work that will be created and published in the next phase of the project.
While organizing online courses, also new tools for online learning are created, focusing on giving trainers and youth workers opportunities to put non-formal education methods on the internet. The new features try to address limitations of existing tools that mostly foster knowledge and lack potential in developing values and attitudes, offering meaningful experiences, space for reflection, group work and communication. Especially valuable in this process is the cooperation with IT experts that brings new perspective and ways of thinking and approaching challenges, while also developing digital competences of the project team. Once they are created the tools will be available for use in the field of youth work, but also in the wider context of non-formal education online. The life of those tools after the project finishes will be one of the indicators if the efforts to raise quality of online education were effective.
As mentioned above partners on this project have diverse motivations, but they all believe that it is very important for youth workers to get familiar and use online tools in their educational programs. It is not only an opportunity for growing professionally, but also an opportunity to bring knowledge across borders together that is not easily achieved offline. In addition online environments are an everyday part of young peoples life and that means that it is a natural habitat also for youth workers. There is potential for us to shape online space in the way it can answer our needs and needs of young people we are working with. This project is one contribution to tackle this topic and also promote the concept of online learning to organizations active in the youth field, trainers and youth workers in order to have more examples of inspiring practice in the future.
by Ivana Volf and Alexandra Beweis (2018)
Ivana Volf is Programme Coordinator for Professionalization of Youth Workers in National Association of Youth Workers (NAPOR)
Alexandra Beweis is involved in youth work since 1994 and currently working as project manager for poywe and freelance trainer/facilitator.
© Jan Alexandro Lai