Learning to Learn

“L3 – Learning to learn network for low skilled senior workers” is a LLP Grundtvig Partnership project aimed at providing low skilled older people with innovative and alternative opportunities to access adult education.

This project has been implemented by E.Ri.Fo. Ente per la Ricerca e Formazione (the coordinator, Italy),Fundacion Angel Martinez Fuertes (Spain), Business Foundation for Education (Bulgaria), Grup Scolar “Nicolina” (Romania) and Solhan Vocational and Technical Education Centre (Turkey).


The challenge for the Organisations involved is to increase senior employed/unemployed persons’ volume of participation in adult learning, and to address the imbalances in participation in order to achieve a more equitable picture, by motivating, encouraging, enabling and supporting the low skilled older persons least likely to participate in learning in all its modes, formal, non-formal and informal. A transnational Learning Partnership is the best mean to face this problem finding out EU-based approaches aimed to foster low skilled seniors’ participation to adult educational offer.



Another factor of increasing importance in old age is the individualization of life and learning. Growing older, people increasingly follow their own way, away from others. That is why senior people have difficulty in adapting themselves to rigid curricula and learning forms. Learning in elderly people is, by its very nature, not aimed at collecting supplies of knowledge for the future. They usually wish to learn things that appear relevant to them at the present time — for example in a situation that requires their action or in a crisis. Further education programs mostly do not provide for this in a sufficiently direct and specific manner. Instead of accepting the detour of systematically structured long-term courses, older adults therefore often prefer other forms of learning, as being more helpful and purposive.  This means: Individual counselling becomes more important to older learners than general information.


Other determining reasons for elderly people’s abstinence from further education include a latent fear of dependence and incapacitation. The wish to maintain one’s own freedom of decision¬making, autonomy and independence causes a particular sensitivity to any form of spoon-feeding or incapacitation, heteronym and extrinsic control in their own further education process. They wish to take advantage of their ”late freedom” after the retirement and maintain it to the greatest possible extent. This is why they object to live or learn according to instructions of others if there is no necessity. This is also why they try to avoid being placed into a compulsory learning situation. As a consequence, elderly people have a marked predilection for lectures or open discussion groups — in contrast to compulsory courses — when taking part in organized forms of further education.


As learning in elderly people is very much characterized by their prior experience, the connection of this experience to the new learning demands represents a fundamental learning prerequisite for them. Later on, however, also a form of learning that is more strongly related to situations and experience must be accompanied by reflective processing. And this step towards the recognition of conditions, rules and contexts, their condensation into concepts and the approach to a more elaborated and abstract formal language is a particular critical one in the learning process of older adults.


Elderly people coming from educationally or linguistically deprived backgrounds have particular difficulties in coping with the elaborated forms of communication and language that characterize most of the further educational programs. For persons coming from a different linguistic background, this middle-class language represents a serious obstacle to participation in educational programs that are mostly based on verbal communication. That is why this group tends to restrict itself to informal learning, which bears more relation to practical situations and phenomena of everyday life. Persons from educationally deprived background also have to reckon with their social environment disapproving of any apparent stepping out of line towards “higher” educational realms. This entails social pressure to prove oneself and corresponding fears of failure and identity crises. All that may be largely avoided by concentrating on informal learning forms, which are closely related to everyday life.


Further studies have shown that elderly people have greater difficulty in learning and retaining things which are not meaningful and coherent (e.g. arbitrary sequences of numbers). This may, in part, account for their poorer performance in memory tests of this kind. This means that in order to promote lifelong learning even in old age it will be necessary to concentrate on meaningful learning — rather than on meaningless memory training exercises — and to enable, facilitate and support the ability to establish during the learning process connections with plausible contexts of ideas and needs.


Elderly people (and different cohorts of them) have more and different experience (related to historically different situations) on which their learning is based. Experiential schemes that have  developed over a long period of time tend to become more fixed rather than change fundamentally. With elderly people, it will thus be necessary to include to a higher extent their individual experiential schemes into the learning process and, possibly, to break up and restructure them. If older adults are to be involved more intensively in continuous lifelong learning, it will be necessary to develop new approaches to better linking new information and experience to prior experience, which is still present in the memory (especially in the long-term memory).


With advancing age, most people prefer to learn things that are directly applicable. They usually learn in order to improve their ability to deal with real problems and situations in their lives. Very often they are also more impatient in this, wishing to satisfy their pressing needs directly, without having to make the detour of a systematic training course. Elderly people — if one wishes to encourage them towards lifelong learning — must be given stronger stimuli and learning aids whose content should be related to real situations or problems. This means that corresponding modules must be developed to support a problem solving learning that is related more clearly to real situations, cases, and practical action.


The following step by step approach will be taken to achieve the Partnership’s objectives:

Step1. Analysing and sharing educational practices and experiences developed by participating organisations and implemented at the different national levels.

Step2. Direct involvement of low skilled senior employed/unemployed persons at different local levels in a joint definition of most suitable learning practices, most preferred learning contexts and sources of information, and factors that may enhance motivation to learn. In more general terms, of elements enhancing individual learning to learn competencies and perception of learning as a life-enriching activity. Focus groups will be organised at each national level, and leaded by experts belonging to the partnership.

Step3. Direct involvement of trainers in the development of a common approach following the analysis of each partner’s context/focus group results. Joint transnational workshops, involving all the experts’ staffs, will be the main cooperation moments.

Step4. Direct involvement of trainers in drafting the contents of the “L3” training course.

An English version will be jointly defined by partners, each one focusing on a specific aspect. Further tasks: collation of results and agreement on a first version of the training plan/approach. Translation of the contents into each national language for the next testing step.

Step5. Direct involvement of low skilled seniors at different local levels in the testing of the defined training pathway. At least 10 seniors per engaged country (both employed and unemployed) will be trained according to defined contents. The aim is to test the course’s capability to develop the Learning to learn competence in senior learners. An ad hoc tool will be elaborated for monitoring and evaluating the course’s learning outcomes – meant as statements of the knowledge, skills, and abilities the individual student possesses and can demonstrate upon completion of the learning experience. Seniors will be also asked to rate their own satisfaction level according to the course.     


Step6. All the staff members will be involved in the definition of the final version of the training course “L3”, amended according to testing training session’s results. Also the national linguistic versions will be amended.


Step7. The jointly defined final version of the course, in all its language versions, will be transferred onto an ICT based platform, so as to be easily used by trainers involved, but also by external organisations/trainers. The latter will be informed about this new approach/tool trough events/seminars/newsletters managed by each partner at own national level. Exchange visits to engage in agreed practical and participative actions to address common (that is across Europe) needs and opportunities, and work together to devise appropriate activities based on the agreed educational criteria will enable the Learning partnership to acquire specific skills in management of low skilled senior learners, promoting the latter’s will to learn.