In 2019, the Lifelong Learning Platform together with Cedefop organised a policy forum and developed a Joint Briefing Paper focused on the role for Community Lifelong Learning Centres (CLLCs) and their potential to be one-stop-shops for preventing youth at risk from early leaving and recognising VET as a valid, first-choice in learner’s lifelong learning pathway. This year, LLLP partnered with the Educational Masters at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel to further explore this topic with a team of master students. The participating students developed a study focused on CLLCs with the goal to provide an approach for establishing one at the municipality level.
Community Lifelong Learning Centres across the world
The study looked at different configurations of CLLCs across the world. The research team looked into examples within the EU (Czechia and Malta), and beyond the EU (Serbia, Russia, Pakistan and Ghana). In the case of the EU the impact of the EU is noticed mainly through funding provided by the Erasmus+ programme. Outside of Europe, global institutions such as UNICEF and cooperation agencies are an important source of funding for developing CLLCs.
Regardless of geographic location, most CLLCs and equivalent examples explored in the study have a common characteristic which is a rich diversity in three main areas: different types of providers, varied learning offer and diverse target groups. Among types of providers, the research showcases examples of centres that are funded by the government or cooperation agencies, NGOs and civil society organisations (CSOs), as well as universities-linked centres, etc. While in some cases the learning opportunities and the target groups are determined by specific needs and goals; many of the examples have elements of a CLLC who provide many services, beyond education, in one place and to a diversity of learners.
What are the ingredients for a Community Lifelong Learning Center?
Taking into consideration the diverse ecosystem of CLLCs across the world, the research team looked into the process of launching a community lifelong learning centre at municipal level. To plan and manage a CLLC, a very structured approach is needed in order to puzzle together a wide array of disciplines such as Management, Pedagogy, Psychology, and Diversity and Inclusion. These different disciplines allow to develop a complex structure that will address the needs of both communities and individuals.
A cycle was identified for establishing a successfully functioning CLLC: 1) Community needs analysis; 2) Satisfying the needs through different activities; 3) Resource mobilisation in the community; 4) Establishing connections with other institutions to respond to the community needs; 5) Carry out quality control and progress monitoring; and 6) Address the strengths and weaknesses of the learning offers. Overall, for the cycle to be implemented successfully CLLCs should be adapted to the local and/or regional context and learners should be allowed to be co-designers of educational programs with the support of community educational experts, creating trust and empowering participants.
A Community Lifelong Learning Center for intergenerational learning
The last part of the study looks into the development of a CLLC for non-formal and informal intergenerational learning which can provide employable skills and social interaction to the beneficiaries, while enhancing social inclusion, active citizenship, and personal development. The research team elaborated a guide for collecting and analysing the needs of the community groups to be included in a given CLLC which should be conducted in consultation with secondary resources available and then conducting interviews with all relevant key stakeholders in order to get a better understanding of how such learning environments could work in real-life conditions.
To support in the identification and analysis of stakeholders, the team elaborated a generalised stakeholder questionnaire. This step is essential for collecting inputs from the field and helps elucidate those who might be included in launching and sustaining the work of a CLLC. Afterwards, the team developed an example learning offer targeting vulnerable youth and single-living seniors; consisting of teenagers from vulnerable social groups supporting seniors in developing digital skills. At the end of the learning programme, seniors are expected to become empowered to engage in using digital technology to perform meaningful everyday activities and teenagers are provided with a source of income while attending school full time. The overall aim being to break down both generational and social barriers.
To close the study, the research team looked at the different risks that can be encountered when trying to successfully launch and sustain a Community Lifelong Learning Centre. Some of the risks identified were: the local context is not met, there are not enough resources available and the network needed to support the running of a CLLC is not fit for purpose. It was highlighted that the degree of cooperation among stakeholders will determine how fast the learning offer can be adjusted to the needs of the local community as a shared understanding among all stakeholders should be reached. For the cooperation to succeed, clear roles and responsibilities should be defined, including the financial and resources expectations to ensure the sustainability of the CLLC. Another key ingredient is ensuring a quality assurance and monitoring system is established that allows for addressing the strengths and weaknesses of the learning offer and implementing necessary adjustments when necessary.
The Lifelong Learning Platform would like to thank the research team: Aqsa Athar, Nicola Battistutta, Katarina Cenic, Anthony Kofi Nyame, Anastasia Petrova and Robert Quansah as well as the VUB staff Prof. dr. Koen Lombaerts, Margaux Pils and Beatriz Rios Zanetti.