02 SES 15 A, Learning and Sustainability in VET
Topic / Background
Global developments and uncertainty pose challenges to individuals and societies. Our shared need to overcome these has led to the development of a widely accepted set of transversal competencies (UNESCO, 2015, cf also ‘transformative competencies’ by the OECD, 2019) that are considered key to employability as well as a fulfilled personal life and peaceful, prosperous and sustainable societies (OECD, 2005). These competencies include elements such as critical thinking, decision making, problem solving and conflict management (Whittemore, 2018), and are increasingly hailed as overarching learning objectives for formal education and life-long learning in Europe and beyond (OECD, 2005, 4).
Outdoor learning has been widely evidenced as an approach that promotes these transversal competencies in vocational and other educational settings (Allison & von Wald, 2010; Fiennes et al., 2015; Rickinson et al., 2004). The project From Outdoors to Labour Market (FOLM, September 2018 – February 2022) employs an outdoor learning model established in Scotland to ameliorate high rates of youth employment in several EU regions (in Ireland, Poland, and Spain).
The primary objective of FOLM is to increase employability-related transversal competencies in young adults who are currently not engaged in employment, education or training. The formal success criteria is to move the participants (back) into one of these fields of activity, ideally employment.
In line with the understanding of transversal competencies, a wider objective is to promote these competencies for the personal sake of the participants by increasing their sense of agency, self-esteem, and satisfaction with their relationships and life choices. This in turn renders them to be more active and engaged citizens. In this way, the FOLM project contributes to the EU’s path towards several United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN, nd.).
The project employs an outdoor learning model developed by The University of Edinburgh (UK) and the Venture Trust (UK) based on international and interdisciplinary research in outdoor experiential education, and 40 years of practical experience and revision of the model in the field (Gap Communications, 2018; SMCI Associates, 2018). This Edinburgh Model consist of three distinct phases that are woven together by underlying principles of pedagogy:
- Phase 1 – Preparation. This fairly short phase focusses on nurturing a trusting relationship and ground for personal growth right from the start. Individual goal-setting clarifies expectations and increases commitment.
- Phase 2 – Exploration / Outdoor Experience. This is an approximately week-long wilderness journey and the core of the model. Engagement with nature and remoteness from distractions are key factors, along with daily thematic input sessions for the group, complemented with one-to-one work with each participant on their goals and progress.
- Phase 3 – (Re-)Integration. A succession of group and individual coaching sessions supports the participants to transfer their developed skills and competencies from the outdoors to their regular lives and the employment context. Gradually fading out support strengthens the self-responsibility and agency of the participants to forge their future paths in employment and life.
- Underlying principles. All three phases follow an empowerment approach with deliberate tools of facilitation (e.g. daily thematic sessions, one-to-one check-ins) that are embedded in a nurturing ground for (socio-emotional) growth (e.g., establishing a ‘safe’ space’).
FOLM is a multi-faceted knowledge exchange project, and the evaluation addresses a wide range of research questions. These include:
- To what degree is the applied outdoor learning model successful in raising transversal competencies and employability in programme participants?
- Which factors are particularly conducive to the participants’ development of transversal competencies?
- What insights are gained from the interregional adaptation of the model towards future implementation in other European regions?
A process-oriented research design combines qualitative and quantitative research methods to produce insights generated of triangulated 360° data from programme participants, programme staff (field staff working with participants, and management), and other stakeholders (e.g., industry partners, policy-makers, parents). The main research methods include • Semi-structured qualitative interviews • Psychometric self-report measures on self-concept and sense of agency • A progress report for each participant (Personal File) • Online surveys Certain interviews and the psychometric self-report tools are conducted pre, post, and follow-up to elicit statistical impact over time. Others methods are applied more fluidly and even aim at informal anecdotal evidence and views. The interviews, progress reports, and other verbal data are transcribed and undergo thematic content and discourse analysis to explore all possible areas and ways of impact, and to uncover enablers and barriers to success within each geographical region. The FOLM project runs over a 3.5 year duration (2018-2022) with a target of 990 participants. This wealth of data allows for a processed-oriented research design where, when one research question is answered to a point of saturation, research tools (e.g. interview questions) are updated to triangulate preliminary findings or to hone in on further gaps of knowledge. For example, the unexpected Covid-19 pandemic and regional restrictions resulted in Phase 3 (Coaching post outdoor learning) to be delivered entirely online with those groups during lockdown. Additional online surveys and staff interviews were introduced to evaluate the impact of this change, which produced valuable additional findings.
The project is ongoing and detailed statistics not available yet. Preliminary data clearly indicate that: • Participants who completed the programme showed considerable gains in parameters linked to transversal competencies (e.g. collaborative behaviour, goal-setting, self-management). A high rate of participants transitioned successfully to employment, training or education. • Participants and staff agree that the outdoor experience is most impactful, while the other phases are crucial for increased commitment and sustainability of results. Reported key factors are engagement with nature, the combination of group work and one-to-one sessions, goal-oriented action plans, and a socio-emotional ‘safe space’ for learning – with a respectful guide and a supportive group of peers. These are in line with prevailing research on outdoor learning (Ewert & Sipthorp, 2014). • Moving the Coaching Phase online during the pandemic created mixed effects: While it increased accessibility for participants with long commutes, it excluded those with poor or no WiFi. Also, while social bonds established during the outdoor learning could be maintained online, new bonds were hard to establish purely remotely. • Sensitivity to socio-cultural, political and other particularities was key in the regional adaptation of the model, as was respectful collaboration with local stakeholders. This led to rich evidence of transversal competencies in programme participants and initiatives to continue and expand the project. Conclusions The employed outdoor learning approach proves highly effective in raising transversal competencies in programme participants – across regional variances in socio-cultural contexts and programme delivery. Outdoor learning demonstrates to be suited as a cost-efficient approach to reach disengaged populations and to bring them closer to and into the labour market. The project consortium currently produces sustainability guidelines to make the lessons learned and recommendations accessible to decision-makers from other European regions. FOLM is funded by the EEA & Norway Grants for Youth Employment.
Allison, P., & Von Wald, K. (2010). Exploring values in the wilderness: Personal and social development on educational expeditions. Pastoral Care in Education, 28(3), 219–232. https://doi.org/10.1080/02643944.2010.504222 Ewert, A. W. / Sibthorp, J. (2014). Outdoor Adventure Education. Foundations, Theory, and Research. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. Fiennes, C. / Oliver, E. / Dickson, K. / Escobar, D. / Romans, A. / Oliver, S. (2015). The Existing Evidence-Base about the Effectiveness of Outdoor Learning. Final Report – Executive Summary. Institute for Outdoor Learning (IOL) & Blagrave Trust (Eds.). Gap Communications (2018). Evaluation of the ‘Positive Futures’ Programme 2016-2018 for veterans struggling with civilian life. https://50ca3b8f-d6ee-4332-91cf-0330d1510970.filesusr.com/ugd/9df89b_eb558abca15f4c869337e40e3a59ec30.pdf [Deleted for blind review]. OECD (2019). OECD Future of Education and skills 2030: Thought Leader written statement. http://www.oecd.org/education/2030-project/teaching-and-learning/learning/transformative-competencies/Thought_leader_written_statement_Rychen.pdf OECD’s (2005). The definition and selection of key competencies. Executive Summary. URL: http://www.oecd.org/pisa/35070367.pdf. Rickinson, M., Dillon, J., Teamey, K., Morris, M., Choi, M.Y., Sanders, D., & Benefield, P. (2004). A review of research on outdoor learning. Published by the National Foundation for Educational Research and King’s College London. SMCI Associates (2018). ‘Next Steps’ Programme evaluation 2014-2017. Report to Venture Trust. https://50ca3b8f-d6ee-4332-91cf-0330d1510970.filesusr.com/ugd/9df89b_9ee7b6a647024d209121be39f1a70223.pdf UN / United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (nd.). Sustainable Development. The 17 Goals. URL: https://sdgs.un.org/goals . UNESCO (2015). Transversal competencies in education policy and practice. Regional synthesis report, Phase I. URL: https://transversalcompetencies.weebly.com/uploads/2/8/4/2/28422343/transversal.pdf Whittemore, S. (2018). Transversal competencies essential for future proofing the workforce. White paper. URL: http://www.togetherhr.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/TRANSVERSAL_COMPETENCIES_ESSENTIAL_FUTURE_WORKFORCE.pdf
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