Estonian Non-Formal Adult Education Association (ENAEA) launched its web-based training with the two year-long mastercourses (in 2005 and 2007). In these courses a part of the study materials were published on the web. Towards the end of the course the learners included their independent work and discussed it online.
Tiina Jääger, a member of the ENAEA Assignees’ Meeting said that the programme of the mastercourse 2008/09 will increase the amount of web-based learning: “Everything that can be done on the web will be done on the web.”
Creating the study programme of 2009 the ENAEA is also taking into account the results of the project “A Good Adult Educator in Europe” (AGADE).1 This project involved eight countries and used the method of blended learning which puts an emphasis on web-based learning. Adult educators of the ENAEA mastercourse Reet Valgmaa and Ivo Eesmaa were teachers also in AGADE .
AGADE is the curriculum development project, supported by the EU Grundtvig Programme. The target group of the course are adult educators (teachers, moderators, facilitators, coaches) with at least three years’ practice/work experience in adult education. The partners in the project are Lithuanian, Latvian and Norwegian adult education associations, Hungarian Folk High School Society, National University of Ireland, Study Association Studiefrämjandet (Sweden), University of Minho (Portugal). The result of the project is a study guide for adult educators pertaining to creating non-formal education programmes.2
AGADE has been very useful for the Estonian trainers, Tiina Jääger commented. For example, it became clear that that materials published on the web need to be adjusted to the specific context, as lectures meant for the auditorium are inappropriate in online environments. Secondly, the moderators need to be trained. The experience of AGADE showed that specially-trained moderators can play a great role in maintaining the activity within the forum and its discussions.
Estonian for Swedes
Web-based learning is gradually spreading in Estonia. Heli Kaldas, director of Haapsalu Open University said that from this autumn the University will offer a new course: Estonian for Swedes, a joint project with their partner institution in Sweden. The colleagues in Sweden, Kiki Bodin from Hola Open University and Kenneth Hermansson from Birka Open University, visited Haapsalu last spring to help to start the course. In the first Estonian study group there are 15 people, mainly Estonians that immigrated to Sweden during the war, but also Swedes interested in Estonia. The programme consists of 50 classes and every student will work 4 hours per week independently in the virtual environment. The so-called first class environment enables the students also to hear pronunciation. The teacher is Marju Terro3.
Also the Social Science department of Tartu University is interested in web-based learning as they are planning to launch a project of distance learning for social workers in the frame of Leonardo. Estonian Non-formal Adult Education Association is their consulting partner in this matter.
New target groups
Tiina Jääger believes that most participants of the first ENAEA mastercourse showed interest and willingness to explore the possibilities of web-based learning but there were also opponents. “Do you want to bring all non-formal education into the internet?” several learners and education officials asked. The biggest fear was that the human contact which is so important for non-formal education could be lost on the internet. Some people believe the internet to be disadvantageous in principle. In fact the ENAEA has no intention of moving completely to the internet, rather applying blended learning in order to combine different approaches. For instance the mastercourse of adult educator lasts for eight weeks and for at least one week the participants will meet and exchange directly.
The main advantage of web-based learning is the flexibility it offers. Besides the fact that new target groups can be introduced to non-formal education such as young people accustomed to use computers and retired people interested to learn online. These target groups can participate very actively in non-formal education if they are granted access.
Tiina Jääger notes that one of the concerns during the first masterclass was that the Estonian learners remained rather passive in web discussions. In Sweden, for instance, the problem is the opposite: participants are so active in web discussions that the leaders of study circles have difficulty controlling the discussions. In Estonia the web rather restrains people. Several learners have said that they have the feeling that their thoughts are not perfect enough to be written down – this could be described as the perfectionism syndrome. One reason for this syndrome could be the Soviet regime when the following anecdote was often told: “Don’t think. But if you think, don’t speak. But if you think and speak, don’t write. But if you think and speak and write, don’t sign. But if you think and speak and write and sign, don’t be surprised…”