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Request for partnership

Background of the project

We are living in a society that is changing very fast. In a globalized and computerized world everything seems to be interconnected. Developments at one place influence or initiate changes elsewhere, whether they are technical, economical, political or social. This turbulent environment is also reflected in organizations. More than ever, organizations need to be able to adapt to new circumstances and challenges in a swift and decisive manner. Especially companies are acting in a highly competitive market, which demands high productivity and efficiency and, at the same time, put a strain on training budgets. Creating and maintaining competitive advantages through innovation and efficiency are key factors for success.

To obtain such potential within organizations a workforce is needed with broad competences and profound know-how. For sure, these can be learned in standard educational settings. However, the same turbulence as described above severely affects the lifespan of knowledge and skills. It is therefore not just the knowledge and skills that need to be transmitted, employees also need ‘to learn to learn’ continuously. Standard educational settings remain important, but seem to be inadequate to meet the challenge organizations are confronted with. New and lifelong ways of learning are needed to create a workforce that is well-educated, highly competent, self-conscious, flexible and employable and that is thus able to provide the necessary key factors for success.

This need is felt even on the higher levels of the European Union. The European Commission has declared that in 2010 the EU must have the most competitive and dynamic knowledge economy. It is committed to invest heavily in vocational education and training and strives for the stimulation of ‘lifelong learning’. Lifelong learning covers all activities that are undertaken continuously to improve and strengthen knowledge, skills and competencies. There are three ways through which to achieve the lifelong learning objectives:
1.Formal education: intentional and systematic transfer of knowledge, skills and attitudes by conventional institutions such as schools and universities.
2.Non-formal education: intentional and systematic transfer of knowledge, skills and attitudes by institutions other than schools and universities (e.g. in-company training).
3.Informal education: unintentional and non-systematic transfer of knowledge, skills and attitudes at the workplace due to a stimulating (and appropriately redesigned) working environment, put into practice by the employee in a self-initiated and self-determinated way, according to his or her individual learning preferences and conditions.

These three ways are complementary to one another. Over the years considerable attention has been paid to formal and non-formal education. Strikingly, informal learning is a major yet underdeveloped tool. Informal learning is most underdeveloped and most promising at the same time. In fact it seems to have tremendous advantages over the other two:
1.Impact: research from the University of Maastricht shows that 94% of the learning curve of employees is based on informal learning [source]. The effect of informal learning is twice as big as the effect of formal learning [source]. Learning on the job is more effective [source]. (Non)formal learning thus covers only a small part of the educational potential.
2.Applicability: informal learning takes place within the regular working context; the learning content therefore applies directly to and is integrated directly in the daily routine.
3.Motivation: the learning environment equals the working environment and so employees do not experience the normal resistance and/or trauma (e.g. against the need to perform or against an unfamiliar environment) associated with formal and non-formal education. They are more easily motivated, since the learning conditions are more appealing. Besides, informal learning partly takes place unnoticed and in a natural way and can be very inspiring.
4.Productivity: whereas informal learning takes place within the normal working conditions employers do not have to invest in loss of productivity (which is another major tool to achieve and maintain its competitive advantage).
5.Feasibility: the implementation of informal learning is more in accordance with the daily routine, since it does not need explicit planning and organization of training courses.
6.Sustainability: informal learning is aimed at sharing knowledge, experience and skills amongst colleagues, especially from the elder to the youngsters.

There is already a heap of (academic) knowledge on informal learning. The main challenge is to put these theories and models into practice.
Joining forces in the Netherlands
In 2007 stakeholders of different backgrounds in the Netherlands acknowledged the importance of informal learning for their organization and for society at large. They agreed to join forces and   formed a project group, using their variety of backgrounds (manufacturing, education, training development, reintegration, resocialization of delinquents) as a strength and multiplier. The following organizations are actively involved in interacting on this specific subject:
Philips Electronics Nederland, multinational in the development, production and marketing of electronics
Kenniscentrum EVC, the Dutch based knowledge centre for accreditation of prior learning
Justitie, i.c. a penitentiary organization
Centrum Loopbaanrealisatie (CLR)
Provinciaal Steunpunt Werkgelegenheid (PSW), non-profit and non-governmental organisation aimed at improving the position of groups at risk on the labour market
ROC Eindhoven?

Overall goal of the project

The various members of the project group are triggered by the advantages of informal learning mentioned above. They are eager to investigate the aspects of informal learning more in detail by combining the different approaches, expertise, experiences and needs of the participants in this project, in order to redesign the workplace, motivate the target groups and validate the outcomes. They have committed themselves to the following challenge:

Within three years this project group develops a well-founded and practical road map for the modulation, organization, implementation, validation and maintenance of informal learning environments, offering guidelines, evidence-based toolkits and best practices to manufacturing companies and organizations in the social sector, so that their employees are stimulated to convert their (un)conscious experiences into improved self-esteem, mobility, productivity and so that innovation and overall vocational skills and competences are strengthened.

This project is aiming at three levels: the workforce, its management and the organization as a whole. It is primarily targeting lower-skilled workers (e.g. the ageing workers, early school leavers, the partially disabled), but on the longer run wants to include other groups at risk, such as (ex)delinquents, people with disabilities (mentally or physically) and refugees as well.

Strategy of the project

The overall goal of the project is challenging and therefore needs a consistent strategy. In line with the principles of informal learning the project group wants to learn from and build upon the experiences of others. In the last few years various initiatives in the field of informal learning have been taken throughout Europe both on an academic and a practical level. This enables a flying start instead of having to start from scratch.  

Therefore, the strategy of the project consists of the following steps:
1.Making use of and sharing existing information through (inter)national partnerships;
2.Translating and integrating this information into innovative and effective methods;
3.Implementing these methods by setting up pilots and by developing a road map;
4.Disseminating this road map to a higher level.

1.Make use of and sharing existing information through (inter)national partnerships;
Appreciating the advantages of the European common market the project group wants to use existing know-how and best practices in other member states of the European Union. Partnerships should be formed to exchange valuable information amongst its participants creating an active learning environment for all participants and a springboard for the desired flying start of the project group. Joining forces with international experts most efficiently enables us to bridge the gap between existing knowledge on informal learning and the practical implementation of it.

On a national level we have already started the process of sharing and comparing the available knowledge and experiences on the topic of informal learning. Expertise is brought in through the diverse perspectives of the participants, e.g. on subjects such as motivation through peer groups (so called Learning Reps), validation (accreditation of prior learning APL), reintegration and career development, practical training and implementation, etc. We are however convinced that expanding this network to an international level will give the project a tremendous boost.

2.Translating and integrating this information into innovative and effective methods;
The exploration of the issues in step 1 will provide building blocks that need to be translated and integrated to make them suitable for the application in the organizations of (some of) the Dutch participants. The international participants will actively be involved in this process of innovation, resulting in effective methods for the Dutch organizations using instructional design. Simultaneously the non-Dutch participating organizations may benefit from the know-how, opinions and experiences of the project group.

3.Implementing these methods by setting up pilots and by developing a road map;
The newly developed methods will be applied to small scale pilots in order to test and reflect their applicability. This step will result in a road map, containing the necessary steps, evidence-based tools and guidelines for successfully implementing informal learning in the workplace of different organizations, illustrated with best practices. Attention will be paid to the different levels (the workforce, its management and the organisation as a whole) and to the influence and dependence on/of other organisational processes, such as overall mission, strategy and HRM-processes.

4.Disseminating this road map to a higher level.
Once these methods have been tested and reflected on a small scale, the road map for implementing informal learning in organizations will be brought to a (multi)organizational level nationally and (possibly) internationally. In doing so, informal learning will be used throughout the European Union to enforce the competitiveness and innovation strength of organization as well as to improve the skills, competences and mobility of the workforce.

Project management of international partnership

First things first! Therefore, in this section the first step of the strategy has been made operational:

Goals: the goal of the first step (forming international partnerships) is to explore the following questions:
How do experts in other countries determine learning efforts at the workplace?
What methods have been developed in these countries to modulate, organize, implement, validate and maintain informal learning within organizations?
Would these methods be applicable and ready-to-use effectively in the Netherlands?
Can these (inter)national partners be helpful in transferring these methods to pilot projects in the Netherlands?
Organization: the meetings will be organized by the programme management of the project group, where applicable together with the hosting organization. The agenda will be determined in consensus with all participating organizations.
Communication: meetings and major conclusions will be put down in writing and distributed to the participants
Duration of partnership:
Evaluation: at the end of the first step the process will be evaluated, relevant issues will be documented and goal realization will be measured by the project group as well as by the other participating organizations. All participants will provide a short evaluation as to the contribution of the partnership to their daily working environment.

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