RURALeNTER – Capacity Building through ICT in Rural Areas – is a project funded by the European Commission, Lifelong Learning, GRUNDTVIG Multilateral programme (2010-2011). Its aim is to demonstrate an innovative approach that would help rural areas adult population to acquire and reinforce skills and knowledge so that they make best use of the new opportunities offered by the ICT technologies.
The project supports the development of innovative ICT-based content, services, pedagogies and practices for lifelong learning for adult population in rural areas. Related studies indicate that the citizens in these areas have fewer opportunities than urban citizens, and this is reflected in their educational profile and qualifications. Therefore, they are considered as candidate for discrimination. Consequently the need for qualification is highly supportable. Additionally, the fact that many services are physically located in urban areas constitutes an inequality that the project tries to address. Thus, RURALeNTER aims to improve the quality, attractiveness and accessibility of the opportunities for lifelong learning for rural citizens. Moreover, it involves population of all ages in lifelong learning opportunities, including disadvantaged groups regardless of their socioeconomic background.
The RURALeNTER Guide of Good Practice sets out the necessary guidelines and recommendations for the development of ICT training programmes for rural citizens. The guide describes the developed pedagogical approach, the web portal used to deliver the educational training modules as well as the experiences and lessons learnt during the pilot training exercises. This guide is informative, systematic, practically useful and directly applicable for future actions of this kind.
The RURALeNTER developed portal and the training materials were used in different kinds of trainings, including small-group workshops, face-to-face workshops, blended learning courses, online courses via Skype, training courses on the basis of intergenerational learning. Different types of target users felt addressed by the RURALeNTER training. The overall feedback of trainers and trainees was positive although some suggestions for adaptations and improvements were formulated especially in Pilot Phase A. It can be assumed that the developed products are about to meet the needs of rural participants and can be used in a broad range of training settings. Comprehensive suggestions on how to organize RURALeNTER trainings and ideas for implementation have already been laid out in other deliverables of this project. However, some aspects regarding the tasks and role of trainers using the RURALeNTER portal and content have emerged during the RURALeNTER pilot trainings can be summarized as follows:
- The primary role of a RURALeNTER trainer is to encourage and support users to try out various ICT tools and associate them with how these tools could be used in everyday life. Therefore learning by doing is a fundamental approach. It fosters a positive approach towards the new media culture and ICT. As part of this process, the trainers should construct a supportive environment within which users can discuss the actual problems they have encountered while using ICT with a view to finding solutions to these problems.
- Face-to-face sessions have proven to be a more preferred learning mode by users in most countries (in Spain, Austria and Greece) – which should not discourage you to test new routes of teaching (cf. the online teaching experiences made in Romania).
- The structure and precise implementation of the face-to-face meetings has to be determined by a needs analysis and should be driven by the specific context which includes the age range, hobby- vs. professional setting, the region, the technical options available and so forth. As we have experienced, the needs of adult rural populations can differ considerably and the RURALeNTER portal is therefore not able to provide a one-size-fits all approach. As could be experienced in the framework of the project, the RURALeNTER material can even be used in innovative training settings such as the inter-generational learning workshops that were carried out in Austria – as long as a learning-by-doing approach is followed (as opposed to a lecturing approach).
To make the self-learning of the users effective and helpful for their overall learning experience, a trainer should also reflect with them on what kind of self-directed learning can be done outside of the face-to-face training (using the RURALeNTER portal or other sources). This should include advice to help them decide what kind of activity, hands-on approaches or reflecting practice they need to foster their competences. This way the trainer also plays an important role as a facilitator for lifelong learning.
Furthermore, we believe that the specific implementation strategies and the positive trainees’ feedback across the different countries (Austria, Greece, Romania, Spain and Switzerland) based on varying target user needs and situations proves how to successfully respond to a broad range of adult rural uses, different levels of ICT-skills, and social background.
Based on these experiences from pilot training events the national implementation strategies should be further developed. Future use of the RURALeNTER products seem to have a good chance to be successful if the long-term implementation will be planned in accordance to local needs and training prerequisites and follow the mostly positive experiences made in the pilot training workshops.