Context Paper: Digitalisation and Democracy

Authors: Christin Cieslak, Angeliki Giannakopoulou, Daiana Huber, Dina Soeiro, Hélder Touças, Nils-Eyk Zimmermann, Susanne Lattke, Thomas Fritz.

Published by: European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA), Brussels, 2021.


As the world is moving to a digital-first society, like relationships, institutions and workplaces are increasingly becoming mediated by technology, and digital technologies have the power to platform everyone, there is a lot of work to be done towards representativeness, openness and transparency.

The digital gap has widened over the last two years, exposing a large group of the population with little or no basic digital skills, access and opportunities. Developing alternative mechanisms and offers on how the internet can promote democracy, disseminate them and promote critical thinking as well as media literacy is of utmost importance. In this, a clear strategy needs to be developed on how Adult Education can contribute to the promotion of democracy with the help of digital media/internet and what preconditions must be created for this to develop concrete approaches to adult learners. The goal has to be to enforce the power of the people in public decision making and personal development, provide access to digital outlets, and create safe spaces for active engagement in international digital contexts.

Against this background EAEA, together with its partners, has not only dedicated the 2021 Grundtvig award to digitalisation and democracy but has invited different stakeholders to join a working group on digitalisation. The paper is the result of extended research, workshops and discussions and reflects the current state of the conceptualisation of democracy and digitalisation and their representation in adult education and learning.

It is having a closer look at the conceptualisation of democracy within the context of digitalisation, the power conditions and dynamics in the digital space, as well as digital politics and digitalisation in the public space. We will also discuss digital rights in Europe and address digitally excluded groups. In this, the authors are focussing on adult learners, teachers and educators, their digital competences and also the role of ALE in Democracy and Digitalisation.

Policy Recommendations

Based on those insights, this paper closes with policy recommendations that EAEA produced, together with its partners from Dafni Kek, CPIP Romania, Associação Portuguesa para a Cultura e Educação Permanente (APCEP), the Câmara Municipal de Lisboa, the Arbeitskreis deutscher Bildungsstätten (AdB), the German Institute for Adult Education (DIE), and the Lernraum.Wien.

1. Recognise the importance of ALE

Recognise and support formal and non-formal adult learning and education as a key strategy for more democracy in digitalisation and in creating a human-first digital society.

2. Prepare for future challenges

Support ALE not only to provide necessary adaptive life skills for now, but to anticipate and shape future developments.

3. Create Synergies

Create synergies between literacy, digital skills and critical media
learning and education, providing
inclusive and meaningful integrated technologies.

4. Support IT literacy

Promote confident and critical use of digital technology to support well-being, active citizenship, inclusion, and employability.

5. Extend digital competence

Extend digital competence further towards Education for  Democratic Citizenship/Human Rights Education, as all education should give rights-related approaches more emphasis.

6. Support Community Education

Promote digital education by better fund cooperation in education in communities and intergenerational learning in Europe and  beyond.

7. Ensure access to Education

Ensure all adults have access to education and training for digital skills, not just as users, clients or consumers in the digital world but with critical thinking, including vulnerable and marginalised adults.

8. Promote in-service training

Allow educators to create/share knowledge that facilitates the  integration of technology transversally in teaching and learning, not only as tools but as empowering instruments to promote andragogical innovation.

9. Align the professionalisation of educators/teachers

Develop a European framework for ALE specialists,  acknowledging professional competencies deriving from initial training, continuous professional training, as well as skills gained from practice.

10. Invest in andragogy research

Invest in research driven by pedagogy and andragogy, to  acknowledge and support the variety of neuro-diversity in learners
and educators.

11. Enforce data transparency

Enforce data transparency, access and security, and thus pursue engagement, representation and openness. Then we can build a digital public space that is critical towards the interests of exogenic

We hope these recommendations can add to the discussion and help to include ALE more prominently in the public discourse on digitisation and democracy.