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We must fundamentally address how to shape learning in the digital transformation. Breaking down the “Hagen Manifesto on New Learning”, Annabel Bils from FernUniversität explains why now is the time to develop concepts that create radically new approaches.

Universities must fundamentally address how they want to shape learning in the digital transformation. It is indisputable: digitisation is changing the way educational content is created, the formats in which it is conveyed and experienced, as well as where learning and teaching take place and with whom. What the Covid-19 experience has shown is that even before the pandemic, dedicated concepts for digital learning were often lacking – this has only been made more visible. Digitalisation had not yet triggered a surge in innovation at universities and the education system is still reacting too sluggishly to the inevitable digital transformation of society. Competences that will be relevant for learning and working in the future do not yet have a high priority in the curricula, and skills like agility or comprehensive data literacy are still not practised enough in educational institutions. If we take the experience of the past two years seriously, then universities ought to develop concepts that are not just a continuation of what has been tried and tested (in a face-to-face format), but that create more radically new approaches. However, it would also be short-sighted to approach the ad hoc measures implemented during the pandemic as state of the art for the years to come. What is needed instead is a cultural change.

At the FernUniversität in Hagen in Germany, together with experts from the German-speaking education sector, we published the “Hagen Manifesto on New Learning” in September 2020. In the midst of the digital transformation, new learning is about rethinking learning from the core. Currently, there is a lack of know-how and experience on how to learn, teach and work well digitally and how to productively combine digital with analogue learning and teaching formats.

Presented in twelve theses, the manifesto advocates for a change in the concept of learning, ranging from “new learning means lifelong education” and “new learning rethinks the roles of teachers and learners” to “new learning requires new, collaborative educational policy”. More than 40 personalities from science and higher education practice, business and media, as well as students, were among the first signatories. Today, the manifesto has more than 1,200 supporters.

The manifesto proclaims the need for a change in attitude by reacting to evolving demands, developing an appreciative error culture, recognising the importance of networks and welcoming experimentation. Ultimately, it is about a commitment shared between learners and education institutions stating, “This is how we want to learn”.

On the learners' side, the “new learning” introduced by the Hagen Manifesto aims to strengthen self-determination and take individual prerequisites into account. The manifesto assumes that everyone learns in their own way. New learning supports individual strengths and uniqueness through personal guidance in both digitally-supported and adaptive learning environments. The manifesto also addresses the changing roles of teachers and learners, with teachers being understood as neither omniscient, nor in a position to determine the learning process on their own. They see themselves as learners, who at the same time create and facilitate a framework in which others can learn.

New learning enables participation and self-determination in the digital society. If we think of digitalisation in combination with lifelong learning, teaching and learning should be agile, connected and collaborative. In addition, learners should be at the centre, for example with organisational support to learning. Especially when campus life cannot take place in the usual way, support and networking structures are needed for students so that they do not feel isolated or disconnected.

It is also essential to support teachers with regard to online didactics and the use of digital tools in order to help them establish ideas and concepts for innovative teaching. New learning stands for expanding the scope of didactics and using digital formats in addition to face-to-face teaching - finding the right mix between online and in person, collaborative and non-collaborative teaching and learning concepts, and envisioning meaningful blended formats.

To this end, educational institutions must allow for experimentation to facilitate innovation, and provide good digital training opportunities for the institution as a whole. Administrations, too, must have digital competences to be able to meet the changed requirements of teaching, studying, research and knowledge transfer. In order to foster a cultural change, this should be understood in the context of the application of technology and digital tools, as well as meta-competences such as cooperation skills and agility for the digitally enhanced reality. In addition, even if the Hagen Manifesto does not address technical details, a functioning and secure infrastructure is the basis for digital learning. Here it is important that technical support and didactic planning are intertwined. To this end, infrastructures must be reviewed, adapted and expanded. As you can see, there is a lot to do, culturally, strategically and structurally.


Annabell Bils
FernUniversität in Hagen

Annabell Bils is an educational scientist and has served as specialist for Higher Education Strategy and Digitisation at FernUniversität in Hagen since 2017. Her fields of interest are digital learning, strategic digitalisation of teaching and culture of innovation. She has worked on various positions and projects on strategic topics at the university and in cross-university networks. Annabell is a member of EUA’s 2021 Thematic Peer Group on Strategy and organisational culture.

Photo Credits: Benedikt Reuse, FernUniversität in Hagen

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