From Carer to CarerPlus: enhancing digital competences in the care worker sector to improve the quality of life of older persons

In a presentation at the annual EDEN conference in Zagreb, Steven Warburton described how the CarerPlus project has addressed the challenges surrounding the development of a training programme for enhancing the digital skills of care workers so that the quality of life of older persons can be enhanced.

The project is set against the background of an aging European demographic and the implications this has for the quality of life of older persons. With better health care and improved living conditions we are now living longer. Figures from Eurostat show a projected change in the relative population size that reveals a marked increase in those in the 65-79 and over 80’s brackets. This shift in the dependency ratio (of older to younger generations) is creating a pressure on healthcare systems and the social service support structures. With a shortage of workers we can expect to work longer, experience later retirement and suffer higher taxation rates.

To help mitigate these pressures, there has been an effort to increase the autonomy and independence of older people, for example by taking measures to support older persons in their homes rather than move them too swiftly into the medical care system. This is an attractive solution, but we must also find ways to keep older people active and independent, for example through connections with their family, friends and community. 

Research has shown that modern Information and Communication Technologies and Ambient Assisted Living technologies can support ageing in the community and at home. The CarerPlus project has identified the domiciliary care worker, and the set of digital competences they possess, as a key mediator between ICT-based opportunities for ageing well in the home, and their integration into older people’s lives.

With this vital link in mind the aims of the project have been twofold. First, to provide a pathway for the development and professionalization of care workers through the acquisition of a set of digital competences. Second, for the care worker to play a central role in combating social exclusion in older persons through the care context, utilising and passing on the newly acquired digital skills and knowledge.

One of the key challenges has therefore been to define a set of digital competences relevant to the domain of the care worker sector and then translate this into a meaningful programme of activity. Four research phases have investigated the relevance of digital competences in the care sector, and the digital knowledge and skills likely to emerge within future care worker activities. This work (reported in Valenta et al.,  2013; referencing DIGCOMP, Ferrari, 2013) has produced a framework with three core domains comprising 41 competence areas: general digital competence; enabling digital competence in care; and care-specific digital competence for independent living and social participation for care recipients.

The architecture of the CarerPlus training and development programme has been created with the competence framework acting as a primary reference point. This was carried out in combination with data from target group interviews and analysis by a panel of experts from the social health care sector. This effort helped identify the course areas that would provide a meaningful and authentic training architecture in which the digital competences in the identified domains could be developed. The final programme is made up of five course areas (two core and three electives) that comprises around 200 hours of study delivered in a blended learning mode:

  1. Foundation: development of baseline skills to build confidence and awareness of ICTs and understand their potential application to home care settings.
  2. Designing Social Care Interventions: enabling digital competence in care that is sustainable and accepted by both care workers and care recipients.
  3. Professional development: to enhance participant competences in the areas of planning, communicating and professional networking.

Providing Social Care with ICTs:

  1. Independent and Assisted Living
  2. Social Inclusion

The design approach of the programme references Bruner’s (1960) notion of the spiral curriculum where to advance knowledge and skills they are revisited at higher levels. This is being fostered by an activity-led design approach ensuring strong alignment between the learning outcomes and the evidence of success. In an innovative twist the participant care workers are situated as ‘designers’ of ICT based interventions and care recipients are located as ‘co-participants’. By promoting the use of short design cycles based on a scaffolded micro-project approach, the aim is to empower the care worker and the care recipient and promote autonomy for decision making within the care setting.

At the time of writing, pilots are underway in five European countries. Participants are being supported through the CarerPlus programme and the project team will monitor and report on the successes of the project. For care workers, this success should comprise an understanding of their own professionalization needs and the acquisition of necessary skills, attitudes and knowledge to enhance their professional profiles; for older people there should be clear enhancements to their quality of life.

Acknowledgments: The CarerPlus project (297304) is co-funded by the European Union under the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme - ICT Policy Support Programme.

Professor Steven Warburton is Head of Technology enhanced Learning at the University of Surrey, UK.

A full version of this is available as research paper in:

Warburton, S., Hatzipanagos, S. and Valenta, L. (2014). From Carer to CarerPlus: the translation of a digital competence framework into a blended mobile learning programme for the domiciliary care sector. Proceedings EDEN Conference 2014, Zagrab, Croatia.