Adapting, but focused on our proven methods – ABF Sweden

Swedish ABF carry out more than 85 000 study circles every year. We are present all over the country, in all main cities, in small towns and rural areas.  When Corona hit us, we quickly had to find ways to stick to our method and digitize at the same time.

Supporting and transforming during corona

To meet, to talk, reflect together, discuss and share knowledge in a study circle has always been our method. When physical meetings are out of the question, we must actively counteract isolation and contribute to creating digital communities that support liberal adult education (folkbildning in Swedish). In doing so we manage to stick to the core of our method and assist those who need it the most.

“Folkbildning is the self-defence of democracy!

In the last few months ABF has modified numerous of study circles to make them digital, without losing the very important element of interactivity, which is essential to our method. In order to support the regional branches in the national organisation and education facilitators quickly, we produced a website with guidelines, checklists, tips and tricks for the digital meeting. We also provided digital classrooms, online education, as well as a national helpline “The Meeting Emergency Room” for customized support for our local branches and all our affiliates in their work to adjust and switch to digital.

The initiatives quickly started to pay off and we have seen numerous digital activities within the ABF organization nationwide, adapting the slogan: ABF don’t cancel – we digitize!

Study circles in choir singing, gardening and weaving have all been able to continue their activities as digital meetings. ABF in Gävle transformed their office into a studio to stream everything from dance classes to live debates from the local area, online.

An early example of how we digitized is the 84-year-old author Hervor Sjödin. She regularly does readings at her local café in a small town in the northern part of Sweden. The corona pandemic made it impossible for Hervor and ABF to follow through with these readings. Instead of cancelling, Hervor did her reading on Facebook- with some duct tape, a smartphone and a flowerpot as a camera stand. Instead of the usual 10 people Hervor reached at a regular reading, the audience grew to one of 9 000 people overnight. That’s digitizing!  

Hervor Sjödins success on Facebook was also recognized in national media.

 Folkbildning works in Sweden

Folkbildning isn’t just essential to support society and its citizens in times of crisis. The annual report from Folkbildningsrådet investigating the role of folkbildning in 2019, showed that the method reaches over 1,2 million of Sweden’s population of 10,3 million.[1]  As the largest study association in Sweden, ABF, together with the other national study association, fulfil our mission to strengthen and develop democracy, increase participation in societal development, even out educational gaps and increase participation in culture.

In areas and situation where the formal education and support system faulters folkbildning has become a reliable tool to fill in the gaps and to service those who need the support and information the most. Folkbildning doesn’t come with a diploma. It’s a method for learning, together with others without a formal teacher of a formal curriculum. Scientists from International School of Economics in Jönköping, Sweden, found an obvious correlation between participation in study circles and the chances of getting a job.[2] The link is particularly clear when it comes to citizens born abroad with little formal education.

ABF Restad Gård Värnesborg Foto: Emelie Asplund

This pandemic situation has forced us to act fast and determined to prioritize our previously quite slow digitization. We must find new ways to do things and at the same time keep focus on our prioritized audiences and main goals. We must learn to reach out even more to the most vulnerable people in the society. We are learning how to cooperate even more within our own organization, but also with affiliates and the study circle facilitators. We learn to not give up, to listen and improve. ABF will come out even stronger when we are finally back to a new normal. 

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Learning disabilities in the work place – how do we include everyone in the rapid change of work?

Due to the changing world of work, almost every work assignment and task requires the mastering of basic skills. In production of goods the process may change weekly according to customer sales orders. This requires amendments in working methods, devices, customer service etc.  Digitalisation, robotization, and the constant amendments in production require basic skills, constant learning and the adaptation of new skills every day.

Basic skills are the core in all learning. There is no longer a workplace or assignment where you could manage without reading an instruction or manual, writing a report or filling in a document, using digital technology and information. In the changing world of work we need to understand better how to make learning both efficient and desirable for everybody at work, also for those, who lack in basic skills and feel fear and shame in opening up about their learning disabilities. 

Työ sujuvaksi! was a finnish ESF project by TSL in cooperation with trade unions, work organisations and business managers, supervisors and employees’ representatives. The project for instance used web-based material and tried different assistive technologies to help the employees perform their tasks more proficiently. One sample is to make learning the tasks easier by creating interactive images, videos and 360° media with ThingLink.

Read the full article at the EPALE website. Do you want to know more about the project and its results? Contact the TSL project coordinator Mervi Ylitalo.

How jobskills can be matched with specific job criteria – an Icelandic pilot project

As the working life changes the need to match the competences of employees with criteria for specific jobs also increases. Enabling lifelong learning is a must and a current icelandic pilot project focuses on validation of skills against specific job criteria. The Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ), through its educational department, are members of ABF Norden and they are also one of the partners in the project.

The project aims at developing methods and tools for validation in working life through field trials in five jobs in close cooperation with stakeholders. The purpose of the validation process is to make competences visible, recognized and certified. On-the-job training, following the results of validation, will be a part of the system.

The assessment criteria used in the validation process will be based on competency analysis of jobs and the implementation of the process will be based on the needs of individuals and companies.

The project aims at being beneficiary to both employees and employers;

  • Visibility of knowledge and competences
  • Visibility of areas for improvement
  • Increased opportunities for job development
  • Recognized competences can be taken into account when wages are decided


  • Competence utalization is optimized, leading to increased competetiveness
  • Increased focus on competence development
  • Clearer competence requirements for job development and recruitment
  • Respect for the company/industry

The results of the project will be used to build a foundation for a sustainable system of validation in working life.

reykjavik-1988082_1920 Pixabay

About FA


Fræðslumiðstöð atvinnulífsins (FA) (e.The Education and Training Service Centre (ETSC)) is owned by the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ), the Confederation of Icelandic Employers (SA), the Federation of State and Municipal Employees (BSRB), the Ministry of Finance and the Association of Local Authorities in Iceland. In connection with the collective agreement between ASI and SA in 2002, the Icelandic government issued a statement of intent which led to the establishment of FA. Operation began in 2003.

We don’t cancel our activities – we adapt and go digital!

The last couple of weeks has been very hectic for the people working in the ABF Norden national member organisations. The social distancing needed to control the Corona outbreak has resulted in the need to very quickly transform many activites in to digital form. The need and the right for every individual to learn and be inspired is constant and when the pre-requisites changes so does the study organisations! 

Here a some examples of the work that has been done so far:

In Sweden the ABF has set up the “Meeting emergency” help line where any NGO-organisation can get help to go digital with annual meetings, study circles or cultural events. A guide for Digital non-formal adult education with tips on pedagogics, digital tools aso. will help organisations and individuals through the process in detail.

In Finland TSL has transformed for instance their work with immigrant groups  to digital form and video conference is an important tool in this. TSL is also offering help to record and share videos as well as assisting in holding interactive webinars. A lot of focus is also on changing the courses held for their national member organisations in to  digital form.

In Denmark the AOF has offered online courses to those in the work force who has been laid off. It is a way of buildning competence and keeping active during this very uncertain period. Another innovation is “30 minutes of Folkbildning” where a guest holds a short lecture on a relevant and current subject live on Facebook.

In Norway the AOF transformed 150 courses to digital form in one week. A huge task that was made possible thanks to the AOF staff and the students themselves. AOF also encourages people to take this chance to build and strengthen their competence and offers a wide range of courses online for those interested.


Climate- and coronacrisis; How can the Nordic Model meet these challenges? Time to apply for Nordenskolan 6!

Nordenskolan (The Nordic School) is a course about the possibilities and challenges of the Nordic model. It is a joint project for ABF Norden and the Nordic labour movements collaborational organisation SAMAK.

  • Read the invitation for Nordenskolan 6 (in swedish) here.
  • Read more about Nordenskolan 5 here.
  • Visit the Nordenskolan website here.
  • Let us know you are interested via the link here. (By June 5th at the latest.)

Working to complete the group assignment in Copenhagen.

” To have strong networks is one of the most important tools to have to be able to influence and affect society in the direction you want it to go. In the Nordic countries and in the workers’ movement we have a strong tradition of co-operation and this grows even stronger when we see what a difference we can make together in the world.

The Nordic School is a direct example of how we can build networks in practise – where driven individuals from the workers’ movement in the Nordic countries collectively educate themselves.

The Alumni Network ties the classes of The Nordic School together and gives added value both for new and old participants.

Emilia Työrä

Participant in the Nordic school in 2015, Chair of the Nordic School Alumni board and a member of parliament for the Social Democrats in Sweden. 

Don’t hoard food – hoard neighbours

In Sweden the ABF is supporting Beredsam – a podcast on readiness for crisis and “prepping”. Today they have released an extra podcast (in swedish) because of the Corona virus outbreak.

They have five tips on what to do in this situation, as an individual:

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Stay at home if you are having symptoms – if possible work from home even if you are not having any symptoms.
  3. Have a little extra of the food you normally eat at home (but don’t over do it).
  4. Don’t spread rumours.
  5. Be solidaric!

You can also read this interview with Herman Geijer in Dagens Nyheter where his best advice for handling a big crisis is to get to know your neighbours. Our ability to co-operate is essential and a collective crisis is best handled as a collective.

What do you learn from representing your co-workers as a shop steward? The Balance model can be a way of documenting it.

As a shop steward (def. a union member elected to represent coworkers in dealings with management) you build new competences through your work representing your fellow co-workers. The Norwegian Federation of Labour Unions (LO) has together with AOF Norway tried to map out which these competences are and find a model for how they can be documented. The project has been a part of the “Year of elected representatives 2019” and the final report has just been presented.

The so called “Balance model”, taken from the retail and health sectors, has been tried and the results are positive. The model can be used to build a common “LO-qualification” that can describe the informal competences built up over a few years. This would not only benefit todays shop stewards but It could also strengthen recruitment.

Read more about it (in norwegian) here.




Life long learning – a must in our digitalized future

Several of the member organisations of ABF Norden offer a wide range of basic skills/digitalization training. It takes place in for example evening schools and study circles (Denmark, Sweden), together with employers and trade unions at the work place (Finland) and as net based courses open to everyone (Norway). It is truly about life long learning and acquiring the skills needed both for the work life and the private life in this digital age.

As the ABF Norden chairman John Meinert Jacobsen puts it: “We (ABF Norden) as a whole has an important role to play when It comes to contributing to a positive development of society and giving people the opportunity to acquire new knowledge and compences needed in all parts of life.”


Here you can read a brand new report on the need to politicise digitalization from a labour movement perspective and the need for life long learning is mentioned as a way to ensure a decent work life:

Systems and paths for life-long learning.

Given the fast pace of technological change, as well as the more flexible labour market, education and skills training need to be stimulated as well as revamped, and move away from the mass, one-off education system that may have worked well earlier.”

Learn more about Methods!

This is an online handbook for anyone who wants to start working with newly arrived migrants or who already does so. It offers tips and ideas that may be useful to you in your work. The methods are drawn from a number of European countries including Sweden, Italy, Finland and Belgium. Take inspiration from both articles and videos via the link.

Methods focuses on non-formal learning/folkbildning and both ABF Sweden and TSL Finland were involved as partners in the project funded by the European social fund from 2017 – 2019.

Here is an example with Urban farming in Gammelbyn in the north of Sweden:


Can the Nordic Model prevent polarization? A question Nordenskolan tries to answer.

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The course Nordenskolan – The Nordic School – focuses on giving the participants knowledge about the Nordic Model and its three pillars; organized work, economic governance and public welfare. The question is also what challenges does the Nordic Model face and how can they be solved?

Young leaders from the member organisations of SAMAK, who has commissioned the course from ABF Norden, meet up over in total six days to listen to lectures and do a pan -nordic group assignment on the challenges of the Nordic Model. The fifth edition of Nordenskolan started in Stockholm in October 2019 and finished in late January 2020 in Copenhagen.

Some of the subjects for the assignments of this class of Nordenskolan were;

  • Part time employment in the Nordic countries and how we can increase the number of full-time jobs?
  • Polarization – causes and possible solutions
  • The status and strategy of political and union co-operation in the Nordic countries 

The chance to deepen the knowledge about the Nordic Model is of great importance to anyone who wants to affect society in any of  the Nordic countries in a positive way, or find solutions to the challenges the model faces.

The Nordenskolan participants also go on study visits to learn more from those who work in the everyday realities of political policy implementation in parliament or trade union federations and so on. A tradition is also to visit the SAMAK annual meeting where all the leaders of the Nordic Workers’ movement gather. In 2020 the meeting was held in Copenhagen at Marienborg, the residence of the danish prime minister, currently Mette Frederiksen (S).

There is another aspect to the course which also is of great importance. In Nordenskolan you meet, make friends and connect to a network of alumni students from all the Nordic countries.  They are active in several sectors and levels of the workers’ movement. Among the alumni of Nordenskolan many will be an active part of mapping out the future of the workers’ movement in the Nordic countries and the future of the Nordic Model.

And what about the question of polarization? The group who chose the subject did propose some solutions; create more jobs in challenged areas (“reversed urbanization”), equal access to public service and increased prosperity and action against climate change based on technologichal advancement – not just reducing or removing options for those with less financial resources.

Nordenskolan 2019/2020 was led by Lars Gaardhoj and Tor-Espen Stenerud from ABF Norden and applications for Nordenskolan 2020/2021 will be accepted in the spring.

Learn more about the Nordic Model in only six short minutes here!