Adult learning matters

06 May 2020 |Written by Kevin Maye


A lot of time and effort is spent trying to persuade children to stay in education and the benefits of higher-level learning are well documented. Improved life expectancy, better educational achievement for future generations and positive outcomes for employment and income are just some of these.

Similarly, there’s strong evidence that adult education - both formal and informal, has many positive benefits. Not just improvements to employability but improved social cohesion, health and security. Unfortunately, many people find school and similar education settings challenging.

The Social Mobility Commission has shown that the poorest and those whose parents had lower educational achievement are less likely to take part in adult education.

I'll repeat those points because it's worth noting:

  • Those with most to gain take part least
  • Parents with lower education can impact on the learning of their children, even into adulthood

Understanding the needs and motivations for adult learners at all levels is key and only then can we ensure opportunities exist for them to enter learning that meets their needs.

In 2018 the Department for Education took an in-depth look at the decisions and motivations of adult learners. They identified factors impacting on adults’ decisions to engage in and maintain learning. The key point to note is how these factors would vary between individuals over time. When adults engage in learning they are likely to continue. Being involved in learning in one period is linked to learning in the next. For learners with low confidence, informal routes to learning are key. Workers' Educational Association (WEA), community learning and outreach from more formal settings provide an entry point. Achievement and success in these settings is a springboard for further learning.

For example, Carolyn was able to access informal learning opportunities alongside more holistic support in her community. This was a key factor in her success. Becoming economically active and contributing further to her community show just what can be achieved.

Or Olivier, accessing one course helped him find others that lead to a change in career. Employment and volunteering to support other members of his community have changed his outlook.

Maybe even think about me. Neither parent completed any post-secondary education. I left school at 16 in a community still reeling from the effects of the 1984 miners strike.

Since starting adult learning in 1997 I’ve gained qualifications. I've completed countless online lessons, short courses, done non-accredited vocational courses, Massive Open Online Courses - any learning I could find. I’ve changed career path and sector three times and held about 20 different job titles.

To adapt and thrive in this changing world we’ll all need to learn. Currently, we’re all facing a world that is changing rapidly. Not just the current crisis but also climate change, political upheavals and the pace of technological advance. We must ensure that opportunities exist for everyone to start that journey in a way that suits them. Adult learning in the community is one of the key ingredients in all our futures.