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Pedagogy of Adult Education 2: Curriculum Negotiation

The importance of making full use of students’ experience and ensuring effective expression of their aims, intentions and ambitions is recognised by many adult educators. This hasn’t led, in the main however, to a model of the ‘self directed learner’ facilitated by the tutor. Rather approaches have been developed that draw out and enable students to reflect upon their aims and pursue them within a framework of knowledge and skills provided by the tutor and/or the educational provider. When working well, this permits a creative tension between students and tutor in planning and providing the curriculum; a process often described as ‘curriculum negotiation’.

In practice the term curriculum negotiation may mean many things. It’s common, for example, for an adult tutor to start a course by setting out her or his planned learning outcomes and asking for any additions or amendments which can be incorporated. Here though I want to outline two particular approaches: ‘workplace reports’ or discovery learning in trade union education and student projects in second chance type courses. Educators in other curriculum settings will recognise the general approaches. The interest is that both provide a structured framework within which negotiation takes place.

Workplace reports

The TUC transformed its approach to shop steward education in the 1970s by moving to centrally produced course materials, a single course tutor (rather than a number of different specialist lecturers) and ‘student centred’ learning methods. The course work was based on problems and issues (workplace reports) brought by students into the class room rather than contrived cases studies and role plays designed by the tutor.

For example prior to a session on involving members in the union, students would be asked to conduct a survey of their members identifying concerns and interests. The class session would discuss the points raised by members and consider the best ways to involve them in tackling them. Following the session students could practise planned strategies (such as members’ meetings) in the workplace, applying skills developed on the course. Similarly with collective bargaining issues; the workplace was brought into the classroom via students’ reports; strategies were debated and then tried out in the workplace.

Collectively this had a significant impact on the curriculum enabling it to focus on emerging and changing workplace issues of relevance to the students. Trade union tutors who also worked as Industrial Relations researchers often commented that stewards’ reports cast a revealing and novel light on the subject. Stewards said they gained greatly by learning from each other, hearing a diverse range of experiences and issues, and gaining a much broader outlook in the process.

Assessment focused on getting stewards to tackle problems systematically, defining the problem fully and looking at different sources of information, and in a rounded way, taking into account equality issues and other wider concerns. From their perspective, stewards, and their union convenors, judged the effectiveness of their learning primarily by their impact in the workplace.

Student research projects

A frequently used method in Second Chance type courses is to ask students to plan, undertake and report upon a small-scale research project based on interviewing a key informant or conducting a survey. This gives an opportunity to investigate a matter of their choice, often of personal or local concern within the broad subject area. For instance on Second Chance courses students would often follow-up issues relating to their children’s education or health, local facilities or planning decisions, or changes in the work place or to local services. This enabled them to explore the connections between the immediate and wider social policy and structure. By starting from research questions identified by them they had a much greater ownership of the curriculum.

Teaching and assessment need a strong focus on developing study skills and critical thinking. A small-scale research project helps develop a wide range of writing and research skills. A key point in assessment is critical thinking; this can be demonstrated by contrasting findings with initial hypothesis (what did you expect? What did you find out?) and awareness of wider context (e.g. how does this contrast with current government policy of this subject? ) WEA tutors have shown, for example, how significant connections can be made in this way, for example between sugar craft and fair trade and globalisation.  From a social purpose perspective, these projects provide the link to social action such as joining a charity or pressure group, or contacting an MP or councillor.

A research project is a big step educationally and can put off some students, and indeed tutors. I believe though they can be of huge benefit to students but support is needed in identifying a manageable research question and making the necessary contacts e.g. for an interview. Guidelines about conducting research, set out step by step, are essential.

Tutors

This shift in Teaching, Learning and Assessment methods challenged the role of the tutor and her or his relationship with students. I think though that the notion of ‘facilitator’ greatly understated the skills involved in working with students in these ways. Curriculum negotiation removes a lot of predictability and requires a flexibility and capacity to introduce concepts and skills in unexpected settings as well as encouraging students to learn in more challenging and adventurous ways. It can form the basis of the more democratic and reciprocal relationship between students and tutors to which many of us aspire.

As ever comments welcome from different perspectives and experiences.

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Is there pedagogy of adult education? Part 1

Is there pedagogy of adult education? Can we talk about an approach to Teaching, Learning and Assessment (TLA) that is distinctive and constitutes a shared and understood body of practice?

As my colleague Greg Coyne says there ‘is a rich literature and experience in adult learning stretching back for a hundred years…’ I want to look at some of this experience, and a bit of the literature in order to throw light on the question. The selection is admittedly serendipity, reflecting what I know or have read about and it focuses on broadly defined ‘social purpose’ and/or liberal adult education. The hope is to add something to contemporary discussions on the topic and promote further debate.

I’m not focusing particularly on educational theorists although some have clearly been very influential. Ann Walker has done that in her ‘Hall of Fame’ blogs (link below). Instead I’m looking at the practice of adult education to see how understanding has developed, some of the tensions that have merged and common threads of good practice.

This started out as a blog and turned into an indigestible essay so instead I’m doing it in bits, starting with two significant models of what adult education should look like. Forthcoming blogs will examine particular TLA issues.

Tutorial classes: the classic model

The three-year tutorial class with weekly meetings was the classic model of liberal adult education practiced by the WEA and universities (who provided the tutors) in the first half of the last century. They were designed for adults who hadn’t had access to secondary schooling and provided a serious introduction to academic study, reaching university level in the third year.

The predominant teaching method evolved as a one hour lecture followed by an hour’s discussion with assessment via students’ written work. Student essays along with a minimum attendance requirement were conditions of access to the ‘golden stream’ of public funding first secured for tutorial classes in 1909.

An interesting outcome of some tutorial classes was the impact that student experience had on some of the young university lecturers teaching the classes. This is acknowledged, for example, by R H Tawney, teaching economic history in Stoke and Rochdale from 1909 and fifty years later by E P Thompson whose ground breaking ‘Making of the English Working Class’ draws on the experiences and memories of tutorial class students in 1950’s Yorkshire. In both cases their understanding of social history was significantly formed though discussion with their students.

Tutorial classes began with a conventional approach – lectures and essays – but the experience of working with highly motivated and experienced adult students prompted the development of discussion-based and experiential learning that have become influential parts of a more distinctive adult education methodology.

‘Social Movement’ education

The tutorial class movement declined significantly in the 1950’s; classes became shorter with a subject shift towards liberal arts subjects and an ending of the requirement on students to provide written work. The social relevance of adult education was widely questioned with universal secondary education, near full employment, greater social mobility, and the expansion of mass media, particularly television.

Different and radical models of adult education however emerged in the 1970’s connected with  the collapse of the post-war consensus around the Welfare State, the ‘second wave’ women’s movement, trade union militancy (including health and safety), inner city struggles around housing, regeneration and community development, and resistance to unemployment. The ambition of many adult educators at that time was that their work should support these new social movements.

Part of this involved re-thinking of the relationship between tutors and students; often summarised as a shift for the tutor from ‘expert’ to facilitator’. This shift recognised the wealth of knowledge and experience amongst students and the need for education to help groups in the community define and work towards their own aims. The understanding of knowledge was quite different to the tutorial class model where it had been assumed that education introduced students to a body of knowledge necessary for their individual or collective development.  Social movement educators echoed Friere’s critique of the ‘bank of knowledge’ and student as an empty account.

Approaches to pedagogy stressed the informal, the committed and the importance of action research. Assessment was about the campaigning or policy impact of the social movement of which education was a part. Staff working for the Home Office Community Development Projects (established in deprived areas) brought together researchers, community activists and adult educators. In the workplace,  trade union tutors and students in Leeds researched stress amongst bus workers and used the results in a campaign for improved working conditions.

Social movement education was, and remains, important as a model but practice on the ground was surely more ambiguous and mixed. Interestingly the trail blazing Liverpool ‘Second Chance to Learn’ scheme insisted on the ‘Oxford’ model of teaching, learning and assessment with lectures, individual tutorials and student essays and projects. Laudably their thinking was ‘nothing’s too good for the working classes’ although, according to the scheme’s evaluator, many of the students found this approach heavy going and it was modified as a result.

Conclusion

Examination of these two models has illustrated the development of important and distinctive adult education notions of TLA around – for example – student experience, the role of the tutor and expert knowledge, and the relationship of education to social action and change. In forthcoming blogs I want to explore some of these issues in more detail picking up on ideas of curriculum negotiation, discussion-based learning,  embedding study skills, and feedback and assessment practices in adult and community learning. 

Please comment giving your own thoughts and perspectives.

Link to Ann Walker ‘Hall of Fame’ blogs:

http://annwalkerwea.wordpress.com/category/hall-of-fame/

Interesting discussion by John Field about how far adult education is/was a ‘social movement’

http://thelearningprofessor.wordpress.com/

Some Mooc points

Massive Open On-line Courses (Moocs) are short learning packages provided by some universities and available free to all on-line. Currently US universities are most advanced; in Britain the Open University is leading a consortium – Futurelearn – involving some other universities and cultural organisations such as the British Museum. It has a planned Autumn launch.

As a big lifelong learning initiative using digital media and with global reach, Moocs are difficult to ignore. They may have a transformative impact on higher education and by extension adult education; whilst extending reach and reducing costs there are potentially significant negative consequences for teachers (and other staff) and the quality of the students’ learning experience.

Substantial private investment has gone into US Moocs although there is not as yet an evident business model. There is some experience of charging for credits and a rationale around building reputation and future enrolment onto mainstream provision. Potentially fees could be introduced. However for an organisation with hundreds of thousands (or millions) of users – world-wide, young, employed, ambitious and tech savvy – there is clearly the possibility of monetising (horrible word) this. Social media giants such as FB and Twitter did this, although others sunk without a trace.

The educational model is still emerging. Content can be put on-line with interaction and group discussion via social media type approach. Assessment is a challenge. Interestingly Coursera, a major US-based player, recognise that computer-based assessment is limited and is developing the use of peer assessment, training students to undertake this with each other. Below is the link to Coursera’s pedagogical foundations. Assessment is less of an issue for short CPD type courses but would be a big one if degrees were to be offered. The OU’s experience will be very relevant in Britain.

As Ann Walker (link below) says completion rates are low (below 10%) but not all think that this matters. Many are ‘dipping in’ to the subject or checking out how it’s done. Initially too it seems that most students already have a degree. Ann’s points about the challenge for educationally disadvantaged students (a priority for WEA and many other adult education organisations) are well made.

However these uncertainties are not necessarily a problem for exponents of ‘disruptive innovation’. The business and educational models will (or won’t) emerge during the process of trial and innovation with the rewards going to those who find the best solutions.

What then about adult education?

I do think there is an issue. Whilst the current model of professionally taught face to face weekly classes is extremely resilient it is dependant upon significant public funding and locked into particular social groups. It has been challenged for some time by University of the Third Age (U3A) who offer a self organised, peer taught, virtually free and paperwork light alternative although they seem to appeal more to graduates retired from white collar and professional occupations. More recently digital and on-line providers such as The Skills Network, who offer a range of free on-line courses for employees mainly in the care sector, are expanding. If we stick with our current model (building on its huge social and community strengths) we will, at the very least, be constantly under competitive pressure to make sure it works to very highest standard justifying the resources put into it.  There’s nothing wrong with that, of course.

At the same time, I think we should combine this with experimenting with different models so that we can run more of a mixed economy, or develop new hybrid, or blended ones. This may bring in a whole new audience, not just in Britain but internationally.

It would be well worthwhile the WEA putting a limited number of courses on-line with short self assessment activities and a moderated chat room. This could be a mixture of liberal education and skills courses along with a few things some would like to do and might appeal to a different student group, for instance contemporary politics or economics. At the very least this would test the water and add enhancement for existing students.

The model of high quality content on-line and social discussion and critical evaluation led me back to the learning circles that were set up as part of the Learning Revolution. It may well be possible to set up learning circles to follow particular courses, training circle leaders and introducing peer assessment. This would offer something different to U3A and would have a lighter touch and be more self organised than mainstream provision. Learning circles would be an ‘add on’ where the scope existed to organise them.

Initiatives such as these would have to be treated as investment and free to the user rather than cost recovery (unless a benefactor could be found): there is a huge amount of free content on-line and a pay wall would be a serious deterrent.

These are some quick thoughts following Ann’s blog. We definitely need to get moving.

Ann Walker blog:

http://annwalkerwea.wordpress.com/2013/06/02/massive-open-online-and-incompleted-courses/ 

Coursera pedagogy:

https://www.coursera.org/#about/pedagogy

A creative and sustainable approach to volunteering?

Aspect of sensory garden in courtyard of Atrium Day Care Centre

Aspect of sensory garden in courtyard of Atrium Day Care Centre

I was fortunate to be able to visit a celebratory open day last week at the Atrium Day Care Centre, St Luke’s Hospice in Plymouth. The main event was the opening of  their new sensory garden that had been built as part of a ‘creative wellbeing’ project run by the hospice and the WEA, supported by the Community Learning Innovation Fund.

It was a great opportunity to meet and talk to students, tutors and volunteers as well as WEA and St Luke’s staff involved in this project. It’s based in the Atrium day centre but also involves others with different serious long-term conditions, such as Alzheimer’s. The idea behind the project was to extend the range of educational activities provided for users and establish something sustainable beyond project funding. The expression ‘more than making cards’  was used a number of times.

Project tutors led group sessions involving participants in a range of practical creative activities including the garden and constructing a funky foam mosaic; the activities drew upon their memories and experiences. The mosaic below of Plymouth Hoe, an iconic Plymouth site, included details from  students’ recollections of the Hoe such as the ice cream van, the courting shelter and newly named ship. They said ‘a group project such as this is a great opportunity for socialising whilst being creative’. Often different craft activities reawakened skills, such as sewing and textiles, that students had used at work in their earlier years.

Funky foam mosaic showing Plymouth Hoe

Funky foam mosaic showing Plymouth Hoe

I was hugely impressed by the determination of the tutors to engage everyone in creative activities and find ways round the different barriers they faced. Team working and mutual support were integral to the approach. Rather than taking the students out, the ‘outside was brought in’. This may have been seaweed, African drumming, even donkeys – providing a whole variety of stimuli in an accessible way.Volunteers played a vital role in this, gently finding ways to actively involve those saying ‘I’m just watching’ and giving practical help, for example holding the paper to help people draw.

Many will recognise the value of excellent adult education of this sort but I’m particularly interested in the project’s ambition to be sustainable and survive the ending of short-term project funding. The role of volunteers is central. The project brought together existing St Luke’s volunteers and some from the WEA successfully getting them working together and learning from each other. A WEA volunteer commented to me ‘they’re very serious (the St Luke’s volunteers), they treat it like a job’. The volunteers have been trained (or had existing skills topped up) in things like jewelry making, rag rugging, felting, weaving, peg looming, sugar craft and clay work.

The staff I met at the open day were really enthusiastic about the project saying that it had greatly benefited their clients raising morale, tapping into their creativity, sociability and positive memories. The day centre Activities Co-ordinator is key to its sustainability as she will take over the management of the activities leading a team of volunteers who will provide the education. For an interim six months, with project funding, she will be mentored by the WEA co-ordinator.

The lighthouse: a group project

The lighthouse: a group project

I began with a question mark: is this a sustainable model? A full project evaluation will be conducted and this will provide some of the answers. We need to ensure that it is sustainable. There have been hundreds, probably thousands, of excellent projects that have demonstrated the value of high quality adult education in many different settings. If models like this can be integrated into our mainstream activities, the potential benefits are enormous.

What do you think?

Social Purpose Education: then and now

Recently I went to a WEA curriculum event and Jol Miskin, the indefatigable exponent of Social Purpose Education, provided copies of a 1949 article on the subject by Sidney Raybould, then Professor of Adult Education at Leeds University. I took advantage of the train ride home to read it through a couple of times and it prompted me to think about what had changed, and what hadn’t, since then.

Raybould was particularly concerned about what subjects lent themselves best to social purpose education and addressed a debate between those who believed that social sciences (particularly economics) were the holy grail and the growing influence of provision in arts and humanities. He seemed to be saying that economics (and industrial relations that was beginning to grow) educated people in the mechanics of change, the how, and humanities could provide the vision, the why, if the subject was related to contemporary society. However he reflected a concern that classes in humanities were less rigorous and less likely to attract students active in unions, political parties or voluntary organisations. In discussing this he picks up on a comment by Richard Hoggart (who’d just started in adult education at Hull University) about a ‘pipe and slippers’ attitude to teaching literature.

Raybould also picked up on other aspects  important to him such as the focus on educationally disadvantaged students (who’d not had a secondary education or, after the 1944 Education Act, were going to secondary modern school.) Social purpose was about understanding society and equipping students to change it. He strongly believed that this required long classes as well as ‘balance’ in liberal education;  the tutor should present both, or all sides, of an argument and encourage the student to make up his or her own mind.

Whilst Raybould’s article addressed the WEA, the courses he talked about would have been taught by his university staff working through joint arrangements with the WEA.

I’ve provided a link to a pdf of the article below so that you can read it and see if you agree with my interpretation.

Raybould’s argument is illuminating but he was fighting a losing battle. Social science provision declined in proportion to arts and humanities (that by and large didn’t address contemporary society). In the iconography of post-war adult education, Raybould stood above all for ‘standards’ and in his terms they were declining as courses became shorter and written work was no longer required of students. For him the three-year tutorial class was the gold standard. Social purpose education did remain within trade union education for some time with 3 year day release courses for miners and some other groups of workers in nationalised industries and WEA residential weekend schools providing the main opportunities for manual workers to gain a wider education.

Social purpose education had a revival (albeit in a quite different form) in the 1970’s and 80’s linked to social movements such as second wave feminism, community development, tenants’ struggles and workplace health and safety. International influences were significant, particularly from liberatory literacy movements in Central and Latin America.

I want however to fast forward to the present day as there is a revival of interest in social purpose education in the WEA and elsewhere, for example at Northern College. Back to Yorkshire again and a video clip in which a range of tutors talk about what social purpose education means to them and their students (link below).

Watching one can see that the thread linking understanding the world and changing it remains central. The tutors refer to students engaging with society, the impact on the wider community and awareness of issues we should be campaigning on. But there is no common subject, or group of subjects, comparable to the earlier debate about Social Sciences and Economics. The  students come through different courses like family history, parenting, archeology and cookery with the tutor finding the connection between the subject and wider social concerns and action; for instance between cookery and fair trade in food products. The feel is authentic and more personal, diverse and tentative with an underpinning of building confidence, awareness and skills to support greater community engagement and social action. The ethnic and national range of the student groups bring a global perspective to the local community within which the course is located.

 So what’s changed and what hasn’t? It could be argued that in the late 1940’s there was a shared paradigm within which social purpose adult ed operated. There were millions of working class adults who had been denied a full secondary schooling (let alone HE) and 80% of the next generation were heading for  secondary modern schools under the 1944 Act’s tripartite system. Trade unions, political parties and activity (nationally and locally) and a strong civil society offered a range of mechanisms to get involved in social and political change. And there was a wide-spread assumption that political action and economic management could ensure that never again would the poverty and inequality of the 30’s be experienced.

Today’s society is much more diverse, fragmented and uncertain; there is less confidence and participation in political parties (and more parties too) and mediating organisations, most notably trade unions. They have lost influence and support whilst campaigns and single issue pressure groups have grown. Digital communications and social media are transforming the campaigning landscape. The context is highly complex but immensely rich. Whilst many students value the local there is a continual interplay with the global; the tutor who talked about learning from students from Mexico and Slovakia echoes a frequent experience.

Raybould refers to the vagueness and lack of clarity surrounding the meaning of social purpose education despite, according to one contemporary WEA writer, its  ‘undoubted emotive merits’ . There is today some excellent social purpose practice in the WEA and elsewhere; the organisational challenge will be to develop this in a coherent, consistent, exciting and well evidenced fashion.

Link to find social purpose video clip:

http://www.wea.org.uk/about

Raybould article:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/kgmhl14w7z8xjo1/Raybould_1949_article.pdf?m

Demonstrating the ‘social purpose’ impact of adult education

Many of us in adult education are concerned with its wider and long term impact, on individuals and  society. The term ‘social purpose’ helps define this in contrast to education that has a mainly academic, leisure or vocational purpose.

‘Social purpose’ expresses the impact of education: how people’s life chances can be transformed and society changed and developed in a more democratic, equal and cohesive direction. The history of adult education is replete with inspiring examples and illustrations of this including leaders of the labour and co-operative movement in the first half of last century and later the contribution of adult education to the women’s movement and community development .

In addition to individual stories and case studies, there is also a strong case for gathering this information – what students go on to do – on a systematic and quantifiable basis. There is always a temptation to be mesmerised by our success stories and not have an accurate overall picture, or the ability to benchmark against other providers. It is also a way of capturing what students get out of courses as opposed to what we put in; often this can be surprising with people making use of learning in quite different and unexpected ways.  Finally a more accurate view of what works and what doesn’t is invaluable in curriculum development and planning.

This is not only relevant to adult educators. Government and others are asking similar questions: we know that students feel overwhelmingly positive about their courses and would recommend their friends to join up themselves. Lots of activities generate a feel good factor but how far does this have a social impact that justifies scarce resources? Do students go on to form or join voluntary organisations; are they less likely to use hospital and GP services; are vulnerable and isolated students making initial steps towards re-engagement?

My last blog reported on research undertaken by BIS that followed up students from publicly funded Community Learning and showed a range of very positive outcomes. My interest here is how educational providers, like ours – the WEA- can use follow-up research like this to assess and improve our work. We now organise our curriculum priorities into four ‘themes’: employability, health and wellbeing, community engagement and culture. All of these are about the social impact of our programmes; this outward and outcome-based approach challenges usual forms of evaluation.

Our starting point is to conduct a survey of our own former students that mirrors that of BIS (i.e. asks the same questions) and the results will soon be available. The great advantage of mirroring BIS is that we will then benchmark our impact against Community Learning as a whole. At the same time, the WEA will want to ask some different questions to those asked by BIS. For example whilst BIS has some useful questions on employment and on beginning voluntary activity (each sub-divided in various ways so that different sorts of outcomes can be seen), their questions on health and wellbeing are very broad. The WEA may want more specific information both about health improvements and community activity around health issues. It is likely then that our next survey (and aims for next year) will be based on a mix of BIS and WEA survey questions.

Incidentally outcomes for a sub-set of students can be seen e.g. employment outcomes for women students or health outcomes for those from areas of multiple deprivation. There is considerable scope to look at outcomes for different student groups.

This focus on impact and outcomes means re-thinking how we develop and plan our curriculum. We need to start from establishing the intended outcomes/impact and then work back from there. To take as an example we might find that currently 15% of students go on to take up voluntary activity and that we aim to increase this to 20%. It would then be a case of how we plan and develop our curriculum to achieve this.

 It won’t necessarily mean that we need a whole lot of courses designed to lead to particular impacts. Adult education courses often work best when they start from the students’ immediate interests and build from there. The experience of education is fluid and intended outcomes – and horizons – change. The challenge is to find the point of connection between the student’s initial interest, the course process and future outcomes. For example someone may join a health and fitness class to lose weight and end up losing weight and joining a local charity/campaigning group around a particular health condition. Equally those on the same course frequently achieve quite different outcomes; a maths course can help someone with work tasks and someone else with their children’s homework, etc. All of this means that we need a range of different educational strategies to build pathways between courses and different outcomes.

This can mean many things; it may mean new courses or mini-modules, it could be trying to embed this in existing courses (additional learning outcomes or records of achievement) or it may be more about information and advice and strengthening partnerships and pathways.

Finding different ways of doing this will be the subject of a future blog.

Impact of Community Learning shown by BIS research

The impact of publicly funded community learning on individuals and society is demonstrated well in recently published research commissioned by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).

Based on a detailed follow-up survey of community learners, the finding showed  impact in significant areas, such as:

  • 11% of respondents said they had become involved in voluntary activities as a direct result of their course, this percentage was higher amongst those from deprived areas
  • 61% said the course had given them new skills they could use in a job (higher amongst those looking for work)
  • 58% of those with children under 18 said the course had helped them become a more confident parent.

This report presents initial findings arising from a longer term commitment to assess the impact of community learning against the new objectives published in August 2012 (the research took place before then but the outcomes aligned well). This research initiative is important for all of us as adult educators. It marshalls valuable evidence to support our work in the age of austerity and it helps us think about how best to assess the wider impact of our organisation’s own provision.

In the first part of 2012, a detailed telephone survey was undertaken of 4000 learners who’d recently undertaken a course. The sample was stratified and intended to include a representative group of respondents from the different funding streams within ‘safeguarded learning’ . It is intended that this cohort will form a longitudinal study and will be re-interviewed in 2013 along with a second cohort interviewed for the first time in 2013. This quantitative study was supplemented by six qualitative workshops and 12 ‘live trackers’ (based on maintaining contact with and feedback from a sample during their ‘learning journey’).

Follow up surveys are crucial because they begin to capture the impact after the initial ‘end of course haze’ has worn off and the student is able to take a longer view. The beneficial, and at times life changing, effects on participants are well-known to adult ed aficionados but are always worth re-stating: growth in confidence, keeping ‘mind and body alive’, nurturing a desire to carry on learning, widening social contact and understanding. There is no clear border between the social and the individual; these individual benefits all play a part in making a more engaged and cohesive society.

 It is interesting too how such a diverse collection of courses help develop a range of  outcomes that contribute to crucial public policy agendas around community cohesion, parenting, public health and employability. This must be an area where we build feedback loops from what people gain from courses back to our curriculum planning. If students are gaining for example parenting or employability skills then how do we shape our curriculum planning to both maximise and recognise this process?

I was struck too by the success of community learning in encouraging voluntary involvement, an impact of particular importance to a voluntary ‘social purpose’ organisation such as the WEA.  A figure of 11% (15% in deprived communities) for the sector as a whole gives us a valuable yardstick particularly (but not exclusively) as we fashion our new ‘community engagement’ theme. It also seemed to be the case that the impact of community learning, individually and socially,is greater overall in deprived communities.

The move to a sector wide longitudinal study of the impact of community learning is of immense value and can act as a benchmark and impetus to individual providers. The interpretation offered in the BIS report is positive and subtle but I’d also liked to see the data clearly presented to enable different analyses to take place. It would also be good to identify a greater number of ‘tangible outcomes’ in areas such as health and fitness, and cultural engagement. These are not only important in the wider policy community but for us as adult educators to help us guage the longer term success of our efforts.

Finally I’ve zoned in on bits of the report of particular interest to me. A lot more is there including a detailed discussion of class fees and the balance between raising fee income and maintaining a focus on the most disadvantaged in society. Click on the link below and give the report a read.

 

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/128775/13-691-community-learning-learner-survey-march-2013.pdf