At a time of great flux in the field of adult learning, a new report tracks its development since the Industrial Revolution and comments on the current policy framework towards adult learning. By Elaine Essery
Adult Learning in England: a review is a collaborative report by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) launched during Adult Learners Week last month.
It contributes to a thematic review being carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) across nine countries. The OECD study aims to review whether the quality and quantity of learning opportunities for adults are adequate and to suggest how access to adult learning could be improved. The DfEE asked IES and NIACE to prepare the report as background for OECD experts who recently visited a variety of workplaces and institutions in England as part of their review.
There is little new in the IES/NIACE report - it is based on a review of existing information backed up by the authors’ considerable knowledge and experience in the field. But it provides a comprehensive and useful reference source on adult learning in England at the turn of the century.
The document gives an overview of relevant institutional and policy framework, shows the current state of play on participation in adult learning and examines the needs and motivation of adult learners - along with barriers to learning. A look at the benefits of learning and recent moves to widen participation in learning activities are followed by the authors’ conclusions on the current policy framework towards adult learning.
The balance of evidence suggests that learning activity among adults is rising, the report says, yet there remains a persistent group of non-learners. Factors behind non-participation in learning include the lack of learning opportunities of a kind which people want or are able to access.
Jim Hillage, an associate director of the IES and one of the report’s principal authors, explains, “Learning needs to be made simple and at a modular level, allowing people to learn things they want to learn at any given time and letting them return to learning when it suits them.”