This week is Festival of Learning Week (previously Adult Learners Week).
Throughout the month of June, The Festival of Learning encourages people to ‘have a go’ and get involved by learning new skills or sharing their skills and others.
Providing opportunities to learn new skills and share our skills aims to remind us all that it’s never too late to learn something new or improve ourselves. Building skills and investing time in our own progress is an important part of both personal and professional development.
As we enter the workplace and get comfortable in our job roles, it can be easy to lose sight of things we wanted to learn or areas we wanted to improve because we are so focused on our daily tasks and responsibilities. However, Festival of Learning Week is devoted to promoting the importance of lifelong learning and reminding us all that there is no point at which we stop learning.
What holds people back from lifelong learning?
Installing a culture of lifelong learning in people is not as easy as it sounds. For some, taking on new challenges simply fills them with fear and dread, rather than the desired excitement or inspiration. There are different obstacles for each of us when it comes to learning later in life, and it’s important to recognise these when establishing learning programmes.
As already mentioned, one of the most common responses I was met with when working in the apprenticeship sector was potential learners being terrified at the prospect of writing essays or sitting an exam.
The apprenticeship itself and on-the-job learning wasn’t an issue, but when they were faced with the thought of coursework, they were thinking back to the days of sitting in a classroom trying to write about something they found difficult to understand. Similarly, they were also thinking about sitting the English and maths exams they felt entirely unprepared for.
However, explaining to learners that their coursework would be about their day-to-day job began to put them at ease. Once they realised it wasn’t a case of writing 2,000 words, but instead about demonstrating their knowledge and experience, they felt more able to succeed.
The prospect of an English and/or maths exam was harder to sell, but again, I would stress that gaining the essential English and maths skills was to develop them in their role and would benefit them in the real world. These foundation skills were life skills, not exam skills.
Classroom learning brings back difficult memories for a lot of people, and one of the reasons for this is that they were inescapable. The positive side of this, however, is that people didn’t have to ‘make time’ for learning. Once learning becomes an additional part of your life rather than the centre of it, it’s more and more difficult to commit to it.
Guided learning hours (GLH) can sound like a prison sentence, particularly if each GLH needs to be found between work, family commitments, care commitments, and any other commitment a learner might have.
Reassuring each learner that their time is well invested doesn’t take long when they know the result of their learning will be worthwhile.
Commitment isn’t just about GLH, it’s also about the time it takes to participate in learning. If a lesson is at a building half an hour’s drive away, that’s already an additional hour of commitment.
Online learning automatically removes the question of additional time commitment and it also makes learning accessible to anyone who isn’t able to travel to a classroom. Travel might be more than a commitment in terms of time, and online learning means there are no additional travel costs or arrangements for those with additional needs.
It does, however, require people to have the necessary computer equipment and internet connection. The UK government confirmed the Universal Service Obligations (USO) for broadband internet services in 2015 and continues to support online learning as essential to upskilling the UK workforce. Hopefully, this means the access to quality internet speeds will only improve in the near future.
Job satisfaction and support
Choosing to improve your skills is usually a choice made by those with the confidence to do so. Lifelong learning requires a level of confidence and commitment that some people struggle to find when they are in a job role that provides little satisfaction. Even though increasing skills, confidence, and knowledge is an important step to moving into a new job role, without support from an employer, this can feel like a waste of time for many potential learners.
There are still too many people in job roles they have outgrown, feel unable to excel at, or feel unappreciated in. This situation actively discourages them from making positive changes and will often lead them to believe that additional learning later in life is something they cannot achieve.
Having positive conversations with potential learners like this at events, trade shows, through social media and/or email, or even in the workplace can instantly boost a person’s confidence. It’s essential that learning providers act as ambassadors for learning, taking the time to answer questions and reassure those who might currently feel unable to achieve for whatever reason.
Vulnerable learners may feel like learning later in life is out of their reach. Learners who require additional support may need further encouragement at enrolment and may want reassurance that further support will be available to them when they start and at any point throughout their learning.
Taking the steps to begin a course later in life should be simple and accessible to these learners, with no additional obstacles. Learning providers should sign post learners to the courses best suited to their individual needs without disadvantaging any learner or damaging their possible achievements.
Lastly, the most obvious reason for not starting learning in later life is the cost of starting a course. Many employers are not in a position to subsidise learning for their staff, and many staff are not in a position to pay for learning themselves.
Making learning available at a reasonable price for individual learners is more important than ever, and it’s just as important that they feel their money is well spent. The quality of resources provided and the knowledge and skills learners gain from their commitment to a course must be worth the price.
Putting an emphasis on lifelong learning is justified, but it’s also vital to consider all the possible obstacles to learning for each individual learner. We aim to support learners with these obstacles in whatever way possible and we hope the sector will gain further support from the government in the future to do so.