On September 2015 a challenging and thought-provoking conference was organised by NIACE as the UK National Coordinator for the European Agenda for Adult Learning. The conference “Realising Impact: Making a difference through adult learning” focused especially on exploring the profound impact of all kinds of learning have on people’s lives.
As for kick-off keynote speaker Tim Harford (Financial Times) challenged the audience drawing on the history of randomised control trials (RCTs) and their widespread effective use in medicine, suggesting the audience to put aside the often held God-complex in adult learning – of being convinced that we already have the answer to complex situations – but to test and gather robust evidence on what works and why. He argued that even where there is universal acceptance that something is a good idea – such as teaching people to read – trials can show how best to do this, and where to focus the limited resources.
Discussing several experiences across UK but also all over Europe the most important lessons learnt and messages of the conference were:
- More research in adult learning is needed – more analysis and insight into what works, why it works, how it works and what the most conducive circumstances are for it to work.
- This intelligence has to be used more at the front-line staff to be able to research type approaches.
- A diverse range of evidence types is needed in order to influence – meaning to persuade governments on the importance of adult learning in general and basic skills development in particular, but also to persuade employers to invest better in their staff, as well as to influence people to get into learning in the first place.
- Professionals should be more self-critical, questioning, inquiring about their work. Many times commitment and passion are not enough, it is a need to pursue a better understanding of the impact to truly maximise the outcomes of the work with adults with the existing resources.
EBSN was represented on this event by professionals from 6 member organisations and the EBSN Secretariat.