Dr Jodie Pennacchia, Researcher at Learning and Work Institute

There is a strong growing evidence base on the benefits of adult learning, including improved health, richer social networks and better job prospects. Yet adult participation in learning has a hit a 20-year low.

Data from Learning and Work Institute’s (L&W) latest survey of adult participation in learning, published yesterday by the Department for Education, reveals that in 2017 37% of adults were engaged in some form of learning or had been in the previous three years. This is the lowest rate since the survey series began in 1996 and highlights the importance of developing our understanding of how more adults can be supported to take-up learning.

L&W also undertook an in-depth qualitative study with 37 adults to better understand the barriers, motivations and facilitators for learning. These interviews showed that adults’ view learning as a route to a range of positive outcomes. However, they also highlighted the complexity of adult decision-making around learning. Adults are often busy, with multiple demands on their time and resources, therefore learning has to be viewed as sufficiently valuable for them to consider participating.

We use the idea of a ‘trigger’ for learning to make sense of the complexity of adult decision making. We found that learning is often triggered by a combination of larger-scale shifts – such as a bereavement or divorce – and smaller circumstantial shifts – such as a child starting school. Whilst the former can lead to a re-appraisal of the value of learning, the latter can make it feel easier to take-up learning. Triggers for learning are multi-faceted because barriers to learning are themselves complex and varied. ‘Trigger’ refers to the tipping of the balance where learning becomes apparent, sufficiently accessible and worth it.

This suggests several propositions for both policy makers and education providers who are working to increase adult participation in learning:

  • Take steps to create a national culture where learning throughout the life-course is normalised so adults cannot help but trip over examples of learning and opportunities to learn. If learning is already on their radar, adults may more instinctively look to learning as a way of achieving new life goals when they find themselves at points of transition. Whilst policy-makers might contribute to creating this culture through funding a national advertising campaign, local providers are best placed to interact with adults in their local community through tailored outreach events.
  • Circumstances are a key barrier to learning, so triggering learning is partly about making learning options varied, flexible, affordable, and inclusive of adults in all their diversity. It is also about putting in place and maintaining a wider set of provision for loans, bursaries and childcare. This requires both national funding and providers to have strategies that ensure a diverse range of learning options, alongside supporting infrastructure.
  • At points of transition, adults may require the support of trained information, advice and guidance professionals to support them to make informed decisions about learning. Learning providers should be equipped to signpost learners to a range of wider provision such as mental health support and financial support, which can increase in significance during periods of considerable change.

The barriers adults face to taking-up learning are multiple and complex, and so the triggers for learning are necessarily multi-faceted. If we are to encourage more adults to take-up learning, a range of policies and practices need to be in place to tackle circumstantial barriers, to boost the apparent value of learning, and to normalise learning as a practice that can happen and be beneficial at any age.

Dr Jodie Pennacchia, Researcher at Learning and Work Institute

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

Educating yourself in Prison: an inside job

Educating yourself in Prison: an inside job

FE News: The Future of Education News Channel had a status update on Twitter 2 days ago

RT @NCFE: ‘For as long as humans have worked, and whatever industry they may have worked in, success has always been predicated on having t…
View Original Tweet

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page