The BeLL Study
The Benefits of Lifelong Learning (BeLL) study investigated the benefits to learners of participation in organised non-formal, non-vocational, voluntary adult education (hereafter “liberal adult education”) in Europe. Funded by the European Commission within the Lifelong Learning Programme (“Studies and Comparative Research, KA1”), the BeLL study was carried out by a consortium of partner organisations from nine Member States plus Serbia as a tenth associated partner. The project ran from 1 November 2011 to 31 January 2014.
The main purpose of the BeLL study was to investigate the individual and social benefits perceived by adult learners who participated in liberal adult education courses. An understanding of what was meant by “the benefits of learning” was defined, refined and explored in 10 European countries. The BeLL study aimed to expand the knowledge base on liberal adult education in general and on the respective liberal adult education landscapes in the 10 participating countries, and to interpret findings on the perceived benefits of learning against this background.
The study followed a mixed-methods design. Quantitative data were collected via a questionnaire developed, piloted and refined by the consortium. Qualitative semi-structured interviews with participants on adult education courses were conducted. In total, 8,646 valid questionnaires and 82 interviews were completed in the 10 countries.
The data showed that adult learners experience numerous benefits from liberal adult education. They feel healthier and seem to lead healthier lifestyles; they build new social networks and experience improved wellbeing. Moreover, adults who participate in liberal adult education appear to feel more motivated to engage in lifelong learning and view it as an opportunity to improve their lives. These benefits were reported by learners across all course areas, ranging from languages and the arts to sport and civic education. However, one of the major challenges of the project was to be clear that the study provides evidence on self-reported perceptions of the benefits of learning by learners themselves and not objective evidence about benefits observed in practice or measured in behavioural modifications.
The coordinating partner was the German Institut for Adult Education – Leibniz Centre for Lifelong Learning (DIE) in a consortium that includes English and Finnish partners who are pioneers in this area of research. The project group consists of Universities (University of Eastern Finland, Dept. of Educational Sciences and Psychology, Finland; Institute of Education, University of London, England; University of Barcelona, Research Centre, Spain; private and public research institutes (Slovenian Institute for Adult Education, Slovenia; Association for Education and Development of Women (ATHENA), Czech Republic; Schweizerischer Verband für Weiterbildung (SVEB), Switzerland; Romanian Institute for Adult Education (IREA), Romania as well as practice institutions (Associazione di donne Orlando (AddO), Italia. Serbia participates in all phases of the research as a silent partner. The research was conducted by the Adult Education Society (AES), Belgrade. To lead on the dissemination of project results the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA), Brussels has been enlisted as tenth project partner.
With the support of the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Union. This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.