The qualitative research part

“In technical terms if you like, all the courses I have taken, which are liberal arts, cultural sorts of things, they have all honed by writing skills, including the Open University course and the Spanish because you still have to write essays and things, so they have definitely honed my skills and in personal terms they have given me much more self-confidence. [..] And they have also given me new social outlets; I have made really good friends – really good friends, lasting friendships. And other things have come out of them [...]” (older adult learner; Source: BeLL study qualitative interviews)
The aim of the qualitative interview analysis is to illustrate and complement the results of the statistical analyses. The aim of the qualitative interview analysis is to

  • illustrate and complement the results of the statistical analyses with respect to the  benefits and their individual dimension (i.e. change of attitudes, self-concept, learning biography, behaviour) and social dimension (i.e. family life, social networks);
  • find out whether, and if so how, participants of liberal education courses reflect on their learning experience, whether they are aware of any benefits and able to name them;
  • explore possible connections between the benefits and find observable external benefit criteria;
  • explore the extent to which the emergence and development of benefits depends on course-related aspects such as the teacher (personality, expertise, and teaching approaches), the group, the teaching methods, and so on, as expressed by interviewees based on their experiences;
  • identify ways in which benefits of liberal adult education, according to leaners, emerge and develop in real-life and biographical contexts, and ways in which they interrelate with them.

The qualitative part of BeLL was carried out in all ten partner countries after the survey. The survey questionnaire included a question asking whether the respondent would be willing to be contacted for a longer interview at some later point. Of the total 8,646 respondents to the national surveys, 27% accepted to be contacted. Of these, 82 people were finally interviewed some months after the survey (8 respondents per country, except for Spain, where 10 people were recruited for an interview). The sample of interviewees was overall quite similar in structure to the national survey samples, especially in terms of gender (about two-thirds women) and age.An semi-structured interview guide (Arksey & Knight, 1999) was used. The interviews were carried out and transcribed word-for-word in original language.

Data coding and analysis

Before starting the analysis, guidelines and a provisional code list for the analysis were developed, tested in two pretest interviews and then tested with all partners in a first interpretation workshop using small portions of an UK interview. Subsequently, the coding procedure was revised and tested in a second interpretation workshop with a second UK interview and 1-2 national interviews in each country. After this phase each partner coded and analysed his/her own national interviews. «The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers» by Johnny Saldana (2013) was used to ensure a common understanding of the coding process. The qualitative approach generated new perspectives and insights that were not (or only marginally) studied in the quantitative part. The goal was to find patterns among the benefits and go further into the logic and dynamics of learning benefits on the individual level. The analysis used approaches to coding derived from grounded theory and abduction.

Each partner analysed their own national interviews in original language and translates 25% of the interviews into English so that the final report (Sgier, 2014) is be able to show the variety of national and cultural perspectives.

The analysis started in summer 2013 and was finished in autumn 2013. Ten national and a transnational reports present and discuss the results.


  • Arksey, H. & Knight, P. (1999). Interviews for Social Scientists. London: Sage.
  • Saldana, J. (2013): The Coding manual for Qualitative Researchers. Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC.