Who might benefit from the Benefits? The use of the benefit research within the field of adult education counselling

Author: Bettina Thöne-Geyer, German Institute for Adult Education – Leibniz Centre for Lifelong Learning (DIE), Bonn

The presentation of some preliminary results from the BeLL study on the First Symposium of the educational counselling in Lower Austria led to some interesting observations. Preliminary results of the Europe-wide study „Benefits of Lifelong Learning“(BeLL) (www.bell-project.eu) were the base for discussion in the workshop “Benefits of liberal adult education”. First results indicate that benefits of liberal adult education are particularly in the area of an increased motivation for studying in addition to the acquisition of competences and a subjectively experienced increase in self-effectiveness.

Additionally, we can recognize an increased feeling of mental and physical well-being, the expansion of social networks, an increased readiness for civic and social engagement and an experienced improvement in professional chances. These preliminary results were discussed in the workshop from the viewpoint of their connectivity to educational and career counselling. The workshop participants agreed that the results of the BeLL study can be useful in two ways: On one hand, they give information about the subjectively felt benefits of certain course types and therefore serve as material for educational counselling. On the other hand, the results offer clues on how to address potential participants or how to develop marketing strategies. Thus, not only the increase of knowledge but also the wish of becoming more self-confident, being healthier or more involved in networks might serve as starting point.

Overall, the research results give a new perspective into the use of liberal adult education not only for potential participants, but also for education managers and politicians. However, the workshop made clear, that the wider benefit approach is not easy to be linked to the common understanding of adult learning. The idea of adult learning and its benefits is often based on instrumental outcomes of training like diplomas, degrees and better salary levels. It seems that the “soft” wider benefits of learning, like the expansion of social networks, an increased sense of purpose in life or a better mental well-being aren’t obvious. The value of these wider benefits of lifelong learning for the individual as well as for the society still has to be demonstrated and explained for potential participants as well as for policy makers. It is not enough, if they are well known by the actors in the adult education sector only.

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