The major challenge of the Benefits of Lifelong Leaning (BeLL) project was that of creating links between the benefits of participating in adult education courses, which are attended in the participants’ free time and chosen according to their own interests, and being able to provide proof for these links in Europe. The project was supported by the EU as part of the lifelong learning programme. For two years European universities, NGOs and umbrella organisations have all been using the same working model to conduct research on the topic of adult education.
As a result of the project, 8,646 completed questionnaires and 80 interviews from the ten European countries of Spain, England, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Finland, the Czech Republic, Romania, Slovenia and Serbia firstly provide proof that numerous benefits are felt by the participants and that there are links between these benefits and organised adult education. Secondly, they prove that those participating in adult education courses implicitly increase their levels of tolerance, consideration for others and willingness to help, and learn to voice their own interests. This suggests that learning in adult education courses makes an important contribution to democratically organised societies. Thirdly, participating in adult education programmes may result in individuals changing their behaviour as a result of the emergence of new possibilities that enable them to continue working on their personal life projects or due to challenges relating to their family, career, health or leisure activities being overcome.
According to the statistics, three overarching categories of benefits can be identified: The first category encompasses changes in terms of general convictions pertaining to self-control, self-efficacy and the meaningfulness of life. Participants feel better able to cope with the demands placed on them and the challenges faced in their lives. The second category comprises general changes in (social) attitudes to learning. Tolerance, social engagement and the participants’ general approach to learning and willingness to embrace change are all enhanced. The third category is made up of changes experienced in four areas of life, namely family, career, mental well-being and health.
Those taking part in adult education ultimately feel healthier and lead a healthier lifestyle, stay active for longer, believe they are capable of doing something that benefits their lives, build long-lasting social networks and develop better prospects in and for their old age. The interviews were an effective way of uncovering these benefits, as they gave the former participants in adult education the opportunity to talk about their experiences and the personal changes they felt they had undergone.
The logo of the Benefits of Lifelong Learning EU project is a bell. The project can now ring this bell for all to hear and raise awareness among those working in educational research and education policy throughout Europe of the fact that lifelong learning benefits society as a whole and individuals at all stages of their lives.
Jyri Manninen, Bettina Thöne-Geyer, Monika Kil, and Marion Fleige