The Benefits of Lifelong Learning (BeLL) EU project is complete: We now know more about how adult education can benefit individuals and societies across Europe!

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

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) ( 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.

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Balancing Acts

Author: Sam Duncan, University of London.

Sociologist Howard Becker (1984) gave this advice for getting started when faced with a mountain of qualitative data (or even a few interview transcripts): read it all several times, put it to one side and then just write as much as possible of whatever comes into your mind. Becker’s advice has been a crucial and sanity-preserving stage in my qualitative data analysis, however code-based and orderly the ‘real’ or proper analysis that follows. This week I have been reading and rereading the English and Welsh BeLL interviews and here are some first thoughts, Becker-style. Continue reading

How to compare incomparable?

Author: Prof. Jyri Manninen, University of Eastern Finland,

The BeLL study is the first large-scale analysis about the wider benefits of liberal adult education – and also first having a comparative element. The data have been collected from 10 European countries, and it is obvious that comparative analysis of benefits and liberal adult learning opportunities in these countries will be one of the key tasks.

Liberal adult education is defined as voluntary, non-vocational and obviously non-formal learning activity. In the BeLL data the courses attended range from “Furniture upholstery” and “Guitar for Beginners” courses at village adult education centre to more or less organized courses discussing “Current affairs and international issues”. Continue reading