Health, wellbeing and adult learning

Improved health and wellbeing can be a driver, a vehicle and an outcome of adult and community learning. This summarised part of an online discussion today with colleagues from other organisations. We agreed to think of some examples from our organisations. Here are some from the Workers’ Educational Association.

Health and wellbeing as a driver for adult learning 

Many people get involved in adult learning to improve their physical and mental health.


The WEA carried out an impact survey in 2013 of 522 students who had taken part in a range of our adult learning courses in the autumn of 2012. 45 per cent of the people who responded said that their main motivation was ‘to improve wellbeing or keep mind and body healthy and active’. 31 per cent said that they had wanted ‘to improve self-confidence’. The full results of the survey are available here.

Health and wellbeing as a vehicle for adult learning 

The WEA runs many courses and projects with health and wellbeing as a focus. Community Learning for Healthy Living (CLHL) is just one from many examples.

Snapshot from a CLHL flyer

Snapshot from a CLHL flyer

This was a three-year project (2010-13) that aimed to improve the health and wellbeing of over 3,000 adults in predominantly BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) communities through provision of structured courses that combined preventative health education with physical exercise. The project addressed the problem of obesity and related risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease that are prevalent among targeted communities in disadvantaged areas of Birmingham.

The project involved extensive community outreach to encourage people to take part in activities especially designed for their needs. Activities also focused on building partnerships with community organisations and key agencies to develop a comprehensive, inclusive and culturally appropriate health provision programme.

You can read an evaluation report of the Community Learning for Healthy Living project here.

Health and wellbeing as an outcome of adult learning 

Nearly all respondents (98 per cent) in the WEA’s 2012-13 impact survey reported a positive social or health impact as a result of doing their course, whether it had a direct health focus or not. The majority (87 per cent) noted the course had kept their mind and body active. This figure rose to 94 per cent in those with a long-term physical or mental illness.

Overall, 69 per cent of respondents said the course made them feel better about themselves generally and this increased for those with children under eighteen (75 per cent) and for those with a long-term physical or mental illness (73 per cent).

A virtuous circle

‘Health and Wellbeing’ is one of the WEA’s four educational themes. The others are ‘Employability’, ‘Community Engagement’ and ‘Culture’. All the themes are interlinked and it’s interesting see students like Melrose Logan from Dudley, who has contributed to community engagement as volunteer improving other people’s health.


Melrose was keen to improve her own health through better diet and regular exercise, but she also gained an unexpected knowledge and understanding about anatomy and physiology from  being involved in the WEA’s Tandrusti health project.

After training as a volunteer with Tandrusti, she regularly takes large groups for health walks around Dudley and promotes and encourages the regular exercise message within the community. Following her successes, Melrose now has a full-time job.

Background to this blog 

This blog was prompted by a discussion of issues relating to health literacy and numeracy. Colleagues involved in the collaboration include:

  • Jonathan Berry, Community Health and Learning Foundation
  • Sarah Gibb, National Numeracy
  • Annie Gilbert, Merck Sharp & Dohme Limited
  • Tricia Hartley, Campaign for Learning
  • Ann Malone, Health Evolution
  • Prof Gill Rowlands, King’s College London, who is leading the initiative

About Ann Walker
Adult education and lifelong learning specialist and campaigner. LinkedIn:

7 Responses to Health, wellbeing and adult learning

  1. gogwit says:

    Reblogged this on Gogwit's Blog and commented:
    Commendable. Those of us who have experienced WEA courses, as adult learners or as tutors are well aware of the benefits of continuing education.
    All the more reason why it is essential that adult, returner and all strands of continuing education form part of a national life long education strategy.

  2. Ann Walker says:

    Thanks for the kind comment Ben and for your appreciation and support of adult learning (especially with the WEA!).

  3. A very interesting and inspiring post Ann – and a very worthwhile conversation to be having.
    My own experiences of teaching WEA history courses are similarly positive. In fact the role of history courses in enhancing mental health and well being is the subject of my current SUNCETT research project, which I hope in time will contribute to the ongoing awareness of the relationship between adult learning and improved mental health and well being.

    • Ann Walker says:

      Good to hear from you Sarah. Thanks for adding your comment. It would be good to hear more about your SUNCETT research project and its findings when you complete it. You’re certainly carrying out a rich mix of inquiry, practice and teaching.

  4. rsmayes43 says:

    Very interesting indeed Ann and ,as Sarah says, a very worthwhile conversation to be having. At the risk of bolstering the opposition, I think U3A would endorse everything said here about the positive impact of learning on the physical and mental well-being of their members.

  5. Ann Walker says:

    Thanks Rosemary. I hope we see the U3A as complementary colleagues rather than opposition though!

    I’m sure that they see a lot of positive impact on their members, as you rightly say and there’s a good deal of evidence to show that learning promotes health and wellbeing for people of all ages. You must have so much personal experience of this in the OU, WEA and in your school governor role.

  6. Pingback: History, Health and Well Being | WEA Yorkshire & Humber BLOG

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