Do we need journals in adult education?

As adult educators, we should be mindful of our own professional development and continued intellectual growth. We expect this of our adult students, who have busy lives and are prioritising their learning alongside other demands on their time. Relevant reading helps us to keep abreast of developments in teaching and learning theories and practice, resources, techniques, curriculum, policy and the wider context for our work. Journals have had a key role as a resource for people involved in various aspects of adult education for many years.


Screen grab from Paul Stanistreet’s blog

Paul Stanistreet’s blog here about the end of the Adults Learning publication gives an informed view of that journal’s history and the context in which it was published. He also refers to Highway, the WEA’s influential magazine which was published from 1908 to 1959, reaching a circulation of 20,000 in 1939. Highway was described as, “a necessary component of most university libraries” and “a forum for both educational and wider political debate“. Highway’s contributors included Virginia Woolf and George Orwell as well as prominent politicians, journalists and adult educators.  Bound volumes of Highway are available in the WEA central archive, which is managed by London Metropolitan University and attached to the TUC Collection. You can find details of the archive here.

The Adults Learning journal is described on NIACE’s website here as, “essential reading for adult education practitioners and policy makers, offering an informed mix of news, analysis, expert commentary and feature writing, dedicated to adult learning. Available in print and digitally, each issue is filled with in-depth and topical articles written by leading practitioners and experts in the field.” Back issues as far back as 2011 are now available to download for free.


I share Paul Stanistreet’s regret at the impending demise of Adults’ Learning but the extract above from “George Orwell the Essayist: Literature, Politics and the Periodical Culture” by Peter Marks illustrates some of the financial challenges that face journals’ publishers.

Is there a need for a specialist UK adult education journal in the age of blogs?

There are some excellent blogs by adult educators and about adult education. There are links to some examples here (written when I worked for the WEA). Some blogs’ content can be similar to journal articles but blogs feel more ephemeral and unsystematic. They are more spontaneous and interactive, offering a democratic pick and mix of views, usually with no third party editorial influence or reviewing.

They are easy to access but also easy to miss.

Journals bring more order, reliable access and editorial rigour. The assumption of a collective enterprise and an editing process adds weight to their content, giving them more status than individual blogs.

The reported cessation of Adults Learning will leave a gap for many of its readers, especially among those of us who remain committed to the view of transformational adult education that Paul Stanistreet identifies as ‘this great movement of ours”.

There are some remaining educational journals, such as Forum which focuses on 13-19 Comprehensive education, but has some general relevance to adult educators. The Journal of Philosophy of Education is a regular publication produced by The Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain but its focus is not specifically on adult learning.

Perhaps we will have to be less parochial and look beyond the UK? Lifelong Learning in Europe, LLinE, offers a European perspective and other current journals include the International Journal of Lifelong Education.

Alternatively, is there scope for an online platform capable of taking on the role of “offering an informed mix of news, analysis, expert commentary and feature writing, dedicated to adult learning”? This would require dedicated time and resources, journalistic skill and reviewing processes to establish and maintain credibility. Could EPALE, the Education and Training Foundation, the WEA or a University Department of Lifelong Learning host such an initiative?

Paul Stanistreet ends his blog by saying,

“I’d love hear what people think about this and what their thoughts are as to what might replace Adults Learning, what the sector needs and what would be valuable as a way of developing thinking and advocacy within and about adult education. Please feel free to comment on this post. I’d love to hear what you think.”

I hope that people will respond to his blog here and pick up on the discussion that he has started.

Launching EPALE – and learning to pronounce it

The EPALE launch conference in Brussels this week was a significant event for adult education professionals and policy makers across Europe. EPALE is the Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe. Discussing its pronunciation was one of the day’s ice-breakers in a large multi-lingual gathering, with general acceptance of “Ee-pail”, “Ay-pal”, “Ay-pal-ay”, and other variations. Each of us can choose whichever sounds right to us. There’s probably a metaphor there somewhere.


The well-attended event was a chance for lively face-to-face discussion and learning about the work done so far on developing the platform and for setting the scene for further long-term collaboration and EPALE’s evolution. The mixture of well-paced presentations was entertaining, informative and challenging.

Following a brief introduction by Brian Holmes, the European Commission’s Director for Education, the Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA), Tibor Navracsics was the day’s first contributor. He is the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport.

Tibor Navracsics addresses the Conference

Tibor Navracsics addresses the Conference

Pointing out that it is 50 years since the first collective European actions for adult learning, he made three key observations about community learning:

  • In terms of citizenship, it is central to peace, solidarity and democracy.
  • It has a vital role in culture, including activities in museums, art galleries and libraries.
  • It addresses issues arising from great demographic changes in Europe, including ageing societies.

He talked of the role of adult and inter-generational learning to enhance digital skills for retired people and the young unemployed, citing the need to deal with online tax and insurance processes, telemedicine and other tasks that depend increasingly on digital skills.

He commended the launch of EPALE to the audience saying that it’s,”by you for you”, before concluding that we are.”stronger and smarter together”.

Michel Servos was the next speaker. He is the European Commission Director General: Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion. He spoke about the decline of low-skilled jobs and the emergence of new jobs requiring more sophisticated skills. He observed that skills in managing transition are more important than ever as the concept of a single career for life is being replaced by a series of careers throughout a longer working life-span.

Michel Servoz

Michel Servoz

He said that these circumstances place adult learning and training at the heart of the European agenda and mean that the time is right for EPALE as a new and different approach to collaboration. He described EPALE as, “not just a platform but a partnership – a cornerstone for exchanges.”

Alan Tuckett. President of the International Council for Adult Education, offered a complementary view of EPALE as a “notice board, rich in possibilities”, before describing adult learning in exuberant terms as a means to, “providing a world worth living in for all of us”. He asserted that lifelong learning is a vital catalyst for social and economic change but noted that funding is fragile across European countries, with professionals doing similar things in different contexts.

Alan Tuckett

Alan Tuckett

Alan talked of EPALE as a vehicle for enhancing policy advocacy and sharing practice before listing his personal view of great adult educators’ characteristics as:

  • Dreaming
  • Stealing (or borrowing / adapting other people’s ideas)
  • Dancing
  • Showing off

Ulf-Daniel Ehlers brought another change of style and perspective, focusing on changes in adult learning patterns, which he described as moving from institutional boundaries and exclusivity into spaces where people can learn informally. He spoke of transition from, “industrialisation, massification and standardisation”, to a new paradigm of learning that is, “post-modern, individualised and disaggregated.”

A slide from Ulf-Daniel Ehler's presentation

A slide from Ulf-Daniel Ehler’s presentation

A lively question and answer session followed. This was live-streamed and interactive based on twitter links using the hashtag #epale2015.

After the all-male morning session, Carolyn Hay, EPALE’s Project Director, started the afternoon with more specific information about the platform’s concepts and content, introducing team members in person and virtually.

Carolyn Hay

Carolyn Hay

The afternoon’s focus then moved on to case studies and user perspectives before an invitation to contribute views, feedback and recommendations. Gracieta Sbertoli, Chair of the European Skills Network spoke compellingly, “from one stakeholder to another” on how we can benefit from EPALE followed by a panel discussion.

If you haven’t done so already, it’s well worth exploring the EPALE website at

The main themes on the platform are:

  • Learning Support
  • Learning Environments
  • Life Skills
  • Policy
  • Quality

What do you think of the platform? What would you like to see included? What can you contribute?

Adult Education links with Europe

Working in an organisation that covers England and Scotland with sister organisations in other countries, it’s often apparent that discussion of adult education in England can be a bit parochial and inward looking unless we are open to learning from further afield. I’m looking forward to meeting colleagues from ABF, the Swedish WEA, in London this week. It’s always instructive to compare notes about our students’ experiences and opportunities as well as the social and policy contexts for our work.


Making connections between European countries has never been easier. EPALE, the European Platform for Adult Learning in Europe is a virtual space where all adult educators can exchange ideas, resources and views. It’s free to register on their website here.  Further information about EPALE’s UK launch can be found here.


It’s important that engagement with other countries is also open to students, especially if they might not usually have opportunities to experience life in different nations or cultures.

The WEA’s Europe, Democracy and Citizenship in the 21st Century project is aimed at adults who want to learn more about Europe and the European Union and then take back what they have learnt back in to their communities. The course includes a study visit to Brussels and is designed to enable students to gain knowledge, new information and contacts as well as new skills.


The course will consider the following:
•   What is Europe?
•   What is the European Union and how and why has it developed as it has?
•   How does the EU work and could it work better?
•   How can our communities be heard and how can we influence decision making?
•   How does Europe need to change for the people?

The WEA is raising money for the study visit to give opportunities for those who would not normally have them and we are grateful for EU Parliamentary support for the project.

You can find out more about the project here.

Adult Learning in Europe and beyond

The launch of EPALE, the Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europeand the forthcoming elections for the European Parliament mean that it’s timely to think about adult education beyond national borders.


EPALE is the latest development in the European Union’s long-term commitment to promoting high quality adult learning in Europe and will be open to teachers, trainers and volunteers, as well as policy-makers, researchers and academics involved in adult learning.

The link to EPALE is here. It’s a good launchpad for browsing through resources and links, including information about the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency which funds EPALE.


The European Association for the Education of Adults is taking action to keep raising awareness of adult learning as the elections approach. They have contacted candidates who are standing for election as Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from different European Union (EU) countries to ask them about their views on adult education and non-formal adult learning. They are publishing candidates’ answers here.

It’s against this background that the International Learning Times Conference will take place in Edinburgh on 12-14 May. The Conference, “will bring together researchers, adult educators, policy makers, adult learners and employers to improve and strengthen partnership working across Europe”, and, “to explore and investigate a range of policies, tools and techniques that support the EU’s Agenda”.

You can find out more about the Conference here.

Do you think that people are generally aware of EU policy, funding, tools and support for adult learning? What more could or should be done to promote collaborative work across Europe and beyond? How does European-level activity relate to UNESCO and lifelong learning?

The reach of social media and the connections between adult educators across the world is one of the benefits of blogging, tweeting and online networks. Colleagues from different continents are finding common cause, sharing interests, concerns and a wealth of expertise. How can we harness this energy for the benefit of adult learners now and in the future by applying globally informed thinking and resources to make a difference at local levels?