Wider Benefits of Adult Learning

Tom Stannard had an excellent article published in the Guardian last week. He wrote that, “By investing in adult education, we can create stronger communities”, and that, “Lifelong learning can boost local economies and reduce the number of people using the most costly public services.” It’s well worth reading his article here.

Research from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) supports his argument. The Department published a research paper on the Review and Update of Research into the Wider Benefits of Adult Learning just over a year ago.

BIS Research

You can read the full report here. The overall results were as follows:

Mental health and wellbeing

  • Improvements in reported life satisfaction and happiness
  • Improvements in self-confidence (especially for formal learning) (This is more than twice the impact of being employed.) 
  • Improvements in own perception of self worth
  • Reductions in self-reported depression
  • Increases in satisfaction with social life
  • Increases in satisfaction with use of one’s leisure time

Physical health

  • Reductions in the number of visits to a GP (This is about one-seventh of the impact of being employed.) 
  • Improvements in self-reported overall health satisfaction (This is about half of the impact of being employed.) 

Family and parenting

  • Increases in the probability that the children in the household speak more frequently with the mother about serious issues

Civic participation

  • Increases in trade union membership (especially for formal adult learning)
  • Greater involvement in voluntary work (for formal learning only)

Attitudes and behaviours

  • Greater desire to find a better job (especially for informal learning)
  • Improved financial expectations (especially for formal learning)

BIS followed up this research report with a Community Learning Learner Survey in March 2013. The WEA’s own research is aligned with the methodology that BIS used in the Community Learning survey and an Executive  Summary report shows that our courses also make a positive difference. We have also carried out ‘Pound Plus’ research to show the value that we add to funding.


The authors of last November’s BIS research report suggested that it would,”be useful to assess budgetary impacts of these outcomes e.g. NHS expenditure”, and it would seem sensible that the funding equation for adult and community learning should balance the investment with the impact, the value added and the savings to other public service budgets.

Adult education is an investment that pays dividends in terms of economic as well as social benefits.