The man who invented the ‘adult learner’ and ‘seriously useless learning’

A Guardian article about the influential adult educator Alan Tuckett has resurfaced on social media this week. It’s almost 2 years old but very relevant as adult learners begin a new academic year of part-time courses.

alan-tuckett-014

Alan Tuckett is a prominent campaigner for adult education including what he calls, “seriously useless learning” – by which he means learning that offers no immediate obvious route into employment but has demonstrably positive benefits. The Guardian article gives some examples of how effective part-time adult education  can be.

tuckett

A news item published today by the University of Oxford adds to the evidence that adult education has many benefits. In partnership with the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA), the largest voluntary sector provider of adult education in England and Scotland, a team from Oxford’s department of experimental psychology studied attendees at seven separate day-time adult education classes. Their findings are published in a series of papers which can be found by following links from the University’s website here.

Dr Eiluned Pearce who led the research said: ‘The students reported benefits including increased self-confidence, a greater feeling of control over their lives and more willingness to take on new challenges. Some said the classes made them more motivated to be more active, despite the classes not specifically involving physical activity.

Many students will be embarking on learning journeys this month. Some will have specific plans to make their journey a commute to work or a better job. They know what they want to learn, where they want to go and how long they will take to get there. Others will be starting learning expeditions, explorations, adventures or even jaunts. Who knows where their courses will take them? What difference will it make to families to have adults who are intellectually curious, creative and excited about finding out more about all sorts of subjects? What will the impact be on students’ health, well-being, confidence, competence and sense of belonging?

Alan Tuckett and others make a strong case but voices like his are needed more than ever as the numbers of adult learners decline and yet more opportunities for adult learning are lost with the sad news that the University of Leicester plans to close Vaughan Center for Lifelong Learning. We need to work hard to reverse this trend.

Advertisements

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.

Stanistreet

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.

Highway

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.

All change!

Joanna Cain will take over the role of Deputy CEO and Director of Education at the WEA when I retire from the post at the end of this month. JoCain Jo is currently the Head of Learning and Organising Services at the public service union UNISON and has worked closely with the WEA on partnership initiatives including the longstanding “Return to Learn” workplace learning project. She is also an experienced educator with many years of experience in developing and delivering adult learning. I’m delighted that someone as principled and steeped in lifelong learning has been appointed and am enjoying getting to know Jo better as we plan a smooth handover.

It’s been an immense privilege to work for the WEA.

I’ve been inspired so often by students’ stories, by volunteers’ generosity with their time and talents and by colleagues who really care about their work. I’m more grateful than I can say for all the support that I’ve received from friends and colleagues over the years within the WEA and more widely.

I will keep an active interest in adult education but retirement from the WEA will mean changes for this blog and my social media identities.

  • This blog’s title will change to “Lifelong Learning Matters” but the content will remain.
  • My new Twitter name will be @_AnnWalker but this will be a continuation of my existing account.

I don’t think this will affect any of my social media relationships, which should adjust automatically, unless you choose to make changes.

Joanna tweets as @joanna_cain. She’s well worth following as well as the WEA’s official Twitter account at @WEAadulted.

Norman Cornish, culture, education and value

A blue plaque has been unveiled at Norman Cornish’s Spennymoor home in County Durham.
Cornish

Norman Cornish was a contemporary of the internationally renowned Ashington Group of coal mining artists, who are the subject of Lee Hall’s hit play, ‘The Pitmen Painters’.

While Cornish is associated with the Spennymoor Setlement, the other pitmen painters’ story began in a Workers’ Educational Association art class taught by Robert Lyon in 1934. Lyon, a master of painting at a Newcastle college, was engaged to teach Art Appreciation to colliery workers in their own community. Finding that his slide-based lectures weren’t being well-received, he adopted a ‘learning by doing’ approach and encouraged his students to create their own art. The impact of his teaching and their talent has been astonishing.

Notably, the painters didn’t seek to make their fortunes out of their art. Money was not a driving force. Neither was a change in employment. They became friends of some of the most avant garde artists of the day and were feted by the British art world, but they still kept on working in the pit.

The Pitmen Painters’ work is now displayed at the Woodhorn Museum in Ashington.

The Museum’s website says that, “Today the Ashington Group is acclaimed worldwide, yet back in the 1930s none of them would have dreamed that a few evening classes would bring them such fame and international attention.”

The Ashington Group showed what can happen when we recognise that adult education and culture are not just for an exclusive élite or for direct financial return. That said, the small investment into those Art Appreciation classes has been returned in ways that could not have been imagined.

How many people across the world have been employed because of Lee Hall’s play about the group – arising from his own creative talent as a writer – and how many people have been inspired because of the pitmen painters’ examples?

Leadership and Scholarship in Education

I almost dismissed this email as junk and probably would have done if it had arrived on a busy weekday. Intriguingly, it said it was a copy of a message that I hadn’t sent and, at first glance, it seemed to be from Janet Agnes Cockerill – who died several years ago – but the link between scholarship and leadership in education caught my attention.

Odd email

The email interested me for a couple of reasons.

Scholarship

I was drawn to the email’s proposition that educational leaders and academics, “seem to be too busy to develop their own scholarship”. After all, shouldn’t educational leaders exude enthusiasm and hunger for learning? Shouldn’t they empathise with students experiencing the challenges and fulfillment of incorporating academic learning into the rest of their busy lives? Has increasing preoccupation with managing budgets, resources, HR, PR, outcomes, impact and marketing systematically eroded time for our own intellectual development?

If so, does it matter? What implications might it have for the quality of teaching, learning and assessment and how our organisations set a tone for education that motivates students and kindles a passion for learning?

This might be an extension of the debate about differences between leadership and management but it’s a profound question and has implications for the quality and qualities of education. Does the commodification of education improve its real worth?

Even the language we use is significant.

The first meaning of scholarship is academic study with a high level of learning or achievement but it has also come to mean a grant or payment made to support a student’s education, awarded on the basis of academic or other achievement.

Is it inevitable that discussion about education is always likely to prioritise its link with money rather than its inherent quality and its ability to challenge and inspire students who can to contribute to an educated (and ultimately more prosperous!) society of people with an appetite for learning and development?

Janet Cockerill

Another of the email’s attractions was a link to an online Guardian obituary for Janet Cockerill from 2006. You can read it here. The obituary describes her as an, “Educationalist and provider of a fresh start for many women”. Here is an extract from the article.

Janet Cockerill, former principal of Hillcroft College for Mature Women, who has died aged 83, changed the lives of hundreds of women in need of self-confidence, education and a fresh start. She had left her job as a radio producer at the BBC in 1964 to go to Hillcroft, in Surbiton, south-west London. For 18 years, until her retirement in 1982, she fought many battles for this rare women-only member of the small group of Ruskin-style colleges that offered residential courses to adults without formal educational qualifications.

Given this summary, I wasn’t surprised to read that she had been a tutor and later a tutor organiser for the WEA during her distinguished career.

It sounds as if Janet Cockerill valued scholarship greatly. Of course, she was an educational leader in a different time – pre-internet and email, pre-online spreadsheets and databases – when we still had vibrant university extra-mural departments and when scholarship was respected for its own sake. Has that particular -ship sailed now?

A response?

The extract from the email copied above includes this appeal:

If you would like to help, please consider holding a series of educational events in the coming calendar year. Could you try?

The email concluded:

A hypocritical smile is not the way out; perhaps only by more sharing in person will future human beings develop much better as individuals as well as professionals. Thanks for your consideration!

How would you respond to the email?

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.

ABF_logo

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.

EPALE-Infographic

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.

EU WEA

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.

Do you want my job?

The WEA has started the search for my successor as Deputy Chief Executive and Director for Education.

I wrote to Trustees last July to let them know that I planned to retire at the end of June 2015, but it still seems strange to see the advert for the job appearing on the WEA’s website and in my Twitter timeline today.

The role is within a newly restructured Senior Management Team and is becoming vacant at an exciting time of planned change for the Association.

Working with the WEA is a great chance to be part of a vision-driven organisation with an illustrious history and a continued focus on adult education for social purpose.

Are you interested in the job or do you know someone who might be? If so, please do follow the link in the tweet or share the message.

Thank you.