Headlines: January 16th, 2008

A quiet revolution is changing the way that adults engage in informal learning that does not lead to a qualification. Many still follow the classroom route with fixed time sessions, but a growing number use the internet and other means. The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills is building a vision of adult learning in the 21st century and is seeking views on how people see the need and the ways in which it might be met.

According to the National Adult Learner Survey around 80 per cent of adults say they participate in some form of adult education. In addition to funding by the Department for personal and community development activities, the Arts Council, Sport England and major national museums and galleries offer education services and facilities through free access to visitors. Proposals for the future include the introduction of ‘virtual’ vouchers to enable some adults to fund their own informal learning.

21st century learning is being driven by learners themselves as people adapt new technologies and rely less on support from local or national Government to organise activities. Learners are also seeking out fellow enthusiasts through online communities and other channels.

The Department’s vision will recognise that for the future, informal learning must bring together and build on many interests including those of teachers and learners, communities and providers, traditions and technologies. There must also be an emphasis on creative thinking and new ways of doing things, not simply in schools and colleges but in every other training context as well. Bringing public investment and provision, voluntary sector and self-help initiatives, broadcast and on-line opportunities into a closer relationship will be particularly important.

The consultation will be spearheaded by working groups made up of major organisations from broadcasting and new technologies, the voluntary sector, other government departments, families and older people. The aim is to formulate new proposals to further expand learning and ensure that people have more control over the format and availability of courses. Organisations that are signed up to take part in the work alongside the Government include Help the Aged, The University of the Third Age, the Family Learning Network, English Heritage, BBC, BSkyB, Microsoft and the TUC.

The working groups will look at specific issues affecting informal adult learning. These include the role of Government, the involvement of new technologies, the role of the voluntary sector, the engagement of families and access for older people. The groups will engage with learners to seek their views on how the current system can be improved.

The consultation ends on 15 May 2008. Contributions can be made to the DIUS. www.adultlearningconsultation.org.uk