Our new evidence review on adult learning features a randomised control trial that found adults undergoing treatment for depression experienced markedly better outcomes when their treatment included literacy training.
For policymakers and those delivering community services, these findings – and others in the review – point to both formal and informal learning as potentially bolstering the impact of a range of policies, programmes and projects, even where adult education is not the primary goal.
However, while we’ve highlighted the lifelong benefits of learning before, this review emphasises the importance of tailoring the learning to fit different groups of people for maximum wellbeing impact. It matters how and what we learn:
- ‘Hard’ outcomes, like a formal qualification, and ‘soft’ outcomes, like improved self-confidence, are both important for achieving wellbeing impacts. But we need to take a nuanced approach and consider how these outcomes are captured and how effectively learning delivers both. For example, one study reported that learners increased their employment and educational goals as a result of participating in literacy education, but rated as equally important the enhanced self-esteem and interpersonal awareness.
- Learning environment is key, both in terms of learners achieving learning outcomes, but also as a source of support and to foster the social benefits of learning which contribute to wellbeing. The research shows, for instance, that the opportunity to share skills and knowledge or mentor others may also be important for realising wellbeing in older learners.
- Unstructured or informal learning may be more beneficial for wellbeing than formal structures. For example, evidence shows that retired older men may get more wellbeing from learning that is unstructured or informal.