Today we publish Wellbeing barriers to learning. Learning and educational outcomes are important for wellbeing as well as career progression. This review explores the evidence on whether unlocking the barriers faced by people with low wellbeing can improve learning in an educational setting. Olga Tregaskis, Professor in International HR Management, Norwich Business School and researcher in our Work and Learning Evidence Programme,  sets out the key findings.

Do actions and approaches to improve wellbeing have an impact on learning?

There is initial evidence that suggests that a range of approaches that aim to enhance learners’ wellbeing improve:

  • participation in learning
  • academic engagement
  • academic achievement and performance.

What type of approach is most effective for improving learning outcomes?

A range of wellbeing-related approaches were used and were broadly effective. However, the evidence needs to be developed before drawing any solid conclusions about what techniques are most effective and for which groups of young people.

Generally, the evidence showed that:

  • For students with low wellbeing and mental health issues approaches were effective in supporting young people. However, the majority of the studies used a relatively healthy sample and so more evidence is needed from studies that directly target students with poor mental health, including anxiety.
  • Tailored delivery for the specific needs of the target group resulted in more effective approaches. Young people engaged better with approaches when this was the case.

Do these approaches also improve wellbeing?

While many of the studies found positive effects on wellbeing (six out of 10), the majority of these studies (five out of six) showed inconsistent findings across different measures of wellbeing they used. This raises some important questions about how well we understand the role of wellbeing in learning and what measures are appropriate to use in different settings.

The majority of these studies involved a relatively healthy sample of university students. Although some studies self-selected as stressed, they did not necessarily have persistently low levels of wellbeing or diagnosed mental health issues. Inconsistent findings could, therefore, be due there not being suitable measures for evaluating the impact of these approaches on ‘healthy’ participants rather than participants with existing mental health conditions.

What can learning providers do with this evidence?

There are a number of practical implications for those working in this space.

  • Consider the wellbeing needs and barriers being experienced by students, and consider these in the design of learning programs. This is important for improving students’ mental health, as well as engagement, achievement and progression in learning more generally.
  • Consider how effectively existing programmes like those in the review are achieving their aims. Including behavioural elements alongside cognitive strategies makes a difference in impact; tailoring mode of delivery and content to the specific wellbeing needs of the learners seems important to success.
  • Think about how and why the target group will be motivated to participate and fit a mode of delivery around these needs. The success of actions and approaches will be influenced by the extent to which participants engage with it.

The evidence on wellbeing and students