The goals of adult learning courses and training are mainly to create more opportunities, improve the way we work or change our work completely. But the evidence reveals that learning has an interesting and complex relationship with wellbeing.
Short and long term impacts on wellbeing in higher education
In the short term, the impact on wellbeing can be negative. Meeting essay deadlines or taking exams can increase stress and reduce social interactions with friends, both factors that contribute to our subjective wellbeing.
In the longer term, however, additional formal qualifications and education shows a slightly positive impact on a person’s wellbeing. This correlates to what we might expect. For instance, we know there is a strong link between employment, especially high-quality jobs, and wellbeing. So where qualifications can lead to employment and higher quality jobs, it appears to be a good thing.
Connecting the causes
Proving causation is difficult. It also makes sense that where the process itself of formal and informal learning reduces isolation, there are benefits to participants’ wellbeing. Evidence from observational studies – non-intervention studies that assess naturally occurring levels of learning, such as qualification or accreditation gained, or job status – supports a relationship between wellbeing and learning. Although identifying the causal mechanism has been more difficult: do happier people engage in more learning opportunities, or do learning opportunities make people happier?
What works to improve students’ mental health and wellbeing
Together with the University of Liverpool, we published a review of reviews which maps which interventions work to better the mental health and wellbeing in higher education and adult learning. The review looked at a range of interventions including mindfulness, psychological, technological, recreation and setting-based interventions.
In addition to the review, we also published a shorter briefing which summarises the report and its findings.
Explore the resources in the tiles below.