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Adult Learners' Lives
Adult Learners' Lives was a major project funded by the National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy. The aim was to understand some of the connections between adults' lives and basic skills taking account of social and economic factors. In this longitudinal study we used ethnographic methods to understand the meanings and connections that adults make between learning and their everyday lives. Informed by the Skills for Life strategy we looked at links between formal and informal learning at colleges, in the workplace, in the community and in the home. We were interested in literacy, numeracy and ESOL as social practices: practices that take place within a wide range of contexts in people's lives and that are shaped by a variety of social and economic factors.
In the classroom we looked at links between teaching and learning, participation, motivation and persistence. We were interested to know what motivates and engages adult learners in the area of basic skills. Through collaborative research we aimed to identify teaching and learning strategies that are more effective at encouraging and supporting adult basic skills learners.
Lancaster has a strong tradition of situated research looking at literacy as a social practice, rather than simply as technical skill acquisition. In the Adult Learners' Lives project we built upon this tradition making connections between different aspects of learners' lives and learning. We used, and developed, a variety of methods in the different sites of our research. These included observation, in-depth and repeated interviews, group work, photography and video. In addition we looked at various types of student writing and the many different forms of communications that adult learners encounter in their everyday lives: at work, at home and in the community.
In the first year of the Adult Learners' Lives project we concentrated our ethnographic work in adult literacy, numeracy and ESOL learning environments in our key sites of Lancaster, Liverpool and Blackburn. Our first year activities are reported in an NRDC paper 'Adult Learners' Lives: Setting the Scene'.
We worked in classrooms with six teacher researcher fellows from Lancaster Adult College, Blackburn College, Accrington & Rossendale College and Liverpool Community College, looking at the relationship between learning and everyday life. The teacher researchers enabled the research to be embedded in real classrooms, whilst developing their own practice through individual projects linked to the Adult Learners' Lives project as a whole, reported in an NRDC paper 'Listening to Learners'.
In the second year we worked in the three towns with learners in a range of community provision. This included a drug support and aftercare centre, a young homeless project, a domestic violence project and with Big Issue. We also maintained contact with over 30 learners from the classroom research who represented the longitudinal cohort of the study. We worked with practitioners in each of the sites, exploring collaborative research and methods of researching learners who frequently have issues in their lives that impact upon learning.
We also worked with practitioner researchers in the three sites mapping basic skills within each area, showing a range of provision for learners, from the very visible to that which remains hidden. Some of this mapping work is reported in LLRC working papers.
We produced a range of reports and working papers during the course of the project.
Roberts, Celia, Mike Baynham, Paul Shrubshall, David Barton, Priti Chopra, Melanie Cooke, Rachel Hodge, Kathy Pitt, Philida Schellekens, Catherine Wallace and Shelly Whitfield (2004). English for Speakers of Other languages (ESOL) - case studies of provision, learners' needs and resources: Research Report. Available from the NRDC publications web page.
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