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Research Report
No 394
Widening Access to Adult Learning
in the Arts and Cultural Sectors
Anne Lines, David Sims, Robat Powell, Parminder Mann,
Louise Dartnall, Thomas Spielhofer
National Foundation for Educational Research
The views expressed in this report are the authors' and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department for Education
and Skills.
© National Foundation for Educational Research. Should you require further information about this project, please contact
Anne Lines at The National Foundation for Educational Research, telephone: 01753 574123.
ISBN 1 84185 899 4
March 2003
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ................................................................................ i
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ................................................................................ iii
INTRODUCTION ..................................................................................... 1
Venues and Learning Opportunities ...........................................................7
Marketing and Promotion .........................................................................10
Target Participants ...................................................................................13
Next Steps ...............................................................................................14
Outcomes ................................................................................................15
Background ................................................................................................1
Research Aims and Focus .........................................................................4
Methodology ..............................................................................................4
Report Structure.........................................................................................5
Taking up Learning Activities ...................................................................19
Learning and the Learner .........................................................................25
The Learning Environment .......................................................................27
Outcomes and Benefits of Learning .........................................................30
4.1 Views on the Venue .................................................................................35
4.2 Views on Learning....................................................................................39
4.3 Critical Factors in Learning Take-up Identified by the Non-participants ....39
5.1 Generating Demand .................................................................................43
5.2 Getting the Supply Right ..........................................................................43
5.3 How to Improve Take-up in Specific Communities ...................................44
DEVELOPMENT IMPLICATIONS ........................................................ 47
6.1 Synopsis of Findings ................................................................................47
6.2 Messages and Implications ......................................................................47
REFERENCES .............................................................................................. 51
APPENDIX .................................................................................................... 53
The authors would like to express their thanks to Sue Stone, Project Manager
at the DfES, Val Hewson, Policy Manager at the DfES and Sally Manuireva,
Project Manager at the Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust who provided
valuable help and support throughout the study.
We acknowledge the cooperation of the Basic Skills Agency and the National
Institute of Adult Continuing Education which identified useful project
Special thanks are due to the staff at the 29 organisations that participated in
the study. They gave generously of their time, provided useful information
and helped to arrange access to the people we wanted to meet for the purposes
of the research. We are very grateful to the learners and visitors to the venues
who agreed to be interviewed and made a key contribution to the study.
We also wish to thank our two internal readers, Alison Lawson and David Pye
for taking the time to read and comment on this report, prior to publication.
Finally, we acknowledge the administrative assistance and support provided
by Maureen Greenaway.
Providing new and imaginative opportunities that encourage adults to learn
and develop fresh skills has an increasingly prominent position on social
agendas that aim to widen access to learning, regenerate communities, and
tackle social exclusion. Non-traditional providers in the arts and cultural
sectors (e.g. art galleries and museums) contribute to these opportunities by
delivering a variety of activities, courses and workshops.
This research, which was carried out between August 2002 and January 2003,
was a qualitative study aimed at finding out adults’ perceptions of informal
learning and exploring the potential role of non-traditional providers and
venues in offering learning opportunities. Visits were undertaken to 29 venues
where interviews were conducted with 131 learners (participants), 46 people
not engaged in learning activities (non-participants) and 28 staff.
Key Findings
Most participants enjoyed and appreciated the learning activities provided
at the venues, which offered a relaxed and informal atmosphere and
engaged them interactively in the learning process. Tutors were critically
important to the success of activities – it was their expertise that gave the
provision credibility in learners’ eyes.
Challenges to providers included time and resources to find new audiences
and develop new learning activities, dealing with the logistics of arranging
transport, and finding and keeping freelance tutors with appropriate
expertise and experience.
While some participants were planning to go on to other learning,
progression was not a prime motivator for taking part in activities and
courses. Personal gains in skills, knowledge, confidence and social
opportunities were more significant and many people were attracted by
provision that did not require too great a time commitment.
Time and cost were the major reasons given by the non-participants for not
taking part in the learning activities and courses provided.
Non-participants expressed an interest in practical and workshop-based
activities provided with structure and support. They also considered that
cultural venues were generally accessible and were ideal places to run
Aims and Methods
The aim of the study was to ascertain adults’ perceptions of informal learning
and the potential role of non-traditional providers in the arts and cultural
sectors in offering learning opportunities.
The study used a qualitative research methodology. Visits were undertaken to
29 venues, including museums, galleries and community centres. Semistructured face-to-face interviews were carried out with 131 participants who
included people from a range of socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds.
Interviews were also conducted with 46 non-participants, defined as visitors to
venues who were not participating in the learning activities provided. A total
of 28 staff – organisers, curators and tutors – were interviewed to gain a
provider perspective. Most of the interviews were audio recorded and
transcribed for analysis.
Venues and Provision
Venues: the 29 venues included museums, galleries, community centres, a
historic house, a cathedral and outside locations in the north, midlands and
south of England.
Marketing and recruitment: a variety of methods was used to market
provision, including newspaper adverts, mailouts, local radio and press and
leaflets placed in community locations such as libraries. Recruitment was also
supported by the personal recommendation of learners (word of mouth) and
occasionally by referrals from doctors and social services. There was a
growing demand for the activities provided and a few venues were operating
at full capacity.
Provision: the range of learning activities, provided through taster workshops,
short courses and one-off events, related to art appreciation, creative arts and
design, collecting and collections, culture and heritage, local history, dance,
photography, science and writing.
Delivery: learning was usually interactive and practical. The methods used
included discussion, observation and practical work. Learners were often
consulted about the types of activity undertaken and the selection of topics and
locations. The courses and activities were delivered mainly by curators and
tutors. Many of the tutors worked on a part-time basis and some were
Challenges: staff in around half of the venues reported several challenges in
setting up and running learning activities. These included lack of time and
resources to identify new audiences and develop new activities, arranging
transport to bring in participants, finding and keeping freelance tutors, and
having to work with inadequate equipment.
Participants’ Views of Informal Learning
Motivation to attend: participants were attracted by provision that was of
limited duration and that did not involve too great an initial commitment.
Interest in the subject of the learning activity was the main motivation to
attend. The opportunities that the activities offered for social interaction were
also an important motivation. While in some cases, the motivation was related
to professional development, in others people had taken up activities for
recreational reasons. A few were stimulated to participate by the therapeutic
value of the activities.
Access: the free provision of activities and courses was appreciated by
learners. Where charges were made, learners generally felt that the cost was
reasonable. Travelling to the venues generally presented participants with few
problems. Most participants travelled by public or private transport; very few
walked to the venues. Some people with disabilities or belonging to
disadvantaged groups relied on the provision of specially arranged transport
without which they could not have taken up the learning activities.
Learning environments: the majority of participants were satisfied with the
learning environments provided by the venues. Generally, they liked the
social atmosphere, which they found non-threatening. A minority of
participants were unhappy about the venues owing to lack of heating, poor
lighting and lack of space.
The location of learning activities in museums and galleries was considered
particularly appropriate for two main reasons: the general ambience was said
to encourage and inspire learning, and the displays of artifacts and pictures
were often directly relevant to the nature of the activities. A minority view
was that such venues were forbidding and exclusive places.
Learning activities and styles: on the whole, participants’ views were
positive about the structure and content of the learning activities they had
taken up. They liked the degree of flexibility and choice offered. Participants
felt that informal learning was a good way to learn because it was enjoyable
and brought out their creativity. Learning through hands-on activities gave
some participants the satisfaction of producing something for themselves.
Participants were positive about their tutors, particularly their enthusiasm and
caring attitude. It was often the expertise of tutors that gave the activity its
credibility in learners’ eyes. Some noted that they learned through sharing
experiences with their tutors and other group members.
Outcomes and benefits: the vast majority of participants considered that they
had gained from the learning activities. The social interaction involved had
contributed considerably to the well-being of some participants and increased
their self-confidence. Many participants indicated that they had gained an
enhanced understanding of the subjects they were studying. This included
gaining more knowledge and an increased awareness of what the subject
encompassed. Some reported that they had also developed or improved
technical skills.
Next steps: although few participants had a clear idea about what learning
activities they wanted to do next, the majority thought it likely that they would
take up further opportunities as a consequence of their present experience.
However, very few were interested in gaining formal qualifications. Learners
tended to show a strong loyalty to their tutor and in some cases their further
participation appeared dependent on maintaining that link.
Non-participants’ Views of Informal Learning
The study found that people visited venues to pursue their interests and to
view exhibitions. The main reason for some was to support their children’s
learning. Few were aware that venues organised educational activities for
adults, yet many considered that the venues were ideal places to provide these
because of their accessible cultural resources. Time and cost, as well as lack
of awareness, were the main reasons given for not participating in learning
activities. Some visitors were reluctant to join in learning activities having
had bad experiences of education earlier in their lives.
Key features of provision that can increase take-up: the study identified
several features that could play a role in increasing adults’ take-up of informal
learning provided in the arts and cultural sectors. These included:
a relaxed atmosphere and informal learning environment that offers an
interactive learning experience with opportunities for practical
activities that relate to their lives and the history and culture of their
access to exhibitions and displays that can support the learning process
tutors and curators who are supportive and who have the knowledge, skills
and understanding to inspire people to learn
taster sessions and workshops that provide a brief introduction to topics
without requiring longer-term commitment
provision that is free to participants
organised transport for groups of people who cannot take up learning
activities otherwise.
Messages and Implications
Museums, galleries and other providers in the arts and cultural sectors are
more likely to maximise the part they can play in widening access to learning
if they identify and draw on their distinctive contribution to attracting and
engaging adults in activities and courses
targeting specific interest groups and societies, community leaders and basic
skills providers can help museums, galleries and other providers to extend
their reach to additional users
partnerships with other local learning providers can be beneficial both to the
providers and their clients, offering access to additional expertise, including
opportunities for progression for participants
local radio has potential for greater usage as a way of publicising learning
activities in the local community
consulting with participants on a regular basis is important for informing the
development and design of provision to ensure that it meets their changing
needs. Provision will be enriched if it is grounded in the views, experiences
and feedback of users gained through regular evaluation
widening participation involves providing initial and continuing differentiated
support so that learners can grow in confidence and feel secure. This is
particularly critical for people who have been outside mainstream education
for some time or who have had negative experiences at school.
Widening people’s access to learning is at the core of educational policies in
the UK and other European nations. In Education and Skills: Delivering
Results – A Strategy to 2006 (2001), the Government sets out its rationale for
enabling more people to participate in learning:
A sound education opens doors, not just to increased earning power,
but also to the enjoyment of art and culture and the stretching of
imagination and horizons … Better educated and more highly skilled
people are more likely to be in work, earn more and contribute to our
economy and society. Knowledge and skills provide individuals with
their surest route into work and prosperity, helping eradicate the
causes of poverty and division in society.
The concept of increasing access to and participation in learning, which spans
considerations of individual interest and development, social inclusion and
economic growth, is complex and has a variety of interpretations. For
example, McGivney (2001) identifies different understandings where some
commentators view widening adult participation in learning as ‘a process that
is intended to change the behaviour and hence the prospects of the socially
excluded and “disaffected”’ and others regard it as ‘an access process
designed to make the student cohort more ethnically and geographically
representative of the communities served’. Another interpretation is offered
by Cullen et al. (2000) who note that engaging in learning may mean
significant change for individuals, as it can involve ‘the active engagement by
citizens in the construction, interpretation and, often, re-shaping of their own
identity and social reality’.
The Learning Age (1998) emphasises that increasing access to and
participation in learning is a formidable challenge requiring contributions from
all parts of the education and training systems, including providers working in
the voluntary and community sectors. Hillage and Aston (2001) report that
adults not involved in learning activities and courses – usually referred to as
non-learners or non-participants – are not a homogenous group. They
elaborate that non-participants include:
those that simply do not feel motivated to engage in learning through a
lack of confidence, disaffection or a feeling that ‘it’s not for them’, and
individuals who would like to undertake learning but are unable to
because of external barriers.
Providing local opportunities for individuals to learn in an informal way is
considered as making a vital contribution to widening access to learning. An
illustration of this informal learning approach is the Adult and Community
Learning Fund (ACLF), which was launched in England in 1998 to draw more
people into learning activities of all kinds by offering ‘learning opportunities
provided through grassroots, community-based activities which are familiar
and relevant to people’s everyday lives’.
The significance of informal learning is characterised as follows by Coffield
If all learning were to be represented by an iceberg, then the section
above the surface of the water would be sufficient to cover formal
learning, but the submerged two thirds of the structure would be needed
to convey the much greater importance of informal learning.
Coffield suggested that a continuing assessment of the contribution of
informal learning to the development of a learning society required a deeper
understanding of how it stimulates people’s interests because ‘such curiosity,
when aroused, spills out into all areas of life.’
There is no universal definition of informal learning. McGivney (1999b)
writes that:
Informal learning is difficult to pin down in an exact definition: it has
variously been described as unpremeditated or incidental learning;
explicit learning which does not have a prescribed framework; learning
which is informal in style and delivery but which includes a teacher and a
Acknowledging the role that informal learning can play in engaging people in
learning activities, Cullen et al. (2000) observe that it ‘happens in all sorts of
places, involves different kinds of participants, and uses a variety of platforms
and methods’. They suggest that ‘informal learning, at heart has to be
directly relevant to real life-world and opportunity structures of learners’, and
go on to advocate that it ‘needs to be relevant, appropriate and flexible for
different learners in different environments’.
In recent years, the educational role that museums, art galleries, archives and
libraries (sometimes referred to as non-traditional providers) can play in
people’s local environments has been brought into sharper relief. For
example, Anderson (1997) reports that the cultural sector:
offers opportunities for personal (informal and self-directed) learning that
differ from, and complement, the learning provided by the formal
education sector. Education provides museums with a renewed purpose
and enables them to contribute to cultural development in society’.
Aware that people have different learning style preferences, Anderson notes
that ‘informal learning, the kind that begins at birth and develops throughout
life through social interaction with other people, provides the foundation for
all other learning.’ The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS,
2000) pointed out that the educational work undertaken by museums, art
galleries and archives could also help to address social exclusion:
There is increasing recognition that learning can take place outside the
classroom, is a lifelong process growing out of our everyday experience,
and that the cultural sector can make a large contribution. Informal
learning has a key role to play in broadening people’s understanding and
awareness, and providing them with a first step on a learning journey.
In its Strategic Plan for Action, Resource (2001) noted that, although there is
no common agreement on what is meant by ‘learning’ in museums, archives
and libraries, ‘learning in these contexts is often informal and experimental,
with impacts on feelings and attitudes rather than leading to the acquisition of
concepts.’ The Strategic Plan made the case for learning in these
environments, which are:
rich sources of information about the social, historical, economic and
cultural life of our society … Their collections and resources have the
capacity to provoke wonder and curiosity, and to stimulate questions and
discussion. They can inspire creativity. They can provide people with
answers, interpretations and experiences which enrich, make sense of and
change their lives.
In order to build on this, the Government aims to encourage these nontraditional providers to reach out to and engage the whole community. The
DfES and DCMS have been working in partnership to this end, for example,
in taking forward the Government’s response to Empowering the Learning
Community (2000), the report of the Library and Information Commission’s
Education and Libraries Task Group, and in collaborating with organisations
such as Resource (the Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries) and
CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals).
The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) commissioned the National
Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) to carry out a study into
people’s perceptions and take-up of the informal learning opportunities
offered in the arts and cultural sectors.
This study explored what adults understand and expect from informal learning
and considered the potential of cultural organisations in offering opportunities
to learn. The evidence aims to help people working in organisations such as
museums, galleries and libraries to:
support and inform the development of their educational strategies,
including preparing funding applications
establish links and collaborative relationships with other local providers of
learning, including helping people to progress to further learning, where
target community groups and promote provision more effectively.
The aims and focus of the research, which was undertaken between August
2002 and January 2003, are outlined in Section 1.2.
Research Aims and Focus
The overarching purpose of the research study was to inform policy
development on widening and improving access to learning by exploring
options and opportunities for a range of people in different social contexts and
economic circumstances. The research aimed to ascertain:
the ways in which different adults perceive informal learning
the potential role of non-traditional providers and venues in offering
learning opportunities.
The study was exploratory in that it set out to investigate a range of enquiries
that are critical to the widening of participation. The explorations were guided
by a series of key questions as outlined below.
What are the main factors that motivate adults to take up informal learning
What meaning does informal learning have in the lives of people and how
do they perceive its purpose, value and utility?
What do people think of the venues where informal learning is delivered?
What features of the venues, if any, do they value?
What type of learning styles help people to learn and are appreciated by
What are the main barriers that inhibit and impede adults from making use
of this type of learning?
What is the distinctive contribution that informal learning venues can
make to reducing barriers to learning, and encouraging and supporting
adults to take up learning activities?
The focus of the study was the provision of learning opportunities mainly in
the arts and cultural sectors. The range of providers and venues participating
in the study that were delivering learning activities and courses included
museums, galleries, community centres, a historic house, a library, a cathedral,
a college and outdoor locations.
The study used a qualitative research methodology in order to gain people’s
insights and get under the surface of people’s experience and achieve an indepth, detailed exploration of their views of informal learning and the venues
that provide it. The study collected data from face-to-face interviews with
learners and non-participants in learning.
A database of venues and provision was compiled from information collected
from the DfES, the Basic Skills Agency and the National Institute of Adult
Continuing Education, which led to contacts with other national and local
organisations and networks. A selection was made of venues based on criteria
that would enable the study to include:
a geographic spread of provision and learners
a range of different types of venues
a variety of learning activities covering different interests and subjects
a range of learners and non-participants with different characteristics.
Semi-structured interview schedules for learners, non-participants and
providers were drafted and piloted. The revised instruments were then used to
interview 131 learners, 46 non-participants, and 28 staff (organisers, curators,
and tutors) in 29 venues in urban and rural locations (nine in the north, six in
the midlands and 14 in the south, including London). The learners included
people with jobs, people without employment, senior citizens, homeless
people, asylum seekers, people with disabilities and people from ethnic
minority groups.
Non-participants were defined as people who visited the venues but did not
participate in the learning activities being provided and who had not
participated in learning at the venue during the last three years.
Most of the interviews were audio recorded and the transcripts were used for
analysis. Information was also gathered from some venues and used to inform
the conclusions drawn from the study.
Report Structure
The structure of the report is as follows.
Chapter 2 presents research findings on the venues visited and on the learning
opportunities provided, including the marketing of activities and the planned
outcomes for participants.
Chapter 3 presents research findings on participants’ experience and views of
informal learning at the venues included in the study. The chapter explores
the motivations that encouraged people to take up learning activities,
investigates the extent to which they liked the environments and styles of
learning, and examines what benefits they think that they gained from their
involvement in the activities.
Chapter 4 focuses on non-participants and reports their views of the venues
they were visiting in addition to their views about learning in general. The
chapter also identifies the factors that people consider critical to facilitating or
inhibiting take-up of informal learning opportunities.
Chapter 5 draws together the findings from the interviews with learners and
non-participants and reports their views on how cultural venues can improve
take-up of informal learning. It highlights ways in which these venues can
generate demand, improve supply and reach out to specific communities.
The final chapter provides key messages and implications from the study
about widening participation through informal learning in the arts and cultural
Information on the characteristics of the learners and non-participants
interviewed is provided in an appendix at the end of the report.
This chapter provides information on the range of venues that were
included in this research study. Drawing on data gathered from interviews
with providers (coordinators, curators and tutors), it outlines the main
features of the learning opportunities (activities, workshops and courses)
provided at the venues visited. The chapter also presents findings on the:
ways in which learning opportunities are marketed
types of people targeted by providers
progression routes that learners take
learners’ outcomes from participating in the activities, workshops and
courses provided.
Venues and Learning Opportunities
The 29 venues that formed the research sites for this study included:
art/exhibition galleries
community/day centres
a historic house
a cathedral
outside/open air locations.
Collectively, these venues provided a wide range of learning opportunities,
which are categorised as follows:
art appreciation, e.g. talk on the artistic portrayal of war
creative arts and design, e.g. workshops on watercolour painting, collage,
clay modelling, printmaking, glass painting, quilt making and pottery
collecting and collections, e.g. sessions on how to take care of objects and
culture and heritage, e.g. black history events
learning English, e.g. reading and speaking practice for asylum seekers
local history, e.g. an archaeology trail, talks and demonstrations on
weaving, and presentations on the history of emigration
movement and dance, e.g. African dance and masquerade workshops
photography, e.g. courses on photographic techniques, digital imaging
and video editing
science, e.g. natural history workshops, including tree ring dating
writing, e.g. reminiscence, story telling and writing workshops.
Staff said that the activities and courses were interactive and practical, though
in some cases background context and theory were sometimes provided
through talks, demonstrations and guided tours of gallery displays.
Occasionally, the activities provided were linked to museum exhibitions. The
learning methods used also included discussion, handling samples and
materials, observing artefacts or working machinery, learning to use
equipment, analysing information and data collected from a variety of sources
including websites, watching or participating in performance, and making
things. Some tutors pointed out the importance of encouraging learners to
explore their abilities, aptitudes and interests through direct contact with tools
and materials in the process of making or decorating something.
The research found that providers consulted with learners in one of two ways:
first, consultation about the general focus or type of activity that should be
covered or provided, and second, consultation about specific practical aspects
within a structured course or workshop. An illustration of the former was the
approach taken by the organiser of creative arts courses at a community centre
who reported that ‘the main point is the group talk about what they want and
then I help them with what they want and give ideas to develop it … it’s an
organic thing, the idea is that as it goes along it grows …’ Another example
was the customer-led approach adopted by a museum curator who provided
opportunities for older learners and remarked ‘the onus is on people to tell us
what to do.’ The second, more limited type of consultation was illustrated by
the photography course that encouraged learners to have a say in selecting
topics and locations, and the printmaking course that involved learners in
choosing designs.
Most of the courses and activities provided by the venues were fairly new,
having been introduced during the last two years. A few had been offered for
five years or longer. The courses and activities were delivered by curators,
adult education institute and college tutors, facilitators and technicians. Many
of the tutors worked on a part-time basis, and some of the facilitators such as
actors and performance artists were freelance. Volunteers assisted in a
minority of venues where they helped learners who were elderly and infirm or
who had learning difficulties. At two venues, carers, families and volunteers
provided supported visits by older people.
The staff interviewed stated that there was a growing demand for the informal
learning opportunities offered at their venues. The number of learners
participating in the courses and activities ranged from eight to 30.
The organisation of the learning activities varied. For example, while some
were provided monthly, others were one-off events or courses lasting between
two days and 10 weeks. Five of the activities were provided at weekends.
Some staff pointed out that the opportunities they offered had grown out of, or
were related to, family learning activities provided during school holidays.
Several of the opportunities were described as taster workshops designed to
give learners a brief introduction to a particular area of interest. The activities
and courses varied in duration from between two hours to five days.
The majority of the venues did not charge participants for the courses and
learning activities they provided. Staff explained that free admission was
essential for giving and widening public access to collections and learning
opportunities, and that some groups of people such as senior citizens and
unemployed people could not afford to pay and should not be disadvantaged
as a result. These courses and activities were funded out of venues’ existing
budgets, which in some cases had dedicated funds for ensuring public access.
One of the venues had gained resources from the Adult and Community
Learning Fund to run a course and another had secured funding from a charity
to resource its workshops. The seven venues that charged for activities used
the income to pay for tuition fees, materials, use of equipment and
refreshments. Examples of charges were £2.50 per week towards the cost of
art and modelling materials, £5.00 for a five-hour workshop on printmaking,
and £60.00 for a five-day lino printmaking course.
Staff in around half of the venues identified challenges in setting up and
providing informal learning opportunities, activities and workshops. As
indicated below, the challenges related to resources, organisation,
communication and guidance:
having insufficient time and resources to find new audiences and research
and develop new learning activities
facing difficulties in developing a coordinated approach to advertising and
marketing as a result of organising courses at short notice to meet local
dealing with the logistics of setting up and servicing courses and activities,
including arranging transport
having few or no guidelines on how to work with different groups in the
local community
finding and keeping experts and freelancers who had the flexibility to
deliver sessions at times that met the needs of venues and learners
ensuring that there were effective communication channels between
permanent staff and freelancers
working with equipment that was sometimes rather limited and
occasionally in the wrong place
lacking adequate and appropriate space for providing educational
Lack of space and resources were identified as key areas where
museums and art galleries faced difficulty in organising and running
events. As a learning provider in one gallery in the north east explained:
We don’t have a dedicated educational space so we normally use the
entrance hall downstairs but that’s difficult because it’s public space
so some people don’t want people looking over their shoulders. We
don’t have a dedicated education officer so it takes a lot of time and
effort on my part and the secretary’s part to sort it all out.
Lack of money was also identified as an issue: ‘We’ve only got a limited
budget to run these kinds of things, yet we are still expected to do it.’
Despite the challenges and difficulties they were facing, coordinators and
tutors remained fully committed to continuing organising and providing these
types of learning opportunities. Their commitment enabled them to override
the frustrations they experienced in delivering a service to the local
Marketing and Promotion
The research found that marketing and promotion underpinned the provision
of informal learning activities at the venues visited. The resource available for
this work varied. For example, while one provider commented that ‘the
publicity machine is quite extensive’, another lamented that ‘we never have
enough money to publicise events … it would be nice to have a slick
brochure.’ In some cases, the staff responsible for planning informal learning
were able to draw on the marketing and publicity provided more generally by
museums and galleries.
Most of the venues visited were using a variety of methods to market and
promote courses and learning activities. The venues marketed and promoted
them through one or more of the following:
press releases, advertisements and articles included in local newspapers,
events guides, newsletters and specialist magazines
mailouts to members and contacts on existing mailing lists, including
individuals, interest groups, national associations, arts organisations,
community groups, schools, colleges and universities
leaflets, booklets and posters placed in libraries, arts centres, tourist
information centres, post offices, hospitals, pubs, community centres and
social services
information included in museum, gallery, National Trust, Workers’
Educational Association and local authority publications
posters and leaflets linked to festivals and celebrations such as Black
History Month
adverts and coverage on local radio
information posted on local authority websites.
Many staff reported that they were taking or were planning to take a broad
approach to marketing, which indicated that no one method was exclusively
effective. Several drew attention to the importance of word of mouth in
promoting the activities on offer, as illustrated by the observation by one
curator that ‘a personal recommendation is always the strongest force.’
A learning provider at a local history workshop based in a museum in the
north west had found the most effective use of marketing was through the
medium of local media, that is newspapers and radio stations. Usually
this involved getting a small article inserted into the local newspaper each
week advertising the forthcoming events at the museum. This had
proved to be very successful in generating interest and participation. The
local radio station was also a useful marketing tool, assisted by the fact
that there were a couple of talk radio presenters with an interest in local
history, who were ‘willing to give us a plug, we got a lot of mention on the
radio.’ In addition to using the local media, the marketing took a
proactive approach by visiting people in social settings outside in the
community. ‘We go to the local history fairs around the borough to run
some taster workshops.’ Finally, taking the rather unusual step of visiting
businesses in the local community provided a really good response.
When we worked outside of the borough one of my colleagues actually
went out and visited hairdressers or any shop and asked if he could put
some of these posters up. It was a bit of an experiment to see if it
would work. We will start to put up posters in shops and pubs,
especially in this area, because people tend to reminisce a lot in pubs.
Less well used methods of promotion included outreach in local communities
through the work of mobile units, public displays by performers and making
presentations to members of clubs and managers of public services. One
provider pointed out that there was a need to ensure that in the future the
marketing of her course was more focused by targeting quilt and embroidery
societies. Another was planning to enhance promotion by placing posters in
shops and pubs in the future.
All but two of the providers interviewed reported that the level of take-up of
informal learning activities and courses was satisfactory. Two noted that takeup became adequate after a slow start. A few reported that take-up was better
than expected. Several providers said that they were running at full capacity.
Although there was little drop-out from the courses and activities, one tutor
expressed disappointment that while 16 people had booked to attend a
workshop, only seven had attended.
Providers identified several factors that motivated people to take up the
courses and activities on offer. The factors related to the following:
a quest for knowledge linked to people’s interests and hobbies
skill acquisition and development
personal development and self-improvement
social contact and interaction
perceptions of the learning experience.
Course coordinators and tutors explained that people were often motivated by
more than one factor. Most of the factors itemised above reflect some of the
attitudes, such as knowledge seeking and socialising, identified by Harland et
al. (1996) as being associated with participation in the arts, broadcasting,
heritage and sport.
Motivated by their interests, which some followed as hobbies and leisure time
pursuits, some people were keen to build on their existing knowledge and find
out more about, and gain greater insights into, particular subjects such as local
history, textiles, photography or theatre. In some cases, people’s interests had
drawn them to go to exhibitions where they found information about related
learning opportunities.
In addition to the quest for knowledge, some people were motivated to take up
courses and learning activities because they wanted to acquire or develop a
skill. At the venues visited, learners had been attracted to gaining and
enhancing a range of skills, including glass painting techniques, printmaking,
painting and sketching, photography, digital imaging and video editing. In a
few cases, learners were said to be developing the skills for career and
professional purposes.
Curators and tutors observed that for some people, participating in learning
activities helped their personal development and was a confidence booster. A
good illustration of this was articulated by a provider of workshops for senior
citizens who pointed out that ‘older people still want to be valued and getting
them to tell me about their life is a way of valuing a human being. And that’s
what brings people in, because you are listening to people.’ A provider in the
north of England considered that learners’ motivations were partly influenced
by the local tradition of self-improvement.
Another motivation for participating in learning activities was identified as the
need for social contact and interaction with other people. This was
particularly important for adults who lived alone or whose mobility was
limited. A tutor at a day centre emphasised that a major pull for the homeless
people who attended his course was to learn about photography with other
people. He said that one of the points of the course was ‘to form a group who
Providers reported that some people were motivated to take up learning
activities because they were attracted by the learning environments and the
approaches taken to teaching and learning. For example, an organiser of
history workshops said that learners considered the provision to be nonthreatening and appreciated the venue (a historic house) not being like an
educational institution. Doing practical activities and making items motivated
them. Elsewhere, a tutor observed that learners were attracted to the informal
and relaxed atmosphere at the venue, the not-too-academic level at which the
theatre workshops were pitched, and the opportunity to meet actors. At
another venue, an art tutor noted that learners liked working at their own pace
and not being under pressure.
A museum educational officer in the south explained that part of the
museum’s attraction was that it was not just a venue for practical
workshops but could offer something different. Referring to an African
dance workshop and an exhibition related to African history, she
explained that museums offered people an opportunity to make
connections between the collections and the activity in which they were
participating ‘It kind of enhances the learning experience and provides
different perspective’.
Museum collections and exhibitions were accessible to learners involved
in workshops. These learners could draw inspiration from the exhibits,
which would enhance their learning experience. They provided a
different sort of experience from mainstream educational institutions.
‘Unlike university campuses, which can be scary places’, museums
provide a ‘safe context to play with, something they knew they were sort
of interested in’.
Target Participants
Many of the providers included in this study stated that the informal learning
activities they offered were open to all and aimed at all abilities. They stated
that people needed no qualifications or previous experience to participate in
and benefit from the opportunities available. This inclusive approach was
encapsulated in the pleasure that one provider had in pointing out that the local
people involved in a story writing project included all types and ages
stretching as far as a man aged 91. Elsewhere, a tutor said that learners
required no qualifications, ‘simply an enthusiasm and a wish to learn
something’. This view was echoed by the comment made by another tutor,
who when asked whether learners needed qualifications and knowledge of art,
said: ‘Not at all and most of them haven’t which makes it more exciting.’
Another tutor reported that ‘we do whatever suits that person within the limits
of their ability.’
Around a fifth of the providers who were interviewed reported that they
targeted people with particular interests and certain characteristics. In some
cases, they operated a dual approach that combined open access with targeting
specific groups in the local community such as senior citizens, ethnic
minorities, people with mental health problems, registered carers and
homeless people. Some providers said that they targeted people with specific
interests such as local history, textiles and weaving, photography, digital arts
and imaging, music technology, black history and art and artists.
As reported in Section 2.2, most providers were content with the take-up of
the courses and learning activities they offered. However, one disappointed
museum curator who was finding it a struggle to attract local people to
participate in workshops made the following observation:
I think the word ‘museum’ is a barrier. You know, I think it does have
that connotation, it’s a bit like a library where you are not allowed to …
you know, you’ve got to go in and read lots of things. Whereas, I think we
are trying to change that image. We are much more hands-on than that.
A few providers said that they were attempting to diversify the type of
participants that attended their venues. For example, while one museum was
trying to recruit more younger adults, another was attracting a wider clientele,
including people with learning difficulties and mental health problems.
Next Steps
The study explored whether the learners were interested in participating in
further learning opportunities and the ways in which providers were assisting
them to take the next steps.
According to the providers interviewed, although some participants were
interested in continuing with this type of learning, few had expressed a desire
to progress on to more structured courses elsewhere in the immediate future.
They considered that this outlook was explained by participants’ informal
approach to learning, which was based more on following their interests and
sampling taster courses than on using learning instrumentally to gain
qualifications and skills in order to meet occupational goals. This was
exemplified by the situation described by one tutor who pointed out that ‘one
learner has the artistic talent to move on but others are in their 60s and 70s
and caring for partners.’ At another venue, a tutor suggested that it might be
difficult for his learners to progress to anything more formal because ‘they
don’t have the confidence of walking within an educational space.’ A
museum curator said that she was ‘still finding out what people want’.
Staff indicated that they were willing to discuss further learning opportunities
with participants and some had already done this. The importance of learners
developing the confidence to explore possibilities was highlighted by this tutor
who said:
I can always advise and encourage and support and give them that. But
the most important thing is that they then find out and seek out through
succeeding in activity like today. They will gain confidence and they will
do it for themselves.
Providers reported that some participants were interested in building on what
they were learning and taking related courses in, for example, restoration,
conservation or digital technology. Two said that they were informing
learners that they could do foundation courses that could be the stepping
stones to taking degrees. Another indicated that learners who had attended
workshops were now interested in taking regular art and design classes.
Encouraging people to become independent learners was the type of
progression that interested one curator who said that:
the kind of the main progression that we have here … is towards
membership. So both the dark room and the digital suite are open access
facilities so the idea of the courses is to give people the initial skills for
them to take it on independently, their own work really.
Staff at most of the venues visited said that they had contacts and links with
other local education providers such as colleges, adult and community
education centres and universities, which they could use to assist learners
interested in progressing to further learning activities and courses. One
museum curator said that she was working with a university centre for
continuing education to develop courses to which learners could progress.
Mindful of her relative isolation and lack of involvement in any local
networks, another curator identified a need to research progression routes.
Providers identified several outcomes that they expected learners to gain from
participating in the activities and courses offered. They wanted people to do
one or more of the following:
have a pleasant time and enjoy learning
develop their interests and gain more knowledge
discover and learn new skills
learn to appreciate and engage with museum and gallery collections
learn to feel comfortable with using the venue as a resource for learning.
Enabling participants to achieve a combined outcome of learning and
enjoyment was the aim of many providers such as the tutor who said that ‘we
hope that they basically learn something whilst enjoying themselves’, and the
tutor who stressed that ‘it’s about making sure that people enjoy it enough to
say “yes, I’d like to do something else”.’ Providers also aimed to raise
people’s awareness that access to venues was open to all, as this curator
indicated: ‘I just want people to realise that they can come into the gallery and
there’s something for them to do.’ Another curator hoped that people would
learn ‘to come in to use the facilities as an independent user’.
Most of the providers evaluated their learning activities and courses by
gaining feedback from participants by asking them to complete evaluation
sheets or questionnaires, through group discussion and by talking to
individuals. These qualitative evaluations variously investigated whether the
provision had met learners’ expectations, whether it was pitched at the right
level, what learners enjoyed most and least, how if at all learners thought the
provision could be improved, and whether they considered the venue to be
satisfactory. One tutor was planning to make the process more inclusive by
collecting data through pictorial evaluations for people who speak little
English and through telephone interviews for people who do not want to or
cannot provide written feedback. Some tutors said that they evaluated
learners’ achievements and progress by examining their work and outputs such
as models, paintings, portfolios, exhibitions, websites and sketchbooks.
According to the judgement of the providers, which was partly based on their
evaluations, the expected outcomes for learners had been realised to some
degree. The interviews with learners carried out for this study (see Chapter 3)
corroborate the finding that learners had made gains from their involvement in
activities and courses.
Providers stated that most learners had enjoyed their experiences. For
example, workshops were said to have been regarded as ‘an enjoyable day
out’ and some learners were reported to have had ‘an enjoyable time’ doing
their courses and ‘feel good, feel better’ as a result. Some providers opined
that the enjoyment gained was partly attributable to learning alongside other
people. This social dimension was highlighted by a tutor who observed that in
meeting different people her learners were benefiting from ‘more contact with
what is going on outside their environment. They tend to live a quite sheltered
existence.’ Noting that learners gained increased confidence through
increased human contact, another tutor said that ‘just finding their way around
the college or even getting themselves here has been a massive step for some
… and being social with other people who are enjoying themselves doing the
same thing’. A further gain was ‘being involved in a project with others with
minimal support’.
Another outcome for learners acknowledged by providers was increased
knowledge of subject matter such as a greater knowledge of the theatre, of the
history of emigration or of basic photography. Participating in activities and
courses was said to have extended learners’ interests and in some cases
sparked new ones. ‘It’s expanded on one of their ideas or desires a little bit’
was how one tutor characterised it.
Providers said that some learners had learned new skills or had enhanced
existing skills. ‘Valuing their skills a bit more and realising the skills they
have’ was a typical comment. A tutor reported that her learners had improved
their stitching skills and had gained ‘confidence in their own skills, in being
able to produce something different’. Elsewhere, learners were discovering
new skills through painting, collage and modelling and through ‘getting
experience of working with different materials’.
Some providers said that increased access and exposure to museum and
gallery collections was helping learners to relate to them and make links with
their interests and the subjects they were studying. Through ‘looking behind
the scenes and attending events’, learners were said to be more relaxed in
using these venues.
Achievement was identified as a final outcome for learners. The feeling of
achieving something – ‘I’ve done this. I’ve had this level of involvement’, as
one tutor expressed it – was considered to be a critical benefit gained by some
people participating in this type of learning.
Key Findings
Provision and delivery
The learning activities and courses provided at the venues had a
strong practical element and engaged people interactively in the
learning process
Most of the informal learning provided was free. Where venues
charged, the income was used to pay for tuition, use of equipment
and refreshments
Part-time tutors and freelancers played a major role in the delivery of
courses and learning activities, including workshops.
Staff in around half of the venues reported challenges in setting up
and running learning opportunities. The challenges, which related
mainly to resourcing and organisation, included a lack of resources to
develop new learning activities adequately, dealing with the logistics
of arranging transport for learners, and finding and keeping
freelancers who had the flexibility to deliver sessions when required.
A variety of methods were used to market learning activities and
courses, including newspaper adverts, mailouts and information placed
in locations such as libraries, museums, galleries, community centres
and tourist information centres. The personal recommendation of
learners (word of mouth) was also considered to be a valuable way of
publicising the opportunities available.
The factors that motivated people to take up activities were identified
by providers as a quest for knowledge, skill acquisition and
development, personal development, social contact and interaction,
and perceptions of what the learning experience would be like.
Outcomes and next steps
While the majority of activities were open to all irrespective of
qualifications or experience, some providers also targeted particular
groups including ethnic minorities, homeless people, registered carers
and people with physical and mental disabilities
Few of the participants had definitive ideas in mind about what steps
they wanted to take next in terms of enrolling on further courses.
Generally, providers were willing to offer advice and information
Providers reported that the outcomes for participants included having
an enjoyable learning experience, developing their interests and
gaining more knowledge, developing new skills, learning to appreciate
and engage with museum and gallery collections, and becoming more
comfortable with using the venues as a resource for learning.
This chapter presents the main findings from the interviews conducted with
131 learners across 29 venues. In investigating participants’ views of
informal learning it:
describes learners’ perceptions of the learning activities in which they
were engaged
explains how and why they took up learning
defines their experience of the learning process and their own
development as learners
presents their evaluation of the venues and the provision available
concludes with an assessment of the benefits and outcomes of
Taking up Learning Activities
3.1.1 Finding the activity
The first step for the learner was finding out that the learning activity or course
was taking place. Learners were asked to explain how they had obtained this
information and the largest group (31) said they had found out as a result of
the marketing strategies of the providers. A number of learners were on the
mailing lists of museums and galleries and were informed regularly through
those mail shots about activities of interest. Others had seen posters or read
about the activities in leaflets or brochures produced by the gallery, museum
or arts organisation and placed in or outside the institution. In some cases,
learners had seen marketing information in places such as community centres,
libraries, hospitals, surgeries, theatres, colleges or other public establishments.
Some learners had read articles about the activity in local newspapers or
special interest journals or magazines. These articles were also often the
results of providers’ marketing strategies. In two cases, local radio was a
source of information on courses and classes. ‘What’s On’ brochures
produced by local authorities or colleges were also a useful medium for
including details of learning activities.
Learners also reported that word of mouth was a very effective method of
persuading them to attend activities and, indeed, 29 interviewees had heard in
this way. The recommendation of friends and relatives who had themselves
experienced the activity was felt to have a ring of authenticity.
Referral through other agencies was another means by which providers were
able to target prospective learners, particularly where the activity was aimed at
a specific group. Twenty-three interviewees reported having come to the
activity through this route. For example, activities for visually impaired
people were advertised at local Blind Clubs, which would then recommend the
activity to their members. Family learning activities arranged by a museum in
subjects such as local history were advertised through local schools which
would then pass the information on to parents.
Mary, who is 86 years old, was one of few females of her generation
to attend university and obtain a degree.
After an intense
professional life and an active retirement, she suffered a double blow
in her eighties when she was first struck by blindness and then lost
her husband.
Living alone, Mary tired of listening to audio tapes and began
suffering depression. A carer then suggested that a group for visually
impaired people run by a local arts organisation might be helpful.
The group worked with clay and other tactile materials. However,
feeling that she was contributing little, Mary soon gave up. But when
new transport arrangements were made to bring her to the group,
Mary decided to return.
Since then, she has gone from strength to strength. She has
developed her modelling skills, making several artefacts that have
pleased her. Her skill level, she admits, is still low, but rising, and her
tutors ensure that she improves a little each session. The friendship
and social interaction of the group has strengthened her morale
considerably to face life. Mary now intends to seek out a discussion
group of some kind for more intellectual challenge, but will continue
the arts activity that has given her a new freedom and enthusiasm.
In most cases, learners found out about activities through the proactive
approach of providers. However, there were also examples where learners
themselves looked for learning opportunities in subjects that were of special
interest to them. This often involved considerable searching and travel to
attend the activity. ‘I’ve taken 18 months to find this course!’ said one learner
of a glass-painting class. Websites could be a useful tool for learners in the
search for activities and these were being increasingly used by providers to
market their provision. However, only one interviewee mentioned having
used the web to identify a course choice.
Six learners were attending activities in the institutions where they were
employed and had casually heard about the activities there. Staff of museums
and galleries were frequent examples of this. In a museum in the north west, a
learner who was asked how she found out about the activity explained that ‘I
work at [the venue] so we sell all the tickets for the workshops and things like
that. I’ve been here for 12 years; I’m a regular [participant].’
For many learners, the activity they followed was itself a progression from a
previous or parallel class they had attended and whose staff had referred them.
For example, one participant on an archaeological course said: ‘I took an
earlier course in Egyptology after a holiday in Egypt. I then wanted to learn
more about the techniques involved, so I looked for this class.’
3.1.2 Views on marketing
The majority of the learners interviewed felt that the activity had probably not
been well advertised. Almost all had seen a reference to the activity once
only. A number of learners commented that they had mentioned the activity to
friends who previously had heard nothing about it. One participant remarked
that ‘You can get hold of information if you know where to go. Like if you’re
in the right circles already.’ Another said that ‘I haven’t seen any
advertisements. A lot don’t know that museums run courses.’
However, most of the activities visited seemed to be at their maximum
capacity as regards numbers of participants. One learner said wryly that ‘If
you advertise too much you’ll create a lot of disappointment because there
won’t be room for everybody.’ It should also be noted that some activities
targeted specific groups of learners, such as homeless people, and limited their
marketing to very restricted locations or agencies rather than appeal to the
general public.
3.1.3 Motivation to attend
Potential participants might obtain information about a range of learning
activities, but a particular need or motivation was often the cause of their
decision to attend the activity of their choice.
The main prerequisite for most learners was undoubtedly their interest in the
subject of the activity. This might be a casual interest, as expressed by the
comment ‘I’ve always been interested in art’, or a serious desire to improve
their existing knowledge or skills, as one learner said: ‘I’ve always taken
photographs but now I wanted to learn the technical side, how to develop films
and so on.’ Some interviewees admitted that persuading them to join an
activity was not a simple task. ‘It’s got to be something I’m passionate about’,
said one who added ‘because I’m basically a dead lazy person and unless it’s
something that I absolutely love doing, I won’t do it’. A member of a glass
painting group said ‘I came across stained and painted glass as a member of a
church recording group, and I wanted to learn more about the techniques.’ A
number of learners had previously studied or even taken a degree in the
subject area when younger and wished to pursue the interest.
The limited length or number of sessions of the activity was often an attraction
for some people who might be reluctant to make a long-term commitment. A
number of participants liked the idea that the length and demands of an
activity were ‘manageable’ for them.
A few participants professed no earlier interest but had been encouraged to
join the activity by various means. ‘I liked the coloured photographs in the
brochure and they attracted me to come’, said a participant in one ceramics
class. One employee at a gallery said she had been stimulated to join a
painting group there after watching other participants at work. The thrill of
something completely new and developing a latent talent was a factor for a
few. ‘I’m a farmer’s daughter’, said one woman with irony. ‘They don’t do
art!’ But she did.
Some learners were attracted by the particular person presenting the activity.
For example, a number of participants at a watercolour workshop had come
specifically because they knew and liked the work of the painter who was
leading it. Similarly, writers attracted people who had read their work.
Professional development was a factor for a number of participants on some
courses. One actress attended a talk by an African-Caribbean writer in order
to gain insights into drama, which could help her performance. A woman
employed as a pattern cutter joined a class on corset cutting in order to expand
her professional skills. An art teacher went to a ceramics class because ‘It’s
an area which I need to develop for my work in school.’ Personal
development for the sake of others was also a motivation for some, such as a
man on a landscape appreciation activity who remarked: ‘I shall now be able
to pass on my knowledge of the area where we live to guests who come to stay
with us.’
For a minority, the activity being followed was counting towards a
qualification. One archaeological activity, for example, formed an accredited
unit for an external degree being taken by some participants.
However, other people had taken up activities for more recreational reasons.
One person at an activity in a museum commented: ‘This is a nice relaxing
afternoon after work. It’s totally different. It’s an escape, really.’ A
participant on an archaeological activity said: ‘We’ve been out in the fresh air
and had a nice day out.’
Other people, especially those with physical or mental disabilities of some
kind, were attracted by the therapeutic value of learning activities. These
groups would often be referred to the activity by health professionals such as
doctors, psychiatrists or carers. A homeless young man commented: ‘Any art
activity relaxes me.’ A member of a textile group for Asian women said that
she had been referred there by her psychiatrist. ‘I decided to come because I
was very, very ill and I was desperate for help. I would grab anything that
could help me get out of my illness. Otherwise I wouldn’t have come out of
the house.’
Amrit was born and brought up in India where she attended
secondary school and then college. After moving to England to live in
a large city in the Midlands, she experienced personal problems and
developed mental illness. She was being treated with tranquillising
drugs and was suffering from clinical depression when medical
professionals recommended that she should join a new Asian
women’s textile group being organised at a local museum.
Amrit decided to try the group almost as a last resort. However, in the
class she began using and developing the textile skills that she had
learnt years before, and enjoyed the experience. More importantly,
she found there a friendly group of similar background with whom she
could talk, laugh and share experiences. The group became a lifeline
for Amrit, who otherwise found it difficult to leave the house because
of her social position in the community, and suffered from isolation.
In the nine years during which she attended the textile group, Amrit
developed her confidence, textile and interpersonal skills to such a
degree that she recently began as a textile tutor herself in a similar
group for Asian women. She has also studied and passed Punjabi at
A level, which she would never have felt the confidence to attempt
were it not for her experience in the textile group. She now feels she
is a completely different person.
The social value of the activities was immense for many learners. The
opportunity they afforded to meet and talk with other people improved their
morale and general well-being. For some, the activity was actually the only
time during the week they would socialise with other people. ‘I was feeling
quite claustrophobic at home’, said one woman at a visual art group who
explained that ‘It was just lovely to come out somewhere.’
A woman in her early 30s described the experience of attending a
ceramic workshop in the north west of England, as ‘a lifeline’. The
workshop provided her with an opportunity to learn new techniques
and work with clay in a way that she ‘had not really ever seen done
before’. Pleasantly surprised with what she had produced, she
thought that the workshop was a ‘brilliant’ and a ‘fantastic’ way to
learn something that one had never tried before. A mother of two
small children the workshop was found to be an ‘absolute lifeline’
because it provided the only adult company she had. In fact, the
experience at the workshop was considered ‘more like therapy’ at this
moment in her life. She recalled driving to the museum the previous
week feeling somewhat ‘downhearted’ and a ‘bit fed up’ but driving
back at the end of the workshop, feeling completely ‘uplifted’ and
‘bubbly’ and very much looking forward to attending the next
3.1.4 Links to other learners
Many, but not all, learners had friends or family relations who were also
involved in learning. They might have been children in school or university,
or friends and older family members following formal or informal courses.
People’s decision to attend an activity was sometimes motivated by these
personal links. For example, some parents in one local history group chose to
learn at a venue close to where their children were in school. Others were
recommended to try specific activities by friends or relations who already had
experience of them. However, where personal interest in a subject was strong,
knowing other learners did not seem to be a factor in people’s decision to
3.1.5 Accessibility
The accessibility of the learning provision was a key consideration for
learners. Some participants drove to the activity in their own cars, but a
number relied on public transport. There were many comments about the
difficulties this entailed, such as the woman who faced an hour’s bus ride to
each meeting of her group. The lack of convenient transport was an obvious
barrier to potential learners, especially the elderly and those with disabilities.
‘I live as far out as you can live’, pointed out one retired person dependent on
the bus who stated: ‘so that’s the main reason I don’t come to many things like
Some people travelled considerable distances to participate in activities, and
round trips of 50 miles or even more were not uncommon. This was
particularly true for highly specialised activities, such as stained glass work,
which might only be available in a very few centres throughout the UK.
The majority of learners with disabilities depended on the provision of free
transport. For example, visually impaired learners at one activity were
collected by transport for distances of up to 20 miles arranged by the day
centres they attended, while community groups and colleges also provided
free transport for such learner groups. Without this provision, those learners’
attendance at those activities would be impossible.
Interestingly, very few learners said that they walked to the activities. This
probably reflects the fact that most galleries, museums and learning centres are
not located close to residential areas but in city centres, and this could
represent a barrier to participation for many people.
3.1.6 The cost of activities
Some of the activities visited charged a small participation fee. This had not
been a deterrent to those taking part, and comments such as ‘a fair price’,
‘reasonable’ and ‘the value of learning outweighs the cost’ were frequent.
However, a minority of activities were felt to be expensive and some
participants said that they had considered the cost seriously before joining.
‘Fortunately, I have two pensions’, said one retired person reflecting that ‘this
would be expensive for other people.’ The general opinion was that people
would pay if they thought that the provision was worth it. One woman at an
art class remarked: ‘I’m sure if Picasso had wanted to do it he’d have found
the money!’
However, other activities were provided free of charge, which was appreciated
by participants, especially those taking part in taster courses where
participants did not know what to expect. Almost all the activities for people
with disabilities were free, although there was occasionally a small charge for
refreshments. Course organisers felt that this was absolutely necessary in
order to attract these groups of people, who were on low incomes and would
not otherwise be able to attend the event.
Learning and the Learner
3.2.1 Skills and knowledge
Activities included talks, walking tours and practical sessions and it was not
necessarily the case that adults with few or no experiences of education
outside of their school days would appreciate that they were learning.
Evidence of some adults’ negative attitudes toward learning have also been
well documented (e.g. Sargant, 2000) and for this reason the interviewers were
wary of asking about learning, choosing instead to refer mainly to ‘activities’.
However, about half way through the interview, when the interviewees were
perhaps more relaxed, they were asked whether they thought they were
learning from the activity.
The great majority of participants in these activities felt, sometimes quite
strongly, that they were learning. Those following courses over a number of
sessions normally emphasised that they were learning skills, for example in
painting, ceramics, photography, modelling or textile work. Many emphasised
that those skills were advanced or specialised and felt pride in that. This
feeling was shared by people taking activities with a more theoretical element,
such as local history or archaeology, but which also included practical
Karen is in her late thirties and has taken part in a series of
archaeology workshops, which were organised by the local museums
service and advertised in a diary of events produced by the local
council. Karen decided to attend the workshops because she has
‘been interested in archaeology since early childhood’ and because
she finds her job as a data inputting clerk ‘incredibly boring’ and ‘likes
an intellectual challenge’ and thought that ‘that won’t happen at work
for some considerable time.’ Karen is also studying archaeology
through a distance learning university course and she found the
archaeology workshops a useful addition to the course because they
provided her with ‘an introduction to techniques of archaeology.’ She
also said that because it was a distance learning course ‘normally I
would never get hands-on experience or to talk to experts, otherwise
it would be simple book work, so I thought I would take advantage of
Karen felt the workshops had ‘given me a better
understanding of a technique that is used in archaeology’ and
provided ‘a chance to see things that you don’t normally get unless
you are actually at university or working for an organisation [related to
archaeology]’. In addition to aiding her distance learning course
Karen also thought the workshops had benefited her because ‘I don’t
get out much – I don’t go to pubs I don’t do other leisure activities so
I’ve been getting out of the house… it’s been a leisure experience.’
Karen’s sister and nephew had also attended the workshops so she
saw it as ‘a social event as well as educational’.
People attending one-off sessions with the emphasis on listening or discussion,
such as talks, demonstrations or lectures, were more likely to say that they
were gaining knowledge. Those learners participating in practical activities
also found that they were adding to their knowledge base, for example about
the materials they were using, and knowledge about people from sharing
experiences with others in their group.
Many of the learners believed that they were learning in other ways.
Teamworking was mentioned by many, and collaborative working was a
feature of most activities. A number underlined that they were gaining
interpersonal skills through cooperation with other group members and with
their tutors.
Despite this awareness of learning during the activities, a minority of
participants saw the activity as leisure. This largely depended on their
motivation for attending, although some learners were able to recognise that
the activities included an element of both. ‘It’s learning and leisure’, said one
who exclaimed that ‘Learning is leisure.’ Another stated that ‘It’s a bit of
both, I think. But you see the intense concentration which we give it is
fantastic, isn’t it? You don’t hear a lot of gossiping.’
3.2.2 The learning experience
The great majority of participants thought that the very experience of learning
and being in a learning situation with others was beneficial to them. For
example, one participant explained:
You are learning independence, confidence, but it’s all within a sheltered
environment. If you are doing it on your own at home you get very
insular, whereas here you look round at other people’s work all the time.
You can pick up wonderful ideas.
Most of the learning groups formed their own solidarity and identity, which
the members found very important. A participant in one group for the
homeless commented that ‘A lot of the guys find it hard to get on with other
people, but they’ve now got an identity, and it’s working very well.’ People
from quite disparate backgrounds enjoyed the feeling of being together and a
broad democracy usually prevailed. ‘We are all on one level’, said a learner at
one art class. ‘There’s no sort of hierarchy here. It’s all very relaxed and fun.’
Learning from other participants was a notable feature of the experience for
many people. The greatest benefit for one woman was ‘Getting on with other
people, and asking people if you don’t know something, and you learn from
each other. I’m amazed that I can do things that I didn’t think I could.’ Some
people were bringing considerable experience in a subject to the group and
this was a valuable resource to support the work of the tutor. Some of the
most effective groups were those that succeeded in tapping this experience of
participants for the benefit of all.
Participants reported that most of the activities were presented in an informal
way, and almost all said that it was a good way of learning. ‘They don’t force
us to do anything’, was one learner’s comment. ‘It brings out the creativity in
you’, was another. For example, the freedom to socialise during the activity
was thought to be valuable, as one learner in an art group said: ‘We can talk to
each other while painting.’ The hands-on nature of most of the activities was
welcomed by the majority of learners. Much of their satisfaction came from
the knowledge of having produced something themselves. One woman said:
‘I get a lot of enjoyment because I can make things for myself and keep it, and
later on I can look back at what I’ve been doing.’
However, a small minority on certain courses would have preferred a greater
element of more formal teaching and more written or creative tasks. One
participant in a class for landscape appreciation reacted negatively to the
predominance of practical work, feeling that it left him with no record of
personal achievement.
The Learning Environment
3.3.1 The venue
The nature of the venue for the activity was very important for learners, and
the majority were satisfied with their current location.
The main
preoccupations in this respect were accessibility from home, space, comfort
and the facilities or equipment for learning. ‘This has been like a home to me
for ten years’, said one homeless man of the centre he attended. Where
colleges and universities were used for informal learning, learners thought
they had appropriate facilities, such as libraries and technical equipment.
Many learners spoke of the venue having the ‘right atmosphere’ for their
group. Safety aspects were also important for many people. One woman
learner said of the university venue she attended: ‘This is good and nonthreatening for me, as a woman.’
The main dissatisfactions regarding the venues involved matters such as lack
of heating, poor lighting and cramped space, but these were a minority of
cases. Unsuitable furniture was mentioned occasionally, particularly the low
tables that participants had to bend over in one art group. The lack of
sufficient facilities for washing brushes and hands was also raised at other art
groups, such as the room in an art college, which only had one sink for a large
The location of activities in museums or galleries was thought to be
particularly appropriate for activities touching on some aspect of art. The
pictures and artefacts on display there were often directly relevant to the
nature of the activities, while the general ambience of the place contributed to
the atmosphere of the class. ‘You just have to be inspired by the things around
you’, said a learner at one art group based in a museum. ‘It rubs off on you’,
commented a learner on the atmosphere in one art gallery who also remarked
that ‘It percolates the air and flows into you.’ Another group was learning
techniques of glass painting in a cathedral where they were surrounded by
superb examples of the subject, which was felt to be ideal. It was a general
feeling that people could not but produce better work in learning environments
such as these, which formed part of a wider cultural setting. One member of a
painting group in a gallery said that ‘If you’re in an art gallery, it would be
just like all those old painters standing at your shoulder and saying “Do
Peter is in his late fifties and is in part-time employment. He is
interested in digital arts and attended a drop-in workshop run by
artists who had used computer software packages for producing
digital art pieces, which were displayed in the art gallery. The
sessions were designed for individuals who were interested in
speaking with the artists about the techniques they used to produce
the work and who wanted to learn how to use the software packages.
Peter owned the software package but did not know how to use it to
its full potential because ‘it is a very difficult programme’ to use. He
felt that working with an expert in the digital arts field enabled him to
learn a lot about the digital arts programme, which he would never
gain from a book. The artist demonstrated to him and the group how
to use the programme and Peter thought ‘it was amazing because it is
a very complicated programme and the way he explained it he
simplified it a lot.’ He said he had ‘learned about another 75 per cent
more than I did before about that particular programme’. Peter found
that running the session in a gallery ensures that it is done in the right
setting and means that the people who attend are actually interested
in art and there would be nobody who ‘would disrupt the session by
not being interested’. Peter also thought the art gallery provides
people with a stimulus and inspiration because ‘when they come in
they can look at the paintings, on any other course you would be
stuck in a classroom’.
However, there was also a feeling that some people could be discouraged from
frequenting activities in such establishments because of a certain perception
that they were forbidding places. ‘I don’t normally go to museums’, said one
person, because ‘I get bored quite easily.’ Another participant commented
that ‘I still think museums have a kind of problem with image. They are still
perceived as being exclusive. I think they are quite accessible, but you don’t
know that until you’ve walked through the door.’
A small number of groups had found difficulties in obtaining an adequate
location. Some areas are better served than others. One visual art group had
moved around before finally settling in a local church hall used by a youth
club. Where the group tutors have to search for new premises themselves, this
naturally increases their workload. At a few locations learners said that car
parking was a problem, especially where the session lasted for several hours,
and this affected the accessibility of the activity.
3.3.2 The structure of activities
On the whole, learners were pleased with the content and structure of the
activities they attended. The degree of flexibility and choice in the activities
was varied, but learners were usually satisfied. Some classes would move
systematically step by step, teaching particular techniques to the whole class
simultaneously. Others, particularly art classes, allowed learners to select the
subjects they wished to paint or make themselves. Classes such as
photographic courses, which took learners outside into the street or on short
visits to specific sites, were usually popular. On some activities learners were
able to negotiate the content of the sessions with the tutor.
Some learners felt that the structure of their activities could be improved. An
introductory leaflet explaining the activity and its needs was recommended by
some. ‘Just a leaflet saying “Remember to bring an apron” would have been
a help’, commented one woman at an art activity. Others said that a little
preparatory work or reading would have helped them profit more from the
activity. A frequent comment was that the length of the activity was too short
and that more hours were required in the session, or more sessions in the
course. This reflected the feeling of many who, having sampled an activity,
then wanted to experience it in greater depth or detail.
The great majority of comments made about the various activities were
positive. Occasional references were made to less appealing activities that
learners had attended in the past, and the reasons offered for the negative
reactions could be instructive. A learner at a stained glass workshop
remarked: ‘I have been to a class, a copper foiling class, and that was very
bad, awful … The teacher couldn’t remember our names, the equipment was
not there, you know, one soldering iron between ten people. No safety
3.3.3 Teaching styles
The great majority of learners welcomed the informal style of the teaching
they experienced. ‘You are guided rather than being told’, was one
description. The approach of the tutor was crucial in this respect, and learners
were on the whole very positive about their tutors and their general enthusiasm
for the subject and caring attitude. ‘The tutor talks to us with respect, not like
to children’, was the comment of one learner comparing the experience with
school. A learner at another activity said that ‘The reason it works is because
the tutor comes to you, and the tutor is very open and will deal with you
The support given by tutors for aspects of learners’ lives apart from the
activity in question was also appreciated by many. ‘Any problem, he talks to
us one-to-one and sorts it out’, said one member of a homeless group. Some
learners found it useful to be able to e-mail their tutors after sessions to ask
questions and seek information. The skill and personality of the tutor was a
major factor in the retention of many learners in the group. ‘If I don’t like the
teacher I don’t suppose I’d go’, was another comment.
Outcomes and Benefits of Learning
3.4.1 Learners’ views of outcomes and benefits
Participants who had only recently begun attending the activity sessions or
who were attending one-off talks or lectures generally did not feel in a
position to evaluate the impact of the provision on them. However, the
majority of those who had attended over a period of weeks invariably
considered that the outcomes had been positive for them.
The gains that learners claimed for themselves fell into two broad categories.
The first of these involved the psychological and personal benefits of
participation in groups with other people. Many learners found that the social
interaction with others during learning activities contributed considerably to
their well-being and morale. A member of a creative group using personal
reminiscences said:
The benefits are enormous. We have the chance to get out and do
something with our hands and talk to our friends. I think more women
should come to this. It is a really good way to make friends and
engage in an activity, whether it’s embroidery, painting or just
remembering the old days.
The opportunity to socialise with people from differing backgrounds in the
same group was also mentioned by some learners such as the interviewee who
said that ‘It’s also nice to meet other people from different cultures.’ Many
learners found it stimulating to be able to discuss topics of common interest
with other people and said that this helped to enhance their knowledge of the
The socially inclusive and regenerative nature of many activity groups was
important for a number of participants who otherwise felt marginalised in
society to some degree, as explained by one member of a photography class
for the homeless:
It’s made me feel more a member of the community. I think many
people who are unemployed can fall by the wayside and courses like
this keep one within the community, keep the mind ticking over, and it
may have developed into me getting employment six months down the
road in digital imaging.
A participant in an African dance activity remarked: ‘I’ve gained, I think,
confidence and personal satisfaction, and it’s important for me because it’s
another way to enter into the community … just to know friends.’
Here it is worth noting that, in their research on the wider benefits of learning,
Schuller et al. (2002) found that participation in learning activities can benefit
adults by helping them to increase their self-awareness and enhance their
sense of autonomy, which contribute to their well-being.
Cathy is in her early forties and has been attending a local adult craft
group for four years. The group is organised for people with learning
disabilities and mental health problems. She attends the craft group
every Monday and the group works with artists on different art and
craft projects such as clay work, knitting, papier mache and mosaic
work. She was in the process of making masks out of containers,
which were going to be displayed in the local museum the group had
visited the week before for ideas. She thought there was a large
social aspect to the craft group and felt that she has ‘met lots of
people and got to know different people’. She also commented that
since her time there ‘I’ve got to make new friends.’ Cathy finds the
craft group a good way to learn different skills and techniques and
also sees it ‘as a therapy’ because she finds it very relaxing’. When
asked how she thought she had benefited from coming to the craft
group, she replied: ‘I’ve benefited a lot really, I’ve learnt so many
things… I couldn’t draw when I came here but I can a little bit now.’ In
addition to learning different art and craft-based skills Cathy said she
had also enjoyed ‘friendship and meeting people’.
Some participants, particularly those suffering from a disability or living
alone, referred to gains in self-confidence as a major benefit of attending
activities. This could be confidence in speaking, in mixing with other people,
or a greater assurance in undertaking tasks. ‘I think with the group it’s all very
relaxed and you feel confident being here and being with other women’, said
one learner in a pattern-cutting activity. ‘I think doing things like that sort of
gives you more confidence, for life in general really’, commented a member of
a dance group. A number of learners used the term ‘more outgoing’ in
defining the impact of the activity on them. A comment from a participant in
a painting group reflected the impact that some learners felt on their skills: ‘I
feel it’s given me the confidence when you go home to practice, which is
something I wouldn’t have done. I’ve not had that incentive.’
Attending the activities had also made some learners less diffident about using
the venues themselves. It was clear that the appearance or reputation of
museums and galleries had been a little intimidating for many people, while
others had been uncertain how the public could access or use the institution.
One person remarked after taking part in an introductory talk on the contents
of a museum: ‘When I came before in the summer I walked around but felt a
little unsure about how to use the place, so hopefully after today I will feel a
bit more confident about coming back and asking people.’ Another person in
a group practising drawing from reminiscences declared: ‘It’s made me think
that I wouldn’t be afraid to go on my own somewhere else.’
The other main category of gain from the learning activities, as mentioned by
a large number of participants, was an increase in their awareness of the
subject and their practical skills in it. ‘One benefits in knowledge and
technique more than anything, really’, said a learner in an art workshop. This
stemmed partly from the opportunity to hear and watch tutors who were
experts in their fields, and this high level of expertise in the tutor was thought
to be an essential factor for a successful activity. In practical sessions,
learners also benefited from the opportunity to practice the activity in
supportive surroundings and with appropriate facilities and materials. Some
of these people often described the benefits they had gained in considerable
technical detail, such as a woman in a watercolour group who noted: ‘Just a
small technique. When I’m painting I tend to be far too precise and too dry,
and [the tutor] uses much more water, which loosens it up.’ Other learners
believed they had made gains in knowledge and more analytical skills, such as
one person in a group for appreciating the landscape who reflected that: ‘I
have learnt a lot about archaeology, and it has also given me a little bit of
structure as to how to do an investigation.’
Some participants reported a combination of gains in that improved technical
ability led to greater personal confidence in general. One man from a
disadvantaged background referred to conducting open air photography
activities with his group in this way: ‘When you are out on the street and you
start taking peculiar shots people look at you, and that gives you confidence.’
3.4.2 Learners’ next steps
Few participants in these largely informal learning activities had an absolutely
clear idea of how they wished to continue their participation in learning
activities, although the majority believed that they were likely to take up a
further activity as a consequence of their present experience. However, very
few spoke in terms of pursuing formal qualifications and this did not interest
many; the exception was those for whom the activity was already part of
another, accredited course.
Some referred in rather imprecise terms to ‘a follow-up course’ of some kind
that they would like to do in the same subject area. They usually foresaw this
as very similar in nature, albeit possibly more advanced in content, to the
present activity. ‘I will keep an eye out for more ceramics,’ said one member
of a ceramic art group. A frequent comment from people was that they would
look out for course leaflets, while a minority intended to monitor relevant
Many learners showed a strong loyalty to their tutor and their further
participation appeared dependent on maintaining that link. ‘If she does further
workshops I’ll definitely put my name down for one’, said one art learner who
added that ‘I don’t feel inclined to another teacher because I feel that what she
is teaching and demonstrating is what I need, what I enjoy.’ Another learner
stated that she would attend further classes ‘If K’s doing them. Not any old
workshop. You go to the tutor who paints the way you want to paint, I guess.’
The personal relationship with the tutor clearly contributed to many learners’
feelings of being comfortable with the activity.
Tutors and organisers had an important role in arranging progression for their
learners. In cases where learners knew that they would move on to a further
activity, they often reported that they had been referred there by their tutors or
course organisers. For example, one entire textile group was to begin a more
advanced course at a local college at the end of the present provision, and this
had been arranged by their tutor.
Key Findings
Barriers identified by learners
The research indicated that some people still find institutions such as
museums and galleries rather forbidding. However, running a
programme of learning activities appeared to play some part in helping
to remove psychological barriers between these institutions and the
The provision of appropriate equipment, when necessary, was a factor
in the success of many activities. Learners could become frustrated if
their access to essential equipment such as computers, sinks or paint
was limited.
Access to learning activities
Activities and workshops that took place over a limited number of
sessions or weeks, and that did not require too great an initial
commitment attracted many people
People with disabilities or those belonging to disadvantaged groups
experienced some difficulties in attending activities unless special
transport or other arrangements were made for them to access the
Cases where provision of activities and courses were offered at no cost
were greatly appreciated by learners. However, where charges were
made, learners generally felt that the cost was reasonable.
Ways in which participants gained
Participants reported a variety of ways in which they gained from the
learning activities, ranging from specific theoretical knowledge of a
subject, to practical and technical skills, interpersonal and social skills,
and personal confidence
Most of the participants had little interest in obtaining qualifications or
accreditation. Personal gains in skills, knowledge, confidence and
social interaction were found to be more significant for the great
What made learning activities successful
The tutor was found to be critically important for the success of an
activity. Many learners identified the activity with a particular tutor, and
it was often the expertise of tutors that gave the provision its credibility
in learners’ eyes. A key aspect of engagement was enthusiasm for the
subject among tutors, and learners also regarded a sympathetic
relationship between tutors and the group as important
The location for an activity was found to be important in terms of
providing adequate space, light, heating and technical facilities.
Museums and galleries were found to be particularly suitable for art
related activities. Learners reported feeling inspired by the exhibitions
on display and the atmosphere of the institution.
This chapter discusses the views of visitors to cultural venues who were not
participating in courses or activities during their visit. It covers the following
reasons why the interviewees were visiting the venue
their views on
what the potential role of the venues might be in offering learning
interviewees’ views on learning
interviewees’ views on the critical factors that might encourage them
to take up learning.
Views on the Venue
Since the venues were providing activities or courses that were not being
accessed by the ‘non-participants’, interviewees were asked for their views on
the venue and whether or not they considered them suitable places in which to
4.1.1 Reasons for visiting the venue
Adults who were visiting the cultural venues but not actively participating in
the organised learning activities often gave similar reasons for their visits as
the ‘learners’, whose interview responses were the subject of Chapter 3. Many
had chosen to come for their own interest or enjoyment, as one said: ‘I enjoy
visiting cathedrals, I enjoy the architecture and the ambience of the places.’
Included in this category were people who were visiting the venue to see a
particular event or exhibition, for example, a woman in a small northern
museum who said: ‘basically, to see the Anne Frank exhibition’, and two
visitors to art exhibitions who said they came for the inspiration they could
gain from looking at the works on view. Parents sometimes reported that they
had brought their children in order to help them with their studies, or had
accompanied them to a children’s activity. For example, one woman, visiting
a library reported she had come to ‘fetch some history books for Alex [her son]
and to look at some basic maths for me to learn. For myself so that I can help
our Jessica with fractions.’
Museums and galleries were often visited with friends. Three interviewees
said that they had friends staying with them and had chosen the venue as
somewhere of interest for their guests. Indeed, one remarked: ‘I have been
here before, it is often to do with people visiting me and I bring them here.’
Six of the interviewees had not visited the venue before and, for some of these,
a visit to a museum or gallery was outside their usual experience. One said:
‘I’ve never been in so I thought I’d have a look.’
It was interesting to note that, although the majority had made a decision to
visit the venue that day, a few individuals had made an instant decision to
enter when they passed the door, as one young man explained:
I didn’t plan to come today … I went over to find St Anthonys [church]
over there and I walked up this way and saw the museum open and free so
I thought I’m not rushing around this afternoon so… I would come in and
have a look and learn a bit more about the town. I haven’t been in here
4.1.2 Non-participants’ views on whether the venue should
provide learning opportunities
Most of the interviewees thought that the venue they were visiting should
provide learning opportunities for adults. The few who disagreed tended to be
people who were not interested in learning for themselves. As one elderly
man remarked, on being asked if he would have liked the opportunity to take
part in an activity when he visited the venue, ‘my first reaction would be to
back out of here rather fast.’ Another younger man, who would have liked to
have improved his job-related qualifications commented: ‘I don’t see why it
would be necessarily any better here than it would be at a college or wherever
else.’ A more practical objection was raised by one woman who thought,
‘well, possibly. It depends on the financial ability of the place’. Other
respondents could provide logical reasons why the venue would be attractive:
‘I suppose because it is in the centre of town it’s easy for most people.’
Many of the visitors were aware that the venues put on educational activities
for children, although few seemed to know about the activities provided for
adults. One woman remarked: ‘I don’t see why activities should be made just
for children.’ One young woman, visiting a museum with a younger sister,
was enthusiastic about the idea of activities or courses for adults:
Yeah. Definitely learning activities. When I was younger they used to
be doing stuff everywhere, all your libraries, everything, always
seemed to have. Used to learn all different things. I’ve not heard of
anything recently, especially as we’ve got older as well. It’s more
child-based and it’s normally done through the school.
This young woman thought it would be useful to have someone leading tours
of the museum, or explaining one collection or area in depth. Another woman
in an art gallery requested a similar service:
Yes … Anytime you go to any art gallery… Sometimes you’ll be lucky,
like in this gallery, on some paintings there are little bits of
information about the artists or about the particular picture … But it’s
almost not enough and I know that there must be some people out of
there who are really knowledgeable about the artist and the picture
and … I’d like to know that about a lot of pictures.
An older man, who was accompanying his invalid wife to an activity at a
historic house, could see some drawbacks for this kind of establishment:
I think it’s a good place. I appreciate within the context of running an
old period building like this that they are worried about damage to the
structure and the infrastructure, but yes.
4.1.3 Potential role of venues in offering learning
Museums and galleries were generally thought to be suitable venues for
activities and, as one man said ‘establishments like this should be at the heart
of the community and … accessible at all times to people.’ Another young
man, paying a visit to a small local museum in the south of England with his
parents remarked that: ‘some of the curators are very talkative and show you
everything and its been very interesting.’
In order to explain their responses, the interviewees often mentioned the
excellent resources that cultural establishments could draw on to make
activities or courses interesting and informative. They pointed out that such
venues could potentially provide a better learning environment for activities
related to history or art than either colleges or adult education institutions.
Their main advantage is that artefacts or paintings can be easily accessed at
the venues and can enhance the learning in ways that an illustrated book with
pictures cannot provide. A woman visiting a museum with her teenage
daughter said: ‘You mean an afternoon course? Yes, that would be interesting.
I would like to do some practical history work and handling the artefacts and
learning about them from somebody who knew more than I did.’
Visitors to art galleries and museums, in particular, showed some interest in
practical activities related to the exhibits, such as learning or improving
technique in a particular medium, or gaining practical insight into
archaeology. However, some words of warning came from one respondent
who thought that courses would only be of value: ‘if you found somebody who
was an interesting speaker about something … In order for it not to be a waste
of somebody’s time. But most people don’t have their daytimes free.’
One of the most important aspects of cultural venues as learning providers is
the way they are viewed by potential learners. Many of the non-participants
interviewed about learning in such venues indicated that they thought they
offered a more relaxed environment, which would enable people to feel
comfortable and at ease. One young man remarked: ‘It would be just more
fun, less formal. Maybe more voluntary. If you go to college it’s because you
want to go to college but I think this is more definitely in your free time.’ A
slightly older man echoed these views:
Definitely seems more informal, so wouldn’t be intimidating. I’d
expect like, if I went to a gallery for a talk, I expect to be able to turn
up and stand at the back and whatever and you wouldn’t feel stupid or
intimidated … Some people, particularly if they are going to a class
with a teacher … you get picked out. I mean obviously that’s a big
school thing but maybe you’re 35 and you’re not confident and you
don’t think you are particularly smart. You might be put off by a class
situation, especially if you are judged from that point.
In some cases, visitors to the venue had already seen notices indicating that
activities were being organised. One woman, having seen an activity
advertised, was able to give her views on whether or not she would be
interested in it:
I just saw that they are having something on African Dance here today,
which I didn’t know about but that would be the kind of stuff that I
would be quite interested to do. I think really there has to be
something practical and that I am interested in but it could be a range
of things really.
Jane is in her early twenties and was visiting a local art gallery for the
day. She had recently finished a degree course and was used to
learning in a formal setting and thought that she would now like to
learn something informally. Jane talked about the advantage of
learning in a venue such as an art gallery:
I think it’s the informal atmosphere. There’s a lot of people who
find it very intimidating when they go into a classroom or lecture
theatre. It’s quite a frightening experience when you’re one of a
hundred people … it’s not conducive to making friends and talking
… I think in this type of place you would do more of that.
Jane thought that ‘informal learning is a good way of reaching out to
people’ and could provide access to people who did not like learning
in a classroom or formal setting because ‘going into a classroom
setting is not always the right environment to learn everything.’ Jane
also commented that informal learning could bring someone the
opportunity of ‘building up relationships’ and enable someone to ‘gain
more help’ from the course leader, which she felt was something that
a more formal setting would not bring. Jane felt there was need for
encouraging participation in learning for ‘people who need it more
within the community’, for example those people who might hold
negative attitudes towards education and learning. Increased
participation could be achieved by ‘making it come across as fun, as
something they would not normally choose to do … that’s lively’
because ‘that’s very much like an opposite to the formal setting, which
a lot of people are used to and quite resent in a way’.
Views on Learning
Non-participant interviewees included those who were qualified or
professional people, indicating that they had been involved in job-related or
academic study in the past; many had also participated in recreational classes.
On the other hand, there were interviewees who had few or no qualifications.
Despite these differences in earlier learning, the interviewees’ views on
whether they would like to undertake a course or activity and their perceived
barriers to participation were often in accord.
Many of the interviewees expressed an interest in participating but then went
on to say they could not. Time, work pressures and family commitments were
most often presented as reasons for not being able to consider learning. For
example, a father in his forties, accompanying his children to a museum
mentioned ‘pressures of work usually, and home life. The length of the
working day and doing other domestic duties’. However, retirement from
work did not necessarily lead to an increased desire to participate in learning,
as one man said: ‘Not really, I’m three score years and ten, I think that makes
me too old for classes.’
A mother in her early forties had attended basic skills courses in the past but
now found that she did not have the time, ‘because I’ve had that little job and
me time’s took up’. This woman, who was interviewed in a library, said she
would have liked to have participated in study because her children were
bringing home homework and she couldn’t help them with it. Other barriers to
study that she mentioned included the distance to travel to venues, bus fares
and, since her husband is a shift worker and her children are at school, the
timing of the courses. For her, any courses would need to fit in the ‘slot’
between 10.00 and 14.00 hours.
Another young man said: ‘That’s the thing. I say I would be interested but
when it actually comes to the time to actually get off the sofa and go, you
know? I’d like to in theory, definitely.’ This young man was one of a number
who indicated that participating in activities in museums and galleries was
something you only did when you retired.
Of course, some of the interviewees showed no interest in learning and one
young woman noted: ‘They have courses for children, it isn’t something I’ve
ever bothered to do.’
Critical Factors in Learning Take-up Identified by the
Most of the interviewees had seen advertisements for courses in colleges and
adult education centres and listed newspaper advertisements, prospectuses and
leaflets in libraries and information centres as sources of information on
learning. However, many admitted that they did not peruse the advertisements
because they were not interested, while others had read them and thought
about enrolling for a course but had failed to do so.
Some of the interviewees thought that advertising on local radio might have
more impact than written materials. For instance, one young woman remarked
that: ‘Radio is always a good one, local radio. Everybody’s always got the
local radio on.’ Another man, who had visited a museum in connection with
another local activity, said he had only heard about the event through local
radio: ‘I just happened to hear that on radio [name] this morning.’
While local radio had led one man to an activity and thereby into a museum,
for another woman it was the sight of learners being taught to use the
computers in her local library that had been appealing. ‘I have been in here
once or twice and there’s been a group learning computers and I think, “ooh,
I’d like to do that”, but I never get round to it.’
Perhaps if information on training times had been immediately available,
along with a booking sheet that would allow aspiring learners to book an
activity, this woman might have signed up for training.
The length of time that activities took, and their timing, were considered to be
particularly important in appealing to non-participants. As mentioned in
Section 4.2, many of the interviewees had work or family commitments that
made it difficult for them to attend activities or courses. Indeed, a fair amount
of flexibility was called for by a number of interviewees, including one who
suggested that some (shorter) activities could be run several times, thus
providing more opportunities for those who have other commitments to find a
suitable time to attend. The interviewee added that it is ‘important that the
course or activity is very, very flexible to fit around people’s very busy
lifestyles’. Another suggested that what was needed was time off work to go
on courses.
The importance of being able to plan for participation in activities was referred
to by one interviewee. He suggested that venues could provide a calendar of
events and courses, allowing people more time to make plans in advance to
free their time and deal with any commitments. This could be particularly
helpful to parents, who might wish to make care arrangements for children.
Interviewees indicated that advertisements need to be made more appealing,
eye-catching or compelling if they are to succeed in gaining their commitment
and spurring them into action. One interviewee had a novel idea for
publicising courses, which was to take some of the museum or gallery
artefacts out into the community. This was based on something he had seen
lately, when a nature reserve had visited the local shopping centre, taking a
few animals for the public to see and providing an opportunity for people to
chat to the wardens about what the reserve had to offer.
A further barrier to learning, suggested by a number of respondents, was that
many leisure courses were considered to be too costly. In contrast, others
thought that costs were quite reasonable. People’s opinions on the cost of
learning activities may result from consideration of a range of factors,
including their earnings and outgoings, family responsibilities, their previous
level of qualification and their perception of the value of learning. However,
one interviewee suggested that one way of dealing with the costs issue would
be to make the initial one or two sessions free of charge, so that people could
experience a ‘taster’. Charges could then be introduced for later sessions,
when the learners had discovered the value of the activities.
Included in the non-participants group were people who, for various reasons,
were afraid to expose themselves to learning. Some had suffered previous bad
experiences of learning, for instance, one mother in her forties said: ‘I do
know, in fact, I’ve learnt after I’d left school years ago that I like learning.’
Others lacked confidence or self-esteem and feared that they would be thought
of as stupid by tutors and other learners. One woman in her late forties, who
had achieved A level or equivalent qualifications, spoke about the barriers to
participating in activities in museums, and more significantly the role that
museums can play in removing those barriers.
Barbara was visiting a museum for the day but not participating in any
of its workshops. She highlighted some very interesting ways in which
museums could do more to engage people, greatly improving the
likelihood of them participating in workshops. Aware of the public
programme at the museum, she said she was more likely to
participate in workshops, if it was made ‘absolutely and categorically’
clear that the workshop was very much for ‘beginners and imbeciles’
and was assured that ‘nobody is going to laugh at you.’ More
importantly, it was pointed out that, if potential participants were
somehow made to feel more ‘welcome’, they would feel less
frightened about attending.
It could be something simple like just a phone call, a week before
the event, for the course coordinator to introduce themselves and
say they are very much looking forward to meeting them. It would
make all the difference and they wouldn’t have to step too far
outside their comfort zone.
This would be particularly helpful, especially for someone who has
been outside mainstream education for a long time and did not
have an awful lot of confidence in themselves.
Another interviewee emphasised the necessity of reassuring potential learners
of the relaxed and supportive nature of this kind of informal learning. Some
people also felt that they would not commit themselves to a course unless they
knew a great deal about the activities on offer. Indeed, one respondent had
thought about taking up learning in the past but had found that publicity often
contained insufficient detail about the courses. In order to make an informed
choice it was necessary to telephone and enquire further, which was
sometimes difficult to find time to do.
Nearly all of the interviewees said they would prefer to learn in informal ways,
with opportunities to discuss things with fellow learners and to learn from
them as well as tutors. One learner talked of practical and informal teaching
‘that was fun – because it is a leisure activity.’ Of the few who preferred
more structured learning, all but one said that, while courses need a structure
and a leader, they would also wish to have opportunities for discussion with
other learners. Most agreed that they were likely to learn new ideas and
techniques from other learners, as well as from the tutor. One respondent,
however, said she preferred one-to-one teaching, adding that ‘as soon as I am
aware of people being more intelligent than me it makes me clam up … I feel
very intimidated.’
Key findings
Promoting activities/courses
 People visit museums and galleries for a number of reasons and any
advertising materials for activities need to take account of the various
uses to which these venues are put by the public.
Visitors tended to want more information about activities than was
currently available.
Many interviewees were unaware of the activities being offered by the
People were aware of activities for children but not of activities for
Suitability of venues to provide learning
Venues were often easily accessible and therefore considered an
ideal place to run activities.
The venues were considered to provide a relaxed and informal
atmosphere and some interviewees thought that they would provide
sympathetic learning environments.
Activities likely to be of interest to learners
Interviewees would prefer practical and workshop-based activities,
rather than formal teaching, although they would also want a structure
to the activity.
Barriers to learning
Time and costs were the major reasons given for not participating in
learning, which suggested that marketing has to be focused and very
This chapter provides some key messages identified by learners and nonparticipants on how cultural venues might improve take-up.
Generating Demand
Museums, art galleries and other cultural venues were found to be inspiring,
especially where participants could have access to exhibitions and draw
connections between what they were doing in their workshops and the
exhibits. It was felt by many that they could make more of these valuable
assets by highlighting the unique learning experience they could offer. For
example, several participants appreciated a learning environment that offered a
relaxed atmosphere with no overtones of the more formal instructive provision
they recalled from school or expected to find in further education colleges.
It was suggested that wider publicity of workshops and events was needed,
beyond the immediate community and outside traditional public spaces. Not
everyone visited public libraries where leaflets and ‘what’s on’ guides were
often available. Greater use of regional newspapers and local radio were
identified as two key areas through which information about activities could
be accessed. In addition, some participants referred to the value of outreach
work through partnership community organisations, including Age Concern.
Interviewees thought that events and workshops should be advertised in such a
way that potential participants were made to feel comfortable about attending.
This could be achieved simply by making it clear that the workshop or event
was for beginners and that one did not need to have prior experience. It was
also felt that participants would feel more comfortable about attending if
workshop organisers did more to make them feel welcome, for example by
contacting them prior to the event to confirm attendance and introduce
themselves. Individuals who had been outside the learning environment for a
long time, and who were unsure about what to expect and lacking in
confidence, would be likely to find such an approach encouraging.
Getting the Supply Right
The venues could consider providing a more flexible public programme in
order to ensure wider participation. For some, this would mean greater
flexibility in the timetabling of events and workshops to provide more
opportunities for people to attend. For example, offering the same workshop
on more than one occasion and at different times, especially if some were
scheduled in evenings or at weekends, would provide greater choice for those
who are in employment.
Taster sessions and workshops were appreciated because they gave people a
brief introduction to topics without expecting them to make any long-term
commitments. Many participants described very busy lives that included child
care responsibilities, work commitments and social commitments. Most
participants welcomed the flexibility of being able to ‘dip in and out’ of
workshops when and how they wanted to. Unlike mainstream formal
educational establishments, it was felt that the cultural venues were in a
unique position to offer this flexibility.
It was reported that cost and transport could be barriers to participation.
Provision that was free for users was a major attraction, especially for people
on low incomes and those who faced barriers to getting employment. The
location and accessibility of venues were identified as being equally important
in attracting new participants. Cultural venues such as museums and art
galleries could be hard places for some to reach. Indeed, without transport
being provided for them, some groups would not have been able to attend
workshops at all. This was particularly true for senior citizens or people
without their own transport, who found it difficult to get into town centres.
Interviews with senior citizens demonstrated the value of museums working in
partnership with community organisations such as Age Concern which could
assist with transport.
Delivery of workshops through interactive learning and good tutors was also
seen as paramount in drawing in new participants. With the exception of those
events where participants clearly expected to be part of an audience listening
to a talk, most participants valued the opportunity to work with their hands,
especially in art and crafts workshops. Moreover, producing an object that
participants could take away at the end of the workshop provided them with a
sense of achievement. Equally important to the delivery of the workshop was
having a tutor who was able to engage participants. Many participants
identified a particular activity or workshop to attend because of their previous
experience of the tutor. A key aspect of this engagement experience was for
tutors to have expertise in the field in which they were teaching and
enthusiasm for the subject.
How to Improve Take-up in Specific Communities
Participants were motivated to take up activities that related to their lives and
to the history and culture of their communities. This was especially the case
in encouraging participation among ethnic minority communities and senior
citizens in general. Those from minority communities felt that it was
important to learn more about their heritage and the history of their
communities. Often they felt there were few opportunities where they could
acquire knowledge about their place in British history or British culture, and
that the cultural sector was ideally placed to fill this demand. For example,
several participants felt that provision should not be restricted to themes such
as Black History Month but should be offered all year round as part of the
mainstream education programme for adults.
Similarly, older participants valued the opportunity to share their memories
and the history of their local communities through activities and workshops
related to reminiscence. It was felt that such activities not only provided them
with a sense of place and belonging, but had the wider benefit of making
connections between exhibitions and their own experience. Being able to
share their rich memories with other people who lived through a similar
experience was seen as something that would be useful in attracting
participation among senior citizens.
This last chapter provides some key messages and implications for promoting
informal learning and widening participation based on the findings in the
report. It seeks to draw on existing experiences and on learners’ views on the
impact of the activities or courses, in order to provide key messages both for
establishments planning to set up an initial programme of activities for adults
and for those intending to extend existing provision.
Synopsis of Findings
The research has revealed that non-traditional providers are helping to widen
access to learning by providing small-scale, non-accredited courses. A wide
variety of informal learning opportunities, likely to appeal to people with
diverse interests and enthusiasms, are being provided for adults. Providers are
working with different types of clientele and, while many would be regular
visitors to cultural settings, to some extent the provision is drawing a wider
range of users. There was evidence that activities and courses were largely
pitched at a level that is accessible to all and learners welcomed the
opportunities provided to meet people from a range of backgrounds who
shared their particular interest or passion.
Learners were universally appreciative of the activities they had undertaken at
the various venues and none offered more than minor criticisms. Courses had
provided learners with a range of benefits, including practical skills or
knowledge, as well as social contact and stimulation and opportunities to
develop personal and social skills.
All of the cultural establishments visited expressed their commitment to
continuing to offer opportunities for people to engage in learning activities. In
some cases they were seeking to diversify provision and to appeal to new user
Messages and Implications
Although learners in the venues visited were complimentary about the learning
they were experiencing, it was evident from interviews with course organisers
and tutors that they had often had to overcome obstacles and review the way
they organised provision during the development of the activities or courses.
Indeed, some noted that it was important not to forget the lessons they had
learned, especially when planning a different type of activity.
The following key messages and implications aim to provide establishments
with an opportunity to share the practices that have been found to be
successful and to act as a reminder about possible pitfalls.
6.2.1. Planning provision
In recent years, cultural institutions of all types – broadcasters, libraries,
museums, galleries, archives, heritage sites, arts centres and many others –
have been developing their own learning provision. Non-traditional providers
can learn from each other and from their colleagues in educational
establishments (the ‘traditional’ providers), for example, about effective
marketing strategies and adapting provision to meet local needs.
Cultural venues, such as museums and galleries, have unique collections on
which they can base learning opportunities of a type not possible in other
educational establishments. However, even if activities are being built around
collections, there is a need to identify institutional strengths, in terms of
knowledge, skills and resources, which can be used to attract people from
different groups and communities, which is essential for widening
Setting up an advisory group, comprising representatives of local networks or
interest groups, may help to identify priorities in marketing, outreach and
provision that could aid the planning process. There may also be merit in
starting with small pilot courses, or by setting up short taster workshops to
stimulate demand and gain people’s interest.
Partnerships with other local providers of adult and continuing education and
learndirect could be beneficial both to the providers and their clients, offering
access to additional expertise, including opportunities for progression for their
clients. Such partnerships, which could be brokered through local Learning
and Skills Councils, or Local Learning Partnerships or New Deal for
Communities partnerships could strengthen the role of cultural venues in the
provision of adult learning at a time when some more traditional institutions
(for example, universities) are closing some of their continuing education
Enthusiastic and knowledgeable tutors who can relate well to adult learners
are essential to successful programmes. Many providers have to rely on
freelance tutors, since their budgets do not allow them to employ such staff
permanently. However, this makes the providers dependent upon the
availability of the tutor, which may create difficulties when trying to plan a
regular, ongoing programme of events. It is also important to ensure that good
facilities and adequate resources are available to provide learners with a
fulfilling and memorable learning experience.
Consulting with users on a regular basis is important for informing the
development of provision to ensure that it meets their changing needs. For
example, the study found that learners appreciated flexibility and choice,
preferring not to commit themselves by having to ‘sign up’ for lengthy
6.2.2 Targeting users
In seeking to be proactive and reach out to disadvantaged groups, museums
and galleries may wish to consider targeting specific interest groups and
societies, community leaders and basic skills providers. However, for some
groups, such as those with basic skills needs, expert additional support may be
required, which could be provided through partnership arrangements with
other local providers.
Widening participation involves providing initial and continuing differentiated
support so that learners can grow in confidence and feel secure. This is
particularly critical for people who have been outside mainstream education
for some time or who have had negative experiences at school.
In order to ensure accessibility, especially for those on low incomes or
suffering from disabilities, providers may have to consider making special
transport arrangements. Providers may also wish to consider running
activities outside normal factory and office working hours in order to reach
those who are in full-time employment.
6.2.3 Promotion
Learners’ and non-participants’ experiences indicate that publicity could be
improved and providers may wish to consider ways of reaching a wider
audience. Local radio, mentioned by some learners, is one publicity medium
that may have potential for greater usage. Partnerships with other providers
could also offer wider possibilities and, perhaps, cost savings in promoting
Work produced by learners can be used as a way of publicising the benefits of
participating in informal learning. Exhibitions of previous course work at the
museum or gallery entrance, or workshops taking place in view of gallery
visitors could also be useful marketing tools.
6.2.4 Evaluating provision
Provision should be grounded in the views, experiences and feedback of users,
gained through regular evaluation. Building evaluation into programmes from
set-up is likely to provide the best possible data for assessing progress.
Monitoring alone will not provide this type of information.
6.2.5 Conclusion
The main thrust of the research was to elicit learners’ views on the provision
made by non-traditional providers of adult learning. Their comments were
wholeheartedly positive, with only a few minor reservations about resourcing
and facilities. There is clearly scope to develop activities in this sector and to
reach a wider audience. Whether accessing such provision can lead learners
directly into more formal, accredited courses has yet to be demonstrated.
However, a key component of such progression would be partnerships
between non-traditional and mainstream providers, which could provide
learners with ready access to information and guidance about courses, and
ease the path to further study for those learners wishing to build on the skills
or knowledge gained.
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Characteristics of Participants and Non-participants in
It can be argued that anyone visiting a cultural establishment does so to learn
and the terms used in this report, namely ‘learners’ and ‘non-participants’ need
some explanation.
Learners were defined as those people who had made an informed choice to
attend a venue with the intention to participate in a specific activity (i.e. an
additional activity being held at the venue, in which visitors could choose
whether or not to participate). In the case of adults with severe learning
difficulties, their choices may have been helped by carers who persuaded them
that the activity would be enjoyable or that they would gain benefit from
Non-participants were visitors to the venues who were not participating in the
activity. Some authors (e.g. La Valle and Blake, 2001) have used the term
‘non-learners’ to describe non-participants in learning activities. Given that it
would be difficult to spend any time in a cultural venue without learning from
the visit, it was decided to use other nomenclature. For the purposes of the
study, interviewees described as ‘non-participants’ were those people who
were visiting the venues but were not participating in the learning activity
taking place on that occasion. In order to ensure a clear distinction from
‘learners’, ‘non-participant’ interviewees were selected only if they had not
participated in learning activities at the venue in the past three years.
Interviews were carried out with 177 respondents in total. Of these, 131 (74
per cent) were ‘learners’ and the remaining 46 (26 per cent) were described as
It should be noted that the samples selected for interview at the various
cultural venues visited were not intended to be representative of the national
population but rather to elicit the views of particular groups of learners and
Learner characteristics
Of the 131 learners interviewed, 35 (27 per cent) were male and 73 per cent
were female. Learners came from across the age range (from 19 to over 65),
although the largest proportions came from the 46–55 and 36–45 age ranges
(see Table 1), while nearly one-fifth of the learners (18 per cent) were over 65
and thus probably in retirement.
Table 1.
Ages of Learners
Age group
Under 25
Over 65
No response
Due to rounding, percentages may not sum to 100
Learners were asked about their employment status, which is reported in Table 2.
Table 2.
Employment Status of Learners
Employment status
In full-time (30 hours per week or more) paid
employment (including self employment)
In part-time (less than 30 hours per week)
paid employment (including self employment)
Registered for less than six months as
unemployed and available for work
Registered for six months or more as
unemployed and available for work
Not in paid employment and not registered
as unemployed
No response
Due to rounding, percentages may not sum to 100
The table shows that half said they were not in paid employment and not
registered as unemployed. Included in this group were the 24 interviewees
over the age of 65 and the 29 interviewees who had some kind of disability
that was likely to last more than a year, as well as learners who were refugees
and asylum seekers and those who were homeless.
Only 22 per cent of the learners were in full-time paid employment (using the
census definition of working 30 hours per week or more), while a further 16
per cent were in part-time employment (less than 30 hours paid employment
per week). The remaining interviewees were registered as unemployed, with
most (10 per cent), describing themselves as ‘registered for six months or
more as unemployed and available for work’.
A number of the activities visited were run specifically for people with
disabilities and 42 of the learners (32 per cent) of the learners reported that
they suffered from a disability of some kind.
Information about learners’ ethnicity was collected using the same format as
in the last population census. Learners came from a range of ethnic
backgrounds. More than two-thirds (71 per cent) described themselves as
White British. The remainder represented other ethnic groupings: ten (eight
per cent) were White Irish/White other, three (two per cent) were mixed race,
9 (seven per cent) were Asian/British Asian, six (five per cent) described
themselves as Black/Black British (five Caribbean and one African), while the
remaining seven (five per cent), included one Chinese and six from ‘any other
ethnic group’.
In order to discover the extent to which the venues were able to draw in
learners who were not usually attracted to learning opportunities, the
interviewees were asked to state their highest level of qualification achieved.
The findings are presented in Table 3.
Table 3.
Learners’ Qualifications
Highest Level of Qualification
Degree level or equivalent
A levels or equivalent
GCSEs grades A-C or equivalent
GCSEs grades D-G and other
No qualifications
No response
Due to rounding, percentages may not sum to 100
Fifteen per cent (19) of the learners indicated that they had no qualifications,
while 13 per cent had GCSE grades D to G, foundation level vocational
qualifications or certificates of educational achievement. A further 18 per cent
had five GCSE grades A–C or equivalent qualifications. All three of these
groups are likely to fit the targets envisaged by the Department of Culture,
Media and Sports for widening access through cultural activities. However,
over half (51 per cent) of the learners had higher level qualifications:
15 per cent had achieved A levels or advanced vocational qualifications
24 per cent had a degree, higher national diploma or certificate or
12 per cent had a postgraduate degree, a doctorate or NVQ Level 5 or
Non-participant characteristics
The number of ‘non-participants’ interviewed was 46, constituting 26 per cent
of the whole sample. The proportion of males and females in this group was
approximately equal, unlike the learner sample. Indeed it was possible to find
more males (26) than females (20). It is also interesting to note that the age
range was rather different from that of the learners, with 26–35 year-olds (14
respondents) forming the largest group of visitors interviewed (more than a
quarter of the non-participant sample). The remaining interviewees were
divided across the other five age ranges in roughly similar proportions,
ranging from four to eight persons in each category.
Over half of the non-participants (28) were working full-time, while 12 were
not in paid employment and not registered as unemployed. Four of the nonparticipants were working part time and, while two others had been registered
as unemployed for less than six months, there were none registered
unemployed for longer than six months. Five non-participant interviewees
indicated that they suffered from a disability.
Five of the non-participants described their ethnicity as other than White
British and, of these, four indicated that they were from ‘any other White
background’ and one was Pakistani.
Eight of the non-participants reported that their educational qualifications
were up to and including five GCSE grades A–C or equivalent, and a further
five had fewer qualifications, including one who reported having none.
However, more than two-thirds of the non-participants interviewed had higher
level qualifications:
eight had achieved A levels or advanced vocational qualifications
15 had a degree, higher national diploma or certificate or equivalent
10 had a postgraduate degree, a doctorate or NVQ Level 5 or equivalent.
Comparison between learners and non-participants
A marked difference between learners and non-participants was that while
interviewers were able to identify similar numbers of male and female nonparticipants, it was not possible to find equal proportions of learners, despite
visiting a variety of venues that provided courses likely to appeal to people
with a wide range of interests. However, this absence of male learners seems
to be consistent with other post-compulsory educational settings and
McGivney (1999a) found that men do participate in learning, in slightly larger
numbers than women, but their choices tend to be more instrumental. They
seek to gain practical, employment-related skills, rather than participating as a
social or leisure activity.
Proportionately, nearly twice as many learners (50 per cent) as nonparticipants (26 per cent) were not in full-time employment and not registered
as unemployed. By contrast, 61 per cent of non-participants were employed
full time compared with 22 per cent of the learners.
Although the number of non-participants was quite small, they tended to have
higher level qualifications than the learners. Seventy-two per cent of nonparticipants had qualifications at A level or above compared with 51 per cent
of learners.
Comparison with other published data
The National Adult Learning Survey (NALS) reported by La Valle and Blake
(2001) provides data on adult participation in a wide range of learning
activities. In the 2001 survey, the proportion of ‘non-learners’ was found to
be 24 per cent. Although the NFER study did not seek a representative
sample, the ratio of non-participants to learners was roughly in line with that
of NALS.
As noted above, overall, non-participants in the NFER study tended to have
higher level qualifications than the learners. While the survey of visitors to
museums and galleries carried out by MORI (2001) does not provide any
direct comparison, their finding that social class was ‘one of the main
indicators as to whether people do or do not visit…’ and that ‘ABC1s account
for 70 per cent of museum and gallery visitors’ suggests a clientele who are
relatively economically advantaged and who are likely to be well qualified.