“You need a friendly face to break down barriers and get a foot in the door with new learners” – Engaging current and potential learners

3 Jun 2020
AONTAS continued its weekly consultation with members by focusing on some practical steps for recruiting new learners and on using online platforms for ensuring current learners are engaged with and supported.

First off, CEO Niamh O’Reilly gave her now customary update on the work being carried out in response to the ongoing health emergency. Some of the highlights included topics such as:

  • New protocols being developed by the Department of Education and Skills for institutions/organisations to guide their return to education provision
  • New Frequently Asked Questions resource related to COVID-19 is being led by the Department of Education and Skills
  • New Framework for planning for returning to learning in Tertiary Education for 2020-21 is also being developed by the Department of Education and Skills
  •  Niamh also highlighted the challenge of facing into a new academic year that is shrouded in uncertainty. Her update touched on how plans are evolving for new models involving blended learning for the coming academic year. For the new learning experience of 2020-21 a wide range of decisions will be made in order to build new models of provision that are based on

    Niamh also described how the work of the Mitigating Educational Disadvantage including Community Education Working Group she chairs has been zoned in on a number of questions, primarily ‘what learner supports are needed to support access, retention, progression and a positive learning experience?’ and ‘what structures and funding supports are needed for community education learners?’. A draft ‘Tertiary Education System Framework for Learner Support’ was also looked at. This draft framework offers a way to better understand learner needs. It would support engagement, retention, progression and a positive learning experience for all learners, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

    Successful social media

    Niamh’s update was followed by an input from AONTAS Communications Officer Emma O’Kane who looked at ways of leveraging social media to reach learners within the local community.

    Emma focused in on some ideas for content in posts and Tweets as well as the power of storytelling. Some key areas to consider when using social media are

    In coming weeks, Emma will provide members with a social media information session on how best to represent your organisation and the value of adult and community education to society.

    Emma’s top tips and key points were to

    To get in touch with Emma about representing your organisation on social media email or call 01 4068220. Alternatively you can send a message to AONTAS on Facebook and Twitter.  

    Recruitment during COVID-19

    AONTAS Communications and Membership Officer, Barry Dolan followed Emma’s input by, providing some practical hints and tips about engaging and recruiting new learners. Barry spoke about harnessing community power to Increase AONTAS members’ visibility and potential for recruiting learners in the face of what will undoubtedly be a very challenging 2020-21.

    “You need a friendly face to break down barriers and get a foot in the door with new learners”

    - AONTAS member

    Reaching learners and potential learners during COVID-19 may require new thinking and initiative, so Barry discussed some of the tried and tested methods that may still be useful for members to consider and adapt to their contexts. These included:

    Barry also pointed out some useful solutions and ideas members had previously shared and discussed, such as

    Barry emphasised the importance of building a long term positive narrative through the many methods mentioned, that highlighted the positive aspects of adult learning including; Fun, building friendships and learner achievement to help encourage participation.

    Breakout discussions

    We’d have concerns around fear too…The problem is the safety when we do bring learners back. Our main problem is no ventilation.”

    - AONTAS member

    When it came time to move into virtual breakout rooms for members to reflect and discuss their issues together the main areas being considered were


    Community Education practitioners raised the issue of the suitability of their learning spaces for returning to learning and implementing social distancing in September. There was some consensus that learning spaces previously used will not be fit for purpose if social distancing is required upon returning to learning in September. The possibility was raised by some participants of community education groups moving to larger public spaces and facilities in order to facilitate social distancing and ensure adequate ventilation. There were also concerns from some about the cost of renting such public spaces which led to questions about whether there would be any additional funding for these costs.

    Also discussed were methods of recruitment. Radio and newspaper campaigns were identified as successful methods for recruiting learners who can’t be reached online or by face-to-face engagement. However, there are practical concerns about how learning would be conducted come September. Some practitioners felt that a plan for learner recruitment for September was not a priority until they had a clearer understanding of how learning would work with social distancing and the necessary health and safety measures in place.

    From an advocacy point of view, community education practitioners asked that AONTAS continue to lobby for funding for community education, despite the anticipated decrease in learner numbers in 2020-21. There was huge concern that if funding is cut tutor hours will also be cut. Ensuring community education groups have adequate funding would mean they can retain tutors and be more likely to shift their learning spaces to bigger public spaces in the Autumn, thus allaying learner fears about the return to education with social distancing protocols.

    The depth and breadth of the discussions are hugely helpful to the AONTAS staff members on hand to record everyone’s points and members took a lot away from the opportunity to hear how others in similar situations are managing and succeeding. 


    Thank you

    As the 10th weekly membership update webinar approaches AONTAS would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has participated and contributed. Know that in order to effectively and comprehensively feed the issues learners and members are currently facing AONTAS relies on your support and input to continue its work with, for and on behalf of the sector (Click Here for more information). Everything members communicate during the webinar fuels AONTAS’ ability to take the most urgent issues to Government. Registration for the upcoming webinars is available on our Events page.

    If you are an AONTAS member and can contribute to the weekly online gathering with your experience, suggestions and solutions to the common challenges facing the sector then please get in touch via email: or call 087 114 9278.