AONTAS Launches the Adult Learner Journal 2021

2 Feb 2022
On 8th December 2021, over 100 participants gathered online to celebrate the launch of the 35th issue of The Adult Learner Journal, the only peer-reviewed journal focused on adult, community and further education in Ireland.

The 2021 edition of the journal explores the impact of COVID-19 on the adult, community and further education sector. It examines how the pandemic has changed the educational landscape, and how the sector has responded to the crisis. The online event, chaired by AONTAS CEO Dr Niamh O’Reilly, featured a keynote address from Professor Koen De Pryck of Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the University of Twente.

The Adult Learner Journal 2021
The event was opened by Rosemary Moreland, the Adult Learner Journal editor, who shared her perspective on lifelong learning:

“The key message I take is that lifelong learning is as natural and as necessary as breathing. Whilst we must continue to strive for equality and social justice, particularly with regard to adult learning and education, as lifelong learners, we must be ready to adapt, change and forge the next chapter of adult and community education, so that locally and globally, we really do “build back better”.

The Voices of Learners

Karen O’Donovan an adult learner from Clonakilty in West Cork shared her inspirational story of returning to education during the COVID-19 pandemic, describing her course as “a lifeline”. She told the group that it is “never a bad day when you learn something new”.

Advice from Professor Koen De Pryck

In his keynote address, Professor De Pryck reflected on the impact of COVID-19 on education, in particular on those already disadvantaged because of challenges such as socioeconomic class, digital poverty and language barriers.

While acknowledging some benefits to remote learning and education provision, such increased flexibility and opportunities to enhance home-life and family commitments, Professor De Pryck emphasised the impact of the pandemic on community cohesion and the decreased sense of belonging experienced by many, which is essential for preventing learner drop-out rates in education.

He provided practical suggestions that educators can incorporate into their teaching models to increase learner engagement and a sense of social cohesion in the online classroom. These suggestions include:

  1. Including interactive and community-building activities
  2. Organising group-assignments in smaller groups
  3. Consider using video-based forums as an alternative to text-based forums and feedback
  4. Building forums with strong community-building purposes, such as an ice-breaker forum, a social forum, an introduction forum
  5. Allowing students to bring their specific – and informal – language to the course, so they can establish their social presence. This includes the posting of emoji’s, memes, gifs, pictures and abbreviations
  6. Assigning students as moderators in forums
  7. Consider presenting somewhat controversial topics in forums to start the conversation
  8. Modelling the behaviour expected from your students, including spending time participating in forums

Participants were invited to join breakout rooms, and groups discussed the challenges of returning to education, and of providing support to adult learners, during the pandemic. The contributions demonstrated the creativity shown by the adult, community and higher education sector as we learned to continually respond, reflect and adapt together in an uncertain and changing situation.

An author panel discussion provided reflections on this year’s journal articles, which encompass a diverse array of experiences, approaches, and insights into adult education in the midst of the pandemic. The author panel included:

More information on these authors, and each of their articles, is available in The Adult Learner 2021, which is a free online resource accessible to all. You can read the new journal here and for more information click here

For more information, please contact Giuliana Peña, AONTAS Project Officer, at:


AONTAS is thankful to the editorial board for their time and commitment to the Adult Learner Journal.

Editorial Board Members:

Rosemary Moreland, Ulster University, Editor

José Pedro Amorim, University of Porto

Koen De Pryck, Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the University of Twente

Bairbre Fleming, University College Dublin

Nuala Glanton, Adult Education Officers’ Association of Ireland

Fran Kennedy, Adult Education Officers’ Association of Ireland

Deirdre Lynskey, Queen’s University Belfast

David Mallows, University College London

Helen Murphy, Waterford Institute of Technology

Luke Murtagh, National University of Ireland, Maynooth

Stephen O’Brien, University College Cork

Jane O’Kelly, Dublin City University, Book and Policy Review Editor

Niamh O’Reilly, AONTAS, Chairperson

Maria Slowey, Dublin City University