Learners as Leaders Development Education Programme

27 Sep 2021
During July 2021, 15 learners from 11 counties across Ireland participated in a ‘Learners as Leaders’ development education advocacy programme delivered by AONTAS, in partnership with Development Perspectives.

What is 'Learners as Leaders'?

Learners as Leaders is a programme delivered through AONTAS’ project Adult and Community Education: Supported Learner Pathways (2020-2021), as part of the European Agenda for Adult Learning. The programme aims to build and empower the capacity of learners within the adult education sector. Through the programme learners develop skills in critical thinking, communication, creative problem solving and advocacy. Over a number of workshops learners have an opportunity to share their perspectives and insights while also getting direct support from AONTAS.

Previous iterations of the Learners as Leaders programme included an advocacy programme with the Ability Board at Ability@Work (Cope Foundation) delivered in March 2021. The learners on this programme campaigned for the rights of people with different abilities to flexible adult learning options. Click here for more information. This blog post focuses on the July 2021 iteration of the Learners as Leaders programme which invited learners to engage in a series of workshops to expand their understanding of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)  adopted by the United Nations (UN) and to explore the critically important relationships between the adult education sector and development education. The workshops are detailed in the paragraphs below.

Some participating learners shared their experiences of learning with us in the form of learner stories. Click here to read these stories which are published on the AONTAS website and on AONTAS’ Instagram – our dedicated Learner Voice social media platform.

The learners were provided with some learning materials and sustainably made t-shirts as part of their engagement with the programme.

Daily Breakfast Vita30mins

As part of the Learners as Leaders programme, AONTAS shared daily learning resources with the participating learners. These resources, or “Breakfast Vita30mins”, provided a daily learning activity to correspond with each of the 17 SDGs. The resources contained podcasts, videos, articles and games, and were provided to create a deeper understanding of each SDG. Each activity took approximately 30 minutes to complete, making it a perfect accompaniment to the learners’ daily breakfast. The participants were then asked to start a conversation with someone to share the information they had learned from the resource.

Workshop 1: Understanding Development Education (7th July):  

The first workshop covered the principles of development education which revolves around tackling the root causes of poverty, inequality and climate change through transformative education. The workshop used experiential, participatory approaches to understand the key issues that development education focuses on. At the end of the session, participants discussed  possible opportunities to integrate development education into adult and community education using active citizenship as a focus.

“Adult education gives people different perspectives on things they hadn’t thought about before”

– Learners as Leaders programme participant

Workshop 2: The Purpose of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (14th July):  

The second workshop covered the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Participants explored what the SDGs are and what purpose they serve on a local level, and how we can understand the issues we all face from a globally informed perspective. At the end, participants discussed the key role adult education plays in sustainable development and how it promotes economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development and creates favorable conditions for empowering global active citizens.  

 “The learning never stops!”

- Learners as Leaders programme participant

Workshop 3: Reflections and Next Steps toward becoming Active Global Citizens (21st July):   

The third workshop offered a space for both reflection and idea generation on what we can build on as individuals, as a group, and as a society to become active global citizens. In this workshop learners explored the principles covered in the previous two workshops through sharing their individual and community experiences. The goal of the Learners as Leaders programme, culminating in this session, was to understand the uses of adult education in the field of development education and empower the learners to take action. Watch the video below for an overview of how the Learners as Leaders group propose we integrate the SDGs into adult education.

During this workshop we shared the below graphics which capture the learners’ reflections during the programme.

Final Session: Learners as Leaders and AONTAS Member Collaborative Webinar – Sustainable Development

The programme concluded with a collaborative webinar with a number of key speakers invited to present on topics related to the SDGs and development education.

Bobby McCormack, Co-founder and Director of Development Perspectives, shared information on the extremely impressive work Development Perspectives are doing in developing the area of development education within Ireland.

Tara Farrell, CEO of Longford Women’s Link, Chairperson of the AONTAS Board and Director of Roscommon’s Women’s Network delivered a presentation on behalf of the SHE: See Her Elected project of which she is Co-founder. This project conducts incredible work in empowering women and addressing the under-representation of rural women in local government.

Jarmo Pykälä from Kvs, the Finnish Lifelong Learning Foundation, presentated information on their media literacy project conducted within Palestine.

Each of the presentations related significantly to the material that had been discussed in the Learners as Leaders programme and  provided new learning opportunities for each of the attending learners and AONTAS members. The subjects covered related to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as SDG 5 for Gender Equality, SDG 10 for Reduced Inequalities and SDG 16 for Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.

“If you want change, YOU have to do something”

– Tara Farrell, SHE Project Co-founder

Once the series of presentations concluded, groups in breakout rooms were asked to discuss the ways in which adult education and development education could be better integrated. Learners from the Learners as Leaders programme then offered feedback on these discussions to the larger group. AONTAS is grateful to the fantastic learners who were engaged, energetic and shared their passion for adult education throughout.


For more information

This blog is part of  AONTAS’ current project ‘Adult and Community Education: Supported Learner Pathways 2020-2021’ as part of the European Agenda for Adult Learning.

If you would like to get involved with our EAAL project or to find out about the activities it encompasses, please contact Ecem Akarca, AONTAS EU Projects Officer at: or Órla Mannion, AONTAS Project Officer for Capacity Building at:

Check out the #LearnersAsLeaders hashtag and follow @aontas on Twitter to learn more about this programme.