'Learning Today for a Better Tomorrow' - Closing Event

1 Nov 2017
On 24th October 2017, AONTAS, as national coordinating body for the European Agenda for Adult Learning (EAAL) in Ireland, welcomed more than 50 project partners and stakeholders to the closing event of the ‘Learning Today for a Better Tomorrow’ 2015-2017 project. The conference marked the completion of the two year programme of collaboration and innovations under the EAAL agenda to increase participation in adult learning across the EU, enhance policies and supports for adult learners, and gather and disseminate best practices.

The event also provided an opportunity for AONTAS project partners, including Skills for Work, National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA), An Cosán Virtual Community College (VCC) and EPALE, to present the outcomes of innovative projects organised as part of this EAAL phase, and for key stakeholders for adult learning to come together and reflect on the collective achievements and lessons learned that can be brought into the next EAAL programme cycle.

AONTAS Overview


“Today really gives us time to reflect on the outcomes of this project. We will continue to build on this excellent work, to strengthen the collaborations and innovations, and to bring the learnings into the next phase of the EAAL project.”
- Niamh O’ Reilly, CEO, AONTAS -

Niamh O’Reilly, AONTAS CEO, opened the event, setting the context for EAAL in Ireland, where the current participation rate in lifelong learning stands at only 6-7% of the population. Ireland is behind its European counterparts and the EAAL is an important opportunity to work together to increase participation rates. Niamh thanked all the project partners and stakeholders for their essential contribution in the successful delivery of the project over the last two years.

Collaboration in Ireland: In Ireland, the EAAL project facilitated increased sectoral and cross-sectoral collaboration and networking opportunities. The Project Advisory Group (PAG), composed of almost 20 organisations from across the sector, is an excellent example of this. Through the 2015-2017 phase of the EAAL programme the PAG strengthened its reputation as a trusted resource on adult learning, consistently providing expert advice and guidance. This collective approach to tackling adult learning was hugely valuable, allowing Ireland to maximise resources and ideas and to amplify impact – an element that will remain fundamental in the next EAAL programme phase.

Collaboration in Europe: A fundamental component of the EAAL approach is to increase Europe-wide best practice, through the sharing of information and learning, by facilitating collaboration between national coordinators in the EU.  Consequently, AONTAS presented the outcomes of their EAAL projects at four other closing events in Europe including Greece, Slovenia, England and Northern Ireland.

Centrality of Learner Voice: Through this project we have increased the learner profile and raised awareness of the wider benefits of adult education. Our approach to the EAAL prioritised the learner voice as a central component. Learner feedback and input are vital for informing how we can improve and strengthen the learner experience, so profiling their reality was at the heart of each initiative over the last two years.  Learner role models consistently shared the EAAL partner platforms and regularly shared their stories with the public, demonstrating the transformative effect of education and its impact on individuals, families and communities.

Most importantly this project allowed us to promote the great work taking place across the country, and highlight the wide variety of education and training options available to adult learners, from community education to Education and Training Boards (ETBs). 

Supporting Learners to Access Information: One Step Up

“By the end of 2017, we expect to have 22,674 visitors to the One Step Up website - a 40% increase since the first phase of the project (2013-2015)"
- Brid Greenan, Information Officer, AONTAS-

Bríd Greenan, AONTAS Information Officer, presented the main outcomes from the One Step Up Information Referral Service,

The first One Step Up information booklet was produced this year, and launched in August, to complement the information contained on the website. Developed in collaboration with a range of adult education stakeholders, it details the wide range of education and training options available to adults and also highlighted the Freephone Information Helpine. In just three months, 4,000 booklets were distributed to more than 1,000 of those groups and organisations across the adult learning sector most likely to have contact with people who could benefit from additional learning opportunities. AONTAS also employed a combination of promotional strategies to further disseminate information about the One Step Up resources, including online adwords, and the distribution of printed posters, bookmarks and flyers. Preliminary data gathered from the One Step Up Information Referral Service allowed AONTAS to continue to identify some key barriers preventing or deterring adults from accessing education. The obstacles most regularly cited were a lack of funding for part-time courses and a lack of suitable courses to fit the needs of the learners. A short follow-up survey was conducted with 10% of users by phone 3 to 12 months after they contacted the service to see if they had acted on the information given to them.  The survey gave an indication of some of the key contact points that learners access when looking for options and information, including the Education and Training Boards and the Adult Education Guidance and Information Service, which highlights the importance of further promoting these services at a local level and ensuring they are adequately resourced.

From feedback gathered from users of the One Step Up Information Referral Service so far, it appears to provide an important resource for helping people make more informed choices about their path forward in learning and education. It also has the potential to provide deeper data and information on learner realities and reasons for pursuing further education that will be further researched in the next phase of the EAAL.

Supporting Providers to Highlight the Value of their Work

 “The collaboration with AONTAS was great, as we had a common focus.”

- Anne Molly, Strategic Initiatives Manager, EPALE -

Anne Molloy, the Strategic Initiatives Manager, representing EPALE, the open membership community platform for those involved in adult learning in Europe, presented the outcomes of the Harnessing the Power of a Story’ seminar.

On 8th November 2016, AONTAS and EPALE welcomed almost 100 participants from the education sector to Croke Park for the ‘Harnessing the Power of a Story’ seminar. The event aimed to demonstrate the power of learner stories in the education sector for increasing awareness and advocacy opportunities, and inspiring and motivating current and future learners; highlight how these stories  could be best shared through traditional and digital media to reach broad audiences; and provide practical tips to help participants improve their own storytelling.

Two high-profile keynote speakers opened the event: Bryan Dobson, a news presenter and journalist with national public broadcaster RTE and Senator Lynn Ruane. Bryan Dobson shared important insights into and tips on impactful storytelling, the role of the journalist and how educators can strengthen their relationships with the media to tell their stories.  Senator Lynn Ruane then told her own story  as an early school leaver who returned to education while a single parent, and her subsequent journey towards election in the Irish Senate, powerfully concluding that: “my daughter’s life will now be totally different from mine, only because I got educated.”

The event trended on Twitter across Ireland that morning, under the handle #WhatsYourStory, and the seminar gained national media coverage highlighting the value of adult learning. Participants also took part in a series of workshops including Blogging, Online Writing, and Social Media. At the end of the seminar the participant with the most creative tweet was awarded a prize - a place on a Digital Media Training offered by national newspaper, The Irish Times. The winner , a community education organisation, used the learning from that course to then develop a communications strategy with staff in his own organisation. The Power of a Story Seminar not only helped upskill education sector professionals, but also provided an important opportunity to highlight the EPALE platform and how educators and learners across the country could further contribute to content and collaboration on the platform.  This resulted in a significant increase in blog entries to the EPALE platform from Irish contributors.

Anne concluded her presentation commending the collaboration between EPALE and AONTAS and EAAL. She added that having one central representative body, the Project Advisory Group, that could be consulted on education questions in Ireland had also been extremely valuable for EPALE, and she welcomed the next phase of the EAAL programme.

Supporting Community Education Providers with CPD Opportunities

“We are really excited about working with more members of the Community Education Network (CEN) to enhance their learning and to bring local good practice to national attention.”
- Maria Flanagan, Community Partner Lead, An Cosán Virtual Community College (VCC) -

Maria Flanagan and Patricia Keating from An Cosán Virtual Community College (VCC) presented on ‘Community Education for a Better Tomorrow’ which gave the AONTAS Community Education Network (CEN) members an opportunity to undertake continuous professional development (CPD), at no financial cost to themselves or their organisation.

One key tenet of the An Cosán philosophy is that education is a fast track out of poverty for individuals, their families and communities. As a result of its excellent existing  record of delivering online courses for community education providers An Cosán VCC was selected as the developer and provider of the training component of EAAL during the 2015-2017 programme, which they created following an in-depth needs-based analysis of learners and the education environment. Once the curriculum and learning outcomes were developed, six digital community hubs were identified around the country.  The format consisted of two face to face sessions and six online sessions. 48 members of the community education network enrolled in the programme, and of those 35 engaged in the courses, with 30 people fully completing their selected option, which is a strong outcome.

Impact for CEN members:

Sharing Best Practice – Seminar 

“One in six people struggle with very basic text and information that they receive. One in four people struggle with very basic numeracy.”
- Helen Ryan, Policy Officer, National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) -

Helen Ryan from NALA presented on their Literacy and Wellbeing seminar.

AONTAS collaborated with NALA and the Education and Training Boards of Ireland (ETBI) to organise a seminar with key policy makers and service providers on Literacy and Wellbeing in May 2017. Over 85 attendees participated at the half-day seminar at the Department of Education and Skills.

This event explored how people engage with literacy and learning, and stressed the reality that not only is literacy intertwined with your levels of health, well-being and confidence, but well-being is an important consideration in the learning environment.

Three high profile speakers provided thought-provoking inputs on the day: Niall Moyna, Dublin City University (DCU) Professor, School of Health and Human Performance; Anne Cleary, University College Dublin (UCD) Lecturer, School of Sociology; and Caroline Martin, Principal Psychologist, City of Dublin Education and Training Board (CDETB).

Feedback from participants was positive and reaffirmed the NALA and AONTAS approach of emphasising a holistic view of educating adults. However, attendees also identified the need for increased practical resources, including lesson plans, and further information on programmes and strategies when working with students with mental health issues, or learning disabilities.

As a direct outcome of this seminar and participant feedback NALA created a literacy friendly course on health and wellbeing for adults, called Well Now! - - which aims to facilitate adults to explore health and wellbeing topics and to increase awareness, knowledge, understanding and skills to support health choices. It is now available for adult literacy and community education services, often in conjunction with local authorities or local health service providers, and is being rolled out across the country each week and increasing collaboration and networking at the grassroots level. 

 Skills for Work Seminar

“Skills For Work has done an awful lot for me. I’ve gone from not knowing how to use a computer to tweeting, to visiting Malta as an adult learner, to really feeling proud of my achievements.”
- William Kellett, Warehouse Department, GEODIS Ireland Ltd and Adult Learner through the Skills For Work programme -

The second part of the closing event focused on the Skills for Work Programme as an example of best practice in workplace education. The Skills for Work programme provides tailored courses to employees to help them improve their basic skills. The programme is learner centred and uses creative outreach methods to recruit people to their programmes. The key is that it responds to the needs of local communities and is flexible in its approach.

“For a good social economy and a good financial economy we have to have people who believe in themselves. People who take part, are full of the joys of learning, inspired by what they come across, believing in themselves as learners, and bringing that back into their family and community.  How learners develop is really what drives us on.”

-Paddy Lavelle, CEO of Dublin and Dun Laoghaire Education and Training Board (ETB), which is the Coordinating ETB for the National Skills for Work Programme -

Paddy Lavelle, CEO of the Coordinating ETB for the National Skills for Work Programme opened the afternoon session. Praising the work of the Skills for Work staff and highlighting the ongoing importance of such a programme for a country still recovering from recent recession, he also commended the benefits of Europe-wide collaboration in the employment and education sectors.

Marian Lynch, Skills for Work Coordinator then chaired a five-person panel of employers, learners and Skills for Work tutors, each discussing the different benefits of and learnings from the programme, in addition to the main outcomes of the EU Exchange to Malta in April 2017 facilitated through the 2015-2017 EAAL programme. The audience heard of significant personal and professional benefits from those adult learners and Skills for Work coordinators who travelled to Malta, including the unexpected follow up collaboration with the Maltese authorities to help them replicate the Skills For Work model in their country. The level of flexibility, networking and adaptability that coordinators of Skills For Work bring to growing the programme was also shared as a model that can be borrowed across the sector.

“I would say that when we’re helping employers set up and run the courses coordinators approach the programme like we are an emergency service – emergency education providers! So we take a flexible, urgent approach and will work at all different times, bringing tutors into all types of learning spaces and places, to try meet the needs of the company and its employee learners.”
- Nuala Nedjati, Workplace Education Coordinator for County Dublin VEC, and Skills for Work Coordinator for Dublin and Dun Laoghaire Education and Training Board (DDLETB) -

William Kellett, an adult learner who works in the warehouse department of the Dublin branch of international logistics company GEODIS Ireland, shared inspiring stories about the impact of the first, second and soon-to-be third course that he has engaged in through the collaboration of his employer with Skills For Work, and in particular about the rewards of taking part in the trip to Malta

“This time last year there is no way that I would be sitting here speaking in front of all these people – it has really helped my confidence.”

The event then concluded with a lively discussion from the floor on how Skills for Work can further develop and encourage employers to take part.

 For those who missed the event, it can be viewed on Facebook here.

For further information about EAAL 2015 – 2017, please visit: