Maintaining Learner Engagement During COVID-19 Emergency

9 Apr 2020
Maintaining Learner Engagement During COVID-19 Emergency: An Essential Means to Support equality and safeguarding the needs of disadvantaged learners.

For those working closely with and on behalf of adult learners, especially within a community education setting, it is well understood that disadvantaged learners face additional and specific barriers already deeply rooted in inequality. 

Clearly defining their needs and implementing appropriate adequate supports are therefore fundamental priorities in coordinating the adult and community education sector’s collective response to the Covid-19 emergency.

AONTAS is playing its role to mitigate further disadvantage faced by learners through its participation in the newly formed Department of Education and Skills COVID-19 Tertiary Education Steering Group.

AONTAS, CEO, Niamh O’Reilly chairs the Department of Education and Skills Mitigating Educational Disadvantage (including Community Education Issues) Working Group. Here, AONTAS is working with stakeholders and experts[1] across the tertiary education sector to ensure that the issues facing adult and community education providers at this difficult time are being resolved. At the heart of this work is the learner. Important and useful outputs from this work include Discussion Papers that act as a valuable resource for stakeholders and as a set of practical recommendations to the Department of Education and Skills and education providers. More outputs are being developed, currently the Discussion Papers are:

The first Discussion Paper on learner/student engagement provides an invaluable resource to those working to support equality and safeguard the needs of disadvantaged students and learners during this difficult time. As a set of principles and guidelines for best practice the following important areas are covered:

Methods of Communication

Timeframe and Number of Contacts Made

A Step-by-Step Guide to Communication

Do's and Don'ts


Longer-term engagement 


The key recommendations are:

  1. Immediate and continued contact must be in place with resources and policies developed to support staff engaging learners.

  2. It is not “business as usual”, frequency of contact, as appropriate, is important to maintain connection.

  3. Where possible institutions should facilitate co-operation and communication between staff members to pool information on learners’ needs.

  4. Communications and outreach are a vital part of the actions needed to address the impact of Covid-19 and mitigate further educational disadvantage.

  5. Action Plan for Disengagement: If a learner has stopped responding to their tutors a plan with suitable responses and supports should be in place.

Every day AONTAS is listening to its members and to learners across the country so their voices can be heard and are raised to decision makers at the highest levels of government. For more information on this work visit Click Here

To contact AONTAS about the challenges you are facing in terms of provision and learning please email or Freephone 1800 303669.

[1] i MED Working Group Members (The papers does not reflect the views of all members or their institutions):

Niamh O’Reilly AONTAS (Chair), Dr Leah Dowdall AONTAS (Secretary), USI, ETBI/CDETB, HEA, Dearbháil Lawless AONTAS, Dr Eve Cobain AONTAS, NALA, TU Dublin, DES, SOLAS, AHEAD, THEA, QQI, Pavee Point, NFETL, Longford Women’s Link, SHEP/Cork Community Education Network, UCD, Maynooth University, Dr Michael Hallisey, Professor Tom Collins, Dr Fergal Finnegan

Addtional Information

AONTAS Membership and Engagement Update Weekly Webinars

Click here for more information on these weekly webinars with the AONTAS CEO. These webinars are open to members only. Further information on AONTAS membership is available here

Outputs from the Mitigating Educational Disadvantage Working Group