Updates on AONTAS activities, Learner Survey Findings, Unlimited Mobile Data and more

19 May 2020
At the last Weekly Membership Update Webinar AONTAS members not only received an update from CEO Niamh O’Reilly but also gained interesting insights into the experience of AONTAS Member Longford Women’s Link.

Register here for the next webinar. 

At the last Weekly Membership Update Webinar AONTAS members not only received an update from CEO Niamh O’Reilly but also gained interesting insights into the experience of Longford Women’s Link’s successful efforts to engage with learners and ensure adequate support was being provided alongside continuity of learning as their courses moved to remote online emergency provision
Longford Women’s Link (LWL) is a community organisation and social enterprise based in Longford Town.

Priority areas of work for LWL are:

  1. Providing DIRECT SUPPORT to individuals – services include Domestic Violence Support, counselling, support for migrant women and community childcare
  2. Building Community Capacity by providing ACCESS to affordable – Community Education & Training.
  3. Collective Lobbying & Advocacy – to make sure women’s VOICE is taken into account at local, regional & national decision making.


Pamela Latimer, who is the Education and Training Manager at LWL, gave a presentation to over thirty participants which included AONTAS staff and members from across Ireland. Pamela discussed the results of survey LWL carried out with learners to assess the impact of the COVID-19 emergency on their wellbeing and learning, as well as to see how current supports were faring.  

Findings of Survey

Respondents were asked if they had any specific issues while engaging in online learning. Over half of LWL learners reported having had no problems while almost one quarter did have technical issues but these were resolved with support from LWL. Another 3% continue to have unresolved technical issues and approximately 6% required support from a family member to resolve technical problems.

With over half of respondents not being able to work from home the impact of the health emergency on leaners’ financial and social circumstances have been very significant.  

Organisational learning so far
There has been a massive learning curve for everyone over the last couple of months. Below are some of the main learnings Pamela described which resonated with everyone in attendance:

• Support for learners is necessary – try to use all available resources at your disposal
• Collaboration with all stakeholders is vital
• Learners have welcomed the opportunity to move online however they may not have taken this step themselves under usual circumstances.
• It’s important to manage the number of classes to fit with where learners and tutors are at to avoid fatigue or burn out setting in. For similar reasons find ways of making online learning interesting and interactive for the learner and tutor
• Choose the modules for migrating online carefully, not all courses or stakeholders can be expected to work well under the current circumstances
• Identify and remove barriers for learners so they can fully participate and succeed

New Offer of Unlimited Mobile Data for learners

After Pamela gave everyone a number of excellent insights in her presentation AONTAS Head of Research, Dr Leah Dowdall, then gave an input about one of the latest outputs from AONTAS’ involvement in the Connectivity Working Group, an autonomous collective of stakeholders from across the education sector tasked with making recommendations to the Department of Education and Skills specifically around mitigating educational disadvantage in the context of digital literacy and internet access, amongst other areas (Click Here for more details).

Leah made participants aware of a new initiative to raise public awareness around learners availing of free unlimited data packages from mobile phone providers. The collaboration between NALA and AONTAS has proven highly successful so far in facilitating learners across the country to go on line and continue their courses without fear of incurring any extra financial loss for doing so. For more details of this offer which is available until 30th June (subject to review and extension) please Click Here.

Discussion groups

When participants broke into smaller online discussion groups a range of topics were covered and recorded by AONTAS staff. The topics and comments from members generally fell in to and across a number of categories, such as

• advocacy issues around policy change and future funding requirements and streams
• what supports AONTAS is offering and might be able to provide to members moving forward
• concerns for the wellbeing of community education learners, staff, tutors, and organisations
• gathering and evaluating data to help gain an insight into the current situation and for planning for the future
• European and cross border work
• challenges around IT and digital literacy
• protocols for returning to education provision
• Continual Professional Development.
With the eighth weekly online gathering coming up AONTAS has been collating all of the issues raised by members for future and ongoing advocacy work. If you would like to take the opportunity to present or discuss a particular topic at one of the next virtual meetings then please get in touch with AONTAS Membership Officer Barry Dolan by telephone 0871149278 or via email
To stay up to date and informed on all of AONTAS’ activities and what’s happening in the adult and community education sector you can register for the upcoming weekly webinars Here.