Learner Voice Training

Learner Voice is a concept in education underpinned by the idea that learning should be guided by those who learn, as well as those who teach.

We're now offering Learner Voice Training to staff in Education and Training Boards across the country.   

Since 2020, we've been working with staff and learners in Education and Training Boards (ETBs) across Ireland to develop Learner Voice as a process that is embedded in Further Education and Training (FET). The Learner Voice model is now being taken up by ETBs across Ireland. 

We offer staff training on the foundations and practice of Learner Voice work. We also offer workshops for learners on leadership, advocacy and planning. The goal is to listen and be responsive to what learners need, and encourage and facilitate more learners to return to and stay in Further Education and Training. 

Further Education and Training Learners as Leaders Handbook (2023)

We developed this new handbook to support ETBs' exemplary work across Ireland. It provides ETB staff with the theory, tools, and practical resources to facilitate learners to share their feedback and experiences of learning at their ETB. The handbook is a free resource to complement our ongoing Learner Voice Training. The goal is to help make learning better for everyone.

You can read the handbook here. 

What's new with our Learner Voice Training?

We are now working with individual ETBs to expand Learner Voice structures in their centres, supporting the establishment of Learner or Student Councils or Learner Working Groups. Several of these structures are already happening. Conor and Karyn from the AONTAS team, who specialise in adult learning policy and research, are travelling around Ireland to offer training and guidance so that Learner Voice can continue to be embedded and practiced in adult education and FET across the country. 

As Ireland's National Coordinator for the New European Agenda for Adult Learning (NEAAL), we are expanding our Learner Voice Training opportunities in 2024 and 2025.

This year, we are working to develop, pilot, and evaluate continuous professional development sessions for 12 staff in four ETBs.

We have carried out two sessions this year so far with City of Dublin ETB and Galway Roscommon ETB, with two more to follow.

In 2025, we will expand this further to work with eight other ETBs.

June 2024: City of Dublin Education and Training Board

Karyn and Ruby facilitated a Learner Voice training session with 14 staff members from City of Dublin ETB Educational Service to Prisons. Participating staff included teachers and head teachers with representatives from all seven Dublin prisons and Pathways. The session had two broad aims:

Participants worked together to identify opportunities to listen to and involve learners more in their educational experience. They shared valuable insights into initiatives and programmes that are working well in their individual centres, and came up with new ways to increase the visibility of these activities.

They also discussed solutions to overcoming some of the barriers and challenges they face while working on Learner Voice activities in a restricted setting. They collaborated on ways to put more formal structures in place to capture learners’ views and feedback.

June 2024: Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board

Ruby and Karyn facilitated a productive and engaging session with four staff from Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board at the dedicated GRETB training centre in Mervue.

Meaningful Learner Voice engagement is a passion project of Quality Assurance Coordinator Marion O’Regan.

With a plan to establish a representative Learner Voice group for the GRETB region in Autumn, she wanted to ensure that all structures and resources were in place from an ETB perspective before the recruitment of learners commenced.

This is an example of good practice in action - having an embedded support system in place will ensure that the process is not tokenistic and will be sustainable.

The session involved an introduction to Learner Voice theory and its practical application in their everyday work. It also highlighted some of the practical tools and resources necessary for them to set up a Learner Voice group. The group then worked together as a team to identify their priority actions and a timeline for completion over the coming months.

April 2024: Tipperary Education and Training Board

Conor, Karyn and Ruby were in the Anner Hotel in Thurles to deliver a workshop with existing and potential new members of Tipperary ETB Student Council. There were 21 learners in attendance from a broad range of courses. The session was focused on the development of the new online Student Hub for Tipperary ETB. The ETB wants to hear directly from their students about what this new Hub should look like, and what information they would like to see included.

Focus of the session:

The students had some brilliant ideas about what should be included in the Hub including a useful section called What are you entitled to? This would have information on grants, scholarships and financial supports available to students, as well as information about accommodation. They also would like to personalise the Student Council section to feature the profiles of the current group. Another suggestion was to add a section on Student Stories in both written and video formats. The group felt it was important that this section showcased a diversity of voices, ages and backgrounds so that all types students were represented.

 

January 2024 with Waterford and Wexford Education and Training Board

Conor and Karyn were in The Tower Hotel in Waterford to deliver training with existing and potential new members of WWETB Learner Council. There were 15 learners in attendance from a broad range of courses.

Focus:

The first part of the session focused on understanding advocacy and representation, and how both are key ingredients of the WWETB Learner Council. The InTuition learners from Enniscorthy had brilliant examples to share from their experience of taking part in an Advocacy Programme with WWETB. 

The second part focussed on identifying areas working well and areas for improvement from the WWETB Forum Report from 2023. The participants discussed these areas and came up with innovative ways the Council could work with ETB staff on making progress and came up with possible solutions. Here are some of the topics discussed:

Work Experience:

Learners who are new to the area, or moved to Ireland recently, might struggle more to find a placement. They would like to have access to a list of companies from the previous year's course to help find a work experience placement. Some learners felt that they need more financial support, particularly for courses that require blocks of work experience.

Communications:

Some learners would like to be informed of services like mental health support or ETB events directly by email. These learners were happy to hear about WWETB's plans to develop an app for learners to share this type of information.  

Transport:

Local Link was discussed as a potential solution for learners living in rural areas. 

ESOL:

Some ESOL learners said that they would like to attend more conversational style classes. ETB staff mentioned that these classes are often run in libraries and community centres, and could be sign posted to ESOL learners who aren't aware of them currently. 

As a direct result of this session, one of the learners in attendance, Sultan Ahmed, was invited to speak about his lived experience at the AONTAS Policy Day on the 4th of March at the Richmond Centre in Dublin. The focus of this event was on policy solutions to financial challenges faced by FET learners.

 

January 2024 with Laois and Offaly Education and Training Board

Conor and Karyn were in Portlaoise to offer training with Student Ambassadors from Laois and Offaly Education and Training Board (LOETB). 

The training was called “Your Story, Your Voice”. It offered a supportive and respectful environment for people to practise telling their stories. They will next be invited to share their stories with a wider audience to encourage more adults to get involved in learning with LOETB.  

 

September 2023 with Tipperary Education and Training Board

Conor and Karyn headed to Clonmel to give an advocacy and planning workshop to students with the theme "Making Changes". 

22 people joined for the workshop, which looked at identifying two key issues to work on in 2023 and 2024, to make adult learning better and more accessible.

The students - they prefer to be called students rather than learners - identified the issues of Lack of Transport for attending their course or training, and lack of access to Work Experience relevant to their course or training.

Working in small groups, participants decided what changes they want to see happen in relation to these two issues.

They identified the primary decision-makers in the county to work with to make these changes happen for students like themselves. They completed practical worksheets on preparing for a meeting with decision-makers, and they agreed on a series of next steps to make these changes happen. 

Identified Asks: 

Transport:

Work Experience:

The participants then identified the primary decision-makers in the county to work with to make these changes happen for students like themselves. They completed practical worksheets on preparing for a meeting with decision-makers, and they agreed on a series of next steps to make these changes happen. 

The students working on Transport identified local politicians and councilors, the County Council, the Ministers for Education and for Transport, Local Link representatives and Transport for Ireland.

The students working on Work Experience identified the Senior Management Team of Tipperary ETB, the Chamber of Commerce and local businesses.

They all agreed that they need more specific evidence to support their asks. They want to do research with students across the county to capture their experiences of both issues. They have decided to produce a survey for circulation to all FET students in the county. They will be supported in this by the Community Education Facilitator for Wellbeing in Tipperary ETB. They will set up meetings with their identified decision-makers when the research is complete and they have gathered sufficient evidence. Watch this space for more. 

Before the Training: 

After the Training: 

 

September 2023 with Kilkenny and Carlow Education and Training Board 

Conor and Karyn headed to Kilkenny in September to offer a Learner Voice workshop with adult learners with Kilkenny and Carlow Education and Training Board. Learners took part in this training to support them to become Learner Champions in their ETB. The learners shared their stories and experiences to encourage other people to take up adult education classes in their area. 

The training focused literacy, and on helping people understand why it's important to share personal stories and encourage other people to take up classes or courses for reading and writing. The training looked at how learners can identify their own strengths and gain confidence in sharing their own stories. 

We were delighted to have 30 learners join us for this session. Four of them were brave enough to stand up in the front of the group and share their stories of doing adult education courses in their local areas.

Learner from KWETB sharing their learner story

At the end of the session, learners spoke about the independence they had gained from doing reading and writing courses:

 "I can go to the GP and shopping by myself now ... I feel more confident ... When I arrived in Ireland, I couldn't even say 'hi' now I speak to everyone and do things for myself."

The feedback from learners was very positive. When asked how they felt after the workshop, the participants said, especially after speaking in front of the group, "I am feeling brave now", and described the work as "interesting", "motivational", and "communicative", and shared that the day had made them feel "happy". 

The development of resources and delivery of this workshop was funded by the European Union's Erasmus+ programme, and is part of the Basis Education for Empowerment and Participation (BEEP) KA2 project. BEEP works with adults on democratic participation outside of electoral political processes.

June 2023 with City of Dublin ETB in Finglas

In June, Conor and Karyn headed to Finglas to offer this training to ETB staff. As part of the training, the group used DIXIT cards, asking participants to pick the cards that represent a positive and empowering adult education system and then discuss why. 

The group picked symbols that they felt represented the learners they work with and their experience in the Cabra and Finglas centres of City of Dublin ETB.  

They talked about how returning to education is "not just about certification - it’s about participation in something meaningful". They said that many learners "feel hope. Seas may still be choppy and the landscape of their everyday lives may not have changed but now [with returning to education] there is a sense of hope". They also talked about the Adult Education service as "guiding people on their path", and about the ETB as a place to "shelter from the storm" and "a sense of connection with this centre and with other learners".

We are grateful to all ETB staff who get involved in working to make the experiences of learners a core part of their approaches. 

 

March 2023 with The Tipperary Student Council

Tipperary ETB is seeking to create positive change for adult learners and improve experiences and outcomes. In March 2023, we offered a training workshop to the members of the Tipperary Student Council on understanding advocacy, identifying issues and solutions, and planning an advocacy campaign. Participants all wanted to make change happen, but sought help identifying the issues to focus on. The training workshop got people talking, planning, laughing, and working towards a clear message, while identifying the decision-makers who need to hear their message.

One participant said that, as a result of the training, “I feel like I can do something about what we care about.” 

April 2023 with Cork ETB

There fantastic Cork ETB Learner Voices Group is already up and running, and we went there in April to offer training. This group’s members are all adult learners in Further Education and Training. They are a very diverse group of mixed nationalities and ages. What they have in common is that they have all experienced some degree of educational exclusion, and they are seeking to make things better for all learners in Cork ETB. According to their website, they “work on the Lundy Model of Participation, where we provide a safe space for learners to find their voice and express their views. It is also about ensuring that these voices are listened to and responded to in your Centre or Campus and by Cork ETB.” 

As part of the AONTAS training, we offered guidance on how to better understand ETB structures, how to make change happen within these structures, and how to plan for next steps. The key to this session was connecting with the participants’ own experiences and previous knowledge. 

To provide the best experience possible for the people doing the training, we make it 85% experiential and 15% new information. 

We are also developing a handbook and have created some guidance videos for ETBs on how to aid the establishment of Learner Voice groups or councils. We’re doing this with support from Cork ETB, and are developing plans and ideas on how to embed learner capacity-building projects in FET. 

Background   

In 2020 and 2021, Education and Training Boards across Ireland were going through a quality assurance review with Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI). Given that AONTAS have expertise in the area of Learner Voice, and given our history of research and learner engagement through the National FET Learner Forum, we were asked by ETBs to hold online training sessions with adult learners to prepare them to take part in quality assurance reviews with QQI.  

In 2022, we began to develop this work, focusing on supporting people to gain more confidence and skills in leadership and self-advocacy. We held sessions with learners from six ETBs, with a total of 167 learners taking part. These sessions focused on communicating to people that voicing their experience and sharing feedback on their courses and on interactions with their ETB can be integral to creating positive change, both for their own experience of learning and for those who come after them. This process can help identify important issues and how to address them, fostering a learning environment that has been co-created by the learners and staff. 

If learners feel heard and respected, it is more likely that they will stay engaged.  

We continue to offer training to ETBs and Learner Voice groups across the country. A central part of this is establishing and maintaining partnerships between AONTAS and ETBs.  

If you work for or with an ETB and would like to learn more or get involved, contact Conor at cthompson@aontas.com