The urgent need to support adult educators: Sarah's story

13/08/2021

As we transition into a post-pandemic world and introduce more hybrid ways of working, adult learning professionals will require greater focus; increased agility; and even more confidence to navigate changes coming their way. Jane Berwick, Creator of The Adult Learning Hub, sheds light on why we urgently need to support practitioners in adult education not only to better meet the needs of the diverse learners we serve, but to also help practitioners to thrive and stay in the field long term.


Over the last few weeks, I have spent some time speaking with adult educators around the globe, and the stories I've heard of their experience of the pandemic have been deeply stirring. I feel so honored to listen and hold their experiences close, as they have shared with me.

I'm comforted, and yet somewhat disturbed, by the study I read recently by Kapplinger and Lichte (2020), where they looked at some of the immediate effects of the Covid pandemic on adult learning. These finding are highly consistent with the lived experience of the practitioners that I'm speaking to on a regular basis. They mentioned in their research:

'Adult education was and continues to be severely affected by the public measures and directives issued by governments all over the world to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, many adult education organisations and learning centres have had to close down for weeks or even months during lockdowns and other restrictions of access. While the effect on learners has been a frequent subject of media coverage, commentators have also called for financial aid, especially to protect the most vulnerable groups like precariously employed freelance instructors or organisations which provide longer educational retreats from bankruptcy. There is growing concern that many adult education organisations will struggle to survive....'

What does this tell us? Not only are organisations at risk, but adult educators are even more so.

At risk for:

  • being made redundant
  • not being relevant in a shifting world of work
  • not being adequately supported in the future by the institutions/businesses that they serve, post pandemic.

This is a scary thought.

Clearly, there has never been a more important time for the adult education community to come together, in ways we have never before, to keep our swords sharp and our skills fresh so that we can cope with the continued changes coming our way. 

After reading this research this past week, there was one practitioner in particular ('Sarah') who stopped me in my tracks. The timing of our conversation was remarkable. She reminded me of why I serve the demographic that I do, in such a time as this, in The Adult Learning Hub. I wanted to share with you 4 insights took away from our conversation.

1. Educators of adults are deeply committed

We had only just met, were thousands of miles apart (her in the US and me in the UK) and yet we both shared something in common: a passion for removing barriers for adult learners. One of the very first things Sarah said to me during our discussion was 'I'm all about the success of the learner.' To hold this perspective, despite challenges during Covid, demonstrated to me her resilience and optimism.

For her, this unrelenting determination to free up adult learners has seemingly been the very blood that runs through her veins in facilitating the growth and development of others. She has worked in various contexts for the last number of years, from customer service to learning and development, and she currently works in a technical college. She herself was a single mom and decided to go back to school a number of years ago, igniting in her a life long curiosity in learning. 

2. We often find ourselves balancing competing priorities

Sarah told me she feels like she is on a 'teetter totter' (or see saw) - often needing to hold in tension the needs of her organisation, but also the needs of her learners at the same time. Her employer is pushing the use of their institution's LMS more and more, but she immediately thinks about the adults who are on the other end, saying, 'Do they have adequate technology?' / 'Are they actually allocated time for learning?' / 'Front line workers are not getting what they need.' These kind of challenges are not new to the world of adult learning, and yet, they seem all the more pressing for educators, given the current world context, as the digital skills gap is evident now more than ever.

3. Covid has heightened our sense of feeling like imposters in our practice

Like many of us during Covid, she has also needed to navigate technology like never before - in unconventional and yet ingenious ways. As a strategy for herself for the last year and a half, she would regularly consult with her daughter on her experience of learning online...at times learning from the mistakes her teachers would make in the virtual classroom. 

'I'm worried they are going to find me out,' she said to me, despite having over 13 years experience, including an MBA under her belt.

Being in a physical classroom allowed her to be 'disarming' as she mentioned to me, often having small conversation with students or some light banter (which her students looked forward to the most!). Her experience, and I'm sure many other educators out there, of being plunged into the deep end of technology, has seemingly heightened our sense of imposter syndrome. This, coupled with a lack of meaningful and structured support have caused many to feel as though they are living/working on an island. 

And yet, despite this, Sarah's perseverance to provide the best experience possible for her learners, has also demonstrated true grit, creativity and the importance of maintaining a sense of purpose. She continues to ask the right questions, consider the perspective of those who's learning she is tasked with, and reflecting on how she can make her practice unique to her.

4. We all have stories and experiences, but we need authentic community to flourish

Yes, Covid has hit us hard, but it has also shown us what we are capable of, and where our priorities are. It became clear to me, as our conversation came to a close, that educators like Sarah deserve to be heard. I know there are more stories like hers. I know there are more ingenious educators who have experiences worth paying attention to.

Yes, there is social media. Yes, there are Facebook groups and Twitter feeds (and learning is happening in these spaces which is wonderful), but we need designated and safe platforms for like-minded educators of adults to share their experience with those who are there to listen (and not promote), claim back their focus, get the results they are after and develop a more robust framework to confidently navigate this ever changing world of work moving forward.

As we learn to operate in this new world, it will require us to be even more creative and agile in our practice, ensuring that we still meet the needs of learners in our classrooms (both in person and virtual). Keeping practitioners in the field should also be a priority of the global adult education community, providing better ways to engage educators and learn from each other, across borders and contexts.

I'm excited to say that Sarah is now a member of The Adult Learning Hub and she loves contributing to this vibrant new community. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Sarah!


SO, what's going on with The Adult Learning Hub over the next few weeks?

  • Our members are already signing up for our upcoming Masterclass, next Tuesday the 17th (from 6:00-7:30pm BST) on 'Resilience for the adult learning professional,' so if you join us before the end of the week you can still reserve a spot!
  • In September, we will release our ambassador programme with rewards, as well as specific 'cohort groups' for best practice sharing.
  • I'm also excited to announce that we now have packages for institutions/businesses for their practitioners to join together and have their own private group within the app, while still being able to access our exclusive calendar of events and activities within the wider Adult Learning Hub community. Please contact me (jane@theadultlearninghub.com) if you are interested in setting this up for your institution.

Consider joining us as a member!

The Hub is still enjoying our complimentary introductory period until 1st September, so if you too want to experience it for yourself, before Autumn begins, now is the perfect time to do so. We are growing every week, making the platform more and more valuable for each person who joins and contributes. Click below to apply or sign up to our mailing list for more information.

Jane Berwick, Creator & Managing Director 

The Adult Learning Hub