Adult education has an effect! - Under this motto, the newly founded Center for Transdisciplinary Continuing Education Research at the University of Continuing Education Krems (Univ.-Prof. Dr. phil. habil. Monika Kil and Ass.-Prof. Dr. Filiz Keser Aschenberger) and the Association of Austrian Adult Education Centers (Dr. Stefan Vater, Dr. Gerhard Bisovsky) presented the Austrian BeLL study on May 9, 2022.
Proving the "treasure within" (Jaques Delors) requires the challenge of an evidence-based continuing education research and faces the necessity in a time, which sets in competition, compares and measures. In the first transdisciplinary dialogue of the Center between research results and issues of the adult education profession, the research results of the Austrian Benefits of Lifelong Learning study - BeLL AT for short - were presented for discussion, as well as the European predecessor study, BeLL EU (www.bell-project.eu). Both studies show the contribution of non-vocational liberal adult education, which goes far beyond the acquisition of competencies by participants in continuing education. These are understood as "benefits" and are manifested in the form of positive changes that can lead, for example, to an increased orientation towards the common good, new social contacts, and physical and mental health. The research findings were discussed in the light of current education policy challenges and goals such as upskilling and reskilling, digitalization, participation, inclusion and sustainability for the strategic orientation of Austrian and international adult education.
1st Dialoque Discussion, from left: M. Kil (UWK); Therese Reinel, Forum Adult Education Lower Austria, FEN/BHW; Dr. Bettina Thöne-Geyer, DIE; Dr. Gerhard Bisovsky (VÖV) Prof. Dr. Katarina Popović, Secretary General International Council for Adult Education, University of Belgrade; Dr. Stefan Vater & Dr. John Evers, The Viennese Adult Education Centres and Association of Austrian Adult Education, VÖV
The first transdisciplinary dialogue with more than 70 participants was opened by Ass.-Prof. Filiz Keser Aschenberger (UWK) and Dr. Stefan Vater (VÖV). Univ.-Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Dr. Stefan Oppl, MBA, Professor for Technology Enhanced Learning and Dean of the Faculty of Education, Arts and Architecture, underlined the importance of transdisciplinary continuing education research in the overall strategy of the UWK, which, with five relevant professorships in the meantime, form a unique extended research focus in the German-speaking region. He warmly welcomed the new visiting professor, Dr. Bettina Thöne-Geyer from the German Institute for Adult Education, Leibniz Center for Lifelong Learning (DIE) - comparable to the Pedagogical Work and Research Unit of the VÖV.
Bettina Thöne-Geyer and Monika Kil placed the theoretical framework, discursive contexts and central aspects of the current Austrian Benefits of Lifelong Learning study into the methodology of the European predecessor study. In total, a dataset of almost 9000 questionnaires is now available, which can also provide continuing education practitioners with comprehensive answers to the individual and societal effects and impacts of general adult education: The BeLL study results clearly show that participation in general adult education benefits the individual and the community. On the other hand, it is financed and supported primarily through fees paid by the participants themselves, partly by local authorities or by associations and volunteers.
In view of the strongly pronounced benefits in the health feeling and behaviour as well as the findings determined from the evidence-based medicine that movement-oriented offers as for example Yoga, Nordic Walking or dancing work even preventive for dementia development. Kil stressed: "The policy must know that general adult education, after Corona, Lockdowns and restrictions, takes place again in presence and must be promoted urgently". Bettina Thöne-Geyer underlined this demand and pointed out the result: "The higher the number of attended courses, the more pronounced are the perceived positive changes and there seem to be favourable course combinations that help in coping with social transformation processes up to professional reorientation."
Gerhard Bisovsky, in his last appearance as Secretary General of VÖV, emphasized the long tradition of dealing with the effects of adult education in VÖV and the Pedagogical Working and Research Centre: "Tom Schuller, the co-founder of the Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning of the British government, was already our guest in 2012 in the Jour Fixe Bildungstheorie in a cooperation event with the Institut Francais and today and now we can draw on our own BeLL data for Austria, which can also be used by policy makers." General adult education does not find the support and perception it deserves Bisovsky emphasized, also in view of the results of BeLL, which identify it evidence based as a practice workshop or school of democracy. Adult education is a workshop of equality and equity.
Katarina Popovic, Professor of Adult Education at the University of Belgrade and Secretary General of the International Council for Adult Education, ICAE created awareness with the phrase: "If you think education is not important, try ignorance!" and emphasized the need to focus even more on continuing education research; especially in light of today's dramatic social transformations and challenges such as democratic decay, war, climate crisis, and a newly widening gap of poverty.
On the podium, John Evers, the designated Secretary General of VÖV, emphasized the special role of adult education centres as open spaces of learning, which are more than places of knowledge transfer. They are an open social space that creates learning opportunities, especially for those with less educational experience and those disadvantaged. Moreover, in times of "fake news", the claim that all adult education centre offerings must be science-based is also a socio-political statement. Therese Reinel from Forum Erwachsenenbildung Niederösterreich (FEN), representing community-oriented adult education (BHW NÖ), emphasized the social importance of rural general adult education in its role as a provider of education close to home, with a special focus on educational guidance, basic education and volunteering.
The results of the benefit research are overall of high social relevance and prove, on the one hand, the necessity of a strong financial and structural support of the adult education system and on the other hand have an impact on several political departments such as health, integration and economy besides education. In addition, there is a need for continuous genuine research on continuing education that can shed light on system observation, the further development of models of adult learning and its effects, such as the interrelationships between the various benefits. This first transdisciplinary dialogue will continue with further discussions on important lifelong learning issues in the coming years: 08.05.2023: Early Childhood; 05/06/2024: Dementia Prevention; 05/05/2025: Social Inclusion.
All previous publications, data and documents on BeLL research can be downloaded from the following VÖV link: https://adulteducation.at/sites/default/files/statistikberichte-auswertungen/BeLL-Studie-an-oesterreichischen-Volkshochschulen-2018-2022.pdf