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Learning at life transitions: Supporting learners returning to work or preparing to retire

Adult learning can lead to a host of positive benefits for both the individual learner and wider society, including improved health, wellbeing and productivity. Increasing and widening access to learning is crucial to future prosperity, as well as to fairness and social inclusion within our nation. Despite this, the UK has seen a recent decline in the number of adults participating in learning and training. Moreover, persistent inequalities exist in who participates, with some groups, such as older people and those furthest from the labour market, least likely to be learning. Learning and Work Institute (L&W) was commissioned by the WEA: Adult Learning Within Reach and funded by the Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL) to undertake a mixed-methods study to explore the motivations for, barriers to, and experiences of learning for adults at two key life transitions: returning to work after caring for children, and retirement. A focus on each of these transitions is extremely topical, given the current policy focus on how adults can be supported to upskill, retrain and progress at work throughout longer working lives. Gender inequalities1 in the workplace are also becoming more prominent, as is the role that learning can play in maintaining health and wellbeing into older age.2 This mixed-methods research involved: a rapid review of evidence on adults’ experiences of learning during the transition back to work after caring for children and through retirement; collecting and analysing data on each of these transitions from L&W’s 2018 Adult Participation in Learning Survey; qualitative interviews with learners going through each transition; and focus groups with adults in the same circumstances who had not engaged in learning for three years or more.