Wednesday, November 10, 1999 Published at 09:14 GMT
Lifelong training is not an option
BBC staff on safety training
It is a myth that most people choose to do 'lifelong learning' courses - for many it is more like 'lifelong coercion', says the UK's first professor in the subject.
John Field, Professor of Lifelong Learning at the University of Warwick, doubts whether, in the circumstances, such training is a good investment.
Professor Field told News Online: "The big switch off takes place when people have taken part in something and not really enjoyed it, not got anything out of it.
"Many trainers of adults have had very little training for their role. What training they have had is based on the assumption that the adults are there pretty much as volunteers.
"We're used to the idea of disaffection in the classroom, among young people. What I'm saying is there may be very similar patterns among adults, and that's much more difficult to deal with."
It raised doubts about the quality of their learning.
Professor Field told a meeting of the National Organisation for Adult Learning in Coventry that, even leaving aside programmes for the unemployed such as New Deal, where the coercion is obvious, a great deal of professional development and skills updating was still carried out not because anyone wanted to learn but because they had to.
He said three of the main forces driving this compulsory life long learning activity were contract compliance, regulatory frameworks and statutory requirements.
Another factor was changing expectations from customers and citizens generally.
"For a range of problems, from racism in the police to air safety, the answer is to provide training, whether its subjects want it or not," he said.
The scale of compulsory adult education was impressive. In a recent survey of 20,667 households across the West Midlands, 36% of the workforce had undertaken some job-related education and training.
Of these, the greatest amount related to statutory regulation. For example, more than a quarter said their training was in health and safety or environmental health.
Coercion may be necessary
Most people said they had done the training because their employer required it. The survey's authors concluded that "employer compulsion is clearly the main reason for training in the region".
The coercion was not necessarily a bad thing - we all believed that people ought to learn to drive before going out on the road, for instance.
"What I am saying is that we need much more creative and imaginative ways of teaching people that really switches them on, and doesn't turn them off," Professor Field said.
A disturbing side issue is that the training might not be happening at all. Professor Field said a researcher in his department had been told by one in eight small businesses she had surveyed that they did not actually undertake some required training at all - they merely claimed they did in order to comply with regulations or get grants.
"That's clearly very worrying. If one in eight firms are prepared to admit that to a researcher then there's clearly a bit of a problem," he said.