Recognition of the importance of mental health and wellbeing has been increasing significantly in recent years. The links between health, wellbeing and adult learning are well researched. New Economics Foundation (2008) identified five steps to mental health and wellbeing that have been used as the base for many further studies. The five steps are Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Give to Others and Keep Learning.
Whilst good health and wellbeing are desirable at all ages, the importance of wellbeing amongst older people is increasingly important as life expectancy increases. Gratton and Scott (2016) consider the implications of increased life expectancy beyond 100 years for today’s children. This has happened because over the last two hundred years, across every decade, life expectancy has increased by two or three years. Looking ahead, this presents a challenge for public services as the number of older people in society and the cost of their health and social care is ever increasing. To counteract this there is an emphasis on active ageing, that is, the aim for older people to remain active in order to maintain their health and wellbeing and defer their dependency on support services. Narushima et al (2016) consider links between lifelong learning and active ageing. Using survey data provided by adults aged 60 years and above in Canada, they suggest that participation in non-formal lifelong learning may help sustain older people’s wellbeing. More recently, reports from Richard Desjardins et al (2019) and Tom Schuller (2019) have shown the connections between participation in adult learning, wellbeing and active ageing.
A year ago, following my retirement from full-time work, I joined a community learning course in digital photo imaging. The course tutor teaches skills and techniques to enhance and manipulate digital images using Adobe Photoshop Elements software. The course is supported with resources on an online learning platform. The tutor provides images in which to learn the skills and then learners practice using their own choice of photographs including those they have taken with their own cameras. Most of the learners in the group are retired. As an adult learner myself, I have a personal perspective of how participation in learning links to the five steps to wellbeing. The images included are examples of my work.
Participation in the course is a demonstration of 'keep learning', but I feel that the impact on my wellbeing is that I am learning something that I can use creatively. It is very different from the academic education and work related training that I have undertaken throughout my adult life and to some extent this has taken me out of my comfort zone. I feel I have benefitted from learning something completely new and it's increased my confidence at being creative.
I hadn’t met any of the other learners before I joined the group and it has been good to make new connections. As part of the course we have a forum on the learning platform on which we can post images and ask for feedback from the tutor and other learners between the taught sessions and share suggestions and information. This helps to maintain my interest and build stronger connections within the group than simply attending the taught sessions.
Each term the tutor introduces a theme to inspire the group. This leads to being active in looking for suitable images. For example, in the autumn term 2018 the theme was “There but not There” with reference to the silhouettes of first world war soldiers that had been installed at various sites across the UK. We had the challenge to photograph them in their location or to search for images that could be edited. This made the learning activity very active.
The termly themes also encourage us to take notice of new areas of interest. For example, one of the themes I followed was about the female artist Fahrelnissa Zeid (1901- 1991), whose work was exhibited at the Tate Modern in 2017. I didn’t know anything about this artist but really enjoyed finding out about her work and her life and using her work as an inspiration. Also, using the editing software makes me take notice as I look at the detail of my own photographs and decide how I can use and edit them.
Give to others
There are many ways in which the group is 'giving to others'. There is the support we give to each other within the sessions and on the forum. Images are manipulated to create cards, photo books, posters and calendars for family and friends. Several of the group use their skills in voluntary roles, for example, one is a National Trust volunteer. This is supporting active ageing.
I recommend and endorse participation in adult learning as an aid to wellbeing in retirement. What are your experiences as an adult learner? Do you feel that learning has helped your wellbeing? Please share your experiences with the EPALE community in the comments box below.
Cath Harcula has been involved in adult learning for over 30 years as a tutor, manager and senior manager. In 2017 she retired after 10 years as Head of Adult Learning in a local authority service. She now works as a consultant for the Learning and Work Institute. She is chair of the National Family Learning Forum in England and an Ambassador for EPALE UK. She is interested in a wide range of topics associated with adult learning, particularly family and community learning.
You might also be interested in:
- Look after your mental health using mindfulness (resource) - the Mental Health Foundation have created a useful booklet that details the benefits of using mindfulness technques for better mental health which will be particularly useful to mental health providers
- Mental Health Toolkit for Employers (resource) - Business in the Community and Public Health England have created a mental health toolkit that can be used by employers of large and small businesses to support good mental health in their employees
- Community gardening projects can boost health and wellbeing and offer endless opportunities for adult learning (blog) - discusses how community gardening projects can benefit the community as well as health and wellbeing
- Building Anxiety Heroes - Part One (blog) - focuses on what anxiety is, how we should face challenges we find frightening and how anxiety is an emotion that allows for personal growth
- EPALE UK Star Supporter Competition! Health, wellbeing and adult learning (blog) - enter our Star Supporter competition and be in with the chance to win £100 in vouchers and have your content disseminated in other official EU languages