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EPALE - Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe


Qualitative study with adults holding a low level of qualifications, awaiting or resuming training

by Michèle MOMBEEK
Language: EN

The objective of this qualitative study is to understand the importance of the pedagogical dimension in difficulties experienced by adults with a low level of qualifications in following and engaging in a learning system. As outlined at the start of the report, we do not intend to rule out the importance of other significant factors[1] which may also explain why people drop out and disengage from training. However, we consider that the pedagogical offer of a training programme may have a significant influence on the motivation of trainees when they are taking their first steps towards socio-professional integration. Hence our interest in analysing training offers through the eyes of trainees.

In order to provide a response to our primary question "To what extent can the crossover between a psychosocial profile and training offer explain engagement, success and commitment in an educational or training programme?", we used interpretative and comprehensive discussion methods based on semi-guided interviews[2] with people having low levels of qualifications.

Throughout the course of these interviews, we observed that trainees enrolled on a training pathway with various different motivations:

  • The initial motivation of "becoming productive people" (Havighurst, 1964)[3] through the acquisition of knowledge, skills and specific expertise in a given profession
  • An additional source of motivation to gain a new "identity as a worker"
  • Seeking recognition
  • A desire for social transformation

Those people interviewed primarily had a feeling of fragile confidence in themselves and others. Incompetence and ignorance were also feelings heavily present in our target group. The succession of failures faced by these people since their childhood constitutes one of the factors influencing their emotional instability. This is why some people with a low level of qualifications may express their "insecurities" through behaviours such as "dropping out, running away, violence, etc." (Faulx & Danse, 2015) as responses to their interior psychological


[1] "People's living conditions", "their financial resources", "accessibility of training locations"

[2] 36 individual interviews and 3 focus groups

[3] Quoted by Allard & Oulette (2002) in the psycho-professional dimension of the "macroscopic model" of Allard & Ouellette (2002

condition. Consequently, adults largely expressed their feelings towards support received by their educational pathways.

By taking the statements made by "young adults", we can also observe a major feeling of mistrust towards schools related to a lack of educational and emotional support by the teaching staff. These negative experiences can explain why "young adults" feel particularly affected, in the positive sense of the term, by the type of individual support they receive in training such as at CISPS [Socio-professional Insertion Centres] and ASBL [Not-for-profit associations]. The results show that the individual attention given in educational support for the training process constitutes a key element of the training pathway. Reflection into its implementation, in any type of education and training context, is therefore crucial.

Moreover, through individual support mechanisms, the feeling of belonging may be favoured. However, favouring the "feeling of belonging" in trainees is a form of combating their "emotional distress" (Guay, 2018, p. 39) as well as a support for overcoming their "difficulties in adapting" faced with their initial expectations.

We did, however, observe widespread satisfaction concerning the quality of educational relations during the guidance and information process. As was highlighted in the interview with one trainee[1], the adults with whom we met, consider that the professionals responsible for training have better interpersonal skills. This observation led us to undertake reflection into the influence of people-based welcoming policies. New guidelines concerning support for people in professionally fragile situations may be the origin of better motivational effects on the desire of job seekers to commit to a training programme. This is why we believe it is necessary to continuously raise awareness as to the "position of support workers" so as to refresh, renew and further develop expertise and knowhow aiming high-quality educational support. This reflection was widely shared with the IBEFE WAPI synergy division. Those professionals involved in reflection around the issue of "acquiring basic skills" also observed the need to work upstream on the position of "peer" support (Faulx & Danse, 2015) so as to guarantee the fundamental conditions for safety which encourage the learning of basic skills.

However, during the guidance process, the lack of material and human resources continues to be an obstacle to opening doors to all trainees in equal conditions and an optimal timeframe. We also observed that "immediate referral" (Beltrame, 2019) towards "available"


[1] See bubble 16. Learner in Liège (35 y. o.)


training programmes at the time of the support request is still present in support systems. This "operational dimension" (Ibidem) can have a negative effect on the ability to commit as shown by trainees when faced with decisions about their training pathway. Indeed, if guidance decisions are taken too quickly, without consultation, the chances of engagement may be reduced and a further failure may occur.

Inversely, we observed that group mechanisms allowing trainees to take time to manage their "career path" (Ibidem) had positive effects in terms of motivation, learning and social relations. Via actions which fostered the capability of "learning to learn" (5th Key Competence) adults more clearly identify the directions to take in life, thanks to better self-awareness and new interactions which emerge amongst trainees.


In relation to mechanisms aimed at prior skills and knowledge, we observed a very low level of mobilisation of strategies allowing for validation of skills. People interviewed in this study rarely had access to this type of mechanism. The work undertaken by the synergy division at "alphaflevel at Brussels IBEFE [Education-Training-Employment Basin]"[1] has highlighted organisational intentions to encourage access to employment for people with "sufficient skills levels" in a given profession. However, this type of initiative is still to be rolled out and standardised within training institutions so as to offer support to trainees and to focus on their major difficulties in insertion (primarily linguistic), and facilitating access to professions where they have prior knowledge.

It should also be noted that we met with a large number of trainees who had direct access to information processes by their own means. They were able to seek information, take initiatives, and be autonomous in their own career management, etc. They have, therefore, the skills required by the European Reference Framework. This is why, in light of the "fragile identities" of adults on vocational training programmes, validation of experience (VAE) through mechanisms such as RECTEC or Eure.K could have a positive impact on the psychological condition of trainees. However, this type of mechanism is rarely used with those adults interviewed in those bodies taking part in the research. Better understanding of their implementation and their effects is required to support training bodies in becoming more


[1] Validation of specific skills of people who struggle with the French language


familiar with such resources. The effects induced on trainees are still to be studied since bodies having access to VAE mechanisms are still at experimental stage.


Generally speaking, we met with adults who were on the whole satisfied with the content offered by the training process. However, it is necessary to take into consideration some nuances. Concerning the importance which adults place on learning basic and transversal skills[1], we have observed that this depends on the profession in question and the psycho-social profile of the learner. On the other hand, improving one’s knowledge of writing or mathematics will be motivating if trainees consider this to be "useful" for their future professional practice. Trainees of foreign origin are generally motivated to take French classes "focussed on a particular career", yet very few training programmes offer this. It is for this very reason that we have identified the need for greater collaboration between training bodies so as to be able to schedule training curricula more suited to learners' requirements.

Such an observation can additionally be made with transversal skills. Moreover, the meaning of this type of mechanism is not always clear when the activity is presented. This is why we deem it necessary to support professionals in integrating new knowledge so as to master "socio-constructive events" and to support trainees in building "bridges" between theoretical knowledge and practical experience. The association of theory and practice is an essential lever in guaranteeing sustainable training in transversal subject areas.


Moreover, the position of "peer" held by a trainer, which is illustrated by attitudes such as listening, showing empathy, using present expertise, calling on experience, constitutes an interpersonal position highlighted by trainees as a source of motivation leading to increased commitment in training. However, some skills targeting the position of "expert" of the training (Faulx & Danse, 2015) have been identified as obstacles to commitment and success in training. Trainees also show the lack of availability of the trainer when faced with learning tasks as well as "prescriptive" discourse, which all constitute factors for disengagement. 

Concerning the engineering of training mechanisms, we have observed that adults like to learn through methods based on the "pedagogy of experimentation" (Tilman & Grootaers, 2006)[2]. We also identified that "classic" skills of the teacher (Perrenoud, 1999) are often a source of

[1] Collection of skills identified in the European Reference Framework (Key Skills)

[2] Quoted by Faulx & Petit (2010)


difficulty to encourage vocational training. Whilst, on the whole, trainees appreciate methods which use traditional practices in the education system, we did notice some difficulties when implementing this type of method. Trainers confused active methods with "more freedom". We observed that improper use of "experiential" mechanisms can have negative motivational and learning effects due to the lack of a secure methodological framework for the acquisition of new skills. This is why support by educational teams through continuous training aimed at better understanding of methods from "experimentation pedagogy" appears necessary. The articulation of two interpersonal positions, that of a "peer" and that of an "expert", is key in meeting the needs and expectations of trainees.


Finally, our study seeks to identify the "how" underpinning pedagogical initiatives so as to understand whether mechanisms forming the learning pathway are suitable for adults with "low levels of qualifications". We met with people having a wide array of pathways and difficulties which prevented them from accessing training programmes. However, once accepted onto a training programme, these people were extremely sensitive to the methods of interaction and mechanisms proposed during the socio-professional insertion pathway. The pedagogical dimension has a strong impact on motivation, commitment and success of people in fragile situations. So as to be able to ensure that pedagogical methods fall into a logic in line with recommendations of the Council of 19th December 2016 concerning upskilling pathways, training bodies need greater material and human resources of high quality. Territorial policies should continue to invest, renew and innovate in terms of pedagogical methods, resources and practices adapted to adults in training.

It should not be forgotten that the skills concerned by the European Reference Framework require significant "clinical time" (Faulx & Danse, 2015, p. 119) to enable work on oneself through deep intellectual, identity and emotional effects. However, the contradiction between seeking quick training and the type of training concerned by key competences requiring deep-rooted questioning leads to tensions between the requirements of our public and those of society on the whole. So as to deal with this significant difficulty, it is essential to understand that learning is a process that requires time. The more learning calls into question values and beliefs of trainees, the longer the "clinical time" will be.

In conclusion, we would like to insist on the fact that there are many very useful initiatives led in the field at present. We do not have access to all of these. Such practices are, however, 

unfortunately insufficiently known and shared. It appears essential to us to share these "innovative practices" between operators in the field so as to circulate knowledge in favour of expertise in the context of vocational training.

The complete study :

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