OER: Ensuring outreach, motivation and persistence in basic skills programs

A considerable percentage of the learners who most need to increase the level of their basic skills will not seek the courses that are organised. For many potential learners in the target group one of the main reasons for this will be the lack of awareness of both their skill level and of the existing learning offer. The need for raised awareness can be met by carefully designed information campaigns which have the potential to attract the learner to individual guidance points, thus entering a process that may go through screening and testing, leading to adequate referral to quality learning provision. 



The Unit has been structured so as to provide a guided tour of key resources and best practices for policy creation and implementation regarding outreach strategies, motivational learner support and strategies that can increase learner persistence. Watch the following video to learn about why outreach, motivation and persistence are important!


Mié, 21/10/2020 - 13:27EBSN CBS Editor Video

Download the script of the video


The objectives of the OER

The objective of this unit following up on EBSN’s Capacity Building Series on EPALE is to present a structured collection of resources and examples which will 

  • enable stakeholders to better understand the importance of cohesive and well-planned outreach strategies (campaigns, information, guidance and referral provision) for basic skills provision for adults,
  • enable stakeholders to get deeper insights on the importance of learner motivation and how this can be fostered, supported and maintained,
  • explain the difference between initial motivation and persistence, and the importance of both elements in ensuring the efficiency of the learning provision. 


Challenges in awareness and participation

A considerable percentage of the learners who most need to increase the level of their basic skills will not seek the courses that are organised. For many potential learners in the target group one of the main reasons for this will be the lack of awareness of both their skill level and of the existing learning offer. The need for raised awareness can be met by carefully designed information campaigns which have the potential to attract the learner to individual guidance points, thus entering a process that may go through screening and testing, leading to adequate referral to quality learning provision. 


Why is awareness about basic skills issues so important?

Good basic skills are a necessity for inclusion, employment, active citizenship and social cohesion. Adults with poor basic skills are increasingly disconnected from the labour market, less likely to be socially active or politically engaged, and more likely to suffer health problems. For national and regional governments, low skills in the population lead to greater social spending and poorer, less dynamic economies. 

Awareness raising addressed to policy makers is a starting point, since the basic skills issue needs to be a focus in the political agenda. Equally important is to address the stakeholders that act as intermediaries and are contact points for the target group. Provider organisations need also to be made more acquainted with the nature of adult basic skills needs and with all the elements that need to be present to offer quality provision. And last but not least, it is important to inform the public at large, most of all the potential learners.

A number of European countries have in recent years tried to implement national strategies to meet the needs of adults with low levels of basic skills, but not all strategies have met with the expected success. Many providers have reported little demand of the courses they offered. The target group seems to have been either unaware of their need for training, convinced that they could not be trained (lack of self-confidence), overwhelmed by the challenges involved in engaging in a process that reminds them too forcibly of schooling, or hindered by a series of practical obstacles like lack of time or money. 

More sensitive and carefully designed information strategies showing real understanding of the target group, can increase the adults’ motivation to improve their skills. For many adults, poor basic skills are a source of embarrassment and even shame. There is evidence that good media campaigns can reduce the sense of taboo surrounding poor basic skills while informing the general population about the true extent of the problem.

Awareness about the exact nature of the need for functional basic skills needs also to be raised among a series of stakeholders in the educational, employment, health and social sector. There is evidence of some lack of understanding about the difference between initial literacy (having grasped the principles of reading and writing) and functional literacy (having automatised the reading and writing processes so that they can fully serve their purposes). Stakeholders in contact with the potential target group need also to understand that adult learners are a very heterogeneous target group and have spiky skills profiles. A moderately good level of vocational skills is no guarantee for a functional level of basic skills. Raised levels of awareness and knowledge about basic skills, both among the target group and among a wide range of stakeholders, are an important factor for the success of policy implementation.


Key resources

European Commission 2015. Improving Policy and Provision for Adult Learning in Europe. ET 2020 Report by Working Group on Adult Learning 2014-2015.Focus on chapter 2 on basic skills and take a look at the infographic on page 21!
ELINET. Report on ELINET’s awareness raising toolkit


The benefits of outreach strategies

The adult learners who most need to increase the level of their basic skills are the ones that least engage in learning. Well-designed outreach strategies are essential to raise the learners’ interest, get them to seek guidance, and commit to a learning path. Read Graciela Sbertoli’s blogpost as an introduction to efficient outreach strategies. 

Watch the video testimony on the Taking the first step campaign of the Irish National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA), as an example of promoting basic skills programs in the media: Eamon is a student who shares his positive story about returning to education to improve his literacy and numeracy.


Mié, 21/10/2020 - 13:22EBSN CBS Editor Video

Source: NALA.

How can outreach strategies benefit basic skills programs?

Adults may have many reasons to keep away from lifelong learning initiatives. Disadvantaged groups are under-represented in learning participation in all European countries. They are often unaware of existing learning opportunities and do not know how to participate. European studies have also shown that learning providers often lack specifically designed approaches to reach that target group. They do not know how to develop and implement tailored learning offers that will attract disadvantaged groups. Developing innovative educational approaches and structures as well as carefully designed information is a key element of efficient outreach.

Outreach strategies can be considered as  the sum of the initiatives taken to get hold of the potential learner’s attention, enable the person to grasp both the need for further learning and see a learning path ahead, get the needed guidance and be referred to adequate learning provision, and take the necessary steps to access that provision.

Adults with low levels of basic skills often have low confidence in their ability to learn and are therefore less likely to take up training offers. On the other hand, research has found that if they do engage in learning and experience progress, they become confident learners who will continue in a lifelong learning path. Well-designed outreach measures that target those adults who would otherwise not engage in basic skills provision are crucial for the success of policy in this field.


Key resources

Carpentieri, J.D. 2014. Improving basic skills in adulthood: Participation and motivation. 
EPALE blogpost by Graciela Sbertoli: Outreach strategies for sustainable basic skills provision.

On The Move project summary: European best practice in outreach, educational counselling and low-treshold learning opportunities for disadvantaged learners. 

This handbook presents 33 European best practice examples on how to include persons from vulnerable groups in the world of Lifelong Learning. Many of the examples relate to outreach for basic skills provision.


The importance of learner motivation and persistence

Adult learning in general is based on a voluntary commitment on the part of the learner and depends on high levels of individual motivation. Unfortunately, research shows that the lower the level of education an adult has reached, the less motivated he/she tends to be for further learning. 

Motivation leads the individual to engage in learning but needs to be maintained. Outreach can get the learner “through the door”, persistence will be needed to continue despite difficulties until the desired goal is attained.

Why do some of adult learners successfully reach the end of their planned learning path while others drop out mid-ways? Adults lead complex lives and may experience many situations that curtail the time they can allocate to learning. Many types of external obstacles may appear after they have engaged in a course. They may also become discouraged, especially if they feel the offer is not completely relevant to their interests or their needs. 

The amount of effort and practice needed to develop one’s basic skills— several thousands of hours for adults who start at a very low level —makes supporting persistence one of the most important and challenging aspects of designing effective basic skills offer. To encourage persistence, it is important to ensure that the learning goals are within feasible distance, so that new targets can be continuously set, and the learner is aware of progress. The structure of the learning provision needs also to be very flexible, so that obstacles that cause a break in the learning path are not allowed to result in the learner dropping out of the offer altogether. Learners may “dip out” for some time, provided they come back and fulfill their learning path. Good programs will help them do that.

Policy makers and learning providers have often talked about “learner retention”. This seems to be the same concept as learner persistence, but the focus is entirely different. Learner retention is a provider-centred concept, while persistence puts the learner at the centre, which is an important factor for policy success in the field of basic skills.

The good quality of the offer is of course an essential factor in ensuring learner’s persistence. Teacher training focusing very specifically on the different basic skills, on the importance of learner-centred approaches, on how to make the provision relevant and flexible, and on the didactics and tools (including digital tools) to be employed, is an essential factor. This is important both as initial training and as Continuous Professional Development. 


Key resources

European Commission (2015). Supporting the work on policy guidance on basic skills for adults. 

This study provides the Commission with input to inform policy discussions on adult basic skills. Read chapter 2 for an overview on how adult basic skills impact the individual adult learners!

ET 2020 Working Group on Adult Learning (2015). Policies to increase participation of adults. 

This summary of country reports present policies aiming at increasing participation of adults in basic skills programs. 

NRDC (2008). Research briefing: Persistence.

Read this briefing to know more about what research says about learner persistence.

Melrose. (2014). Encouraging participation and persistence.

Read chapter 2.2 on page 17 on models of participation and persistence in education to gain insight into the theoretical background. 

European Commission 2015. Adult Education and Training in Europe: Widening Access to Learning Opportunities. Eurydice report.

Read chapter 5 on outreach and awareness raising and comprehensive guidance services.














Sections of the OER

Section 1The first part of the OER presents strategies for successful outreach programs, good practices from the EU and other tools (e.g. media awareness campaigns, workplace outreach programs etc).Section 2In this section you can read about recommended actions supporting learner motivation and persistence with practical examples.Section 3This part is dedicated to complex measures that can support learner motivation and persistence on the systemic level. You can learn about guidance services, funding models and other measures.


Access a list of the key resources used in the OER here!


Login (17)

Users have already commented on this article

Inicia sesión o Regístrate para publicar comentarios.

¿Quieres otro idioma?

Este documento también está disponible en otros idiomas. Por favor, selecciona un de abajo.
Switch Language

Want to write a blog post ?

Don't hesitate to do so! Click the link below and start posting a new article!

Últimos debates

Adults' Employment and Inclusion international Congress by public official institution, Totally free of charge, English - Spanish, Virtual and Face-to-face

International, Conference, official, free , English, Spanish, Virtual, Face-to-face, Adult, Education


¿Es posible una nueva metodología de formación online para desempleados con discapacidad?



Latest News

Próximos eventos