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EPALE - Piattaforma elettronica per l'apprendimento degli adulti in Europa


Strategies for sustainable basic skills learning

di Alexander Braddell
Lingua: EN
Document available also in: DE FR IT PL ES

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strategies for sustainable basic skills learning

Over the past two years, the Erasmus+ project, Autonomous Literacy Learners – Sustainable Results (ALL-SR), has been investigating the use of non-directive coaching to support self-directed literacy, language and numeracy learning.

Why self-directed literacy and language learning? Why coaching to support it?

The project’s premise is that adults need literacy, language and numeracy skills in order to solve problems which emerge from and reflect the ever-changing circumstances of daily life (including work, personal finance, etc.). To solve these problems, adults require not just knowledge of and about literacy, language and numeracy, but literacy, language and numeracy problem-solving skills, plus the confidence to apply those skills in real life, in the face of difficulty.

The ability to do this is perhaps a more useful definition of literacy, language and numeracy skills than some of the fine-grained standards and curricula we currently work with. After all, isn’t this sort of literacy, language and numeracy problem-solving exactly how effective literacy, language and numeracy learners – you and I, in other words – maintain, improve and expand their skills?

This implies a shift of focus from instruction to the fostering of learner autonomy and a repositioning of learners, from consumers of tuition to self-directed basic skills learners. Which is where non-directive coaching comes in.

Non-directive coaching is an approach specifically designed to help people become more effective self-directed learners. The coach uses reflective questioning to help the learner:

  • clarify their goals
  • frame a time-limited ‘learning project’ to address those goals, and then
  • monitor and evaluate their own progress as they work through their action plan.

The coach does this purely through supportive, reflective questioning – never by teaching or guiding (which would take responsibility away from the learner) – and thus helps the learner to think things through at their own pace and in their own words. In this way, coaching helps the learner to develop the confidence, awareness and strategies they need to take responsibility for their own learning.

Non-directive coaching has proved powerfully effective in a range of other contexts, but we know relatively little about its potential in the field of adult literacy and language learning. What does it have to offer? What are its limitations? What might coaching for self-directed literacy and language learning look like in practice?

The ALL-SR project has explored those questions through pilots in further education, community learning and workplace learning in Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. Full results will be available in the autumn – and we will share these through further blogs – but it is already clear that this approach has great potential.

In the words of one pilot coach, it ‘empowers, engages, involves and respects the learner.’ The learners themselves reported significant gains in confidence (which they attributed directly to feeling ‘in control’ of the learning process) and the development and application of new and effective personal learning strategies.


OECD (2013a), OECD Skills Outlook 2013, First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills. Paris: OECD.

OECD (2013b), Skilled for life? Key Findings from the Survey of Adult Skills. Paris: OECD.

Whitmore, J. (2002), Coaching for performance (Third edition). London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Author Alexander Braddell

Alexander Braddell is a member of the ALL-SR project team. UK-based, he has worked for many years in the field of workplace language, literacy and numeracy learning and has a particular interest in non-formal and informal learning. Other recent European work includes the transfer-of-innovation project TDAR , and the Language for Work Network

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