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Can Adult Education be a means for promoting 'Happiness' through quality learning?

by Mahira Spiteri


Can Adult Education be a means for promoting 'Happiness' through quality learning?

Sustainable happiness is happiness that contributes to individual,

community and/or global well-being without exploiting other people, the

environment or future generations. (O’Brien, 2005)




Adult learning is often portrayed as being essential in order to keep up with changes at the workplace. Such changes create the context for the provision of flexible pathways to skills acquisition and personalized career pathing. Adult learning is here valued for its ability to address challenges facing the workforce, such as skills gaps, employee diversity and talent retention, and is considered a must to succeed in a constantly changing world of work. Yet this creates a very skewed perception of the potential of adult learning, in that it portrays it as being instrumental to work demands, rather than the actual fulfilment of learners. What about the potential of adult learning in engaging people in tasks that provide them with fulfilment, energy, happiness and what Csikszentmihalyi termed as “flow”?


Details of the online discussion: 11 July 2018 | 10:00 CET | Dr Vincent Caruana


This online discussion will consider three questions (1.5 hours per question):

Question 1: From your experience what is the link between adult learning and wellbeing and happiness? How is lifelong learning connected with the pursuit of happiness?

Question 2:As lifelong learning is increasingly commodified in the global marketplace, learning has become more of an individual goal and responsibility”. (Gouthro, 2006). To what extent does the emphasis of linking educational initiatives with potential financial gain impact on the pursuit of happiness? Negatively? Positively? Otherwise? Does this create a skew towards individual success as opposed to developing community-based learning initiatives?

Question 3: What is the role of adult educators in thinking through and taking up with our learners complex issues connected with the pursuit of happiness? How can one affirm the role of adult education as linked to the good life within communities and broader social goals in face of the increasing influence of the marketplace?


Dr Vincent Caruana has for the past 30 years been very active in the Social and Development NGO scene, both locally and at a European level, having co-founded Malta’s first Fair Trade Organisation and Malta’s Network of Development Organisations.  He is an established mentor and trainer of various Civil Society Organisations, and is also experienced in project management and monitoring and evaluation. He is also a member of the President’s Foundation for the Well-Being of Society.

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Līga Vecvērdiņa portretas
Manuprāt, sevis pilnveidošana mācoties, apgūstot jaunas zināšanas, kuras varēs pielietot dzīvē nes šo prieku, laimi. Iegūtais nes gandarījumu par paveikto, tātad arī prieku, labsajūtu. Savā pieredzē mācoties par pedagogu man bija liels prieks iegūt šo izglītību, jo tagad varu darīt to, kas patīk, kā arī zinu, ka šo darbu ne visi spēj, kas sniedz vēl lielāku lepnumu par to ko daru, kas savukārt sniedz man labsajūtu savā darba vidē un kopumā arī šajā manas dzīves daļā. 
Visu dzīvi mācoties mēs atklājam un uzzinām kaut ko jaunu. Ja cilvēks nejūtas laimīgs ar to ko nodarbojas, manuprāt, tad mācīšanās tiešā veidā saistās ar laimes meklējumiem, jo cilvēks mācās, lai būtu tur kur vēlas būt un justos laimīgs, apmierināts. Protams, ne vienmēr cilvēks visu mūžu mācās lai justos laimīgs, iespējams vēlas paplašināt savu redzesloku, bagātināt pieredzi, un jau bez šīm lietām viņš var justies laimīgs.
Mahira Spiteri portretas
Thank you for participating in the online discussion on adult education and happiness. We have received 57 comments from 17 participants from Finland, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and UK. This is what truly makes EPALE a community of adult learning professionals! (NSS Malta)
Brian Caul portretas
Apologies that I was unable to join the discussion this morning. I have some brief comments on the three interesting questions.
I am interpreting happiness as a state of joy or gladness. It is arguable that a primary objective of adult education is to “train” the learners in requisite skills for employment and therefore enable them to have a reasonable quality of life. However this is a purely utilitarian view of education. To achieve learner “happiness” as I define it, there has to be a process of transformation. The learner has to be liberated from the mental clutter which has accumulated from birth. This includes passed on assumptions which are culture-bound or even peculiar to a particular locality; and the taboos and normative expectations which are the ingredients of social control. It is arguable that many of these features are functional in that they ensure an equilibrium for the society or community in question, but they are by their very nature restrictive. They may affirm homeostasis but they do not encourage growth. Personal development through learning involves the liberating recognition that there is a wide array of ways in which to view the world and define the issues within it. This cultivates tolerant and critical judgement, and is an emancipating force for the individual learner. Such discovery can bring liberating joy or happiness to the learner. Collectively, it can be the basis of greater citizenship skills and awareness which lead to positive social changes for the common good. 
The western world is beset by populist politics which feeds off fearful individualism. Adult education has a crucial future role in helping our societies move towards true celebration of diversity and mutual respect, in addition to producing adequately skilled workforces. This form of shared learning can also bring the joys of discovery.
Antonella Giles portretas

The satisfaction of having achieved a goal you have challenged yourself to achieve is great for any learner, yet I believe that it is greater in the case of adult learners.  From my experience, I feel that the skill of personalised learning is one of the greater skills we can impart to our adult students.  It is indeed the keys to ‘happiness’ since we are giving them the skills to pursue their learning at their own pace leading to the personal satisfaction that they have managed to acquire the knowledge through self-taught.  

Vincent CARUANA portretas
I would like to thank all of you who have contributed to this discussion. As Laura Iveta Strode pointed out, the role of adult educators is very complex and focusing on the potential of adult learning in engaging people in tasks that provide them with fulfilment, energy, happiness and what Csikszentmihalyi termed as “flow” adds to this complexity. As Ramon Mangion and Christine Bertram suggested we are talking about necessary shifts of mindsets that move beyond the definitions of traditional adult education – a shift of mindset that requires “an intense self-reflection process.” 

Hope that this discussion contributed a bit in helping us reflect on our roles – including living with contradictions and trying to position ourselves within or without the marketplace, while fully aware of our role as linked to the good life within communities and broader social goals. And perhaps the comment “Let’s not be afraid of happiness” concludes better than I could have concluded myself! 
Antonella Giles portretas
Thank you for the fruitful discussion.  Unfortunately, due to work, I could not follow the discussion from the beginning.  But I have read many of the interesting contributions, many of which are by educators who have adult education at heart.  

May I share with you the following quote which I feel is very much in line with what has been discussed.
"Anyone who keeps learning, stays young."
Henry Ford
Christine Bertram portretas
Thank you, Vincent for an interesting discussion.

It is one of my favourite subjects in a way. Very complex. Motivations and flow states are one aspect of it (from a performance aspect - and learning in a way is performing), and then there's the "happiness industry". People's perceptions of happiness are equally intriguing. What I'm getting at is that it's just hugely interesting and it's gerat the topic has been picked up.
Brigita Kruder portretas

Learning  is always a hard job, process that take time and effort. Happiness in more side effect than an outcome of a process but in a country like Slovenia  which is among 10 world countries if we  consider suicides, happiness should be consider very seriously. Actually there is a document Vison of Slovenia in 2050  and one of the premises is: “In 2050, Slovenians are a happy people.!«

More on:

Least but not last I would like to thank you   initiated such an interesting theme for discussion. I do often, while motivating potential participants to join adult education use that fact that participating in lifelong learning ensure longer, healthier and better life. I strongly belive in   our centre's statement “Knowledge improves life!”

Brigita Kruder, EPALE ambassador 

Laura Iveta Strode portretas
AL activities bring people together and give new opportunities, challanges, perspectives for learners. AL make life brighter, meaningful and colourful.
The role of adult educators is very important and complex: being a teacher, facilitator, promoter to bring learners' experience into AL process, advisor, supporter, mate, personality etc. We are happy to have such professionals in Latvia. But adult educators need to receive more support in their professional development.
Christine Bertram portretas
Absolutely, Laura Iveta.

I think that's one of the core issues that the support that adult educators receive (if any) is sometimes not focused on the rather diverse roles they need to perform. There is support for curriculum development and delivery, but not much otherwise.