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EPALE - Elektronisch platform voor volwasseneneducatie in Europa


Picture This! Wellbeing and Older Learners

door Cath Harcula
Taal: EN
Document available also in: FR RO

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.

Active ageing

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. 

Personal experience

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.

Keep Learning


Keep learning photograph by Cath Harcula

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.



Connect photograph by Cath Harcula

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. 

Be Active


St Pancras Be Active photograph by Cath Harcula

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.

Take notice


Take Notice photograph by Cath Harcula

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


Give to Others photograph by Cath Harcula

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 author photograph

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.



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  • afbeelding van Ragnhild DAHL-CUNNINGHAM
    I have worked with older learners over many years and Cath’s blog reflects the importance of lifelong learning and the special importance of learning for an ageing population perfectly.
  • afbeelding van Ruth Mable
    What a lovely blog!  Succinct, relevant and motivating! Certainly proves the important role Adult Learning has in society.  
  • afbeelding van Jonny Lear
    A lovely read. 'Give to others' very important in the context of collaboration. As a working student undertaking a masters course, the value of my peers is one of the most important aspects of my studies. The study programme involves students from all walks of life, different ages, experiences - all of which provide a unique perspective to the topics we learn. By sharing our experiences we draw from a rich resource of knowledge.
  • afbeelding van Jim Beizsley
    As usual an excellent piece. Concise to the point, a valuable overview that should be shared more widely.
  • afbeelding van Brian Caul
    An inspiring and very topical piece.
  • afbeelding van J Christophe Wells
    We are living in an ageing society and therefore intitiatives like this are of great important to an every increasing number of people. This is an example that can be applied to different contexts and locations and used as a model to be followed and adapted as appropriate. Bravo!