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Adult Learning: "Sometimes bad things have to happen before good things can."

By Marie Neal-Smith, Head of Adult Curriculum.

As we find ourselves in week 8 of lockdown and I reflect on week 1 and 2, I feel a shift from our cultural obsession of always having to spend time in a productive and fruitful way, to one of looking to the future and how this will be, both personally in our family lives and in returning to work and study. We know that for adult students, their lives often involve a combination of all of these factors. Indeed, the mantra in the early weeks of lockdown was one of doing things: home schooling, working from home, simultaneously spinning plates with all aspects of our lives, whilst living at the same pace (or trying to) as pre-lockdown, with the same output and with our mental well-being intact. Suddenly, we would find our inner discipline and emerge from our confinement as master bakers, experts in playing an instrument, with increased fitness to that of an Olympic athlete, having learnt a whole raft of brand-new skills that we always wanted to master: “If only we had the time.” The reality as we know now is very different, for the majority of us anyway.

The situation we find ourselves in has been referred to by some as “collective trauma.” Our sense of normality has been turned upside down and we all share uncertainty about what the future holds, as none of us have experienced anything like this after all. Endless information put out on media platforms share the good, the bad, and the ugly Covid-19 stories of the day, holding us all in emotional limbo. So how do we find a pathway back to normal, albeit a new normal?

What has happened so far:

  • A sense of community has returned. We might cross the road when somebody approaches, but we are more likely to smile and say hello, help our neighbours and clap for all front-line workers, as we are all now part of the Covid-19 collective.
  • We recognise that home and work need to live in harmony together, with family prevailing. It has taken a massive global reboot for many of us to come to this realisation, and it’s one that will be a struggle to let go of when lockdown is lifted, perhaps maybe we won’t.
  • We are resilient. As human beings we are adaptable. This is not to say we find it easy, but generally we step up, and some of us may have even surprised ourselves.
  • We want to move forward, emerge from lockdown and build a brighter future.
  • Without a doubt, many of us have surpassed our own expectations and embraced technology.

What we can do together:

  • Plan and build a responsive, flexible adult curriculum for the next academic year, recognising the ways that we want to learn, what we want to learn and how we learn it may be different from before.

Adapt our provision to accommodate:

  • Those who have been furloughed and are looking to reskill
  • Those who would like to learn new skills for employment
  • Keyworkers who want to upskill into other areas and progress in their career
  • Those who want to continue with skills learnt at home during lockdown, which may turn into thoughts of a new direction in employment or returning to employment, personal development or just to try something new and reconnect with a group of people.

It has been said that sometimes bad things have to happen to make us stop and look around. As the country deals with this pandemic, that is my overriding sense of the this, and is how I square it off in my mind – why else would this be happening, right? If not to come out of it better, stronger, happier and more fulfilled. There is an opportunity. It is expected that there will be an increased demand for distance learning, blended learning and of course increased interest in the social and healthcare sector as the country moves into recovery. We are all becoming well versed in the importance of mental health and well-being, digital and infection control. With this in the forefront of adult education, there may be no better time to think about becoming nurses, medics, counsellors, carers, IT consultants etc. The list goes on, and surely presents an opportunity for a brighter future. I hope so.

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