Understanding and measuring returns to adult learning

April 17, 2014

Today SRDC is releasing the findings of the Adult Learning and Returns to Training Project. The three-year project created a framework for the development and assessment of learning programs ranging from workplace literacy courses to advanced postsecondary studies.

Governments in Canada support a myriad of adult learning programs. Such programs can, for example, help the disadvantaged to prepare for productive working careers or assist workers in the transition to new technologies in the workplace.

Recent research on adult learning has provided useful insights on some programs but an overall analytical framework for understanding, classifying, and consistently measuring the various types of programs has been lacking. A more systemic approach would help to answer important questions about adult training. How can policy-makers decide which aspects of adult learning merit new investments? How can program managers and trainers determine whether their courses are yielding the intended results?

Such questions require a framework that addresses both the broad sweep of adult learning programs and the details of performance measurement systems. Employment and Social Development Canada engaged SRDC and the Canadian Labour Market and Skills Researcher Network (CLSRN) to propose an adult learning framework and to conduct a number of studies to illustrate its use.

The project took a systemic approach to adult learning. The approach features a roadmap to conducting comprehensive cost-benefit analyses of adult learning activities. This conceptual framework nests within a typology that describes the overall structure of the adult learning system. The toolbox also includes a practical guide to assess the quality of evidence from adult learning research and evaluation projects.

These core elements of the analytical framework were used to conduct a review of adult learning research to assess the state of knowledge in the field. The review found that existing research was concentrated on only a few elements of the adult learning system, leaving important knowledge gaps. In particular, the lack of high quality studies related to basic skills programs, the benefits of training for employers, and the non-financial benefits of training impairs decision-making by all those involved in the training system.

The framework has already been put to use in the development of major new projects, such as UPSKILL – a foundational learning program in the tourism and accommodation sector that will be the subject of our next release.

For more information on the Adult Learning and Returns to Training Project please see the Adult Learning and Returns to Training Overview and the Adult Learning and Returns to Training Research Program.