Adult formal learning classes can boost wellbeing: Study

by L&D22 Sep 2016

No matter what subject you’re learning about, taking part in the weekly education sessions can boost wellbeing, according to new research.

A team from Oxford University’s department of experimental psychology in partnership with the Worker's Educational Association (WEA) studied seven day-time adult education classes.

All the classes took place over seven months and included a break halfway through. The participants also completed questionnaires at the beginning of their courses, after three months, and at the end of the seven months.

The courses involved one of three activities: creative writing, crafts or singing.

The results found that participants at all seven classes had improved mental and physical health and reported more satisfaction with their lives when they completed the courses.

Indeed, the leader of the research Dr Eiluned Pearce said the people reported increased self-confidence, a greater feeling of control over their lives and more willingness to take on new challenges.

“Some said the classes made them more motivated to be more active, despite the classes not specifically involving physical activity,” said Dr Pearce.

“Participants also said that the classes broadened their networks of friends and gave them an increased sense of belonging. We also found that the more someone felt part of their group, the more their health and wellbeing improved.”

During the study, each person was asked to identify people in the class whose name they could remember, whether or not they felt connected to that person, and whether they had talked to that person during class.

Dr Pearce said: "The results showed that those in the singing and creative writing groups built up relationships with other individuals more quickly than the crafters, and singers felt more connected to the class as a whole more quickly than both the other groups.

"While this confirms our earlier finding that singing has an 'ice-breaker effect' compared to other activities, it shows that other activities may enable people to increase their social networks just as much, even if it takes them longer to feel connected to their group as a whole."

Moreover, the co-author Dr Jacques Launay said that while much of their previous work has demonstrated the importance of music, it is likely that the most socially bonding activities are always those that are personally chosen and enjoyed.

Howard Croft, WEA Regional Education Manager, said: 'The findings reiterate the feedback that we have had from our students over the years: learning is a fantastic way to boost your self-esteem and confidence.

“Also of note, is its therapeutic effect. For many students, creative courses are a means of finding a new outlet for expressing their feelings.

“This can be of immense help during times of personal difficulty or emotional upheaval, such as divorce or bereavement. Simply going to a course can offer much-needed respite.

“For others, learning can be an opportunity to reignite a former passion. This could be anything from a subject which you enjoyed at school to an area which you are interested in. Whatever your reason, there are so many benefits to be gained by signing up to a course.”