Adult education in times of crisis and change:
perspectives on access, learning careers and identities
ESREA Access, Learning Careers and Identities Network Conference
Second Call for Papers
University of Algarve, Faro, Portugal,
14-16 July, 20221
At the 2013 conference of this network in Linköping, Sweden the theme was ‘Times of change: The role of adult education in times of crisis. The notion of ‘times of change’ has become relevant again as a result of the pandemic and its effects on adult education, and the lives of both adult students and adult educators. The ESREA Access, Learning Careers and Identity Network Conference held in 2017 in Rennes, France moved to a different theme and interrogated the concept of learning contexts and identity. In Coimbra we built on the Rennes conference but also went back to aspects of the Linköping conference with the theme of ‘Adult education as a resource for resistance and transformation: Adult student voices, learning experiences and identities and the role of adult educators.
At the Faro conference we want to link back and extend on the ideas of changing times, transformation, access, learning approaches and identity. We cannot ignore the immense impact that the pandemic caused by COVID-19 has had on adult education and communities and society more widely. The theme of this conference stems from this issue and the consequences of this for a changing adult education. More broadly many countries have experienced an intense economic crisis, an increase in unemployment, intense changes in the working world, and an increase in social inequalities and poverty. It has also resulted in specific changes in higher education policies and practices, with the intensification of debates regarding learning and teaching using distance instruments and digital teaching.
This crisis has changed access to adult education, and the learning and teaching approaches as face-to-face teaching has been temporarily lost and replaced by digital teaching and distance learning in all forms of adult education (community education, further and higher education, work-based learning). This raises both old and new issues as the experiences of adult students have been transformed, especially regarding learning as a social experience. Having to teach remotely and digitally has also significantly changed the teaching experiences of adult educators. The mandatory use of online platforms resulted in the possibility to record lessons and offer an ‘asynchronous’ learning experience. On the one hand, this has helped non-traditional students with children at home or with full time jobs. This chance was, in some ways, ‘more’ than what they could afford in a non-pandemic situation. On the other hand, the lack of face-to-face social relationships may have caused a deep loss as relationships and social networks play an important role in the learning trajectories of these students (Finnegan, Merrill and Thunborg, 2014) and are crucial to the building and diversity of social capital (Field, 2000, 2005). Is this opportunity still in a possibility in an online learning environment? Is this possible with online learning or is it related only to face-to-face teaching in an educational institution?
Periods of confinement due to the new conditions in higher education and adult education more generally might also affect women and men differently, both students and educators alike. Did gender inequalities increase during the crisis in which we are living and how has this affected their learning and teaching experiences and family and community lives? If so what and how can we combat this through adult education? What impact has the new way of learning had on class, race, age and disability inequalities as well as the issues of access, learning careers and learning identities? The changes towards digital learning might also change the teaching experiences of adult educators. How did they change their professional practices in order to maintain their commitment to enhance people’s opportunities and learning within these new limitations and constraints?
Taking the crisis and its consequent changes as a departure point, we want to invite researchers to reflect on a multitude of dimensions of adult education in its broadest sense and in a range of contexts such as community education, further and higher education and workplace learning (informal, non-formal and formal contexts), as well as analysing inequalities such as class, gender, race, age and disability. And to discuss the positives as well as the negatives. We would also like to explore the impact this has had for researchers researching issues of access, learning careers and identity. Reflecting on past and current situations we would like to project to the future possibilities and implications and changes for adult education. What can we learn as adult educators and researchers from across Europe and beyond?
The conference welcomes papers, roundtables, and symposia, which address one or more of the following themes:

  • How has access to adult education and learning been affected by digital learning and what are adult students’ experiences of these processes.
  • How is the general uncertainty raised from the crisis we are living in affecting the work and professional identities of adult educators in community education, further and higher education and workplace learning?
  • Have inequalities such as class, gender, race, age and disability – already present in our system – increased or are at risk of being intensified in the near future?
  • How are different educational institutions innovating their practices/initiatives after the recent critical moments?
  • Methodological approaches and research in a time of crisis
  • What will adult education look like in the future?

1 In 18-20th July it will be organised, in the same venue, the meeting of the ESREA Gender and Adult Education network conference. If you want to participate in both events, please look at the ESREA web page for more information.