Understanding evidence use in adult learning and skills


Using findings from research and evaluation is essential to facilitate evidence-informed decision making across the adult learning and skills sector. This is especially pertinent at a time of rapid and far reaching change in how adult education is funded, commissioned and delivered. It is important to understand how and in what ways evidence is considered by commissioners, policymakers and practitioners to inform their decision making about existing and future approaches to delivering meaningful outcomes for learners.

The Department for Education (DfE) funded this project to better understand how organisations and institutions across the adult learning and skills sector engage with and use research and evidence to inform their decision making. The project will help to inform how organisations in the learning and skills sector could be better supported to use evidence informed approaches, and how future research and outputs can be created to encourage effective evidence use.

Key findings

A number of barriers to research and evidence use were identified through the project. One substantial barrier is the lack of a collated evidence base for learning and skills issues. This can prevent organisations from accessing all available evidence on a given topic, especially given the time and resource constraints faced by many stakeholders. There were also concerns about the validity of some evidence, and a lack of understanding amongst some organisations as to how to assess this. These factors can often lead to limited or partial evidence use or a reliance on local networks to inform decision making.

A number of gaps in the existing evidence base and areas for future research were also identified. This included identifying effective approaches to engaging and supporting disadvantaged groups, assessing the impact of soft skills developing in adult learning; and understanding what works in relation to devolution of the Adult Education Budget.

Key recommendations

There is ample scope to support and improve evidence use across the sector. This should be focused on addressing barriers to the use of existing evidence, the development of new research that focusses on addressing gaps in the current evidence base and ensuring that research outputs are accessible and easy-to-use. As such, a number of key recommendations are included in the report:

  1. There is a clear need for the creation of a central evidence hub that collates and reviews existing evidence in the adult learning and skills sector.
  2. Mechanisms for cooperation and collaboration should be created to support knowledge building, trial development and future evidence generation across the learning and skills sector.
  3. The development of toolkits and training that aim to improve organisational capacity would support evidence informed decision making.
  4. Research and evidence generated by government and other organisations should continue to make efforts to produce outputs that support clear translation of findings and facilitate effective dissemination.