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Research Briefing

Plain English Summary

Research Summary

Initial Poster

Outcomes Poster

Full Report






     Phase III Research Network:

Learning Lives: Learning, Identity and Agency in the Life Course (2003 - 2007)

This project has now completed. Major outputs include:



Prof. Gert Biesta (University of Stirling)
Prof. John Field (University of Stirling)
Prof. Ivor Goodson (University of East Anglia)
Prof. Phil Hodkinson (University of Leeds)
Dr Flora Macleod (University of Exeter)

Initial Project Summary

Learning Lives was the first large-scale longitudinal study of its kind into the learning biographies of 150 adults aged between 25 and 65+. Through interviews, observation and documentation and by using a life-history approach the project traced and reconstructed the learning biographies of a wide range of different adults in different contexts and stages of their lives, both retrospectively and over a 30-month ‘real time’ period. The life-history study was complemented by a longitudinal survey study over the same period.

The research focussed on the significance and impact of life course transitions upon learning, identity and agency. Key transitions include migration (travellers, international and intra-national migrants, asylum seekers), life, family and community transitions (individual, community and family support), age/stage transitions (careers guidance; adult education) and work transitions (redundancy; work based learning and trade union education).

Learning Lives aimed to provide an empirical informed understanding of the reality of learning throughout the lifespan from the point of view of those for whom learning does – or does not – matter. It aimed to deepen understanding of the complexities of learning throughout the lifecourse, with a focus on the relationships between learning, identity and agency. On the basis of this, the project identified, implemented and evaluated learning, teaching and guidance strategies for sustained positive impact upon learning opportunities, dispositions and practices and upon the empowerment of adults.

Learning Lives worked closely together with a range of different project partners in order to gain access to different contexts and to provide knowledge and understanding that will be of direct use for those engaged in the teaching, support and guidance of adults in different ages and stages of their lives. Project partners included the National Institute for Careers Education and Counseling, the Third Age Network and the Exeter Diocesan Board of Christian Care. The project also collaborated with the Learning and Skills Development Agency, the Scottish Further Education Unit, the Lifelong Learning Foundations and other organisations concerned with the formal and informal learning of adults.

More information is available on the project’s website:



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