There are no simple answers to the question of why some adult learners persist with their studies while others do not. Even the best teachers and providers will find that some of their students leave their course early. Some of these individuals will never return to formal learning. Often, however, they are merely dipping out rather than dropping out. To understand persistence, which has been under-researched in the UK, it is essential to distinguish it from retention. Whereas the latter is a provider-centred concept, persistence puts the learner at the heart of the equation – in effect, turning retention inside out. NRDC is currently engaged in a multi-year study of persistence for the Quality Improvement Agency (QIA). This paper summarises findings from this ongoing study, as well as those from other recent research projects, including a series of NRDC practitioner-led research initiatives investigating persistence and perseverance.
One of the challenges we are now researching is how formal learning providers can support learners even when they are no longer in formal learning, and how to encourage them to move back into it again. That will require more flexibility from providers, and more support for learners who are outside any formal learning environment. In a word, the system must become more demand-led.