The purposes of this literature review are threefold. First, this review summarises findings of the research from the last decade in six fields identified by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) as critical to its forward planning: (1) the economic, personal and social returns to learning; (2) the quality and effectiveness of provision; (3) the number of learning hours needed for skills gain; (4) learner persistence; (5) the retention and loss of skills over time; (6) the literacy and numeracy skills that are needed. Second, this review assesses this evidence base in terms of its quality and robustness, identifying gaps and recommending ways in which the evidence base can be extended and improved. Thirdly, this review attempts to interpret the evidence base to suggest, where possible, how returns to ALN learning for individuals, employers and wider society might be increased through effective and cost-effective interventions.
This review was undertaken by SQW, NRDC and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) with additional assistance from a panel of experts from the London Knowledge Lab, the Centre for the Economics of Education and NRDC, all at the Institute of Education, London, and the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (NIACE). It was carried out rapidly, over a period of 13 weeks between March and May 2011, in four stages: bibliographic searches and document retrieval (conducted by the NFER using keywords and search strategies devised by SQW and NRDC); review of sources and population of review templates in NVivo software; analysis of review templates and drafting of the report, including consultation with the project’s panel of experts; reporting to BIS. The age range to be covered by this review was from 19 upwards, and evidence was to be drawn primarily from English-language and UK-based sources.