A persistent gathering
Moya Wilkie summarises the NRDC annual international conference
How many LLN* tutors does it take to change a light-bulb? I don't know but, if everyone at NRDC's 6th International Conference had decided to change career, there was enough expertise in the room to set up a very successful electricity business.
More than 130 delegates gathered to debate the themes of Social Inclusion, Persistence and Progression, and much more besides. Nearly 20% were teachers, with another third in weekly contact with learners, so discussions were firmly grounded in practice. An impressive 65% had 10 or more years' experience in LLN and, with representatives from New Zealand, Canada and the USA, as well as from Europe and all parts of the UK, the wealth and breadth of expertise was palpable.
The topics covered ranged from the macro - the Director of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, Adama Ouana, challenged us to consider 'When is a society free of illiteracy?' - to the micro - Sam Duncan presented initial findings from her investigations with adult learners into 'What happens when we read aloud?'
Adama's plea for more research, especially comparative work to make the most of what already exists, was supported by Helen Kaczmarek, then Acting Head of the DIUS Skills for Employability Unit. Helen acknowledged that the strength of Skills for Life relies on the strength of its partners and the data, research and evaluation they provide.
The opening plenary explored the growing body of knowledge on persistence. Research into persistence has shown that the most significant barriers to progression are not socio-economic but instead are the attitudes of learners themselves and the practitioners and organisations they learn with. (NRDC's QIA*-funded project 'Motivating Skills for Life learners to persist, progress and achieve' is producing practitioner and professional development materials .)
In another plenary, John Bynner discussed NRDC work comparing UK and US data to explore connections and causality related to digital, economic and literacy divides . For example, initial findings suggest that literacy skills may decrease when people stop using PCs regularly. These and other findings are raising many new questions for research.
When Positive = Negative
Good practice was the clarion call of the speakers discussing health literacy, who noted the similar assumptions made by medical professionals worldwide. Even if polysyllabic medical jargon is avoided, common words can take on different meanings: for example, a 'positive' blood test isn't usually cause for celebration. See p28 for a discussion of these issues.
Moya Wilkie is Associate Director: Business and Communications at NRDC
Presentations from the conference (6th-7th March 2008) can be found at www.nrdc.org.uk/intconf2008
 To find out more about this project and available resources, go to www.stickwithit.org.uk
 Publication forthcoming (NRDC 2008) from project 'LLN and Digital Learning Divides: a Great Britain-USA comparitive study'
* See Glossary