participatory methods
in adult education


exchange of good practice

Europe is becoming a learning society and citizens are required to constantly update their competences, not only with regard to the world of work but in an encompassing approach to participate in contemporary societies. Moreover, European societies face a rapid differentiation of educational pathways, opportunities and biographies. This increase in complexity from learners requires great effort into initiative taking, creativity, problem solving, risk assessment and decision taking, all of which requires learners to become stakeholders of their own learning process.

It however has been demonstrated, that learner groups with a disadvantaged background or those remote from learning have great difficulties to take ownership of their learning, without being empowered. Although a great deal of rhetoric about learner empowerment, adult education practice too often remains caught in traditional instruction methods, fixed curricula and pre-defined learning outcomes. It's in particular low achievers who suffer from this situation, because in the formal education system they often have made the experience that major parameters of their learning is out of their control, and thus never had the chance to develop a sense of ownership for their own learning.

Participate Poster
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PARTICIPATE promotes participatory design of learning assessment, and support educators and practitioners on its implementation.

A main result of the project is the PARTICIPATE design model, which reflects

  • the elements and processes making a participatory approach,
  • principles and guidelines for the participatory design of learning outcomes,
  • ways to integrate the model with existing adult education practice,
  • the capacities needed to effectively implement participatory design methods.

The PARTICIPATE partnership started from the assumption that the impact on disadvantaged target groups can be greatly increased if education providers manage to adopt participatory approaches and methods, and this way support their learners to develop a sense of ownership of their learning and to become lifelong learners. The overall objective of the PARTICIPATE project is to promote participatory methods in adult education and, more specifically to build a model for participatory design of learning outcomes.

Kickoff meeting | Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Germany | 9-10 Dec 2019

The project identified and examined good practice in the field and, from those derived a generic model for the design of participatory evaluation and assessment of learning outcomes, whereby the adult learner was included in the process of setting their own outcomes and indicators.

Instead of being initially presented with a final set of specific learning outcomes within an already agreed assessment framework, the learners are offered the opportunity to participate in determining how their course will be measured and evaluated.

Overview of Project
Final Conference
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Survey and Focus Groups

The summary report examines key insights from both learners and providers of these learning opportunities/ activities for adults. This includes a wide range of settings, including education and training service providers working in formal and informal settings, NGOs involved in community learning initiatives as well as public and private organisations working with adults in second chance education settings. The participants were asked to review their experience as a learner, teacher, trainer, facilitator, mediator or community worker. Whether involved in the survey or a focus group, the participants were invited to consider a specific course or group in which they were involved.

The aim of the survey was to allow such trainers and educationalists to document examples of participatory approaches, tools or instruments that have been effective in allowing the participant to have an input into their learning pathway. The data collected through this questionnaire creates the basis for this report and its trans-national reflection on good practices and new ideas. A set of follow up focus groups was carried out in each of the five countries to further interrogate the data and explore how this learning can inform the development of a model of participatory learning pathways.

In examining the range of learning opportunities, the survey and focus group look to the experiences of how the learner was included in any of the following elements:

1. The design of the course or group
2. The learning methods involved in course delivery/ group
3. The assessment approach and instruments

The survey questionnaire was used in Germany, Spain, Greece, Ireland and Romania. Focus groups also took place as a follow up to the data gathering and analysis. Some 59 people completed the questionnaire and a further 38 participated in focus groups.

This report presents the results of this consultation exercise. Where relevant, there are examples provided to illustrate the extent to which respondents experienced training as participants at the centre of the planning and assessment phases.

Before reviewing these research findings, the report looks to develop an understanding as to what is meant by participatory methods, their pedagogic origins in adult education and principles associated with these participatory pathways. This analysis provides a context for the final section that presents an emerging model of participant-led engagement within planning, delivery and assessment of training.

2nd Partner Meeting, Athens, Greece

Study visit to SNFCC Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center and the Greek National Library. SNFCC is a public space open to all, where everyone has free access and can participate in a multitude of cultural, educational, athletic, environmental and recreational activities and events.


Principles informing the Participate Model

The evidence presented in the summary report highlights that where a participatory approach is brought to bear on each phase of a programme (design, delivery and evaluation), this delivers a wide range of benefits to the learner experience at individual and group level, their empowerment and ability to meet learning outcomes.

From the perspective of the facilitator or trainer, there are important benefits linked to a more engaged and motivated set of participants, who better understand the course content, their learning goals and are willing to actively participate. These important factors in how a learning programme can be designed, delivered and evaluated are considered even more important given the experience of the pandemic during which large numbers of learners stepped away from course and programmes due to lack of motivation and engagement.

Based on our research findings we established a set of important principles, taking into account the work of the Council of Europe and work of Knowles on andragogy mentioned above and furthermore linked to the experience of learners and experts participating in the survey and range of focus groups in Ireland, Greece, Spain, Romania and Germany. These sets of guiding principles are linked to an approach that seeks to promote a local re-engagement with learning, addressing cultural and practical barriers and building a transformative approach where the learner is placed at the centre of the process.

The principles are grouped under three headings

1.    Learning Environment and Focus
2.    Barriers, Progression and Methodologies
3.    Diversity, Role Models and Benefits

Include learners’ voices
All learners should have a say in their learning. In particular disadvantaged groups need opportunities to empower themselves and thus have an active role in their learning environment.

Starting from regular consultation of learners (right through to the establishment of learners committees and advisory boards), there are many possibilities to include learners in the management and organisation of our teaching processes. Participatory learning spaces should be democratic and we should have a good understanding of learners’ needs.

Meet the learners in their environment
Learning does not always have to take place in a classroom setting. The first step in reaching out to learners may be simply to get them out of the house. We can meet them in different spaces, such as local parks or community centres.

While new learning spaces can be challenging for trainers and facilitators, these might be very rewarding for the participants. Future learners can be introduced to a social environment, in which they feel comfortable and which prepares for new learning experiences. Establishing spaces where participants can learn without fear or barriers is worth the effort. This is especially true for disadvantaged social groups.

Analyse and remove barriers
Barriers that keep people, especially disadvantaged groups, from participating in learning opportunities need to be examined in depth. Is accessibility an issue? Location, timing, setting, communication methods, cost, access to transport or childcare are key issues that should be examined.
Enable progression
Participatory learning should be seen as a continuous transitioning process and does not stop when a single course or programme has come to its end. Links, progression routes, guidance and signposting to informal, non-formal and formal learning opportunities as well as the labour market should be provided. Building connections with other types of learning spaces can help, such as visits to community meetings, workplaces, libraries and other community based organisations. Learners need to understand their learning outcomes and how new competences can be applied in different contexts.

Use innovative and empowering methodologies
Participatory learning practitioners need to adapt their methodologies to the diverse target groups they are working with, especially to those learners, which have particular learning needs.

The evidence above has looked at the experience of learners during the pandemic and while some learning experiences have been positive as online learning spaces became the norm. For many others, there was little consideration given to their specific needs and disengagement occurred as well as learning fatigue. There are many exciting and innovative tools available. The trainer and facilitator need to review these online approaches to ensure that they are promoting a positive and empowering participation pathway.

Use other learners as mentors
Mentors or learning ambassadors encourage people to engage in new participatory learning opportunities. Therefore it is essential to facilitate the work of positive role models in supporting harder to reach groups to participate. Especially socially disadvantaged adults will return to education and training because of support and positive learning examples. Additionally the mentors are learning themselves and gaining self-confidence too.

Increase diversity across connected learning spaces

Staff members, managers and facilitators from disadvantaged groups are essential in order to ensure the necessary diversity in participatory learning but also for being role models for potential learners. These learning pathways need to be inclusive, gender sensitive and diverse.

Focus on the benefits for the learners
Recognition of the importance and wider benefits of participatory learning is needed. The benefits go beyond the economic and employment-related, extending to social benefits, higher self-esteem, and wellbeing. It is important to deliver a positive message, promoting the personal, social, environmental and intergenerational benefits of participatory learning. Demonstrate that adult learning is not confined to any particular group of people and form of learning.

Through playing an active role in the learning pathway, from the design of the programme, the implementation of the content and approach, through to the assessment phase, the participant is fully empowered.

Taking place in an active learning environment, where barriers to progression are acknowledged and counteracted and where diversity is championed, the participatory learning experience offers an opportunity to trainers, facilitators and educationalists to fully engage their learners. Our evidence from the research indicates much stronger and more effective personal and group learning outcomes.

Three step participation learning pathway


The Participate Model

The narratives and testimonies of our learners and students collected through the research exercise as well as the insights through the expert feedback from our selected facilitators, trainers and educationalists come together to demonstrate the social value and transformative impact associated with building participatory approaches in learning spaces. Our report has highlighted examples as to how such approaches allow for the learner voice to develop, leading to improved learning outcomes right through from personal to community levels.

Moreover, we extrapolated a model for promoting a three step participation learning pathway. The model links the three core features of the approach and seeks to place participation at the centre of each step. The 8 principles outlined above inform each step and the specifics of the approach and practices are outlined below. Some specific resources and approaches are then highlighted that can be applied within such participatory methods.

2nd Partner Meeting, Athens, Greece
Work Session

Step 1: Design approach

  • Induction process allows for review of course or group structure and content
  • Participants are involved in identifying their own learning needs
  • Participants are supported to develop an individual learning plan or contract
  • Participants are included in ongoing discussions regarding the course or group structure
  • The course or group design is flexible enough to take participant feedback into account

Step 2: Implementation practices

  • Participants are involved in the selection of learning methods
  • Reflective learning methods are included such as learning journals/ passports
  • Active learning methods are included such as group projects, role-playing games and workshops
  • Participants can make use of discussion forums
  • The learning activities create a space for choice (i.e. possibility to choose between different learning tasks)
  • The course or group delivery is flexible enough to take participant feedback into account

Step 3: Assessment practices

  • Participants are involved in setting criteria for learning outcomes
  • The course or group has a greater focus on formative rather than summative approaches
  • The evaluation of the course or group makes use of self-assessment tools
  • Course or group providers provide ongoing feedback with regard to scoring of assessment instruments
  • The course or group assessment is flexible enough to take participant feedback into account

Examples that can be used in each of these participatory steps

  • Brainstorming
    Ask learners to think of any ideas that come to mind. List all the ideas without evaluation or judgement. The quantity, not the quality, is what matters. Ideas can be discussed later for practicality. Sometimes unlikely or seemingly ridiculous ideas lead to a more practical idea which would otherwise not have been considered.

  • Case studies
    Discuss an imaginary or real situation to encourage discussion. Use the case study to ask questions about an activity the group is working on.

  • Critical Incident
    Use problem situations to analyse advantages and disadvantages and possible solutions to a given situation. Pictures or drawings will help. For example: "A group has saved up a lot of money -- enough to build a chicken house and start up a chicken raising activity. Just before they go to buy the materials, the treasurer tells them all the money has been burnt. What should they do?" Hold a discussion on the issue.

  • Survey
    Make an open-ended questionnaire at the beginning of the course to identify the learning needs. Responses to this questionnaire can be discussed anonymously to make sure everyone is on the same page. It can also be done at the end of the course to get feedback.


2nd Learning Event (via Zoom), 24-25 September / 2 October 2020
Developing a questionnaire to explore participatory practice
2nd Learning Event (via Zoom), 24-25 September / 2 October 2020
What is a Focus Group? Questions to the Focus Group.

2nd Learning Event (via Zoom), 24-25 September / 2 October 2020
Adult education and learners’ participation

Paul Butler

Graham Attwell

Dr. Ciprian Fartusnic

Prof. Dr. Thomas Eckert

Natassa Kazantzidou

Dr. Randolph Preisinger-Kleine


Munich, Germany

NEXUS Research
Dublin, Ireland

Praxis und Wissenschaft
Projekt, Ingolstadt, Germany
Institute of Educational
Sciences, Bucharest
Pireaus, Greece
Pontydysgu Bridge to Learning
Valencia, Spain


Prof. Dr. Thomas Eckert

Lehrstuhl für Allgemeine Pädagogik,
Erziehung und Sozialisationsforschung
Fakultät für Psychologie und Pädagogik
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

Leopoldstr. 13
DE-80802 München




The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the PARTICIPATE partnership and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union.