October 24, 2022 – Education

New CAEL research will drive foundational improvements in adult learning


What are the factors adult learners weigh when considering a postsecondary education program? What barriers keep them from enrolling, and how can universities, community colleges, and training programs better attract and retain adult workers?

The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) has provided some potential answers.

CAEL’s research offers actionable insights postsecondary education programs can use to better serve adult learners and attract individuals who previously opted not to continue their education after high school. The Charles Koch Foundation, the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Strada Education Network supported the research. 

As part of its work, CAEL interviewed currently enrolled or recently graduated adult learners, reviewed existing research on effective practices to meet adult learner needs, and examined 10 high-performing programs that serve adults. Representatives from three of those programs participated in a webinar to discuss strategies for implementing adult learning programs. 

From its findings, CAEL developed the “Adult Learner Leaders for Institutional Effectiveness,” or ALLIES Framework, which offers best practices to effectively meet the needs of adult learners in rapidly changing labor market environments. The framework, which evolved from CAEL’s “Ten Principles for Effectively Serving Adults,” will guide CAEL’s work with institutions in the future, and will inform new tools and resources for its members and partners.

CAEL also conducted several focus groups and a survey of 2,000 adults who never enrolled in postsecondary education even if they may have considered it at some point. The goal was to uncover the factors that led to an adult’s decision about whether or not to enroll. According to CAEL, those discussions revealed several insights, including:

  • Financial factors are central to enrollment decisions.
  • Professional growth and development is a primary motivator for enrollment. 
  • Adult learners seek institutions that recognize their complete experience and provide opportunities to manage their own progress and development. 
  • A range of support services is critical for student success, particularly at the front end of an adult learner’s journey.

“CAEL has provided additional evidence that adults learners are eager for flexible, individualized educational opportunities,” said CKF Executive Director Ryan Stowers. “This research provides guidance to any institution, whether a university or an employer, that wants to better serve the millions of Americans who want to continue learning.”  

Explore CAEL’s research