Getting Ready to Learn

Corrie Rhyasen Erdman, Community Learning Network

2 3 12 April 2017

Have you ever signed up for something only to realize you just don’t have the time to commit to it? Not long ago, I registered for a free online course through the University of British Columbia that I was really excited about! Long story short, the regular assignment emails I received each week went unopened. Balancing all the acts in the circus I call life is complicated and sometimes I have to let something drop so I can keep everything else up.

I know I am not alone in trying to balance the pieces of my life when I want to learn something new. Adult learners in CALP programs commonly have to set priorities and make difficult choices when they return to learning, such as giving up having dinner with their family, taking a needed extra shift at work, or taking their daughter to soccer games. Time is only one of many factors that can throw a wrench in our best laid plans to improve ourselves through learning. 

I’ve heard this described as “readiness to learn”. It refers to the ease (or lack of ease) we have to engage in learning. When we are working with a new learner, readiness to learn is as important to assess as learning goals and skill gaps. It helps us to know how to design the learning and any special considerations we need to be aware of, such as if the learner is a shift-worker and can’t meet at the same time every week or if their preferred learning style is kinesthetic.

Recently, I found a great tool that I thought would be helpful in exploring the factors that affect readiness to learn. The Informal Learning Information Inventory (found in Purposeful Literacies Through Informal Learning, by Brenda Wright and Maurice Taylor) includes questions to ask during those first conversations with a learner, covering topics of past experiences with learning, learning strategies, strengths, lifestyle, and barriers to learning.

Gaining insight into the factors that compete for a learner’s time, focus, energy, or confidence allows CALP staff to be responsive and supportive to learners’ needs. There are many things we can do to help minimize the effects of barriers and to leverage the skills and strengths learners bring with them. Here is a list of factors and considerations that influence learners in your program: 

Financial stress: Extra help may be needed for transportation to the program or to cover program fees.

Accessible childcare: Accessible, affordable, safe childcare may not be readily available.

Lifestyle: Creating a daily routine around getting up on time, budgeting funds, and managing family responsibilities can create unexpected changes in the learner’s daily lives as they start a new program. Learners may need support in planning for the changes.

Fear of change: Having a family member start on a formal learning journey can be a big change for the whole family. Sometimes change creates fear and family and friends may not provide the support needed.

Health concerns: Some learners may have health issues that need to be dealt with to ensure success in the program.They may also need glasses or a new prescription for existing glasses. Practitioners should know where to refer learners for any help they need.

Violence: Some learners may be dealing with past or current violence issues. Learners who are victims of violence may feel isolation, shame, guilt and/or fear. It is important to create a safe environment where victims of violence do not feel judged or re-violated if they choose to share their stories.

Addiction: Some learners may have challenges arising from use of drugs, alcohol or gambling. Learners with addiction problems may become ill, have poor attendance or be unable to concentrate on learning.  

From Learner-Centred Intake and Assessment Process for Literacy Programs in Saskatchewan (2008). Saskatchewan Literacy Network.

To add to these ideas, there are many great examples of supports and adaptations CALPs have made to enhance learners’ readiness to learn:

  • Tutoring by Skype for adults who work out of town
  • Stocking a fridge with donated food for easy access to all learners
  • Creating culture-specific programming
  • Combining programming with a partner agency to reduce the time and travel demands on learners (i.e. attend one combined program rather than 2 programs in different locations at different times)
  • Relocating the CALP office to be within walking distance or a short commute for targeted learners

There are so many examples of how CALPs adapt to support learners. CALPs are wonderfully creative in addressing and adapting to the challenges learners face. I invite you to share what you have done to adapt your processes, policies, learning environment, or programs to support learners’ readiness to learn.  

Corrie Rhyasen Erdman
Regional Support Staff, West
Community Learning Network


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