A fresh evaluation approach for understanding adult learning

Talking about

By Dr Saad Mufti, Management Information Analyst; Fiona Chapel, Development Officer; Jenni Whitfield Adult Learners Officer; Helen Bowman, Academic Skills Development Manager and Academic Integrity Lead, Deputy Director of the Lifelong Learning Centre. 

A project that brought greater understanding of a University of Leeds programme will help educators inspire adult learners to apply for higher education.  

Using funding from the Transforming Access and Student Outcomes (TASO) Centre, we used Qualitative Competitive Analysis (QCA) to evaluate our eight-week, non-accredited, pre-entry Jumpstart programme, run by Fiona Chapel. 

The programme aims to help adult learners make informed decisions about their next steps in education and increase their confidence in applying for higher education.  

The Jumpstart team introduced a confidence questionnaire for participants in 2021. The results showed a significant increase in confidence overall, with varying outcomes for the respondents. 

QCA is a case-based evaluation method which compares different configurations of attributes to identify influences on an expected outcome – in this case a rise in confidence. 

Initial analysis of data from 14 participants found that those who experienced a rise in confidence on the Jumpstart programme a) were not experiencing ongoing trauma and b) had attended more than half the Jumpstart sessions and attended outreach or Impartial Advice and Guidance (IAG) sessions.  

Using data to develop change

We are now further case analysis to get a deeper understanding of the various attributes (and their combinations) found in our empirical data – and how they affect outcomes.  

We have applied QCA evaluation to our second Jumpstart cohort we are exploring why some participants might not record a rise in self-reported confidence. 

Our findings have helped in the development of a theory of change and change mechanisms to embed evaluation into the Jumpstart programme, while the project has prompted significant reflection on a programme which has been running successfully for 11 years.  

These reflections have led us to refresh our content and have increased and updated our understanding of the factors that impact participants’ experiences of the programme and their changing confidence in applying to study in higher education. 

We are keen to share our experiences and to work with others in the development of QCA as a method to evaluate interventions with small or medium numbers.  

The report we have written, along with the enhanced theory of change and a case study of using QCA, are due to be launched by TASO in Autumn 2023.