National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education UK

Definitions of Family Learning

Family learning has evolved as an intergenerational model of learning with learning outcomes for adults and children. Both generations learn from and with each other and this nurtures a culture of learning within the family.

Definitions of family learning vary because it is an evolving process. It is not a curriculum area but an approach to learning which encourages active, participatory intergenerational learning, drawing on family experiences and home culture.

Clare Family Learning Project, Republic of Ireland defines the term:

Family Learning is based on the principle that awareness of opportunities for learning in everyday home and community activities raises confidence and contributes to literacy and numeracy development across generations.

In England, since the introduction of the Family Literacy, Language and Numeracy (FLLN) and Wider Family Learning (WFL) funding streams from (initially) the Learning and Skills Council and (subsequently) Skills Funding Agency (SFA), the expectations of family learning for SFA-funded providers (mostly local authorities) have been quite tightly defined. The Skills Funding Agency defines family learning in the following way:

Family programmes aim to encourage family members to learn together. They are learning as or within a family. They should include opportunities for intergenerational learning and, wherever possible, lead both adults and children to pursue further learning.

Family Literacy Language and Numeracy programmes aim to:

  • Improve the literacy, language and numeracy skills of mothers and fathers
  • Improve mothers’ and fathers’ ability to help their children learn
  • Improve children’s acquisition of literacy, language and numeracy.

Wider Family Learning programmes are those specifically designed to enable adults and children to learn together or those programmes that enable mothers and fathers to learn how to support their children’s learning. They aim to

  • Develop the skills or knowledge of both the adult and child participants
  • Help mothers and fathers to be more active in the support of their children’s learning and development and to understand the impact of that support.

Skills Funding Agency (2011) Requirements for Funding – Family Programmes 2011/12


The Learning Family NIACE

Family learning in Wales has also links with intergenerational practice, Intergenerational practice is defined as practice that:

aims to bring people together in purposeful, mutually beneficial activities which promote greater understanding and respect between generations and contributes to building more cohesive communities. Intergenerational practice is inclusive, building on the positive resources that the young and old have to offer each other and those around them.

Outside the formal education sector Many funders and organisations outside the SFA sector use the term ‘family learning’ in a broad way, which can lead to ‘thinking outside the box’ and reaching the most vulnerable and ‘hard to reach’ families, however does not necessarily use the same ‘educationalist’ language used in the college and local authority adult learning sector.

Over recent years, NIACE has developed the concept of the Learning Family:

In the learning family, every member is a lifelong learner in their own right. However, it is much more than a collection of individuals on learning programmes: the intergenerational combination of encouragement and involvement in each other’s learning activities by all family members raises aspirations and creates a long-term change in the culture and patterns of learning.

Lamb, P (2009) The Learning Family: a briefing note, NIACE