About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

A human-centred approach to adult learning

'Fundamentally, it should be regarded, not as the right of the child to go to school, but as the right of the adult citizen to have been educated.' T. H. Marshall (1950)

It is now 70 years since the sociologist T. H. Marshall made this statement, and in the time of the fourth industrial revolution, education is more important than ever. But there is a problem with Marshall’s statement: it implies that learning stops when you become an adult.

I’m a passionate believer in the power of adult education and I’ve worked in this field for some years now. Working at the Greater London Authority (GLA), I delivered funding for new college buildings and equipment from the Skills for Londoners Capital Fund, and contracted courses for learners in the Adult Education Budget. I’ve seen first-hand how learning changes lives: it gives people confidence to speak up, try new things, gain a new career and inspire future generations. It helps us to understand ourselves and each other more.

But it is hard. How do you carve out time to study when you’re working full time, or have family commitments? How do you walk into a college and sign up for a course when at school you were written off as ‘thick’? How do you know what you want to study, and at what level, when you don’t know where to start?

An underlying problem here is that the learner has always been expected to adapt to the learning. But in the age of the fourth industrial revolution, why is this the case?

Using technology to put learners first

Nesta has already predicted the end of rote learning in schools and our future of work manifesto, Precarious to Prepared, calls for learning that fits individuals needs and circumstances. In addition to predicting trends and calling for action, our new programme seeks to ignite the change. Nesta’s CareerTech Challenge Fund, in partnership with the Department for Education (DfE), is a £2.8 million fund seeking online tailored and innovative solutions that will motivate adults to learn new skills.

The fund closed to applications in December 2019 and since then 19 creative and exciting innovations have been shortlisted to go through to the next stage. All shortlisted applications are truly innovative, ranging from using artificial intelligence to target learning at the individual’s level, to new ways of connecting peers to provide support and motivation.

At Nesta we are collaborative funders. We want to understand the solutions we are looking to fund and to do so we get our hands dirty. We ask questions, we are curious, but above all we want to support solutions that have the highest possible breadth, depth and quality to serve the learners. As part of this, we support our shortlisted candidates to expand and evolve solutions together. Our recent development day, held on 30 January 2020, involved in-depth reflection and discussion on how to put the learner at the centre of the solution.

Development Day Pic

Introducing shortlisted grantees to User Centred Design

To do so, we worked with the user design and research specialists from the DfE's National Retraining Scheme to introduce the grantees to techniques from User Centred Design. Personas were a core part of the day. Personas help innovators to understand the individual learner’s needs: what are their goals, why do they want to learn, what are their motivations, and how do they want to feel during the learning process?

By understanding the learner, we can support them to remain motivated to complete a course. This could progress to another course, another job, maybe a love of learning and a realisation that they aren’t ‘thick’, but that maybe the rote learning syllabus wasn’t a suitable way of learning for them.

There is also more information on using personas, like Jensen, on Nesta’s website.

From learning to career journeys

This isn't all we're doing in the CareerTech Challenge. Education and reskilling are important, but they are just part of the journey. How can learners understand which courses will help them the most? And what happens after they've reskilled?

These are the questions we're trying to answer with the CareerTech Challenge Prize, an exciting new prize run by Nesta Challenges. The prize will support digital solutions which use data about the labour market to provide information, advice and guidance that helps people plan sustainable and rewarding careers. Combined with the tailored online learning, maybe an exciting new job in a new field isn’t too far out of reach. And further, learning may be looked at as something to enjoy throughout life.


Liz North

Liz North

Liz North

Programme Manager

Liz was the Programme Manager for the CareerTech Challenge Fund.

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