Background/ Context of Adult Learner Friendly Institutions
The Adult Learner Friendly Institutions (ALFI) project originated in the USA in 1999 as a benchmarking study conducted by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning in co-operation with the American Productivity and Quality Council. Phase one of the project resulted in a publication highlighting eight benchmarks of best practice for serving adult learners in post secondary education. Phase two involved the creation of a self evaluation workbook for colleges and universities in which the eight principles supported by performance criteria, were integrated into an evidence-based framework enabling post secondary institutions to assess their services to adults. The principles include; Outreach, Life and Career Planning, Learning Outcomes, Student Support, Teaching-Learning, Financing and Technology and Strategic Partnerships.
In 2005, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada funded a two year project to test the transferability of the ALFI tool in Canada. ALFICan consisted of 15 partners from across Canada. The ALFI tool transferred well to the Canadian context.
The ALFI principles are key elements of a holistic approach to the provision of services to an increasingly diverse, experienced population whose life circumstances and learning needs differ significantly from those of the younger adult population. Unfortunately the needs of a declining youth population are still given funding priority over the needs of a burgeoning adult population.
The ALFI benchmarks of best practice represent a more inclusive framework that recognizes the urgency and legitimacy of the learning needs of adults. PLAR has helped to open the door for change but has fallen short of setting in motion and sustaining the comprehensive changes that are required. The ALFI framework assesses the quality of services provided to adult learners, strategically integrating PLAR into several performance indicators.
ALFI can be an important next step for PLAR practitioners who are regularly confronted with the gaps that exist for adult learners after their prior learning has been assessed. PLAR has been added to systems that are increasingly characterized as fragmented, inefficient and ill prepared to respond to the many challenges faced daily by adult learners.
The ALFI process is a useful blue print for implementing significant change in adult learning policy and practice.