Ordinary Member

National Adult Learning Organisation (AONTAS)

Who we are?

AONTAS is Ireland’s national adult learning organisation for adult and community education providers and adult learners. It promotes the value and benefits of adult learning, and advocates on behalf of the sector. Founded in 1969, it is an independent NGO, with 500 members nationwide. In addition to promoting adult learning in Ireland, AONTAS is the national coordinating body for the European Agenda for Adult Learning, which is aimed at increasing participation in lifelong learning across the EU, enhancing policies and supports for adult learners, and gathering and disseminating best practices. As a membership organisation we provide a space for members to share experience, promote their work and advocate for the value of adult and community education.


What we do?

With particular emphasis on those who did not benefit from education initially or who are under-represented in learning, AONTAS’ work is aimed at:

  • Widening participation in lifelong learning
  •  Ensuring community education supports quality learning opportunities for the most educationally disadvantaged
  • Ensuring adult learners are central to local, regional, national, European and International adult learning policy
  • Promoting quality adult learning

Drawing on the strength of our members and meaningful relationships with adult learners we advocate for the rights of all adults to quality learning through their lives based on a grassroots, authentic understanding of lifelong learning that benefits the social, personal and skills development of adults, their family and community.

Why is Adult Education important?

People who have an opportunity to continually learn and develop their skills and capacities:

  • Make our economy grow and develop
  • Ensure that their children develop a love of learning and take full advantage of education
  • Actively participate in their own communities and civil society
  • Support and respect people with different cultural beliefs and abilities
  • Respect and protect the environment for future generations
  • Nurture creativity and imagination
  • Live healthy and fulfilled lives

So: Investing in adult education makes sense for individuals, families, communities and our country as a whole.

Researching the value of adult learning

Research commissioned in 2010 by AONTAS identified a number of social benefits for learners involved in adult and community education. ‘More than just a course’ is a study of community education funded by the Department of Education and Skills. Community education is an important first step back into second chance learning for many adults and a national piece of research exploring its outcomes has much to offer key stakeholders in adult and community education in Ireland, by telling us about: what approaches work; how they work; what progression routes are followed, and the quality of life benefits that it can have. Read the research “Community education: more than just a course”.

A second piece of research in 2011- looked at the outcomes of community education in the non formal sector. “Sowing the seeds of social change” described how community education can contribute towards social change.

Promoting the value of adult learning

AONTAS organises Adult Learners Festival to promote the value of adult and community education. During the festival best practice examples of adult and community education sector are showcased and promoted through the STAR Awards.
Are you thinking about going back to education? Visit the What Next section of our website.
The Adult Learner is the Irish journal of adult and community education founded in the mid 1980s. It aims primarily to serve the needs of the adult education community in Ireland by providing a forum for critical reflection on the practices of teaching and learning. The latest issue of the journal is available online.


Strategic Objectives

In keeping with our core values AONTAS will work for an improved adult and community education service by focussing our Strategic Plan on three key themes:

  • Value
  • Voice
  • Visibility


AONTAS as a membership organisation:

  • believes in the concept of lifelong learning as a means of enabling people to contribute to and participate personally, socially, economically and collectively in the development of Irish society.
  • affirms and supports the key role of adult and community education in promoting equality, social inclusion and active citizenship.
  • commits to the development and sustainability of a quality adult and community education service.


AONTAS as a membership organisation:

  • commits to acting as a critical voice for the adult and community education sector, to lobby for change and reach a wide audience.
  • supports and affirms the voice of adult learners as the core of its advocacy work.
  • commits to articulating the key elements of a quality adult and community education service and lobbying for its development.


AONTAS as a membership organisation:

  • commits to promoting the importance, value and role of adult and community education at local, national and international levels.
  • supports and affirms the achievements of adult learners as a means of drawing attention to the key social purpose of adult learning.
  • commits to articulating and demonstrating the importance and quality of the work done by the adult and community education service.


AONTAS, the National Association of Adult Education was established in 1969, following the first National Adult Education Conference, held in Athlone in May of that year. The name AONTAS is an acronym in the Irish language, Aos Oideachais Naisiunta Tri Aontu Soarlach, meaning ‘national adult education through voluntary unification’. The word AONTAS itself is also the Irish word for ‘unity’ or ‘union’, so the intention of the original group of interested individuals was that the Association would be identified by its inclusiveness.

When launching AONTAS in 1969, the then Minister for Education, Mr Brian Lenihan TD, also announced the establishment of a committee to examine the nature of adult education in Ireland and to make recommendations regarding its future structure. The committee published the first report on adult education in the history of the State in 1973. The Murphy Report, as it was subsequently known, recognised the value and importance of AONTAS and concluded that ‘it has the potential to become an effective National Association’.

Find out more about the history of AONTAS on the website.

Media and Video:

The Value of Community Education 

AONTAS Youtube Channel


AONTAS Annual Report 2017

Adult Learner Journal 2017

One Steep Up Booklet

EAEA brings together
120 organisations from 43 countries.

Members in Ireland

Associate member

An Cosan

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Community Education Facilitators Association (CEFA)

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Ordinary member

National Adult Learning Organisation (AONTAS)

AONTAS is the National Adult Learning Organisation of Ireland advocating for the right of all adults in Ireland to quality...
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