"I feel like a sponge that's been squeezed dry and is now opening through the joy of learning."
So concludes one of hundreds of diary extracts from a book just published by the National Association of Adult Continuing Education to celebrate the European Year of Lifelong Learning.
The association wanted to show how adults learn in the 1990s by taking a snapshot view of activities in any week of the autumn term last year. They asked people to keep a diary to show their choice of learning and what it had been like for them.
The editors hope the book will be used by adult education teachers and organisers as well as students to give insights about the types of educational provision that work well for mature people and the obstacles they face in learning.
"They should also take heart - at a difficult time within education - from the enthusiasm and commitment to learning expressed by the diarists, and in the evidence that adult education can change people's lives for the better, " the editors add.
Learners' life stories can also help policymakers to understand the personal significance and impact of particular policies or forms of provision, say Pam Coare and Alistair Thomson, the editors, who lecture in the Centre for Continuing Education at the University of Sussex.
The diaries might help them to think about how policies best serve the complicated situations and needs of diverse adult learners, as well as the demands of economy and state, they add.
The diaries reflect the higher proportion of women learners over 50 who took the traditional liberal or leisure classes. Of the 30 per cent of male diarists, just over half were over 50 and 20 per cent over 70, the same percentage as women.
"It may be that some older adults have more time or inclination to write about their lives, although the hectic lifestyle of many third-age participants is quite astonishing," the editors said.
"Reading and editing the diaries was never an arduous task. It was a privilege and a pleasure to work with life stories that were brimming with interest and emotion, which taught us so much about adult learning, and which were written with humour, care and passion."
Through the Joy of Learning, Diary of 1,000 Adult Learners, NIACE, 21 De Montford Street, Leicester LE1 7GE, Pounds 14.99.