What an odd creation: the mechanics institutes. There seems to be a link between the genre that I am currently exploring and the later rise of the institutes (particularly in the colonies). My local academic library has a tremendous collection of fiched documents that are just begging for some sort of analysis. The only document I can find that may have already tapped this resource is a 1969 dissertation by Vernon Foster entitled "The Development of Adult Education in Ontario, 1790-1900." Luckily, Proquest Dissertation has a copy.
While my own investigation of these institutes is still some ways off--I still have that dissertation to finish--I have come across a quote that's worth recording:
"The original purpose of Mechanics Institutes was to instruct factory workers in subjects that directly related to their jobs. However these aims were modified as clerks and shop assistants started to attend and eventually dominate the audiences. Gradually the liberal arts began to to oust the sciences, and in time the vitality of the Institutes declined. Now all that remains are the sad buildings with their ornate inscriptions proclaiming their original status, and which now only offer bingo on a Wednesday night." (p. 13)
Cotterell, Brian and Johan Kamminga (1990). Mechanics of Pre-Industrial Technology. New York : Cambridge University Press.