EU policy in the field of adult learning

Adult learning is an entire range of formal, non-formal and informal learning activities - both general and vocational - undertaken by adults after leaving initial education and training.

What is adult learning?

Adult learning is an entire range of formal, non-formal and informal learning activities - both general and vocational - undertaken by adults after leaving initial education and training. Adult learning can be job-related (for current or future work), for personal growth, to obtain life skills (e.g. how to fill in a tax form, identify fake news or why it is important to take part in the election), for pleasure, or a mix of these reasons.

Adult learning is a vital component of the European Union's lifelong learning policy.

It is essential for employability and competitiveness, social inclusion, active citizenship and personal development. The challenge is to provide learning opportunities for all adults, throughout their whole life, especially disadvantaged groups who need them most.

Why is adult learning needed?

These days, people cannot just rely on the skills they acquired at school to last them till the end of their (working) lifetime. More adult learning can help Europe overcome economic challenges, meet the need for new skills, and keep its ageing workforce productive. Learning is also essential for social inclusion, active citizenship and dealing with daily tasks in the context of growing digitalisation.

The rate of participation of adults (25-64 years old) in learning (four weeks prior a survey) varies significantly between EU countries: from 1.1% to 30.4% (Eurostat, 2017), and the overall trend is that numbers are stagnating. Participation rates are especially disappointing for low-skilled and older adults. Action at European level will increase knowledge about successful policies, provide support, and enable a better exchange of experiences between countries.

EU Priority Areas

1) European Agenda for Adult Learning

The Commission is working with 32 countries to implement the Renewed European Agenda for adult learning (2011). This highlights the need to significantly increase adult participation in learning of all kinds (formal, non-formal and informal learning) whether to acquire new work skills, for active citizenship, or for personal development and fulfilment.

The Agenda outlined a vision of how adult learning should develop in Europe by 2020.

Specific priorities for the period 2015 - 2020 are:

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2) Upskilling Pathways - New opportunities for adults

Reading, writing, making simple calculations and using a computer: these are things we do every day, putting in practice our basic skills, mostly without even noticing.

For almost 70 million in Europe, such simple tasks, which others take for granted, are a struggle.

Whether they are in employment, unemployed or economically inactive, the Upskilling Pathways initiative provides a fresh start for these people by mapping and recognising the knowledge and skills they already possess, as well as gaps in their basic literacy, numeracy and digital skills; offering them further education and training and ultimately leading to a new qualification.

Upskilling Pathways follows a simple three step logic, always adapted to the specific situation of each individual.

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Tools to tackle our priorities

1) An ET 2020 Working Group on adult learning consists of national experts, representatives of European social partners and civil society. They exchange, analyse and develop policy guidance regarding adult learning, based upon best practice around Europe.

2) National Coordinators
The Commission facilitates a network of 36 National Coordinators who promote adult learning in their countries, provide policy advice and support, and gather and disseminate best practices. They receive financial support from the European Commission, through the Erasmus+ programme. An overview of good for the period 2012-2016 has been published and can be accessed here.

3) Working with practitioners and civil society
The Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe (EPALE) is a multilingual online space to exchange, showcase, and promote methods of good practice in adult education. Individuals involved in organising and delivering adult education can access the platform to share the latest developments and learn from each other.

EPALE also includes a library of resources, a calendar of courses and events of interest for adult education professionals, as well as a partner-search tool, which will soon be completed by collaborative groups.

The Commission also works with a range of European associations, networks, and labour organisations to promote adult learning.

What are the next steps?

  • The ET 2020 Working Group on Adult Learning is working on policy guidance on adult learning in the workplace from 2016 to 2018.
  • Implementation of Upskilling Pathways
  • Benchmarks and indicators: EU countries have set a target for adult learning: by 2020, 15% of adults aged 25-64 should be taking part. In 2017, average participation was 10.9% and only 8 EU countries had reached the target rate.
  • The Commission publishes indicators and data on the current situation in Member countries, reports on progress in implementing policies and proposes new policy.

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