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 includes formal, non-formal and informal learning activities - both general and vocational - undertaken by adults after leaving initial education (e.g. high school or college). Adult learning can be undertaken to obtain work - or to develop in a current or future role – for personal growth, to obtain life skills (e.g. how to fill in a tax form, identify fake news or to understand why it is important to take part in an election) or a mix of these reasons.

Why is adult learning needed?

Increasingly, individuals must rely on consistent professional development in order to remain competitive. A focus on continuous adult learning is therefore vital for Europe to overcome economic challenges, meet demands for new skills and to maintain productivity. Learning is also essential for social inclusion, active citizenship and participation in a progressively digitalised economy.

Actions and initiatives at a European level can increase our understanding of how to respond to challenges in adult education; they can also provide support to institutions and individuals – and enable a better exchange of experiences between countries.

How is adult learning supported at the EU level?

The European Agenda for Adult Learning highlights the need to significantly increase adult participation in formal, non-formal and informal learning whether to acquire work skills, for active citizenship, or for personal development and fulfilment.

The Agenda outlines a vision of how adult learning should develop in Europe by 2020. Specific priorities for the period 2015 - 2020 are:

  • improving governance through better coordination between policy areas, enhanced effectiveness and relevance to needs of society;
  • significantly increasing supply and take up of high-quality provision, especially in literacy, numeracy and digital skills; effective outreach, guidance and motivation strategies to reach and assist adult learners;
  • more flexible opportunities for adult to learn and improved access through more learning at the workplace, the use of ICT, and second-chance programmes leading to a recognised qualification;
  • improved quality through monitoring the impact of policies and improving the education of adult educators.


Tools to tackle EU priorities


  • Recommendation on Upskilling Pathways: New Opportunities for Adults - this initiative aims to help adults acquire a minimum level of literacy, numeracy and digital skills and/or acquire a broader set of skills by progressing towards an upper secondary qualification or equivalent (level 3 or 4 in the European Qualifications Framework (EQF).  More information can be found on the Upskilling Pathways web page.  
  • 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.  You can access information on its work via the Commission webpage on good practices in adult learning.
  • A network of National Coordinators who promote adult learning in their countries, provide policy advice and support, and gather and disseminate good practices.  Links to specific countries' co-ordinators, as well as information on some of their work, can be found via the Renewed European Agenda for Adult Learning webpage.
  • 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 in order to learn from each other.


Follow the process on social media with the hashtags #EUAdultLearning and #UPSkillEU