EU policy in the field of adult learning

Adult learning refers to a range of formal and informal learning activities, both general and vocational, undertaken by adults after leaving initial education and training.

The importance of adult learning 

Individuals pursue adult learning for a variety of reasons: to enhance their employment prospects, to develop personally or professionally and to obtain transferrable skills, such as critical thinking. Adult learning also contributes to improving social cohesion and promotes active citizenship.

Increasingly, individuals must rely on continuous professional development to remain competitive on the labour market. A focus on adult learning is, therefore, vital for Europe to overcome economic challenges it is currently facing, as well respond to the demand for new skills and sustained productivity in an increasingly digitalised world economy. 

Actions and initiatives at the European level enhance our understanding of how to respond to challenges in the field of adult learning. They can also provide support to institutions and individuals, and enable a better exchange of knowledge and experiences between countries.

What is the EU doing to support adult learning?

A Resolution adopted by the Council on a renewed 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 and sets the following specific priorities for the years 2015 - 2020:

  • Improve governance through better coordination between policy areas, enhanced effectiveness and societal relevance 
  • Significantly increase the supply and demand for high-quality provision, especially in literacy, numeracy and digital skills
  • Ensure effective outreach, guidance and motivation strategies to reach and assist adult learners
  • Offer more flexible opportunities for adults to learn and improved access through more learning at the workplace, the use if ICT and so-called ‘second chance’ qualification programmes 
  • Enhance the quality of adult learning by monitoring the impact of policies and improving the training provided to adult educators

Further to this, the Council has adopted a Recommendation on Upskilling Pathways aiming to help adults acquire a minimum level of literacy, numeracy and digital skills or a specific upper-secondary level qualification (level 3 or 4 in the European Qualifications Framework (EQF)). More information can be found on the Upskilling Pathways webpage. 

The Commission has set up an ET 2020 Working Group on adult learning consisting of national experts, representatives of European social partners and civil society members. The group exchanges and analyses information, and develops policy guidance in the field of adult learning based upon best practices taken from across Europe. You can find more information about the work of the Working Group on adult learning on the Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe (EPALE) website.

A network of National Coordinators who promote adult learning in their countries, provide policy advice and support, and gather and disseminate best practices has also been established. 

The Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe (EPALE) provides a multilingual online space to exchange, showcase and promote best practices in adult education, as well as to promote peer learning. 

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