Adult Education Survey (AES) methodology

Last update: February 2016.

This article describes the methodology of the adult education survey (AES) — a harmonised, household-based sample survey dedicated to collecting data on adult education and training. It is one of a set of background articles concerning the methodology of education and training in the EU and forms part of an online publication.

Full article


The AES covers adults’ participation in education and training (formal, non-formal and informal learning) and is one of the main data sources for EU adult learning statistics. The AES focuses on people aged 25-64 living in private households. The reference period for the participation in education and training is the twelve months prior to the interview.

The following information is available from the AES:

  • Participation in formal education, non-formal education and training and informal learning (respectively labelled FED, NFE and INF);
  • Volume of instruction hours;
  • Characteristics of the learning activities;
  • Reasons for participating;
  • Obstacles to participation;
  • Access to information on learning possibilities;
  • Employer financing and costs of learning;
  • Self-reported language skills.

Comparable data from 2007 and 2011 AES can be found in the following folders of the database:

  • Participation in education and training (last 12 months) (trng_aes_12m0);
  • Access to information on education and training (last 12 months) (trng_aes_12m1);
  • Time spent on education and training (last 12 months) (trng_aes_12m2);
  • Obstacles to participation in education and training (last 12 months) (trng_aes_12m3);
  • Self-reported language skills (educ_lang_00).

The domain “Past series on adult learning - reference year 2007 (trng_aes_007h)” presents 2007 AES data on participation and non-participation in education and training which are not comparable with 2011 AES due to methodological changes.

Coverage and mandate

Two waves of the AES have been implemented so far. The first AES (2007 AES) was a pilot survey conducted in 26 EU Member States (Ireland and Luxembourg did not participate), as well as in Norway, Switzerland and Tukey. This first wave was carried out on the basis of a gentlemen’s agreement between 2005 and 2008 (depending on the country).

The second wave (2011 AES) was conducted in 27 EU Member States (Croatia did not participate), Norway, Switzerland as well as in Serbia and Turkey between July 2011 and June 2012. This statistical operation was for the first time conducted under the institutional mandate set in Regulation 0452/2008, and implemented by Regulation 0823/2010. This legal basis establishes the collection of data on the participation of adults (aged 25–64) in adult learning every five years.

The next AES will be collected in 2016 and 2017.

Basic concepts

Adult learning comprises all learning activities undertaken throughout life (after the end of initial education) with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competences, within personal, civic, social, and employment-related perspectives. One way to measure adult learning is to look at the participation rate in education and training.

The definitions of learning activities below were in use for both 2007 AES and 2011 AES.

Learning activities are any activities of an individual organised with the intention to improve their knowledge, skills, and competences. Intentional learning (as opposed to random learning) is defined as a deliberate search for knowledge, skills or competences. Organised learning is defined as learning planned in a pattern or sequence with explicit or implicit aims.

The learning activities are defined within a classification named classification of learning activities (CLA). In the version of the CLA used for both 2007 and 2011 AES (2006 edition) three main types of learning activities are defined as follows:

Table 1: Classification of learning activities
Source: Eurostat, Classification of learning activities manual (2006)
  • Formal education and training is defined as education provided by the system of schools, colleges, universities and other formal educational institutions that normally constitutes a continuous ‘ladder’ of full-time education for children and young people, generally beginning at the age of 5 to 7 and continuing to up to 20 or 25 years old. In some countries, the upper parts of this ‘ladder’ are organised programmes of joint part-time employment and part-time participation in the regular school and university system. Such programmes have come to be known as the ‘dual system’ or equivalent terms in these countries.
  • Non-formal education and training is defined as any organised and sustained learning activities that do not correspond exactly to the above definition of formal education. Non-formal education may therefore take place both within and outside educational institutions and cater to people of all ages. Depending on national contexts, it may cover educational programmes to impart adult literacy, life-skills, work-skills, and general culture. Four types of non-formal learning activities can be singled out (those categories are not detailed in the online tables):
    • courses;
    • workshops or seminars;
    • guided-on-the-job training (planned periods of education, instruction or training directly at the workplace, organised by the employer with the aid of an instructor); and
    • lessons
  • Informal learning (only displayed with 2007 data in the domain trng_aes_007h[1] ) is defined as intentional learning which is less organised and less structured than the previous types. It may include for example learning events (activities) that occur in the family, in the work place, and in the daily life of every person, on a self-directed, family-directed or socially-directed basis. It includes taught learning (such as coaching, informal tuition, guided visits) and non-taught learning (such as self-learning, learning groups and non-guided visits). [2]

The participation rate in education and training covers participation in both formal and non-formal education and training.

Employer-sponsored learning activities are defined as all activities paid at least partially by the employer and/or done during paid working hours. This comprises formal education and all categories of non-formal education and training (private lessons, seminars, courses and guided-on-the-job training).

Usual breakdowns and classifications

Educational attainment level

Educational attainment level is the highest level of education successfully completed by an individual. Educational attainment is classified according to the International standard classification of education (ISCED). This classification allows for international comparability between the different national education systems, introducing criteria to categorise the education levels into a common nomenclature. It therefore facilitates comparisons across countries on the basis of uniform and internationally agreed definitions.

The successful completion of an education programme must be validated by a recognised qualification, i.e. a qualification officially recognised by the relevant national education authorities. In cases where there is no certification, successful completion must be associated with full attendance. When determining the highest level, both general and vocational education should be taken into consideration.

The AES data dissemination considers three broad levels of aggregation as presented in the ISCED 1997 classification:

  • Pre-primary, primary and lower secondary education (levels 0 to 2);
  • Upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education (levels 3 and 4);
  • First and second stage of tertiary education (levels 5 and 6).


Occupation is defined as the task and duties undertaken by each worker in their job. The International standard classification of occupations (ISCO) organises jobs into a clearly defined set of groups. Four categories of employee occupations are distinguished in the tables on occupation:

  • Managers, professionals, technicians and associate professionals;
  • Clerical support workers, service and sales workers;
  • Skilled manual workers; and
  • Elementary occupations.

Foreign languages

The knowledge of foreign languages is self-reported by the respondents and is categorised in three levels in the 2011 AES questionnaire. The labels displayed in the tables of domain educ_lang_00 correspond to the following self-reported knowledge:

  • Fair: I can understand and use the most common everyday expressions. I use the language in relation to familiar things and situations;
  • Good: I can understand the essential of clear language and produce simple text. I can describe experiences and events and communicate fairly fluently; and
  • Proficient: I can understand a wide range of demanding texts and use the language flexibly. I master the language almost completely.

In the 2007 AES, a fourth ‘basic’ level was included in the questionnaire: ‘I only understand and can use a few words’. In the online tables that fourth category is included in the category ‘fair’.


The 2011 AES European standard questionnaire has the following structure:

1.0 - General information

1.1 - Information on the household

1.2 - Information on the individual

1.2.1 Demographic background
1.2.2 Education and training successfully completed
1.2.3 Not completed education and training
1.2.4 Main labour status
1.2.5 Characteristics of the main job
1.2.6 Parental education and occupation

1.3 - Access to information about learning possibilities

1.4 - Participation in education and training

1.4.1 Formal education
1.4.2 Non-formal education

1.5 - Difficulties in participation in education

1.6 - Informal learning

National questionnaires – which are based on the standard questionnaire for the sake of cross-country comparability – are available on this link.

Quality reports

For the 2011 AES, national quality reports as well as an EU quality report featuring metadata and methodological aspects of the survey are available on this link.

For the 2007 AES, an evaluation of the national quality reports is available on this link.

Source data for tables and graphs


Eurostat publishes data on education and training which can be found on Eurostat's database and cover the following features:

  • Participation in education and training;
  • learning mobility;
  • education personnel;
  • education finance;
  • education and training outcomes;
  • languages.

These statistics are based on four main data sources:

  • Education systems – joint Unesco-OECD-Eurostat (UOE) data collection;
  • Adult education survey (AES);
  • Continuing vocational training survey (CVTS); and
  • Labour force survey (EU-LFS).

Statistics on adult learning – which can be found under the folder 'adult learning' in the 'participation in education and training' section of Eurostat's database on education and training – are based on the AES, the LFS and the CVTS.

The adult education survey and the labour force survey both provide data on participation in adult learning from the individuals' perspective while the CVTS covers the theme of adult learning through the enterprises (continuing vocational training).

The LFS also provides data on the participation in formal and non-formal education and training on a more frequent basis than the AES. Main differences in the data on education and training in the LFS and in the data on education and training in the AES are the reference period (4 weeks in the LFS, 12 months in the AES), the coverage of non-formal education (the LFS does not cover guided-on-the-job training) and the overall design of the surveys (especially the fact that proxies are possible when collecting the LFS data while they are not recommended and almost never used in most countries when collecting the AES data).

On the other hand, the information found in the AES is richer than that of the LFS in the sense that the AES describes the learning activities in depth and also offers information on the command of foreign languages.

Direct access to
Other articles
Dedicated section
External links

Education and training (edtr)

Participation in education and training (educ_part)
Adult learning (trng_ad)
Participation in education and training (last 12 months) (trng_aes_12m0)
Access to information on education and training (last 12 months) (trng_aes_12m1)
Time spent on education and traing (last 12 month) (trng_aes_12m2)
Obstacles to participation in education and training (last 12m3)
Self-reported language skills (educ_lang_00)
Past series (trng_h)
Adult education survey- reference year 2007 (trng_eas_007h)


  1. Data on informal learning prove to be difficult to be properly collected and there were doubts concerning the quality and comparability of the data between the two waves.
  2. Definitions on adult learning, formal, non-formal and informal learning were taken from the Classification of learning activities — Manual (2006 Edition), Eurostat, 2006.