Statistics Explained

Adult learning statistics


Data extracted in May 2022.

Planned article update: May 2023.

Highlights


In 2021, the share of people aged 25 to 64 in the EU who had participated in education or training in the last 4 weeks was 10.8 %.
In 2021, the share of people aged 25 to 64 participating in education and training in the last 4 weeks increased by 1.7 percentage points compared to 2020 and was thus back to the same level as in 2019, i.e. before the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2021, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands had the highest shares of people aged 25 to 64 participating in education and training in the last 4 weeks.


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Participation rate in education and training (last 4 weeks), 2021

This article provides an overview of adult learning statistics in the European Union (EU), based on data collected through the labour force survey (LFS), supplemented by the adult education survey (AES). Adult learning is identified as the participation in education and training for adults aged 25-64, also referred to as lifelong learning. For more information about this subject, see the article adult learning statistics - characteristics of education and training.

In general, adult learning includes all purposeful learning activities, whether it is formal, non-formal or informal. The learning is undertaken on an ongoing basis with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competences among the participants. The intention or aim to learn is the critical point that distinguishes these activities from non-learning activities, such as cultural or sporting activities. Contrary to this general definition, the adult learning indicators presented here refer to participation in formal and non-formal education and training because it is very challenging to record informal learning statistically. Data on informal learning are only collected in the AES.

Adult learning is an important aspect when it comes to the digitalization and automation in the labour market. Employees need to adapt and for example learn new digital skills and in some cases reskill since some jobs will be eliminated due to technical development. Adult learning should improve employability, boost innovation, ensure social fairness and close the digital skills gap. The importance of adult learning is reflected in the EU-level target that at least 60 % of all adults should be participating in training every year by 2030.

Until 2021, LFS and AES used different reference periods for measuring participation in education and training. LFS recorded participation in education and training in the previous 4 weeks while AES covered learning activities in the previous 12 months. A measure with a reference period of 12 months is considered to be a more comprehensive measure of participation in education and training. However, such data from AES are only available every 5-6 years. Therefore, annual 4-weeks LFS data were chosen for policy monitoring. From 2022 there will be changes and LFS will also measure participation in formal and non-formal education and training during the previous 12 months biennially, thus allowing policy monitoring of the EU-level target. The first publication of this data is scheduled for May 2023.

Full article

To what extent did adults participate in formal or non-formal education and training activities in the last four weeks in 2021?

In 2021, the proportion of persons aged 25 to 64 in the EU who participated in education or training during the last four weeks was 10.8 %; a share that was 1.7 percentage point (pp.) higher than the corresponding share in 2020, see Table 1. It is considered that this increase could be related to the economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic, leading also to more training activities (which are often job-related, as shown by AES data) in 2021 than during the beginning of the pandemic where many training activities were cancelled. In 2021 the participation rate was back to the same level as before the pandemic in 2019 (see Table 1).

Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands stood out from the other EU Member States as they reported considerably higher proportions of their respective adult populations participating in lifelong learning in the four weeks preceding the interview. All three counties had a share over 25.0 %. By contrast, Greece and Bulgaria reported adult learning rates of less than 4.0 %.

The proportion of the population who had participated in adult learning was higher among women (11.6 % in 2021) in the EU than among men (10.1 %). In 2021, women recorded higher participation rates than men in all EU Member States except for Romania, Cyprus, Germany and Greece. The largest difference between men and women, in pp., was in Sweden, where the participation rate for women was 13.1 pp. higher than for men.

Table 1: Adult participation in learning, 2019 to 2021
(% of the population aged 25 to 64 participating in formal and non-formal education and training in the last 4 weeks)
Source: Eurostat (trng_lfse_01)

And what about the participation rate of adults in education and training in the last 4 weeks compared to 12 months in 2016?

In addition to the data from the labour force survey (LFS) presented in Table 1, information on participation in education and training is available from the adult education survey (AES). The AES measures participation in learning activities with a longer reference period (12 months preceding the survey interview) and is therefore likely to include learning activities to a larger extent than LFS. Consequently, this approach shows higher participation rates in formal and non-formal education and training. However, AES is carried out less frequently (from 2016 every six years). The most recent survey is from 2016 and was conducted between July 2016 and March 2017. In Figure 1 below the rates from LFS (4 weeks) and the AES (12 months) are shown to demonstrate the considerable differences between the two different measures. The following high-lights some results from the AES for the broader measure of adult participation in learning, i.e. covering a longer period of time.

According to the AES, 43.7 % of people in the EU aged 25 to 64 took part in education and training (during the 12 months preceding the interview) in 2016, the majority of whom participated in non-formal education and training (see Figure 1 and Table 2).

Figure 1: Participation rate in education and training (last 4 weeks and last 12 months), 2016
(% of persons aged 25-64)
Source: Eurostat (trng_lfse_01) and (trng_aes_100)

The highest participation rates were found in the Netherlands and Sweden where the share exceeded 60.0 % (this was also the case in Switzerland and Norway). The lowest was found in Romania where the share was below 10.0 % (this was also the case in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania).

For the EU as a whole, participation rates in education and training in the 12 months preceding the interview were almost the same for men and women. In Cyprus, Czechia, Hungary and Italy, men were considerably more likely than women to have participated in education and training, whereas the reverse was true in Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Sweden and Lithuania (see Table 2).

An analysis by age shows that the participation of younger persons (aged 25–34) in the EU was more than 20 pp. higher than that of older persons (aged 55–64) in 2016. Participation in education and training among older persons was particularly low in Romania and Greece.

The likelihood of participation in education and training was related to the level of educational achievement: persons with a tertiary level education reported the highest participation rates (64.5 % for the EU in 2016), while those having completed at most lower secondary education were the least likely to have participated (22.9 %).

Table 2: Participation rate in education and training, 2016 (1)
(% of the population aged 25 to 64 participating in formal and non-formal education and training in the last 12 months)
Source: Eurostat (trng_aes_100), (trng_aes_101) and (trng_aes_102)

Who were the providers of non-formal education and training activities in the last 12 months in 2016?

Employers were the most common providers of non-formal education and training activities, providing more than one third (33.7 %) of such activities in the EU according to the 2016 adult education survey (see Table 3). Furthermore, employers provided almost two thirds of non-formal education and training in Bulgaria, and almost three fifths of such activities in Hungary. Among the less common providers of non-formal education and training in the EU, the relative importance of non-formal education and training institutions was particularly high in Poland (48.7 %) and Slovenia (36.7 %), formal education institutions were frequent providers in Lithuania and Finland, and commercial institutions (where education and training is not the main activity) in Sweden (see Table 3).

Table 3: Providers of non-formal education and training activities, 2016 (1)
(% share of all non-formal learning activities of adults aged 25–64)
Source: Eurostat (trng_aes_170)

And to what extent did adults participate in informal learning activities in 2016?

In addition to information on participation in formal and non-formal education and training, the adult education survey also collects information on informal learning. Typical forms of informal learning are taught learning via coaching or guided visits to e.g. museums. Informal learning can also take place as non-taught learning, e.g. as self-learning or as learning in a group with friends or colleagues. In 2016, 59.7 % of adults aged 25-64 in the EU reported participation in any informal learning in the 12 months preceding the interview (see Table 4). Participation in informal learning ranged from below 35 % in Lithuania and Poland to over 90 % in Croatia and Cyprus. In the majority of countries women were more likely than men to participate in this type of learning. Not very surprisingly, informal learning by using a computer (or similar devices) is reported to be the most frequent form of informal learning in most countries.

Table 4: Participation rate in informal learning by sex and learning form, 2016
(% of the population aged 25 to 64 participating in informal learning in the last 12 months)
Source: Eurostat (trng_aes_200)

Source data for tables and graphs

Data source

The target population for adult learning statistics refers to persons aged between 25 and 64 years. Data for adult participation in (formal and non-formal) education and training during the 4 weeks preceding to the interview are collected through the EU labour force survey (LFS). The denominator used for the ratios derived from LFS data consists of the total population of the same age group, excluding those who did not answer the questions concerning participation in (formal and non-formal) education and training. The LFS is documented in this background article which provides information on the scope of the data, its legal basis, the methodology employed, as well as related concepts and definitions. Data on participation in education and training are calculated as annual averages of quarterly data.

Additional and more detailed information on adult learning is available from the adult education survey (AES). The AES covers adults’ participation in education and training (formal, non-formal and informal learning) and refers to any education and training in which respondents may have participated during the 12-month period preceding the interview. The AES is implemented in EU Member States, EFTA countries and candidate countries. Three waves of the AES have been implemented so far, in 2007, 2011 and 2016. The first was a pilot exercise and was carried out on a voluntary basis, while the 2011 and 2016 AES were underpinned by legal acts (Commission Regulation (EU) No 823/2010 and Commission Regulation (EU) No 1175/2014). Following a change in legislation, the next wave is due in 2022 (Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/861).

From 2022 LFS will also measure participation in education and training during the preceding 12 months biennially. Once available, these data will be used for policy monitoring and replacing the current 4-weeks indicator. The first publication of this data is expected for May 2023.

Classification for education

Key concepts

The fundamental criterion to distinguish learning activities from non-learning activities is that the activity must be intentional (and not by chance — ‘random learning’), in other words, a deliberate search for knowledge, skills, competences or attitudes.

Learning activities may be defined through a classification which provides operationalization and guidelines in particular for non-formal education and training - named classification of learning activities (CLA) - as follows:

  • Formal education and training is defined as ‘education that is institutionalised, intentional and planned through public organisations and recognised private bodies and — in their totality — constitute the formal education system of a country’ [1];
  • Non-formal education and training is defined as any organised and sustained learning activities outside the formal education system. The CLA further distinguishes the following broad categories of non-formal education:
    • non-formal programmes;
    • courses (which are further distinguished into classroom instruction, private lessons and combined theoretical-practical courses including workshops);
    • guided-on-the-job training.

Non-formal education therefore takes place both within and outside educational institutions and may cater for people of all ages. It covers educational programmes and training to impart literacy, life skills, work skills, and general culture.

The definitions applied in LFS and AES are in principle the same with one important difference: LFS data on non-formal education and training do not cover guided-on-the-job training.

  • Informal learning is less organised and less structured. It is defined as forms of learning that are intentional or deliberate, but are not institutionalised. It may include learning events that occur in the family, in the workplace, and in the daily life of every person, for example, coaching/informal tuition, guided visits, self-learning, learning groups or practice. Note that only the AES collects information on informal learning.

Tables in this article use the following notation: ':' not available, confidential or unreliable value.

Context

Lifelong learning can take place in a variety of environments, both inside and outside formal education and training systems. Lifelong learning implies investing in people and knowledge; promoting the acquisition of basic skills, including digital literacy and broadening opportunities for innovative, more flexible forms of learning. The aim is to provide people of all ages with equal and open access to high-quality learning opportunities, and to a variety of learning experiences.

In Council Resolution on a strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training towards the European Education Area and beyond (2021-2030), Member States agreed on several targets regarding education and training. One target refers to participation of adults in learning, and it is stipulated that at least 47 % of adults aged 25-64 should have participated in learning during the last 12 months by 2025.

In the Porto Social Commitment of 7 May 2021, the European Parliament, the Council of the EU, the European social partners and civil society organisations endorsed the target that at least 60 % of all adults should participate in training every year by 2030.

The European Skills Agenda outlines a five-year plan to help individuals and businesses develop more and better skills and to put them to use. Actions of the skills agenda also refer to tools and initiatives to support people in their lifelong learning pathways.

Within the European employment strategy Council decision (EU) 2020/1512 revised the employment guidelines. Guideline 6 concerns “enhancing labour supply and improving access to employment, skills and competences”. Amongst others, this guideline calls Member States to enable everyone to anticipate and better adapt to labour-market needs, in particular through continuous upskilling and reskilling.

Vocational education and training is a key element of lifelong learning systems. The Copenhagen process, established in 2002, lays out the basis for cooperation in vocational education and training (VET) between 33 European countries. The overall aim is to encourage more individuals to make wider use of vocational learning opportunities, whether at school, in higher education, in the workplace, or through private courses. The actions and tools developed as part of the process aim to allow users to link and build on learning acquired at various times, in both formal and non-formal contexts. More recently, on 24 November 2020, the Council of the European Union adopted a Recommendation on vocational education and training for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience. The Recommendation defines key principles for ensuring that vocational education and training is agile in that it adapts swiftly to labour market needs and provides quality learning opportunities for young people and adults alike. It places a strong focus on the increased flexibility of vocational education and training, reinforced opportunities for work-based learning and apprenticeships and improved quality assurance.

An analysis of adult education and training in Europe is available in a report produced by the European Commission and the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency.

In order to promote more and better learning opportunities for all adults, EPALE aims at supporting and strengthening the adult learning professions. EPALE is a virtual meeting place for adult learning practitioners and organisations at European level.

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Notes

  1. International Standard Classification of Education 2011, paragraph 36, page 11.