Adult learning statistics
Data extracted in July 2021.
Planned article update: May 2022.
Participation rate in education and training, last 4 weeks - 2020
This article provides an overview of adult learning statistics in the European Union (EU), on the basis of data collected through the labour force survey (LFS), supplemented by the adult education survey (AES). Adult learning means the participation of adults aged 25-64 in education and training, also referred to as lifelong learning. For more information about this subject, please also see the article Adult learning statistics - characteristics of education and training.
In general, lifelong learning encompasses all purposeful learning activities, whether formal, non-formal or informal, undertaken on an ongoing basis with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competences. The intention or aim to learn is the critical point that distinguishes these activities from non-learning activities, such as cultural or sporting activities.
LFS and AES use different reference periods for measuring participation in education and training – LFS captures participation in education and training in the last 4 weeks while AES covers learning activities in the last 12 months. The 12 months reference period is considered to allow a more comprehensive measure of participation in education and training but such data from AES are only available every 5-6 years. Therefore, annual 4-weeks LFS data were chosen for policy monitoring. From 2022, LFS will measure participation in education and training during the last 12 months biennially. Once available, these data will be used for policy monitoring, replacing the current 4-weeks indicator.
Participation rate of adults in learning in the last four weeks
The strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training adopted in May 2009 had set a number of benchmarks to be achieved by 2020, including one for adult participation in learning, namely that an average of at least 15 % of adults aged 25 to 64 years old should participate in lifelong learning. In 2020, the proportion of persons aged 25 to 64 in the EU who participated in education or training was 9.2 %; a share that was 0.9 percentage points lower than the corresponding share for 2015 and 1.6 points lower compared to 2019. It is considered that part of the decrease could be related to the COVID-19 pandemic, i.e. cancellation of training activities. The adult learning indicator refers to participation in formal and non-formal education and training and the reference period for the participation is the four weeks preceding the interview as is usual in the labour force survey. (see Table 1).
Denmark, Finland and Sweden 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, ranging from 20.0 % to 28.6 %. Estonia, the Netherlands and Luxembourg were the only other Member States where the participation rate in 2020 exceeded the 15 % benchmark. By contrast, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Croatia and Poland reported adult learning rates of less than 4.0 %.
The proportion of the population who had participated in adult learning was higher among women (10.0 % in 2020) in the EU than among men (8.3 %); the shares for men and women were both lower in 2020 than they had been five years earlier. The participation rate of both women and men increased continuously until 2019 and fell in 2020 only, i.e. with the onset of the COVID-2019 pandemic.
In 2020, women recorded higher participation rates than men in all EU Member States except for Czechia, Germany, Greece and Cyprus (where rates for men were higher), while Romania reported the same rate for both sexes. The largest gender difference, in percentage points, was in Sweden, where the participation rate for women was 13.6 percentage points higher than for men.
Participation rate of adults in learning in the last 12 months
In addition to the data from the labour force survey which provides information on participation in education and training in the four weeks preceding the survey interview, information on 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 therefore is likely to cover more learning activities, resulting in higher participation rates in formal and non-formal education and training. However, it is carried out less frequently (from 2016 every six years). The most recent wave of the survey was conducted between July 2016 and March 2017 (and named the 2016 AES). According to this survey, in 2016 43.7 % of people in the EU aged 25 to 64 took part in education and training (during the 12 months preceding the interview), the majority of which participating in non-formal education and training (see Figure 1).
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 percentage points higher than that of older ones (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 %).
Providers of non-formal education and training activities
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). Employers provided almost two thirds of non-formal education and training in Bulgaria, and three fifths of such activities in Hungary. Among the less common providers of non-formal education and training in the EU as a whole, 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).
Participation in informal learning activities
Next 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.
Source data for tables and graphs
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.
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).
- Classification of learning activities — Manual (2006 edition)
- Classification of learning activities — Manual (2016 edition)
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’ ;
- 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.
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 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 recently 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.
- Adult learning statistics - characteristics of education and training
- Being young in Europe today - education
- Vocational education and training statistics
- Education and training statistics introduced
- Educational expenditure statistics
- Foreign language learning statistics
- Early leavers from education and training
- Tertiary education statistics
- The EU in the world - education and training
- Education and training, see:
- Participation in education and training (educ_part)
- Adult learning (trng)
- Participation in education and training (educ_part)
- Participation in education and training (based on EU-LFS) (ESMS metadata file — trng_lfs_4w0_esms)
- Adult education survey (ESMS metadata file — trng_aes_12m0_esms)
- International Standard Classification of Education 2011, paragraph 36, page 11.