Table of Contents

Adult Learning in Modern Societies

Adult Learning in Modern Societies

An International Comparison from a Life-course Perspective

eduLIFE Lifelong Learning series

Edited by Hans-Peter Blossfeld, Elina Kilpi-Jakonen, Daniela Vono de Vilhena and Sandra Buchholz

As industrial societies increasingly evolve into knowledge-based economies, the importance of education as a lifelong process is greater than ever. This comprehensive book provides a state-of-the-art analysis of adult learning across the world and within varying institutional contexts. The expert contributors examine the structures of formal and non-formal adult learning in different countries, and investigate the levels of success those countries have experienced in encouraging participation and skill formation.

Chapter 2: Participation in Adult Learning in Europe: The Impact of Country-Level and Individual Characteristics

Johanna Dämmrich, Daniela Vono de Vilhena and Elisabeth Reichart

Subjects: education, education policy, politics and public policy, education policy, social policy and sociology, comparative social policy, education policy, sociology and sociological theory


The promotion of lifelong learning has become a key issue in policy discourses in regard to both strengthening international economic competitiveness and reducing social inequalities within countries. Beyond demographic developments, accelerated technological changes and growing international interconnectedness have led to an increasing demand to update skills and knowledge over the lifespan (Heckman 2000; Cunha et al. 2006; OECD 2012; Chapter 1 of this volume). Due to these developments, a benchmark has been set within the European Union to raise the participation rate of the 25-to- 64-year-old population in lifelong learning to 15 per cent by the year 2020. However, only eight member states (Austria, Denmark, Finland, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom) have currently met and/or exceeded the 2010 benchmark of 12.5 per cent (European Commission 2010). Comparative analyses of participation in adult learning have shown that there are significant country differences in overall participation rates and in the characteristics of participants. This suggests that the degree to which adult learning contributes to social equalization differs among countries. However, differences in data sources, definitions of adult learning, and varying reference periods make cross-national comparisons of adult learning difficult (Bassanini et al. 2005; Macleod and Lambe 2007; von Rosenbladt 2010). In line with that, data on adult learning that include more than one country are rare. After the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), which focuses on the 1990s and is used in the following chapter for analyzing returns to adult learning, the Adult Education Survey (AES) of 2007 is one of the most recent Adult learning i 30 n modern societies comparative datasets on adult learning. Thus, the AES facilitates the direct comparison of different types of adult learning among countries.

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