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 17: The Promise and Reality of Adult Learning in Modern Societies

Daniela Vono de Vilhena, Elina Kilpi-Jakonen, Susanne Schührer and Hans-Peter Blossfeld

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


Despite the fact that the topic of adult learning is not a new one (see, e.g., Jarvis 1995), its relevance has only relatively recently been recognized inside academic and political spheres as one of the main issues in contemporary global and aging societies. Due to the acceleration of technological change caused by processes of globalization, generational change is becoming insufficient as a mechanism for adapting the workforce to new demands (Janossy 1966; Blossfeld and Stockmann 1999). Instead, individuals are required to continuously update their skills to be prepared for rapidly changing requirements of the labor market. In particular, adult learning has been identified as a potential strategy to enable older workers to stay employed longer, thereby also reducing the pension burden of welfare states (OECD 2004a; Schuller and Watson 2009; D’Addio, Keese and Whitehouse 2010; European Commission 2011). Furthermore, the debate on inequality of educational opportunities has resurfaced, partly as a result of the PISA studies (see, e.g., OECD 2004b; see also OECD 2013 for new evidence on skill inequalities among adults). These studies have highlighted the extent of educational inequalities within and among nations, which has triggered a large amount of political attention and changes that have the aim of improving the quality and equality of education. However, these initiatives have hardly touched upon adult learning, despite the fact that this type of learning is an important way of giving individuals a second chance in education as well as in the labor market.

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