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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