Adult Learning in Modern Societies
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Adult Learning in Modern Societies

An International Comparison from a Life-course Perspective

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.
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Chapter 6: Cumulative (Dis)advantage? Patterns of Participation and Outcomes of Adult Learning in Great Britain

Patricia McMullin and Elina Kilpi-Jakonen


Throughout Western societies, globalizing and demographic influences have placed additional pressure on policy makers to encourage investment in adult learning in order to maintain high levels of worker productivity and to promote equity between different socioeconomic groups. However, the conclusion of many previous studies on adult learning has been that educational opportunities follow a pattern of cumulative advantage, whereby the highly educated are more likely to participate (e.g., Elman and O’Rand 2004). The British institutional setting promotes relatively high levels of participation in adult learning. In this chapter, we examine how participation opportunities are distributed within the population and across individuals’ life courses. We also aim to analyze how adult learning influences labor market outcomes in a longitudinal manner. Our conclusions about the cumulative nature of advantages related to adult learning are based on the outcomes of these analyses. Our study diverges from previous studies on adult learning in Britain and many of the other studies in this volume by taking into account a number of different types of adult learning and analyzing them separately. We are able to distinguish between formal and non-formal learning, and within non-formal learning, we distinguish between certified and non-certified learning as well as between employer-sponsored and self-sponsored learning. When analyzing labor market outcomes, we are also able to differentiate between qualifications of different levels. Overall, we are able to paint a comprehensive picture of adult learning in Great Britain.

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