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Adult participation in learning survey

Back in August, the Learning and Work Institute (L&W) released the latest iteration of its annual survey of adult participation in learning. The L&W survey 5,000 adults across the UK giving us an evidence based on who participates in learning, their motivations, barriers, and the benefits they experience.

Here’s a selection of the main findings:

  • Women have a significantly higher participation rate than men.
  • Those from higher social grades are more likely to participate in learning than those from lower social grades.
  • Working status is a key predictor of participation; those closer to the labour market are associated with higher participation rates. Full and part-time workers are equally likely to be participating in learning.
  • Age has a strong effect on participation rate. Each age group has a significantly higher participation rate than the next oldest group, with one exception: the 25 to 34 group have slightly lower rates than the 35 to 44 group.
  • Those from BAME backgrounds are significantly and substantially more likely to be participating in learning than respondents from White backgrounds.
  • Those who left full-time education at 16 or under are the least likely to have current or recent experience of learning. Remaining in education until at least the age of 21 is associated with the highest participation rate.
  • Participation in learning is lower among adults who have higher levels of disadvantage in employment and those who live in areas that have the highest levels of multiple deprivation.

What motivates adults to learn?

  • 75% of learners took up their main learning for work or career related reasons.
  • More under-35s take up learning for work or career related reasons.
  • Top reasons for taking up learning are personal development and improvement in their job.

Where do adults learn?

  • 55% of learners participated in work-related learning and a further 41% learnt independently.
  • 34% of respondents learnt in a formal educational establishment and 6% in a community or voluntary organisation.

This indicates that provision should be flexible to adults’ lives and be offered in the workplace and remotely (for example through online learning), as well as through formal education institutions.

What do adults learn?

  • Adults are learning a range of subjects, including health and science; digital, computer skills and IT; business and administrative; creative and design; and childcare and education.
  • 67% of people’s main learning leads to a qualification.
  • Over 90% of learners aged 17-24 say their learning will result in a qualification.

What are adults’ barriers to learning?

  • The barrier to learning most frequently identified by survey respondents, regardless of their learning status, was work or other time pressures.
  • Current and recent learners say situational barriers, such as cost and childcare or caring responsibilities are barriers.
  • Adults who have not been learning for at least three years were more likely to cite dispositional barriers, such as feeling too old and a lack of interest.
  • Nearly 38% of non-learners say that nothing is preventing them from doing so, which potentially indicates that learning is not something they have considered or that they feel would be of value for them.

What might encourage adults to learn in the future?

  • The most common responses were: if it was cheaper or the fees were lower; if it was related to something that they were interested in; if they could learn from home.
  • Almost 38% of adults, however, said that nothing would make them more likely to take up learning.
  • Adults with higher level qualifications and those in higher social grades are most likely to identify factors that would address situational barriers, such as finance and practical support.

What are adults’ attitudes towards post-16 provision?

  • The results indicate that respondents would be most likely to go to college to do a vocational qualification, followed by university and then do an apprenticeship or higher apprenticeship.
  • 75% of respondents would be likely to recommend each of the above options. This suggests that participation in any of these types of provision may not necessarily reflect their perceived value, with a substantially greater proportion of respondents saying they would recommend each type of provision even if they are unlikely to take up these opportunities themselves.

With all of this in mind, what does the L&W recommend for future best practice to engage with adults?

  • Targeting adults in lower social grades, adults who are furthest from the labour market, older adults, and those who left full-time education at their earliest opportunity.
  • Encouraging adults to try out learning, and providing support for them to continue to do so, are important to increasing participation overall.
  • Ensuring a breadth of opportunities – including those directly related to the workplace – is important to successfully engage more adults in learning especially for unemployed and disadvantaged groups.
  • A broad learning offer needs to be available to adults and should be delivered flexibly to include at the workplace, remotely, at a training provider and online.
  • Engaging adults by making the case of the value and relevance of learning to them.
  • The government and providers should ensure that the value of this investment is visible to potential learners and employers and support costs where possible.
  • Relevant information should be made available in public places and through individuals and services that people come into contact with.
  • The appetite for apprenticeships exists and efforts should be focused on ensuring individuals are successful in accessing opportunities.


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