Lifelong Learning

Being under construction: the challenges of lifelong learning

‘I’m Still Under Construction’ – says an article published by The Wall Street Journal, which explores the needs of people to continuously upgrade their skills because of rapidly changing workplace: the so-called lifelong learning. An analysis of the European training Foundation on Eurostat’s data highlights patterns and trends of an intangible, yet key process for people in South Eastern Europe and Turkey: learning throughout their life.

Starting with the basics: what is lifelong learning?

When we talk about lifelong learning we mean all levels of education and learning activities undertaken throughout life within all contexts, such as formal (school-based), non-formal (training out of school) and informal (such as learning on our own). Whatever the training, there is one goal: improving knowledge, skills and competences within a personal, civic, social or employment-related perspective. In other words, it means shifting from traditional education institutions to diverse learning opportunities that an individual can face throughout his life, that are more process and outcome oriented.

A relevance hard to measure

The European Training Foundation is an EU agency supporting countries surrounding the EU to reform their education and labour policies. This includes lifelong learning, so as to assess the evolution in countries, being able to compare data is key. But measuring is not an easy job.

Since lifelong learning is meant to happen continuously throughout life, analysing data about participation in the past 4 weeks before a survey will only show a limited picture of training. More precise and relevant measures, also covering duration, costs and obstacles –   comes at a cost: data  are usually available every five years through tailor-made surveys such as Adult Education Survey or Continuing Vocational Training Survey.

Rethinking the over 25 workforce around the EU

Recent data (reference year 2016) from the Eurostat’s Adult Education Survey analysed by the ETF has explored patterns in EU countries, as well as in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Northern Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey. Data covers participation in formal/non-formal/informal learning for adults aged 25-64.

The ETF findings shows that adult learning is mostly informal, going from one third of adults in Turkey to 90% in Serbia. Most frequently, adults engage in informal learning with friends/colleagues and by using printed material and computers.

What’s interesting is that younger adults participate more in training compared to older people: for those aged 25-34, the figures goes from 17% in Albania to 29% in Serbia, whereas for adults aged 55-64 participation is less than 7% in all countries.

In all countries, the lower-educated (those having completed at most compulsory education) adults engage less with learning (only 1% in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Northern Macedonia), whereas tertiary (university-type) graduates are most likely to learn throughout their life (from 31% of adults in Bosnia and Herzegovina to 49% in Turkey).

Lifelong learning shows imbalances as far as social inclusion is concerned. Unemployed and inactive adults engage much less than employed adults with learning (some 10% versus 30%). Moreover, adult learning is mostly offered to highly-skilled workers, whereas participation of the medium- and low-skilled workers is much lower. At last, people living in cities are more engaged with learning compared to those living in the rural areas.


Continuing vocational education and training and adult learning allows people to develop skills that promote their employability, mobility and productivity, contributing to societal competitiveness and growth. The ETF promotes the continuity of lifelong learning and work-based learning throughout different levels of vocational education provision. While vocational education and training policy tends to emphasise the preparation of young people, there is a growing awareness to improve access to adult skills development. The ETF facilitates the sharing of EU best practice and peer learning exchanges among policymakers, and promotes quality assurance mechanisms in line with the European Quality Assurance in Vocational Education and Training (EQAVET).

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