The number of adults engaged in formal learning around the globe in any giving year is astounding. Increasingly adult participation in learning is enabled through the robust emerging Global Digital Learning Ecosystem. Globally this is nurtured by such applications as universal language translation. Together these factors help define the rapidly evolving Learning Age. There are a number of sources for global data on adult participation rates in education and formal learning. Global efforts are not directly comparable but together they illustrate the massive investment people from around the world are making in continuous learning. The questions for higher education are a matter of Academic Strategy and are learner-centric in nature. Seven framing questions focus attention on the learner and learning:
- Who are the engaged learners?
- What objectives do engaged learners seek?
- What learning provider models and curricula are available to the learners?
- What learning theories and methods are appropriate for specific learners and the objectives they seek?
- What is the optimum curriculum architecture for an institution or educational entity in the 21st Century?
- What specific curriculum can be configured to meet the learning needs of the learner population(s) an institution has chosen or been charged to serve?
- What support services are necessary to enable specific learner population(s) to successfully complete the curriculum and meet their objectives?
In this post we will focus on the numbers of learners in the adult learning marketplace. We begin in Europe.
An Overview from OECD
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an international economic organization of 34 countries founded in 1961 (with roots back to 1948) to stimulate economic progress and world trade. OECD maintains the Indicators of Education Systems (INES) program that provides data on the performance of the education systems in the OECD’s 34 member countries and a set of partner countries, including non-member G20 nations. In a report Skills Beyond School they report adult participation in Education and Learning in OECD Member countries. Combined the European population covered by OECD is a little more than the U.S. at just under 400 million. Findings include:
- Across the OECD, more than 40% of adults participate in formal and/or non-formal education in a given year. (This is the same range as U.S. adult participation rates.) The proportion ranges from more than 60% in New Zealand and Sweden to less than 15% in Greece and Hungary.
- On average in the OECD area, an individual can expect to receive 988 hours of instruction in non-formal education during his or her working life, of which 715 hours are instruction in job-related non-formal education.
- Overall, 27% of adults in OECD countries have looked for information on learning possibilities in the preceding 12 months, and 87% of those seeking information found some.
European Numbers from Eurostat Indicating Changes in Rates Over 20+ Years
Eurostat is the statistical office of the European Union situated in Luxembourg. It provides the European Union with statistics that enable comparisons between countries and regions. The Adult Education Survey (AES) is a household survey on lifelong learning. People living in private households are interviewed about their participation in education and training activities (formal, non-formal and informal learning). The target population of the survey is composed of people aged 25 to 64. The survey takes place every five years and its results are published on Eurostat website. Eurostat also provides Population Statistics of European countries.
The variability in participation rates among the European nations is profound. The focus on assessing and enhancing participation in educational activities however, is universally among the highest priorities. For deeper insights a visit to the OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills, is worth the time.
U.S. Adult Participation Rates Numbers from NCES
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary U.S. entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education. The National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES) provides descriptive data on the educational activities of the U.S. population, thereby offering policymakers, researchers, and educators a variety of statistics on the condition of education in the United States. The latest numbers for the U.S. Adult Participation Rates is for 2005.
Participation Varies by Age Category
Breaking out the rates by age group highlights that Eurostat begins its age classifications of adult learners at 25 where as the U.S. NHES included 17-24 year olds.
The U.S. Undergraduate Demographic
Reflecting on the characteristics of enrolled college students informs a deeper look at adult learning strategies. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation published an effective demographic infographic detailing what America would look like as 100 College Students.
Comparative rates from Canadian Study
Each nation exhibits a competitive concern over educational achievement by adult learners as a main component of their economic vitality strategy. The Conference Board of Canada has produced a website that presents data and analysis on Canada’s national and provincial performance relative to that of 15 peer countries in six performance categories: Economy, Innovation, Environment, Education and Skills, Health, and Society.
How Canada Performs is a multi-year research program to help leaders identify relative strengths and weaknesses in the socio-economic performance of Canada and its provinces. It helps policy-makers, organization leaders, and all Canadians answer the following questions: How do the quality-of-life report cards for Canada and its provinces compare to those of peer countries? Is Canada’s quality of life sustainable? Has there been an improvement? What must Canada and the provinces do to provide a high and sustainable quality of life for all Canadians?
Asia and Africa reflect a wide range of Participation
For Asia a great place to start is The State and Development of Adult Learning and Education in Asia and the Pacific report by UNESCO. Insights from the report help establish the climate for Adult Learners.
The history of adult learning and education is a hit-and-miss story – starting off with strong rhetoric, promises and expectation and concluding in limited success, and even neglect and disappointment in too many cases. Adult learning and education has been conflated into the broader agenda of education and development more at the level of discourse than in action. In the arena of action, it has been too often confined to a narrow interpretation of literacy skills. Hence, for most governments in developing countries where financial and human resources are limited, adult education is low in the pecking order when it comes to assigning priority to sub-sectors of the education system (Tanvir, 2008). Furthermore, NGOs are often the major providers of adult learning, although this is largely limited to adult literacy programmes, which then becomes a reason for the state not to fulfill its responsibility. (Page 7)
For Africa, the same source different publication: The State and Development of Adult Learning and Education in Subsaharan Africa.
After decades of sustained efforts to eradicate illiteracy in Africa, illiteracy rates of adults remain high with continuing gender and urban/rural disparities. Illiteracy has several correlations with low productivity, low incomes and poorer health (and susceptibility to HIV/AIDS). It hampers national development efforts. It is a bar to much adult education. The enormous growth in free universal primary education in Africa will gradually alleviate this problem, but drop-out rates from primary schooling remain high. The number of people needing adult basic education still grows and few resources are left over from primary education for children. The adult education sub-sector of state education systems remains relatively marginal and under-funded, in spite of the good economic progress in many countries since the mid-1990s.
So what does it mean?
It means the demand for curriculum among adult learners is huge and growing globally. The demand must be considered in addition to the focus on traditional 18 to 22 year old undergraduates. In order to translate that into place based learning one must define the place (the specific area in which learners reside), select the closest approximation of participation rate by curriculum category and calculate the theoretical demand. In the U.S. we begin with the U.S. and World Population Clock. In the U.S. there is One Birth every 8 seconds; One Death every 12 seconds; One International In Migration every 33 seconds; for a Net Gain of One Person every 16 seconds. This establishes the context of rate of change over time.
Once a population and a rate is established, an adult learning population can be estimated. In the U.S. there are approximately 320.2 million people, and an estimated 180.7 million 21 to 65 year olds. Given a 40% participation rate there are an estimated 72.3 million adults in the U.S. Learning Marketplace Annually. Of course these are rough framing estimates but they indicate that adult learning is a well established and important strategic element of social and economic vitality. It must also be a strategic element of framing higher education strategies for the next millennium. To approach these markets new academic strategies must be developed.