Stats and research

Learning as an adult can be life changing. It can help to build confidence, find a new hobby or career, and get by in everyday life.

It goes beyond individuals, increasing participation in community life, strengthening existing relationships and developing new ones. Research on lifelong learning speaks for itself. Explore the latest trends and research in adult learning and its benefits below.

Rates of adult participation in learning

These charts show trends in the rate of adult participation in learning. Each year, survey respondents are provided with the following definition of learning and asked when they last took part in learning:

‘Learning can mean practicing, studying or reading about something. It can also mean being taught, instructed or coached. This is so you can develop skills, knowledge, abilities or understanding of something. Learning can also be called education or training. You can do it regularly (each day or month) or you can do it for a short period of time. It can be full time, or part time, done at home, at work, or in another place like a college. Learning does not have to lead to a qualification. We are interested in any learning you have done, whether or not it was finished.’

Year-on-year, around two-fifths of adults say that they are currently learning or have done so in the previous three years, while a third or more say that they have not learnt since full-time education.

Use the buttons at the top of the chart to explore breakdowns of participation in learning by demographic characteristics.

Likelihood of future learning

These charts show adults’ likelihood of future learning. Each year, survey respondents are asked how likely they are to take part in any learning over the next three years.

Year-on-year, around two-fifths of adults say that they are fairly or very likely to participate in learning in the next three years. Participation in learning is a key predictor of future intentions to learn; the more recently respondents took part in learning the more likely they are to do so in the future.

Use the buttons at the top of the chart to explore breakdowns of likelihood by demographic characteristics.

The buttons at the side can be used to select survey respondents by how recently they had participated in learning. The ‘all recent learning’ button includes adults who were currently learning or who had done so in the previous three years.

Methods of learning

These charts show the methods of learning used by adults. Most surveys from 2009 onwards included a question asking current and recent learners, how they did their learning.

Respondents were asked to pick from a list of options. These have been grouped into:

  • Work based training e.g. ‘on the job’, ‘on a training course at work’;
  • School, further education and higher education e.g. ‘through a university’, ‘through a further education college’;
  • Other locally based training e.g. ‘through a local adult education centre’, ‘through a leisure or health club’;
  • Online e.g. ‘through an app’, ‘through YouTube’;
  • Independently e.g. ‘independently on my own’, ‘independently with others’.

Year-on-year, around two-fifths of adults say that they learnt through school, further education or higher education; the exceptions are the 2017 and 2018 surveys, where roughly a third of adults did so. A further 26 to 36 per cent each year say that they learnt through work. Between 14 and 21 per cent of adults say that they learnt independently, with fewer than one in 10 learning online or through other locally based training.

Use the boxes at the side of the chart to explore breakdowns of the overall trends by demographic characteristics. The buttons at the top show a separate chart for each demographic; the additional buttons on each chart can be used to show breakdowns by how learning was completed.

Motivations for learning

These charts show adults’ motivations for learning. Most surveys from 2002 onwards included a question asking current and recent learners their main reason for choosing to learn.

Respondents were asked to pick from a list of options. These have been grouped into:

  • Work-related e.g. ‘to get a job’, ‘to help in my current job’;
  • Education or progression e.g. ‘to get a recognised qualification’, ‘to help me get onto a future course of learning’;
  • Personal development e.g. ‘to develop myself as a person’, ‘to improve my self-confidence’;
  • Not my choice e.g. ‘employer requirement’, ‘benefit requirement’.

For most years, around two-fifths of adults say that they are learning for personal development, and a further two-fifths for work-related reasons. Around fifteen per cent of adults consistently say that they are learning for education or progression, with fewer than one in 10 saying that it is not their choice.

Use the boxes at the side of the chart to explore breakdowns of the overall trends by demographic characteristics. The buttons at the top show a separate chart for each demographic; the additional buttons on each chart can be used to show breakdowns by each type of motivation.

Benefits of learning

These charts show the benefits of learning experienced by survey respondents. A number of surveys from 2002 onwards included a question asking current and recent learners what benefits they had experienced as a result of learning.

Respondents were asked to pick from a list of options. These have been grouped into:

  • Benefits to job or work e.g. ‘I have got a job’, ‘I have changed the type of work I do’;
  • Better personal wellbeing or improved health e.g. ‘my health has improved’‘I have more control of my life’;
  • Gained qualification or wants to learn more e.g. ‘I enjoy learning more’, ‘I have got a recognised qualification’;
  • No benefits.

For most years, around two-fifths to a half of adults say that they have experienced benefits relating to personal wellbeing or health. Each year, a further 24 to 40 per cent say that they have experienced benefits related to their job or work, with the exception of 2013. Fewer than one in five adults normally say that they have gained qualifications or want to learn more, with only one in 10 adults normally saying that they experienced no benefits. The exceptions to these trends is 2013, where work-related benefits are more commonly cited.

Use the boxes at the side of the chart to explore breakdowns of the overall trends by demographic characteristics. The buttons at the top show a separate chart for each demographic; the additional buttons on each chart can be used to show breakdowns by each type of benefit.

Barriers to learning

These charts show the barriers to learning experienced by survey respondents. A number of surveys from 2002 onwards included a question asking respondents what had prevented them from learning or made it difficult.

Respondents were asked to pick from a list of options. These have been grouped into:

  • Work or time pressures;
  • Childcare or other caring responsibilities;
  • Cost;
  • I feel I am too old;
  • Other barriers e.g. ‘too far to travel’, ‘I don’t feel confident enough’, ‘I don’t know what is available’;
  • No need to learn or no barriers.

Year-on-year, roughly 10 to 15 per cent of adults say that work or other time pressures prevent them from learning, with a similar proportion saying that they feel too old. Fewer than one in 10 adults consistently cite childcare or other caring responsibilities, with a similar proportion saying that cost prevents them. Each year, 18 to 27 per cent of adults say that other barriers are preventing them from learning; for most years around two-fifths say that there are no barriers or that they consider they have no need to learn.

Use the boxes at the side of the chart to explore breakdowns of the overall trends by demographic characteristics. The buttons at the top show a separate chart for each demographic; the additional buttons on each chart can be used to show breakdowns by each barrier.

Adult participation in learning survey

Learning and Work Institute’s Adult Participation in Learning survey is the longest running and most frequently occurring study of adult learning in the UK. Explore trend data from the past 20 years in our interactive charts. The data can be broken down by demographics, learning status and other useful variables.

Further analysis here