Adult Participation in Learning Survey 2021


It is 25 years since the first adult participation in learning survey, and this one is published during Learning and Work Institute’s centenary year.

This year’s survey shows that 44% of adults have taken part in learning in the last three years. That’s an increase on the record lows found in 2019 and marks the first rise in participation since 2015.

However, the data also shows stark inequalities in who participates in learning.

  • Adults in lower socio-economic groups (DE) are twice as likely to not have participated in learning since leaving full-time education than those in higher socio-economic groups (AB).
  • Respondents who stayed in education until at least the age of 21 are twice as likely to be learning than those who left aged 16 or under (56% versus 28%).
  • The majority (55%) of full-time workers are taking part in learning, compared to 45% of unemployed adults seeking work.

Learning and Work Institute has been undertaking the Adult Participation in Learning Survey on an almost annual basis for 25 years. The survey provides a unique overview of the level of participation in learning by adults, with a detailed breakdown of who participates and who does not.

The survey deliberately adopts a broad definition of learning, including a wide range of formal, non-formal and informal learning, far beyond the limits of publicly offered educational opportunities for adults. Each year, a representative sample of approximately 5,000 adults aged 17 and over across the UK are provided with the following definition of learning and asked when they last took part, as well as how likely they are to take part in learning during the next three years:

‘Learning can mean practising, 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.’

Further information about the methodology can be found in the Annex in the report.

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of Learning and Work Institute, said
It’s good to see a rise in participation in lifelong learning after years of falls, given how vital learning is for both life and work. In part, an explosion in online learning during the pandemic has sparked people’s interest in learning something new. However, the stark inequalities in access mean that those who could benefit most from learning are least likely to participate. We need a collective effort to build a culture of learning and make this the lifelong learning century.