For 27 years, the Adult Participation in Learning Survey has provided a unique insights into adult learning across the UK. It adopts a deliberately broad definition of learning, reflecting the fact that learning is about much more than formal courses and qualifications.
The 2023 survey shows almost one in two adults took part in learning in the last three years, the highest rate since the survey started in 1996. The increase in participation since the pandemic has been driven by a rise in self-directed learning, including online. This is often for personal or leisure reasons or general interest. This is clearly positive, but other opportunities to learn have become more limited over time: employer and Government investment in England are down in the last decade.
There is more positive news in the narrowing over time of some inequalities in learning participation between groups. This includes by age, important given our aging population. However, inequalities remain stark and persistent and, in the case of regional differences, may in fact have widened in recent years.
The biggest reasons adults give for not taking part in learning are cost, feeling too old, time pressures and also not wanting to / not seeing the benefits. That points to the need to build a culture of learning and offer people a range of flexible learning options.