Indicator A7. To what extent do adults participate in education and training?

Adult learning, also known as lifelong learning, can help individuals progress in their careers, and adapt to a fast-changing and uncertain world. This indicator looks at the adult learning without taking into account the labour force status of the individuals. Adult learning often takes the form of non-formal and/or informal education and training, in contrast to participation in formal education, which is more common among young people (Table A7.1). Although participation in formal education and training was largely stable between the first quarter of 2019 and the fourth quarter of 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic clearly affected participation in non-formal education and training. A dip in the third quarter of each year reflects a natural decline in participation rates during this period (the summer months in most OECD countries). However, in 2020 the drop occurred earlier, in the second quarter of the year reflecting the impact of the pandemic (Figure A7.1).

Overall, participation rates of adults in both formal and non-formal education and training had returned to their pre-pandemic levels by 2021 (with the data also showing the usual decline during summer months). On average, across OECD countries with available data in 2021, 14% of adults had participated in either formal or non-formal education and training in the preceding four weeks (Figure A7.1). In Greece, Poland and the Slovak Republic 5% or less of adults had participated, while the share reached 25% or above in Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden (Table A7.1). Box A7.1 analyses the determinants of participation in formal and/or non-formal education and training across European Union member states.

Non-formal education was the most important contributor to adult education and training between 2019 and 2021 (Figure A7.1). In 2021, on average over a four-week reference period, 10% of adults participated in non-formal education and training. Over this period, 22% of adults participated in non-formal education and training in Finland and 28% in Sweden, but only 1% participated in non-formal education and training in Costa Rica, Greece and the Republic of Türkiye. Adult participation in formal education and training is less common: on average 4% of adults participated in formal education across countries during the reference period. Finland (12%) and Sweden (10%) were the countries with the highest adult participation rate in formal education and training (Table A7.1, available on line).

Among countries that reported participation in the 12-month reference period preceding the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) in 2019, the share of adults participating in non-formal education and training was also larger than the share participating in formal education. Participation by adults in formal and/or non-formal education and training was at least 50% in Canada, Israel, Korea and New Zealand (Table A7.1).

The implementation of social distancing measures during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic led to strict shutdowns and extensive use of remote working arrangements. In 2020, across OECD countries, the average share of people aged 25-64 who had participated in non-formal education and training in the last four weeks fell by 2 percentage points compared with 2019 (Figure A7.3). On average across the countries that collected data using a four-week reference period, adult participation in non-formal education and training fell by 4 percentage points between the first and second quarter of 2020. Trends in participation in both formal and/or non-formal education and training highlight the decrease in participation during the first quarters of 2020, and the drop in non-formal education and training accounts for most of this decline. This reflects the adult learning losses induced by the first phases of the COVID-19 pandemic (Table A7.1, available on line).

In 2021, adult participation in non-formal education and training returned to pre-pandemic levels in most countries. The extensive use of remote education and training may have benefited by the expansion of digital technologies. In addition, the reopening of schools may have removed a barrier to education and training for adults with young children at home. On average, the share of adults who had participated in non-formal education and training in the last four weeks increased by 2 percentage points between 2020 and 2021. In 12 out of 28 countries participation rates in non-formal education and training in 2021 even exceeded their pre-pandemic levels. However, participation rates have not returned to their pre-pandemic levels in all countries (Figure A7.3).

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on non-formal education and training opportunities has been uneven, with adults with lower levels of educational attainment being hardest hit. Participation in non-formal education and training is largely driven by employment, which has also been affected by the pandemic. In 2020, workers without an upper secondary qualification were more likely to lose their jobs or see a reduction in their hours worked than their peers with upper secondary attainment, while those with a tertiary qualification were least affected (OECD, 2021[5]). Workers without tertiary attainment were also more commonly employed in the sectors most affected by widespread lockdown scenarios than those with a tertiary qualification – 25% of those without tertiary education, compared to 22% of tertiary-educated workers. The differences are even larger across countries, reaching at least 10 percentage points in Australia and Norway (OECD, 2021[6]).

The impact of the pandemic and the associated lockdowns on employment has also varied with the ability to work from home, which is in turn associated with educational attainment. On average, only 18% of workers without tertiary attainment are able to work from home, compared to 54% of tertiary-educated workers among countries taking part in the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) between 2011 and 2017 (Espinoza and Reznikova, 2020[7]). Likewise, according to the analysis included in Indicator A6, just 10% of employed adults with below upper secondary attainment reported usually or sometimes working from home in 2021, compared to 46% of those with tertiary attainment (see Indicator A6).

An additional challenge is that a large share of adults with lower educational attainment lack the skills needed to benefit from digital learning opportunities. While the capacity to pursue online education might have been useful before the pandemic, once learning activities moved, at least partly, from training rooms to online platforms, it became a pre-requisite for education in many cases. Adults without a tertiary qualification are least prepared to benefit from the digital transition (see Indicator A6). With the widespread use of ICT across all economic sectors, ICT skills are an essential requirement for the majority of job roles. Assessing youth and adults’ proficiency in such skills helps governments to develop targeted policies to improve them (Box A7.2). Ensuring that most individuals are equipped with at least basic ICT skills is a critical challenge.

Tertiary-educated adults have a higher participation rate in non-formal education and training than those with a lower levels of educational attainment. On average across OECD countries with available data, in 2021, 4% of 25-64 year-olds with below upper secondary attainment had participated in non-formal education and training in the four weeks preceding the survey. This rate increases to 8% for those with upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary attainment and reaches 16% for those with a tertiary attainment. Participation across countries varies greatly even among tertiary-educated adults: ranging from 3% or less in Costa Rica, Greece and Türkiye to 35% in Sweden (Figure A7.5).

Even within the category of tertiary-educated adults, participation in non-formal education and training increases with educational attainment. In the four weeks prior to the survey, 22% of adults with doctoral or equivalent degrees participated in non-formal education and training, compared to 12% of those with a short-cycle tertiary degree. Similar findings are observed in participation rates among surveys using the preceding 12 months as a reference period (Table A7.2). The difference in the reference period for participation (the previous 4 weeks or the previous 12 months), as well as the frequency of date (annual or by quarter) explain the large differences in participation rates in adult education and training between countries participating in EU-FLS, Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) or in national surveys (Table A7.2; Figure A7.5).

As the analysis of the participation in adult education and training by gender with data from the Adult Education Survey (AES) in Education at a Glance 2021 has shown, participation rates in non-formal education and training do not differ much by gender (OECD, 2021[8]). On average over a four-week reference period, the participation of women in non-formal education and training is about 2 percentage points higher than the participation of men. The gender gap exceeds 7 percentage points (in favour of women) only in Denmark, Finland and Sweden. In countries that collected data using a 12-month reference period such as Canada, Chile, Japan, Korea, Mexico and New Zealand, the gender gap is reversed. On average, 23% of women and 25% of men had taken part in non-formal education and training in the previous 12 months (Table A7.2).

Older adults are less likely to participate in non-formal education and training than the younger ones regardless their labour force status (OECD, 2021[6]). Across all countries, regardless of whether surveys have a reference period of 4 weeks or 12 months, participation in non-formal education and training decreases from the age of 40 onwards. For instance, on average, 12% of 25-34 year-olds reported participating in non-formal education and training in the four weeks prior to the survey compared with 7% of 55-64 year olds (Table A7.2).

Box A7.3 considers the support available for learners to access innovative alternatives to traditional formal education programmes such as micro-credentials. Studies suggest that learners in higher education micro-credential courses tend to be more educated and more skilled (OECD, 2021[9]).

Enrolment in formal education is less common among the older population, as students graduate leaving the formal education system and entering the labour market. Enrolment in formal tertiary education tends to occur at a younger age (see Indicator B1). On average across OECD countries, in 2020, 12% of 25-29 year-olds are enrolled in formal tertiary education, falling to 4% among 30-39 year-olds and to less than 1% among 40-64 year-olds. Across OECD and partner countries, enrolment in formal tertiary education among 25-29 year-olds ranges from 4% in Luxembourg and South Africa to over 25% in Türkiye. In Australia, Finland, Greece, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Türkiye, at least 7% of 30-39 year-olds are enrolled in formal tertiary education. At most 3% of 40-64 year-olds are enrolled in formal tertiary education across OECD countries, such as in Australia, Greece, Iceland and Türkiye (Figure A7.7).

Adults are more likely to pursue higher levels of education than lower levels. On average across OECD countries with available data, less than 1% of the 25-64 year-olds are enrolled in formal education below upper secondary level, 1% in upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education and 3% in tertiary education (Table A7.3). Participation rates in programmes below tertiary level may reflect the extent to which adult education provides second chances.

Adults refer to 25-64 year-olds; younger adults refer to 25-34 year-olds; older adults refer to 55-64 year-olds.

Adult education and training (adult learning) means the participation of adults in lifelong learning. Adult learning usually refers to learning activities after the end of initial education. The participation rate in education and training covers participation in both formal and non-formal education and training.

Educational attainment refers to the highest level of education successfully completed by an individual.

Learning activities are any activities of an individual organised with the intention to improve their knowledge, skills, and competences. There are two fundamental criteria that distinguish learning activities from non-learning activities: they must be intentional and organised. Intentional learning (as opposed to random learning) is defined as a deliberate search for knowledge, skills or competences or attitudes of lasting value. Organised learning is defined as learning planned in a pattern or sequence with explicit or implicit aims.

The learning activities are defined within a classification named classification of learning activities (CLA) (EUROSTAT, 2016[11]). The current version of the CLA (2016 edition) is aligned with ISCED 2011:

  • Formal education and training is defined as “education that is institutionalised, intentional and planned through public organisations and recognised private bodies, and - in their totality - constitute the formal education system of a country. Formal education programmes are thus recognised as such by the relevant national education or equivalent authorities, e.g. any other institution in cooperation with the national or sub-national education authorities. Formal education consists mostly of initial education [...]. Vocational education, special needs education and some parts of adult education are often recognised as being part of the formal education system. Qualifications from formal education are by definition recognised and, therefore, are within the scope of ISCED. Institutionalised education occurs when an organisation provides structured educational arrangements, such as student-teacher relationships and/or interactions, that are specially designed for education and learning” (UIS, 2012[12]).

  • Non-formal education and training is defined as “education that is institutionalised, intentional and planned by an education provider. The defining characteristic of non-formal education is that it is an addition, alternative and/or complement to formal education within the process of lifelong learning of individuals. It is often provided in order to guarantee the right of access to education for all. It caters to people of all ages but does not necessarily apply a continuous pathway structure; it may be short in duration and/or low-intensity; and it is typically provided in the form of short courses, workshops or seminars. Non-formal education mostly leads to qualifications that are not recognised as formal or equivalent to formal qualifications by the relevant national or sub-national education authorities or to no qualifications at all. Nevertheless, formal, recognised qualifications may be obtained through exclusive participation in specific non-formal education programmes; this often happens when the non-formal programme completes the competencies obtained in another context” (UIS, 2012[12]).

  • Informal learning is “intentional, but it is less organised and less structured ... and may include for example learning events (activities) that occur in the family, in the workplace, and in the daily life of every person, on a self-directed, family-directed or socially-directed basis” (EUROSTAT, 2016[11]).

  • Job-related non-formal education and training: taking part in non-formal education and training activity in order to obtain knowledge and/or learn new skills needed for a current or future job, to increase earnings, to improve job and/or career opportunities in a current or another field and generally to improve their opportunities for advancement and promotion.

  • Employer-sponsored job-related non-formal education and training: all job-related non-formal education and training activities paid for at least partially by the employer and/or done during paid working hours.

Levels of education: See the Reader’s Guide at the beginning of this publication for a presentation of all ISCED 2011 levels.

Lifelong learning encompasses all learning activities undertaken throughout life with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competences, within personal, civic, social or employment-related perspectives. The intention or aim to learn is the critical point that distinguishes these activities from non-learning activities, such as cultural or sporting activities.

For data from the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), observations based on a numerator with fewer than 5 observations or on a denominator with fewer than 30 observations times the number of categories have been replaced by “c” in the tables.

This indicator includes data on participation in formal and/or non-formal education and training from different sources that have different reference period: either 4 weeks or 12 months before the survey.

The European Union-Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS) is held quarterly and measures participation in formal and/or non-formal education and training during a four-week period excluding guided on-the-job training. The EU-LFS methodology can be found at

National surveys in Costa Rica, Türkiye and the United Kingdom also use a four-week reference period, while the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) as well as the national surveys of Australia and Colombia measure participation in formal and/or non-formal education and training during a 12-month period.

The data presented in Figure A7.2 refer to the results of a logistic regression (run for each country separately) where the dependent variable captures participation and non-participation in adult learning activities. The independent variables are grouped into the three categories: personal characteristics, educational attainment and job-related characteristics. The relative importance of each of these three categories in accounting for participation in adult learning activities is identified by comparing the reduction in deviance attributable to all the independent variables belonging to each category. The relative contribution of each group of determinants could not be presented in terms of the “proportion of variance explained”, because this concept is not well defined in the context of logistic regression (European Commission, 2020[13]).

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) methodology can be found at: (ITU, 2020[14]).

The Higher Education Policy Survey (HEPS) used in Figure A7.6 refers to the Higher Education Policy data collection that occurred during the second half of 2020 and which was administrated by the OECD Higher Education Policy team. In total, 29 OECD countries and other participants responded to at least one of the survey modules, and 27 jurisdictions completed the entire survey (Golden, Troy and Weko, 2021[10]).

  • For Tables A7.1 and A7.2 on participation in formal and/or non-formal education and training: the EU-LFS for European OECD countries (i.e. Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland); the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) for Canada, Chile, Israel, Japan, Korea, Mexico and New Zealand; and national data sources for Australia (ABS survey of Work-Related Training and Adult Learning), Costa Rica (Continuous Employment Survey), Colombia (Great Integrated Household Survey), Türkiye (Labour Force Survey) and the United Kingdom (Labour Force Survey).

  • For Table A7.3 on enrolment rates in formal education: The UNESCO-UIS/OECD/EUROSTAT data collection on education statistics administered by the OECD in 2020 for all countries; all data refer to the academic year 2019/20 (for details, see Annex 3 at

  • For Figure A7.2 on the determinants of adult learning: the Adult Education Survey (AES) for European OECD countries.

  • For Figure A7.4 on the proportion of youth and adults with ICT skills: the World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Database for all countries.

  • For Figure A7.6 on jurisdictions providing grant support to students: the Higher Education Policy Survey (HEPS) for 28 OECD countries and subnational jurisdictions.


[4] Borkowsky, A. (2013), Monitoring adult learning policies: A theoretical framework and indicators, OECD Education Working Papers, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[7] Espinoza, R. and L. Reznikova (2020), “Who can log in? The importance of skills for the feasibility of teleworking arrangements across OECD countries”, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 242, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[13] European Commission (2020), Education and Training Monitor 2020: Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age, Publications Office of the European Union,

[11] EUROSTAT (2016), Classification of learning activities (CLA) - manual - 2016 edition,

[10] Golden, G., L. Troy and T. Weko (2021), “How are higher education systems in OECD countries resourced?: Evidence from an OECD Policy Survey”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 259, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[14] ITU (2020), Manual for Measuring ICT Access and Use by Households and Individuals: 2020 Edition, International Telecommunication Union,

[6] OECD (2021), “Adult Learning and COVID-19: How much informal and non-formal learning are workers missing?”, OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19), OECD Publishing, Paris,

[8] OECD (2021), Education at a Glance 2021: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[9] OECD (2021), “Micro-credential innovations in higher education: Who, what and why?”, OECD Education Policy Perspectives, No. 39, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[5] OECD (2021), OECD Employment Outlook 2021: Navigating the COVID-19 Crisis and Recovery, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[2] OECD (2021), OECD Skills Outlook 2021: Learning for Life, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[1] OECD (2019), Getting Skills Right: Engaging low-skilled adults in learning, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[3] Ruhose, J., S. Thomsen and I. Weilage (2019), “The benefits of adult learning: Work-related training, social capital, and earnings”, Economics of Education Review, Vol. Vol. 72, pp. pp. 166-186,

[12] UIS (2012), International Standard Classification of Education: ISCED 2011, UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Montreal,

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