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Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



What could be a European vision for adult learning in the 2020s? What are the best ways to help implement such a vision?

by Markus Palmén

/en/file/european-vision-adult-learningEuropean vision of adult learning


What could be a European vision for adult learning in the 2020s? What are the best ways to help implement such a vision? We would love to hear your thoughts on these questions and more in this online discussion.

As a follow-up to our discussion on the needs of adult learning support from the EU, we would like you to share your opinion on any of the topics below. Engage with your peers from across Europe in this online discussion moderated by EPALE Thematic Coordinator Markus Palmen.

  • How will you describe the vision of adult learning embedded in the European Agenda for Adult Learning (EAAL)? What are this vision's pros and cons?
  • How could this vision be made more relevant to your country and to the challenges of the next decade?
  • What about individual initiatives aiming to further a common European vision for adult learning (e.g., EPALE, Upskilling Pathways, the national coordinators for EAAL)? Feel free to mention your own examples! 
  • What alternative visions could there be? Can there be just one European vision for adult education? How can the EU best support Member States with different progress in the provision of adult learning?
  • When we look at the Europe 2020 Strategy, we see that it aims at increasing employment and education rates, but also mentions combating climate change and social marginalisation as priorities. What kind of adult education is needed to combat climate change? What type of AE would address social marginalisation?

** Comments will be open until 31 October 2018!

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Markus Palmén's picture
This discussion prompted insightful comments about the future vision of AE. We would still benefit from additional voices so we are keeping comments open while we move into the next discussion, which can be found here: 


I wonder if the gist of this discussion could be boiled down to a call for stronger evidence-based advocacy for adult learning. I guess that is a prerequisite for a broader vision, or an enabler of a vision.  

We touched upon the societal benefits of AL (a strong advocacy argument), upon the need for a European framework for validation (a "Bologna process" for VLP) and professionalization of adult educators themselves. Brian shared interesting insights from Northern Ireland, also highlighting the importance of , cultural awareness,  advocacy and evidence-based policies. All these could be put forward as priorities for the EAAL from 2020 onwards. What do others think?

Brian Caul's picture
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The future of adult learning policy – a Northern Ireland perspective from Dr. Brian Caul


Three key recommendations on policy for adult learning


1.    Expand Skilled Employability

If a society is to thrive, especially through turbulent political and economic times, it

requires a workforce with renewable and innovative skills in pace with changing


2.    Promote Lifelong Learning through Stakeholder Partnerships

Lifelong learning should mean literally that, with opportunities ranging from formal

settings to spontaneous neighbourhood and voluntary initiatives, resourced by

learners themselves.

3.    Remove Inequalities in Access to Adult Learning

There are continuing profound inequalities in access ranging from social and

economic disadvantage to newcomer families where English is not the first

language. People with physical disabilities and mental ill-health still are confronted

by obstacles which can thwart their opportunities for personal development.



Areas of focus for policy within adult learning

  • ·        Demographic Changes

Policies must be evidence-based. Two significant changes are the increasing proportion of

older people and the increasing newcomer population from other cultural and ethnic

backgrounds. Inequality linked to Disabilities Technology is offering more and

more opportunity to engage people with disabilities in home-based or blended learning. Much more needs to be invested in making people aware of these pathways and encouraging the use of them.


  • ·        Fragmented Services

Despite many years of advocacy and research, adult learning still lacks overall coordination. The interconnectivity of learning, health and purposeful employment is well documented, but more integrated planning at central and local government levels is required to maximise these potential benefits.



Lessons learnt – what has and has not worked?


  • ·        Informal voluntary learning (e.g. the University of the Third Age:  U3A)

Local people can address their own needs within communities. By using each other as learning resources (e.g. workshops, demonstrations), this promotes wider learning and also enhances the self-esteem of the contributor.


  • ·        Online learning will play an increasingly important in improving access, both nationally and internationally.


  • ·        Cultural Awareness Training

Citizens from all sections of society, from community groups to statutory and NGO employees benefit from the availability of workshops which deal with difficult issues such as prejudice and discrimination, and encourage people to reflect on the benefits of celebrating diversity based on deeper insights and understanding about other cultures and ethnic background


  • ·        Adult Learning remains a “Cinderella Service”

Because of its wide scope and sometimes loose definitions, adult learning outside the realm of colleges and universities has had to survive on the crumbs from the table. However it is not enough to cry for greater resources. Such appeals have to be accompanied by specific reasoned argument supported by research.


Martin Elung-Jensen's picture

As I see it one of the most important steps could be to contribute to and encourage the EU system to start a proces developing a common EU VPL system - as we have seen it in the Bologna proces. In my opinion and through my experience many adults needs to be recognized for their prior learning before they are inclined to unlearn and learn new stuff. 

Markus Palmén's picture
Thank you Martin for this contribution. Validation is an important point and member states need to step up their efforts nationally. This resource by Cedefop is a useful summary of the situation:

Beyond the national realm, you brought up the need for a formal EU-wide framework for validation, a "VPL -Bologna" as you put it very well.  I´d like to hear from our colleagues what they think: could we achieve something like that for validation? What obstacles, what untapped opportunities? Myself I would think that such a system would send a very welcome signal of the importance of non-formal and even informal learning. Measurability of these forms of learning might be a challenge.
Fernando Albuquerque Costa's picture
Dear all,
To face the referred challenges in my opinion it would be important to give a more visible role to the higher education institutions. I mean to reinforce their intervention in this process, especially in terms of increasing the provision of training in the initial training of adult educators. By the reinforcement of the funding of research carried out by these institutions in the area of Adult Education, promoting their quality and based on the articulation with the providers that, in the field, ensure the development of educational and training processes, whether in the formal context or not formal.
Best regards,

Markus Palmén's picture
Thank you Fernando! Would you say that university-led professionalisation of adult educators is something we see just in countries with mature AE systems, or also elsewhere?
Markus Palmén's picture
Just an additional discussion starter: what are colleagues' experiences of the Upskilling Pathways initiative? It is meant to fund largely basic skills initiatives in member countries, tying in with their existing systems. 
Markus Palmén's picture
...EPALErs! Let´s set our sights for a vision of adult learning beyond 2020. Feel free to react to some of the existing visions such as the one embedded in EAAL or bring forward your own blueprint!

As a refresher, do have a look at these resources:

EAAL: /en/policy-in-the-eu/implementing-the-european-agenda-for-adult-learning

Laura Austen-Gray's picture
In answer to the above question "What type of AE would address social marginalisation?", I believe many kinds of AE (adult education) do either directly or as a byproduct. 

Some AE Initiatives primaryly aim to aid social integration. For example, Britain's nhs has just begun providing AE, such as dancing and cooking classes, specifically to combat loneliness through connecting people. 

Most AE Initiatives are not as explicit in this aim. Neverthess, it is often a secondary goal. For example, in Ireland many of our language classes for immigrants take the form of conversational classes with a high ratio of volunteers (longer standing members of the local community) to speak with the learners (immigrants/newer members of the community). While the main aim is to improve the learner's English, there is also the hope that by introducing the learner to people from the 'native' community that they will be able to create friendships and increased integration. 

Even where addressing social marginalisation is not an aim, it may still be a byproduct. For example:
- AE frequently strives to increase economic opportunities for learners. Economic marginalization can be linked to social marginalisation, therefore AE may also reduce the social consequences by reducing economic deprivation. 
- AE typically enables learners to meet and build connections with other learners. 
- Learners often develop confidence through AE which may aid them to integrate more. 
Markus Palmén's picture
Thank you for these points, Laura! I think the NHS example of prescribing Ae courses for their social (and health!) benefits is impressive -sounds almost incredible. but i agree, often the effect of AE is far more subtle but no less powerful.