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Lifelong learning statistics

From Statistics Explained

This is the stable Version.
Data from September 2012. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.

This article provides an overview of lifelong learning statistics in the European Union (EU), on the basis of data collected through the labour force survey (LFS), supplemented by the adult education survey (AES).

Table 1: Lifelong learning, 2006 and 2011 (1)
(% of the population aged 25 to 64 participating in education and training) - Source: Eurostat (trng_lfs_01)
Table 2: Reasons for participation in non-formal education and training, 2007 (1)
(%) - Source: Eurostat (trng_aes_142)
Table 3: Obstacles to participation in education and training, 2007 (1)
(%) - Source: Eurostat (trng_aes_176)
Table 4: Providers of non-formal education and training activities, 2007 (1)
(%) - Source: Eurostat (trng_aes_170)

Lifelong learning encompasses all purposeful learning activity, whether formal, non-formal or informal, undertaken on an ongoing basis with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competence. The intention or aim to learn is the critical point that distinguishes these activities from non-learning activities, such as cultural activities or sports activities.

Main statistical findings

The strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training adopted in May 2009 sets a number of benchmarks to be achieved by 2020, including one for lifelong learning, namely that an average of at least 15 % of adults aged 25 to 64 years old should participate in lifelong learning. In 2011, the proportion of persons aged 25 to 64 in the EU-27 receiving some form of education or training in the four weeks preceding the labour force survey was 8.9 %; a share that was 0.4 percentage points lower than the corresponding share for 2006 (see Table 1).

The proportion of the population who had participated in such lifelong learning activities was higher among women (9.6 % in 2011) than among men (8.2 %); these shares for men and women were both lower in 2011 than they had been five years earlier.

Denmark, Sweden and Finland stood out as they reported considerably higher proportions of their respective populations participating in lifelong learning, ranging between one fifth and one third; the Netherlands, Slovenia and the United Kingdom were the only other Member States where the participation rate in 2011 already exceeded the 15 % target. By contrast, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Hungary reported lifelong learning participation rates of less than 3 %.

In addition to the data from the labour force survey, information on education and training is available from a pilot survey – the adult education survey (AES) – that was conducted on a voluntary basis between 2005 and 2008. According to this, a majority of participants took part in non-formal education and training, while most of the education and training undertaken was job-related. Indeed, the main reason given by respondents for their participation in non-formal education and training (see Table 2) was to do their job better/improve their career prospects, while getting knowledge or skills relating to interesting subjects and getting useful skills/knowledge for everyday life were also common reasons. The three most commonly cited obstacles to participation in education and training among those who wanted to participate but did not do so were: lack of time due to family responsibilities (36.6 % of those not participating); conflict with work schedules (35.0 %); and cost (28.3 %) – see Table 3.

Employers were the most common providers of non-formal education and training activities, providing close to two fifths (38.3 %) of such activities (see Table 4). Employers provided more than two thirds of non-formal education and training in Bulgaria, and half of such activities in the United Kingdom. Among the less common providers of non-formal education and training in the EU-27 as a whole, the importance of employers’ organisations and chambers of commerce was particularly high in Hungary (32.8 %) and Slovenia (20.8 %), non-commercial institutions (such as libraries) were relatively frequent providers in Finland (29.5 %) and Cyprus (15.5 %), while trade unions provided a higher than average share in Hungary (13.1 %).

Data sources and availability

Within the domain of lifelong learning statistics, formal education corresponds to education and training in the regular system of schools, universities, colleges and other formal educational institutions that normally constitute a continuous ‘ladder’ of full-time education for children and young people (generally completed by the age of 25).

Non-formal education and training is defined as any organised and sustained educational activities that do not correspond to the definition of formal education. Non-formal education and training may or may not take place in educational institutions and cater to persons of all ages. It may cover educational programmes to impart adult literacy, basic education for out-of-school children, life skills, work skills, and general culture. Note that the statistics presented do not cover informal learning, which corresponds to self-learning (through the use of printed material, computer-based learning/training, (internet) web-based education, visiting libraries, etc).

The target population for lifelong learning statistics refers to all persons in private households aged between 25 and 64 years. Data are collected through the EU's labour force survey (LFS). The denominator used for the ratios derived from LFS data consists of the total population of the same age group, excluding those who did not answer the question concerning participation in education and training.

Additional information is available from an adult education survey which was carried out by EU, EFTA and candidate countries. Surveys were carried out between 2005 and 2008 as a pilot exercise with a standard questionnaire, covering participation in education and lifelong learning activities whether formal, non-formal or informal, and included job-related activities. The survey also collected information on learning activities, self-reported skills, as well as modules on social and cultural participation. Within the context of the adult education survey, learning is defined as activities with the intention to improve an individual’s knowledge, skills, and competences. Intentional learning (as opposed to random learning) is defined as a deliberate search for knowledge, skills, competences, or attitudes of lasting value. Organised learning is defined as learning planned in a pattern or sequence with explicit or implicit aims.


Lifelong learning can take place in a variety of environments, both inside and outside formal education and training systems. Lifelong learning implies investing in people and knowledge; promoting the acquisition of basic skills, including digital literacy and broadening opportunities for innovative, more flexible forms of learning. The aim is to provide people of all ages with equal and open access to high-quality learning opportunities, and to a variety of learning experiences.

The integrated economic and employment guidelines were revised most recently as part of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Guideline 8 concerns developing a skilled workforce responding to labour market needs, and promoting job quality and lifelong learning.

The Copenhagen process, established in 2002, lays out the basis for cooperation in vocational education and training (VET) between 33 European countries. The overall aim is to encourage more individuals to make wider use of vocational learning opportunities, whether at school, in higher education, in the workplace, or through private courses. The actions and tools developed as part of the process aim to allow users to link and build on learning acquired at various times, in both formal and non-formal contexts.

In June 2010, the European Commission presented a ten-year vision for the future of vocational education and training in a Communication titled ‘A new impetus for European cooperation in vocational education and training to support the Europe 2020 strategy’ (COM(2010) 296 final). In December 2010, in Bruges (Belgium) the priorities for the Copenhagen process for 2011 to 2020 were set, establishing a vision for vocational education and training to be reached by the year 2020: attractive and inclusive VET; high quality initial VET; easily accessible and career-oriented continuing VET; flexible systems of VET based on a learning outcomes approach which cater for the validation of non-formal and informal learning; a European education and training area; substantially increased opportunities for transnational mobility; easily accessible and high-quality lifelong information, guidance and counselling services. Based on this vision a total of 11 strategic objectives were set for the period between 2011 and 2020 as well as 22 short-term deliverables for the first four years.

There are a number of initiatives under development to enhance the transparency, recognition and quality of competences and qualifications, facilitating the mobility of learners and workers. These include the European Qualifications Framework (EQF), Europass, the European Credit System for VET (ECVET), and the European Quality Assurance Reference Framework for VET (EQAVET).

The launch of the EQF aims to help employers and individuals compare qualifications across the EU’s diverse education and training systems: it encourages countries to relate their national qualifications systems to the EQF so that all new qualifications issued from 2012 carry a reference to an appropriate EQF level. The EQF also represents a shift in European education as it is based on an approach which takes into account learning outcomes rather than the resources which are put into learning. In other words, it is a framework based on what learners are actually able to do at the end of a course of education, rather than where the learning took place and how long it took.

The Leonardo da Vinci programme in the field of vocational education and training is designed to encourage projects which give individuals the chance to improve their competences, knowledge and skills through a period spent abroad, as well as to encourage Europe-wide cooperation between training organisations.

The Grundtvig programme was launched in 2000 and now forms part of the lifelong learning programme. It aims to provide adults with ways of improving their knowledge and skills. It not only covers learners in adult education, but also the teachers, trainers, education staff and facilities that provide these services.

The economic crisis, the need for new skills and the demographic changes facing Europe have highlighted the role that adult learning may play in lifelong learning strategies, contributing towards policies that seek to boost competitiveness, employability, social inclusion and active citizenship. A Council Resolution of December 2011 called for a renewed European Agenda for Adult Learning, within a framework for education and training (ET 2020).

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

Lifelong learning (t_trng)
Lifelong learning (tsdsc440)


Lifelong learning (trng)
Lifelong learning - LFS data (trng_lfs)
Adult Education Survey (AES, 2006 - reference period: 12 months) (trng_aes)
Continuing Vocational Training in enterprises (CVTS - Reference period: 12 months) (trng_cvts)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables and graphs (MS Excel)

Other information

External links

See also