Adult learning is defined as ‘the entire range of formal, non-formal and informal learning activities which are undertaken by adults after a break since leaving initial education and training, and which results in the acquisition of new knowledge and skills’.(1)

The European Commission defines adult learning as, ‘all forms of learning undertaken by adults after having left initial education and training, however far this process may have gone (e.g. including tertiary education).’ (European Commission 2006b, p. 2).

Characteristics of adult learning sectors in Europe:

Adult learning is the most diverse of the lifelong learning sectors, and national adult learning systems (where these exist) are complex and heterogeneous.

The adult learning sector in Europe is vast, fragmented and diverse and is different from Member State to Member State. (2)

Here is an overview of the adult learning definitions mainstreamed in the project partner counties.

  • In Italy adult  education  (referred  to in  Italy  as educazione  degli  adulti or EDA-) is defined as  "a set of formal and non-formal educational opportunities aimed at adults, both Italians and migrants" with the goal of acquiring skills connected to work and social life, and to assist entry into the formal professional education and training system. Training is offered to young people as early as sixteen (they must currently stay in full-time education until sixteen), but it is known as 'adult education' from the age of 25.  There are two different fields in terms of adult education; adult instruction (IdA) entrusted to the Ministry of Education and Professional Training (FP), run by regional and provincial authorities.                             In the  recent years,  mainstream  adult  education has  been developed  within  the context  of  lifelong  learning  as  presented  by  the  EU. The main adult education providers are the 'Provincial centres for the instruction of adults' (CPIA). They  have  been  granted  administrative,  organisational  and  didactic autonomy, as they are accorded a  pivotal role  in  what is envisaged  as a network of adult education providers in the provinces. (3)
  • In Slovenia adult education is a wide ranging and diverse form of education and training which includes formal education to gain higher levels of qualification (general, vocational, technical, professional, academic), formal specialised training, and non-formal education and learning of adults. Formal education gives adult the opportunity to raise their educational attainment or to gain publicly recognised qualifications (certified education); non-formal education and learning (e. g. study circles, Project Learning for Young Adults, literacy program Training for life Efficiency) is intended for those who wish to acquire new knowledge and skills, or who wish to refresh, expand, modernise or deepen their skills (non-certified education).  (4)
  • In Spain, according to Ley Orgánica de Educación (LOE, 2006)(Organic Education Law), adult education aims to offer people over the age of eighteen (sometimes over sixteen) the opportunity to acquire, bring up-to-date, complete or expand their knowledge and aptitude of their personal and professional development. It integrates basic tuition as well as post-obligatory tuition which offer the chance to advance to official school qualifications (GCSEs/A-levels) and vocational training.
    Likewise, people over the age of 25 are able to enter university courses without school qualifications. They simply have to pass a specific test.
    In addition, adults may also benefit from other training processes outside the regulated education system, primarily through extended vocational training (this article does not include this type of training), and from initiatives that aim at aiding specific groups at risk of being excluded. (5)

  • ​In Greece all adult learning definitions are included in the law (3879/21/09/2010) (article 2, par.8) "General adult education": Includes all organized learning activities addressing adults and aims to enrich knowledge, development and improvement of competences and skills, personality development of individual and active citizenship and mitigating the social and cultural inequalities ties. Provided by institutions of formal education or non-formal education. The informal self-directed learning is not included as it is regarded as informal learning. The vocational training is considered as aiming to carrier development.  All forms of organized Adult Education are provided by public, municipal or private institutions. (6)
  • In the UK, the term adult and community learning is widely used. Learning takes place in a wide range of settings and is aimed at adults who may not normally participate in education and training. It is often a collaboration between local authorities, community based organisations and traditional providers and covers structured adult education classes taught by professionally qualified teachers; unstructured activity that leads to learning; informal courses delivered in the private sector; independent study online; and self organised groups. Some learning happens in very short episodes and some happens over a full year or even longer. This kind of learning can be delivered by public, private or voluntary sector providers or organised by people for themselves through face to face groups, online communities or personal project. Adult and community learning in the UK offers personal choice, personal responsibility and personal empowerment. It engages people through their interests in relaxed and welcoming classes that contribute to community wellbeing and social inclusion.(7)

1 Final report for: Study on European Terminology in Adult Learning for a common language and common understanding and monitoring of the sector (July, 2010), p. 6
2 Final report for: Study on European Terminology in Adult Learning for a common language and common understanding and monitoring of the sector (July, 2010), p. 7
3 Country Report  on  the Action Plan on Adult Learning: Italy (June 2015), p. 4, p. 7

​4 European Lifelong learning magazine: http://www.infonet-ae.eu/country-overviews/slovenia 

5 European Lifelong learning magazine: http://www.infonet-ae.eu/country-overviews/spain

6 European Lifelong learning magazine: http://www.infonet-ae.eu/country-overviews/greece

7 New Challenges, New Chances: Next Steps in Implementing the Further Education Reform Programme (August 2011), p. 23