related to their work outside the workplace or using professional networks could be an additional signal of equity issues or cultural differences that need to be addressed.


Lisa Lynch opened the general discussion with an overview of key messages from the presentations on adult learning. First, she noted, it is important to erase the sense of a boundary between education and training for adults and to treat both as important learning. Another key issue, she suggested, is that there is so much that we don’t know. Literacy assessments, labor force projections, and data on the proportion of national wealth spent on adult education are already available and provide a general indication of the need. These are not sufficient, in her view, to answer important questions about the extent of the need for more learning after formal education is completed, who has opportunities for learning, where those opportunities are housed, and they sorts of deficiencies for which learning opportunities are needed. Nor do they answer questions about the content of opportunities for adult learning, though this is likely to be an especially challenging area to measure. In addition, there are not readily available data on private-sector spending.

Other important questions concern how adult learning is paid for and what sort of return the investment offers to employers or markets. “We don’t know enough about the leaning enterprise to be able to say,” she added, whether market failure accounts for the apparent shortage of opportunities for postschool learning, or whether it is too expensive, or whether it is too time-consuming.

The brain is much more responsive to learning later in life than was once thought, Lynch added, and advances in cognitive science have expanded appreciation of possibilities for lifelong learning. Yet the thinking about developmental learning that has strongly influenced K-12 education has not had comparable influence on adult education. There are no clear ways of measuring the competence of training and learning institutions that serve older people or whether the individuals who provide the training “actually understand the most effective methods for training and educating adults,” she added.

The discussion followed Lynch’s lead in focusing on the big picture and centered on two issues: the need for information about low-skilled and undereducated workers and the challenge of data collection.

Information About Low-Skilled and Undereducated Workers

For low-skilled and undereducated workers it takes a lot to come back into the system, noted one participant. A major goal of adult education is to inspire people to continue their own education, but many people have specific challenges that impede their progress. This is a very heterogeneous group, another noted, that includes recent immigrants who may have low English skills and may also lack knowledge of the education and work landscape in the United States. It may also include individuals with learning disabilities, recognized or not, who have not been successful in formal schooling. It would be useful, then, to have indicators particularly focus on these groups and also apply across age groups and life stages.

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