The Growth of Lifelong Learning Among Adults in Ireland

By Steven Galvin - Last update

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At the end of May 2021 the Lifelong Learning Among Adults in Quarter 4 2020 report was published. This report aims to monitor the extent to which adults in Ireland participate in lifelong learning activities. The report is carried out in line with the EU’s education/training policy, which set targets for lifelong learning participation. 

Lifelong learning refers to formal (educational institutions), non-formal and informal education and training (programmes, activities, etc) [see Council of Europe] and lies at the heart of Ireland’s and the EU’s education/training policy and is acknowledged as being vital for sustainable economic growth, the restoration of employment, and fostering social cohesion.

Lifelong Learning Among Adults First Report

In 2015 the first Lifelong Learning among Adults in Ireland report was published. That paper was the first in a series which were put in place which set out to monitor Ireland’s progress towards the EU education and training benchmarks which aimed for 15% of 25-64 year-olds to participate in lifelong learning by 2020.

At that time the report showed that Ireland had a long way to go as it found that of the 2.48 million adults aged between 25 and 64 years in the population, only 181,000 persons had engaged in lifelong learning activities. This figure, based on the 4th quarter of the year, meant that the lifelong learning participation rate stood at 7.3%. Nearly half of the then EU 2020 target of 15%. It was clear from the off that Ireland had a lot to do if it were to reach the EU’s proposed targets.

Moving the Goalposts

In its 2017 report, Ireland adjusted the goalposts and reset its targets outside of the European targets and stated that the reports role was now to monitor Ireland’s progress towards Lifelong Learning target participation rates of 10% by 2020, and 15% by 2025, as detailed in the Action Plan for Education, 2016-2019

Unsurprisingly that year’s report had identified a distinct lack in progress of lifelong learning participation over the 2 years previous since the inception of the Lifelong Learning among Adults in 2015. In 2017, the rate now stood at just under 7%. It was more a case of going backwards than forwards at this stage. Things couldn’t continue this way and progress had to be made.

A Big Jump

And it was. The 2019 report marked huge forward strides and found that of the adults aged between 25 and 64 years,, 381,000 persons had engaged in lifelong learning activities. This figure meant that the lifelong learning participation rate now stood at 14.7%. A figure double that of 2017 poor levels and signaled a tremendous success in fostering workplace learning and training.

Reflecting on the success the report concluded that the 14%growth in the number of lifelong learning participants reflected the Government’s
increased focus on work-place learning (e.g. National Skills Strategy: DES). Greater engagement between employers and education providers, facilitated, for example, by the Regional Skills Fora, the development of new programmes aimed at vulnerable workers (e.g. Explore, Skills to Advance), and the expansion of existing programmes (SpringBoard+, Skillnets).


The 2020 report states of the 2.62 million adults who were aged between 25 and 64 years in quarter 4 2020, approximately 302,300 had engaged in lifelong learning. This figure represents a lifelong learning participation rate of 11.6%. 

According to the report the decline was “mostly due to a 30% fall in the number of non-formal learning participants representing 84,400 fewer learners.”  


The report reflected upon the decrease in numbers of  lifelong learning participants, as an impact of COVID-19 on the number of lifelong learning participants and concluded that “it is clear from the fall in non-formal learning activity numbers that the pandemic hampered the ability for people in employment to either be offered or to avail of learning activities.” 

Let’s hope we start to get back on track and as we leave COVID behind and we can return to the progress we saw in 2019’s report and people can return to work and avail of training and that we can continue to foster lifelong learning and make further steps to hitting the 15% target we set ourselves to reach by 2025.

The report is produced by the Skills and Labour Market Unit in SOLAS on behalf of the National Skills Council.


Steven Galvin

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