Who are today's lifelong learners, and where do they learn?

Income and education levels may play a role in adults' access to online resources

While many adults are pursuing their interests and hobbies post-formal education, most of this learning takes place offline, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center. 

The October-November 2015 survey polled about 3,000 adults ages 18 and older to determine how and where they learn once they leave formal schooling.

The survey found that personal learners are more likely to be better educated, more affluent, white, and women.

Seventy-four percent of the adults surveyed said they completed at least one of five personal learning activities:

  • Reading publications related to some area of personal interest (58%);
  • Attending a meeting where they learned new information (35%);
  • Attending a convention or conference to learn about something of personal interest (30%);
  • Taking a course related to their personal interests or hobbies (25%); or
  • Taking an online course (16%).

Of the self-identified personal learners:

  • 87% said they felt more capable or well-rounded ;
  • 69% said they are now open to new life perspectives;
  • 64% said they made new friends;
  • 58% said they felt more connected to their local community; and
  • 43% said they got more involved in volunteering. 

'Lifelong learning' programs find a niche in higher ed

Education is happening in person

Personal learners are also more likely to pursue their activities at physical locations than they are to use the Internet.

While 52% of personal learning adults have learned on the Internet, 81% have learned at other locations, including a local education institution, a community center or museum, a religious center, or a library.

Only 31% of respondents said that most or all of their learning took place online.

"Learning is still very much a place-based thing," says Pew researcher John Horrigan. "The Internet plays a role, but it's secondary in most respects."

Five lessons on MOOC success

The division can be attributed in part to access to technology. Those with lower incomes and less education tend to be less likely to have a home broadband connection or a smartphone. But even for adults with Internet access, many were unaware of online resources such as MOOCS (Horrigan, Pew Research Center, 3/22; Nadworny, NPR Ed, 3/22). 


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