73% of Adults Consider Themselves Lifelong Learners

BY Courtney Huckabay
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"A large majority of Americans seek extra knowledge for personal and work-​related reasons," The Pew Research Center reports. "Digital technology plays a notable role in these knowledge pursuits, but place-​based learning remains vital to many and differences in education and income are a hallmark of people’s learning activities."

"Most Americans feel they are lifelong learners, whether that means gathering knowledge for “do it yourself” projects, reading up on a personal interest or improving their job skills," John Horrigan writes. "For the most part, these learning activities occur in traditional places – at home, work, conferences or community institutions such as government agencies or libraries. The internet is also an important tool for many adults in the process of lifelong learning."

AudienceSCAN reports 9.5% of U.S. adults set personal goals to take a course at a college/​university for work or personal fulfillment for the next year.

A new Pew Research Center survey shows the extent to which America is a nation of ongoing learners:

  • 73% of adults consider themselves lifelong learners.
  • 74% of adults are what we call personal learners – that is, they have participated in at least one of a number of possible activities in the past 12 months to advance their knowledge about something that personally interests them. These activities include reading, taking courses or attending meetings or events tied to learning more about their personal interests.
  • 63% of those who are working (or 36% of all adults) are what we call professional learners – that is, they have taken a course or gotten additional training in the past 12 months to improve their job skills or expertise connected to career advancement.

AudienceSCAN research holds true to these findings as well. 25.7% of those who Want to Take a course at a college/​university for work or personal fulfillment enjoy working with technology/​gadgets. Another 24% enjoy writing/​blogging. 20.6% spend time playing a musical instrument.

"These learning activities take place in a variety of locations. The internet is often linked to a variety of learning pursuits. However, it is still the case that more learners pursue knowledge in physical settings than choose to seek it online."

  • By an 81% to 52% margin, personal learners are more likely to cite a locale such as a high school, place of worship or library as the site at which personal learning takes place than they are to cite the internet.
  • By a similar margin (75% to 55%), professional learners are more likely to say their professional training took place at a work-​related venue than on the internet.

AudienceSCAN also found that 42% of Course Takers want to Learn a new career skill this year, and 39% want to Take up a new hobby. These are lifelong learning habits too.

People cite several reasons for their interest in additional learning

"Those who pursued learning for personal or professional reasons in the past 12 months say there are a number of reasons they took the plunge. Personal learners say they sought to strengthen their knowledge and skills for a mixture of individual and altruistic reasons:"

  • 80% of personal learners say they pursued knowledge in an area of personal interest because they wanted to learn something that would help them make their life more interesting and full.
  • 64% say they wanted to learn something that would allow them to help others more effectively.
  • 60% say they had some extra time on their hands to pursue their interests.
  • 36% say they wanted to turn a hobby into something that generates income.
  • 33% say they wanted to learn things that would help them keep up with the schoolwork of their children, grandchildren or other kids in their lives.

For workers who took a course or got extra training in the past 12 months, their reasons for wanting doing so ranged from career growth to job insecurity:

  • 55% of full- or part-​time workers say they participated in work or career learning to maintain or improve their job skills. That amounts to 87% of professional learners who cited this as the reason they wanted to improve their skills.
  • 36% of all workers say they did such learning in order to get a license or certification they needed for their job. That comes out to 57% of professional learners who cited this reason.
  • 24% of all workers say they wanted to upgrade their skills to help get a raise or promotion at work. That amounts to 39% of professional learners who cited this rationale.
  • 13% of the full- and part-​time workers say they were hoping to get a new job with a different employer. That amounts to 21% of professional learners who gave this reason.
  • 7% of all workers say they were worried about possible downsizing where they currently work. That comes to 12% of professional learners who gave this reason.

Those with more education and higher incomes are more likely to engage in lifelong learning

"There are broad patterns associated with personal and professional learning related to socio-​economic class, people’s access to technology, the kinds of jobs they have, their learning outlooks, and their racial and ethnic backgrounds," Horrigan writes. "As a rule, those adults with more education, household incomes and internet-​connecting technologies are more likely to be participants in today’s educational ecosystem and to use information technology to navigate the world."

"These findings offer a cautionary note to digital technology enthusiasts who believe that the internet and other tools will automatically democratize education and access to knowledge. The survey clearly shows that information technology plays a role for many as they learn things that are personally or professionally helpful. Still, those who already have high levels of education and easy access to technology are the most likely to take advantage of the internet. For significant minorities of Americans with less education and lower incomes, the internet is more on the periphery of their learning activities. Fewer of the people in those groups are professional or personal learners, and fewer of them use the internet for these purposes. Overall, the internet does not seem to exert as strong a pull toward adult learning among those who are poorer or less educated as it does for those in other groups."

"Type of job: The type of job a person has shapes the likelihood of having had professional training. For instance, four-​fifths (83%) of those who work for the government have had some job training in the past year, while half (50%) who work for small businesses have had such training."

Some key new digital platforms and methods of learning are not widely known by the public

The educational ecosystem is expanding dramatically. Still, there is not widespread public awareness of some of the key resources that are becoming available. Noteworthy majorities of Americans say they are “not too” or “not at all” aware of these things:

  • Distance learning – 61% of adults have little or no awareness of this concept.
  • The Khan Academy, which provides video lessons for students on key concepts in things such as math, science, the humanities and languages – 79% of adults do not have much awareness of it
  • Massive open online courses that are now being offered by universities and companies – 80% of adults do not have much awareness of these.
  • Digital badges that can certify if someone has mastered an idea or a skill – 83% of adults do not have much awareness of these.

AudienceSCAN data is available as part of a subscription to AdMall for Agencies, or with the SalesFuel API. Media companies can access AudienceSCAN data through the AudienceSCAN Reports in AdMall.