Flexible adult learning - the opportunities for higher education

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A recent study has shown that there is considerable potential for the greater integration of flexible adult learning in higher education. As these figures show, institutions recognize the need and predict a significant increase in enrollments in this sector.

European higher education expects significant increase in distance enrollments

82 institutions of higher education were surveyed on their expectations for the growth in distance education over the next five years. 57% expect overall enrolments in distance education to rise to some extent, and to be at least 20% higher than today. 21% of respondents expect enrollments to double. Only very few predict a fall.

Motivations for offering distance education

Among respondents, the core motivation for offering distance education is to provide more flexible learning opportunities (83%) while the demand from (potential) students was indicated by 43% as an important driver for distance education. Education provision for adult learners is named as the third most important motivation, while others include experimentation with innovative pedagogy, marketing and business aspects.

The place of distance education in institutional strategy

Responses to the study showed that distance education is considered as a very important way to: a) increase student access, b) increase opportunities for continuing and/or professional education c) improve student progression and completion, d) provide pedagogic improvements and e) enable adult learners to enrol.

The research comes from a project led by ICDE which seeks to gain a better understanding of the distance education offered by higher education institutions, and to examine how higher education institutions can contribute to adult learning through distance education.

Download the report (97 pages)

A further report (57 pages) surveyed over 1,700 students to find out who they are and what is important to them.

A forthcoming report will investigate the potential of these new forms of learning.

Conference presentations

The findings of this study have been presented at the EUCEN 2015 Conferencethe EDEN 2015 Annual Conferencethe UNESCO-ICDE Global High Level Policy Forum, and the IX ICAE World Assembly. There is a further opportunity to hear about the arguments for greater flexible adult learning provision at the European Conference on Education 2015 in Brighton, UK on 4 July 2015.

About the IDEAL project

IDEAL stands for “Impact of Distance Education on Adult Learning“ and is a joint initiative of the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE), the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) and StudyPortals, with financial support from the European Commission. You can find more information on the ‘Impact of Distance Education on Adult Learning’ at idealproject.eu