What can we do for older Learners?

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Older people are a large and growing part of the EU´s population and this is changing our societies in important and fundamental ways. Older persons wish to be active participants in their workplaces and communities, but in many cases opportunities and facilities are not available or accessible. Among older adults, engagement in education can potentially have positive effects on cognition and psychological well-being and can prevent social isolation.

Adult Education Providers

• Adult education providers should offer information, guidance and counseling services on non-formal and informal learning to help older people better understand the skills they have gained through their life-experience and to better recognize how these skills can be used.

• Develop outreach activities and appropriate opportunities for older people without recent learning experiences. Promoting ‘learning to learn’ competences can be helpful, too.

• Research found that older learners learn differently from other age groups. Certain courses are considered more suitable to undertake with peers. For other courses an intergenerational setting may be more appropriate.

• Enhancing informal adult learning for older people in care settings calls for learning providers, care homes, health institutions and policymakers to work together, in order to improve, adapt and widen these opportunities.

• When designing and offering learning opportunities, there is a need to facilitate learners’ voices and listen to them. It is about working and learning with older people rather than for them. The learners are experts about their needs.

• Invest in the competences and skills of trainers working with older adults as well as to raise the awareness and positive attitude among adult educators working with older learners.

National governments

• National governments need to implement national strategies for the elderly with a strong focus on adult learning.

• National awareness campaigns for the benefits of learning can give a boost to active aging through adult learning.

• Partnerships with care homes, learning providers and health institutions should make sure that ideal learning settings for very old learners and persons in care settings are created and available.

• It is known that policy development is likely to be more effective if the process involves consultation and involvement of older people, who are the experts on their own lives and needs.

• Government should work with social partners and civil society to deliver effective services for older people.

• Appropriate funding and structural support are necessary to extend the participation of older people in learning, especially those with lower economic and educational levels.


• Many companies are not aware of the potential learning brings to their older employees and few provide special supports aimed at workers aged over 45. They should see themselves as learning organization and invest in learning for everyone. Learning is not something that only happens at a younger age, but should be part of everyday (working-) life at any age. This can be done through training measures, coaching and guidance for older staff or in the form of sabbaticals.

• Knowledge management initiatives within the companies can leverage older staff’s particular strengths such as their experience. Older employees might act as mentors to younger staff and also teach at the company’s corporate university to pass on knowledge built up through years of experience.

Social Partners

• Social partners need to understand the possibilities of non-formal learning and which opportunities and benefits are brought along.

• Partnerships and enhanced cooperation with adult education providers can ensure conditions and services relevant to the needs of older people.

• Learning models in which the social partners play active roles (e.g. shop stewards as learning counselors) have proven to be very successful and need to be extended and transferred. In these models, a particular focus should be put on older workers.