Characteristics of adults who return to education: Understanding barriers to adult learning – Final report


This study sought to determine what could be learned from a newly-available data source about the characteristics of adults who return to education, and the barriers to learning they may face to better help inform the development and design of future government interventions – both at the federal and provincial/territorial levels. With funding from Employment and Social Development Canada, SRDC examined the characteristics of two groups of Canadian adult learners aged 25 years and over: those with labour market experience who took further learning, including comparing them to those who did not and more typical, younger learners, and those with an unmet learning need.

The report begins with a review of the recent literature. Then it examines longitudinal data from
Wave 1 (2012), Wave 2 (2014), and Wave 3 (2016) of Statistics Canada’s Longitudinal International Study of Adults (LISA) to generate a better understanding of adult learners and the barriers to education and learning they face. By exploiting the linkage between LISA data and other data sets, notably tax and skills assessments collected through the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), the report explores the factors influencing the education and labour market pathways adults follow, the skills needs of adult learners, and how these relate to their learning choices and outcomes. Among many findings with implications for future policy, it finds would-be learners have higher skills than those with no reported unmet educational needs implying an informational- or behaviour-related market failure. There is likely a need for new programming to support life-long learning that can target lower-skilled adults.