Because scholarly blogs are such a good source of contemporary information to continue lifelong learning, the ACI team constantly keeps an eye out for new data on that topic, so we were excited to read the Pew Research Center’s newest report, “Lifelong Learning and Technology“. Based on findings from The Educational Ecosystem 2015 Survey, the data in this report is based on interviews of 2,752 adults in the U.S. by telephone last fall. (You can access the full 69-page report here.) Although the overall study focuses on lifelong learning, several key findings approached the similarities and differences between personal and professional learning (based on the task or activity) and learners (based on respondent characteristics). Pew defines personal learners as those who “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”, while professional learners are those that “have taken a course or gotten additional training in the past 12 months to improve their job skills or expertise connected to career advancement”.

Higher education - more likely to be personal learnersPew reports that those with more education are more likely to engage in lifelong learning, including both personal and professional learning tasks and interests. On the personal learning front, respondents were presented with multiple options reflecting the personal learning activity, including courses related to a hobby or other personal interest, reading how-to and other consumer-based magazines, or attending a meeting, convention, or conference based on that interest. The study found that 87% of respondents with college degrees had engaged in one of these personal learning activities, compared to 60% for those without a degree.

“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.”
Pew Research Center, Lifelong Learning and Technology Report

Higher education - more likely to be professional learnersSimilarly, 72% of respondents with college degrees participated in professional learning, while only 49% of those without a degree participated in any kind of professional learning activity. Considering that professional learning encompasses not just current-job-related training but also activities related to the respondents’ professional (and aspiring professional) interests overall, these findings aren’t limited to continuing education or professional development opportunities afforded to employees but also reflect the respondents’ proclivity to utilizing development or learning opportunities for purposes of professional skill-building or alternate career paths.

Several findings in this latest Pew report also touch upon the familiar issue of equity in technology access. While 74 percent of adults identified as personal learners, only a third sought such learning via online means. And multiple access points proved to be a significant factor in many respects: the study found that those with more than one Internet access option at home are more likely to use the Internet for most or all of their personal learning, and 69% have engaged in a professional learning activity within the past year. As just over half of the population has access to both a smartphone and broadband Internet at home, just under half of the population has only one, or neither, of these – so the effects of inequitable access to technology affect a significant portion of the population overall. In addition, not everyone who would benefit from a given technology necessarily knows about it: the study found that 61% of adults surveyed have little or no awareness of distance learning, and 80% little or no awareness of MOOCs (massive online open courses).

Pew’s findings from this latest report also mirror some of those from last summer’s research concerning scientists and the general public. In a series of reports that incorporated results from the “Public and Scientists’ Views on Science and Society” study, Pew Research Center researchers had compared survey responses given by non-scientists to those given by members American Association for the Advancement of Science. Those responses were analyzed to determine whether the differences between the views of scholars and non-scholars might correlate with education level, access to technology, or other factors. Respondents’ education level played a significant role in many cases. For example, the report stated: “The more education people have, the more likely they are to favor the use of animals in scientific research, to consider genetically modified foods as generally safe to eat and to favor building more nuclear power plants… [a]ll positions shared by a majority of those connected with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.”

Prof Learners - Benefits box

What do you think about the latest Pew report? What factors do you feel are most crucial to closing gaps in adult learning outcomes, technology and broadband access, and other factors reflected in the report? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.