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Older People's Learning in 2012: A Survey

Older People's Learning in 2012: A Survey

Stephen McNair

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November 2012

About This Publication

This is the report of a survey of older people in Great Britain, carried out in spring 2012. It examined their learning: what they learned, where, when and why, and with what benefits. It also examined whether, and how far, current patterns might be changed. This follows a similar survey in 2005, and reveals some significant changes since then,especially in the role of employment, in the location of learning, and the role of computing and online learning.

We live in an ageing society. Rising life expectancy, improved healthcare and declining birth rates mean that every year a larger proportion of the population is over 50. At the traditional retirement age of 65, most of us can look forward to 20 years more and growing numbers are living into their 90s and beyond. For some, retirement now lasts longer than working life itself.

What does society expect of us after we leave the paid workforce? For individuals, it raises questions about the meaning and purpose of life, and for society it raises questions about how a shrinking proportion of people in work will pay for a growing proportion in retirement.

Although there have always been older people in adult education, they have been a largely neglected minority. As the shape of later life changes, educators and policy-makers need to consider how far learning can help us all, as we age, to lead more rewarding and healthylives, and to remain active contributing members of the wider community, whether we do this through paid or voluntary work, through caring for partners, grandchildren and friends, or passing on skills and experience. How far can it help us to maintain our independence, and reduce the costs of an ageing society, in health and welfare services, to the wider community?

A summary version of the report can be downloaded at