More adults are taking up education and training, but new technologies have widened the divide between the "learning rich" and "learning poor".
Three reports published in the run-up to next week's Adult Learners' Week underline the benefits reaped by more than a fifth of adults who are studying and lost by those who may be excluded.
An annual survey by Niace, the national organisation for adult learning, found people with access to the internet were twice as likely to take up learning as those without. Of more than 4,000 interviewees, 70 per cent with internet access expected to join a course in the next three years, compared with 35 per cent of those not online.
Niace said the findings reflected growth in adult learning, which over the past year had been concentrated in social groups A and B, whose members were more likely to have internet access. While the proportion of adults learning in these groups rose from 33 per cent to 38 per cent, it fell from 32 per cent to 29 per cent in group C1, from 17 per cent to 16 per cent in C2, and was unchanged at 12 per cent for groups D and E.
A second study found evidence that learning is good for our health, as well as our career prospects.
Nearly 90 per cent of more than 400 adult learners surveyed reported improvements in their emotional and mental health, with a third saying they were able to manage pain or illness better as a result of learning.
A third review by Niace with the Institute of Employment Studies identifies three types of obstacles that are deterring the learning "have nots". They are:
Practical or material barriers: such as learning costs, lack of time, lack of information (including internet access), lack of child care, and geographical isolation
Structural barriers: including poor education and training opportunities, age or qualification barriers, and constraints of the benefits system
Attitudinal barriers: negative attitudes to learning, and lack of confidence.
The report says policy-makers must ensure that new initiatives aimed at widening participation are not dominated by current learners. They should maintain a commitment to social inclusion "in the face of institutional inertia and conservatism".
Alan Tuckett, Niace director, suggested workplace learning as one area where people with few opportunities could be given the chance to learn. It would make sense for the government to increase pressure on employers to invest more in training.
In the news, page 8