Adult learning is not valued unless it leads to a formal qualification. Findings from a study of adult education and its impact on employment show that women and those from poorer backgrounds consequently undervalue their learning experiences.
Researchers from Warwick University's continuing education department conducted 120 interviews over two years for the Leverhulme Trust-funded research.
Project director Malcolm Tight says: "It was virtually impossible to find anyone who was not learning. That includes cleaners, secretaries and waitresses, as well as managers."
But he said employers and the Government should place greater value on informal learning. "The National Education and Training Targets miss the point. Most adults are learning significant things at different points during their lives but this just isn't recognised unless it is formal education."
Learning may involve nothing more than borrowing a book from the library, talking, watching the television, even digging the garden.
Dr Tight said: "People often tackle their frustration at work or in their family life by getting involved in learning but they have no chance to use that learning because it is not recognised. A big attitude change is what's needed."
One interviewee was an elderly woman who had pursued a succession of careers including counselling, shop-keeping, a restaurant business, and voluntary work.
She had no qualifications, said Dr Tight, but her learning experience was vast. "This happens a lot more than is generally recognised," he said.