Attitudes to returning to education are improving as Adult Learners' Week enters its seventh year
Employers and colleagues are twice as likely to encourage adults into learning than information from a local college, according to a major study of learning habits.
The Campaign for Learning's survey found that bosses or workmates were the biggest single influence (34 per cent) on adults deciding to begin studying again.
Friends and relatives were the next most important motivators (25 and 21 per cent respectively) while information from local colleges ranked equally with children (17 per cent).
The campaign quizzed 1,043 adults on their learning attitudes, following similar research two years ago.
The influence of the workplace on learning habits was growing, the survey found, with more employers supporting staff wanting to go on courses (up from 17 to 31 per cent), a demand for workplace learning centres or resource rooms (69 per cent said they would use one) and a resounding preference for education over remuneration (77 per cent would rather have training opportunities instead of big salary increases).
Overall, the survey found that the desire to learn new things had increased and 47 per cent of adults had been involved in some form of taught learning in the previous 12 months. People from social classes A and B, educated to degree level and in employment were most likely to engage in study.
Good intentions did not always come to fruition - the majority of adults (60 per cent) said they wanted to take part in some kind of taught learning in the coming year but only 49 per cent said they would do.
Of those who had been involved in some learning in the previous year most had been keeping up-to-date with work-related topics (34 per cent) or teaching themselves new skills (31 per cent).
Overall, flexible programmes of study were more popular than in-house, taught courses and colleges were well down the list of preferred places of learning. Just over half said they learned most at home, 43 per cent at work and 36 per cent in libraries - just 29 per cent said colleges or university.
Learning by doing or self study both came ahead of group instruction by a teacher or tutor.
Although a significant minority (37 per cent) said they had been put off education by a perceived emphasis on qualifications, for the majority of adults, learning for its own sake was seen as an attractive proposition.
Nine out of 10 adults said they enjoyed learning new things and it ranked above watching television and going to the cinema (but below socialising with friends and spending time with family) in their leisure time preferences. Adults were also more likely to pursue a course of study for personal fulfilment rather than promotion.
"The findings show that young people and adults hold positive views towards learning and that a majority of people are actively learning," the report's authors said. But older people, the unemployed and those from social classes D and E or with poor qualifications, were reluctant learners, and unlikely to value in education.
"The worry is that, rather than taking up the challenge of the Learning Age, these groups will become increasingly disenchanted by the pace of change around them. The continuing challenge for the Campaign for Learning is not only to continue to convert positive attitudes into action, but also to work with others to involve those sections of the population for whom learning does not appear to be meaningful or worthwhile."