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Impact of Distance Education on Adult Learning: Distance education in European higher education (Report 3)

  • August 2015

'A large number of adult learners are still facing institutional and situational barriers to access distance education in European higher education institutions. There is an urgent need for closing the gap between demand of adult learners and provision of distance education,’ Arne Carlsen, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL).

For most people seeking to participate in distance education in Europe, increasing attainment levels, improving career prospects and learning for self-fulfilment continue to be the top driving forces. This is the main finding of a new report written as part of the Impact of Distance Education on Adult Learning (IDEAL) project. The report, the third in a series of three, also pinpoints financial and time constraints as the most common barriers for potential distance education students.

National distance education programmes

The three IDEAL reports identify:

  • targeted support for adult learners
  • concrete national policy frameworks
  • recognition of prior learning and alternative access routes,

as three key ways of addressing the challenges of accessing distance education in higher education institutions. In the report, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong learning (UIL) and its partners in the IDEAL project advocate for the implementation of education programmes within a lifelong learning framework. In meetings held in Barcelona, Istanbul and Brighton, where policy makers participated, discussions were focused on the need to minimise the barriers limiting potential adult learners from accessing higher distance education.

Universities in Europe

Moreover, a survey of higher education leaders conducted as part of the project indicates that the number of students participating in distance education in Europe is expected to increase by 20% or even to double in the next five years. This suggests that universities in Europe need to better cater for the needs of adult learners, for example by recognizing prior learning and creating alternative access routes. With its expertise in lifelong learning and education, UIL aims to enhance national policies in European countries in order to ultimately increase the participation of adult learners, particularly disadvantaged learners, in distance education.

The research reports can be downloaded here:

Impact of Distance Education on Adult Learning - Distance education in European higher education (Report 3)

Impact of Distance Education on Adult Learning - Distance education in European higher education (Report 3 - extended version)

  • Author/Editor: Angela Owusu-Boampong, Carl Holmberg
  • Impact of Distance Education on Adult Learning: Distance education in European higher education - the potential (Report 3)
  • UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, International Council for Open and Distance Education, StudyPortals B.V., 2015
  • ISBN
    978-92-820-1208-6
  • Available in: English