A new survey from the Pew Research Center shows just how much the United States considers itself to be a nation of lifelong learners and the movements toward collecting information from a variety of sources including work, conferences, libraries, and the internet. Individuals are also more interested in researching to complete “do it yourself” projects, engage in a personal interest, or advance in their career.
In total, 73% of survey participants consider themselves to be lifelong learners. Of that group, 74% are “personal learners,” or they are working to increase their knowledge in an area of personal interest to them through activities such as reading, taking a course, or attending a meeting. Meanwhile, 63% of those who are working, or 36% of the entire group, are considered to be “professional learners,” or they have taken a course or received training within the last 12 months in order to improve job skills or advance their careers.
Despite the internet being a popular connection to learning avenues, personal learners were more likely to say they participated in a learning activity in a place such as a high school, a place of worship, or a library than they were to use the internet — by a 81% to 52% margin. Similarly, professional learners were more likely to cite a work-related venue than the internet by a margin of 75% to 55%.
A variety of reasons are offered by those interested in pursuing additional learning. Those interested in personal learning discussed individual and altruistic reasons, including making their life more fulfilling, allowing them to help others, turning a hobby into a career, or wanting to keep up with the schoolwork of their children or grandchildren. Meanwhile, those interested in professional learning cited reasons such as career advancement, improving job skills, gaining a necessary license or certificate, getting a raise or promotion, mitigating downsizing concerns, or helping them get a job with a new employer.
According to the survey, those with a high level of education and easy access to technology are those who are most likely to use the internet to help them pursue their interests. Those with little education and lower incomes were less likely to report using the internet for their learning activities. This group was also less likely to be professional or personal learners. As a whole, the internet does not seem to be used for adult learning among those who are poor and less educated.
Concerning the use of the internet for learning, less than half, or 43%, of those who do not hold an education above a high school level said they use the internet for personal learning in comparison with 58% of those who hold a college degree or higher. In addition, 40% of employed adults with a high school degree said they use the internet to pursue professional learning, while 64% of employed individuals with at least a college degree said they used the internet for job-related purposes.
Those with multiple ways of accessing the internet, such as having a smartphone and home broadband connection, were found to be more likely to use the internet for most, if not all, of their personal learning by a 37% to 21% margin.