Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

 Email  Share  Print

Adult Education Is a “Team Sport:” ACE Analysis of OECD Report Calls for New Approaches

February 12, 2014

readiness for learning cover


​American adults have fallen behind their international peers in reading, math and problem-solving skills just as the economy demands more technologically adept workers, according to a November 2013 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report. A new issue brief from ACE examines those results in the context of the “learning economy” and what actions might be taken collectively by higher education institutions, policymakers, adult educators and others to address this challenge.

The OECD report, Survey of Adult Skills, measured the proficiency of individuals from 24 countries on their ability to prosper in the current economic environment. American adults lagged behind those in other nations on average, and the picture has not improved recently. Further, while U.S. adults had comparatively high levels of attainment—the strongest predictor of success—25- to 34-year-olds in the United States were less proficient on numeracy and literacy, suggesting that institutions could do more to match formal education to skills.

The importance of math, literacy and problem-solving skills is underscored by the current “learning economy,” according to the ACE issue brief, Readiness for then Learning Economy: Insights from OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills on Workforce Readiness and Preparation. Because of the rapid pace of change in technology and the workplace, workers must have strong problem-solving abilities and remain adaptable. The brief offers some ideas for how colleges, universities and others can focus on building these competencies.

“What we can take away from the OECD report is that while technology has advanced and our economy has changed dramatically, the skills of our workforce have not kept up,” said Louis Soares, ACE vice president for policy, research and strategy and the report’s co-author. “Addressing the problem is going to take a team effort, with policy and education leaders working together across traditional boundaries to reach adult learners in new, more effective ways.”

“Clearly the U.S. must improve the skills of its adult workers, if it is to be competitive in a global technologically driven economy,” added co-author Laura Perna, professor and executive director of the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (AHEAD) at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. “The OECD report provides useful insights into the types of skills that adults have and are lacking, differences in skills across demographic groups, and the imperfect alignment of educational attainment and skills proficiency.”

Among the recommendations for colleges and universities and other stakeholders:

  • Develop a common framework for adult basic education. Too often stakeholders seek to provide education in a variety of different settings—a common framework based on the OECD measurements could provide an overarching approach.
  • Promote stackable credentials. Giving adult learners the ability to document what they know while moving in and out of educational opportunities will help them move incrementally toward credentials.
  • Offer flexible scheduling and delivery options that provide students with work, family and other responsibilities easier access to education.
  • Leverage technology, such as adaptive software that can that assess and target specific learning needs, and social media tools, which can help provide guidance and support.
  • Partner with employers to develop workforce training and educational programs, as well as funding, and provide learners release time for education.

The report is available for free on ACE’s website.

MEDIA CONTACT: Ginnie Titterton ▪ 202-939-9367 ▪ ​

Other ACE News

  • May 29, 2015

    Today's Headlines

    HEADLINES: Today's Top Higher Education News

    In today’s headlines, Inside Higher Ed reports on the status of public higher education funding in Illinois, Louisiana and Wisconsin, and Reuters covers the court decision upholding federal “gainful employment” rules. In other news, The Associated...

  • Innovative Practices

    May 27, 2015

    Quick Hit Students in Classroom

    ACE Releases Quick Hit Paper on Predictive Analytics

    Higher education is at a pivotal point in the use of data to improve student success, according to "Moving the Needle on Predictive Analytics," the latest brief released by ACE’s Center for Education Attainment and Innovation.

  • Credit for Prior Learning

    May 27, 2015

    Register Now for Free Webinar on Military Credit

    ​Register now for Mapping Military Training & Occupations to Postsecondary Credentials, a two-part webinar scheduled for June 16 and June 18.

  • Innovative Practices

    May 22, 2015

    alternative credit project

    Calling All Proposals for ACE Alternative Credit Consortium

    Institutions demonstrating a strong commitment to access and attainment, particularly those serving nontraditional students, are invited to submit proposals to join the second wave of ACE’s alternative credit consortium.

  • Law and the Courts

    May 22, 2015

    Library with Colorful Books

    Access and Diversity Collaborative Issues Syllabus

    Designed to map relevant issues about campus diversity and direct institutions to important resources that can help them understand these issues, develop effective policies and mitigate legal risk.


 Related Content