Our work: Adult Learning

Learning across the lifespan

Adults may face 50 years or more of working after their formal education ends. In a rapidly changing world, workers need access to new knowledge and skills, making ongoing learning essential. The initiative on adult learning seeks to leverage new advances in technology, science, and design to partner with companies and nonprofits to prepare workers for dynamic opportunities throughout their lifespan.

The Challenge

For the last 70 years, the primary vehicle of social mobility in America has been access to college. We invest a great deal of faith in the promise of college to create economic opportunity, create better, more informed citizens and build democratic communities. The nation has made great progress in expanding access to higher education. But nevertheless, only a third of American adults in the workforce enjoy the benefits of a four year college degree. A four year diploma is a baseline requirement for most stable, well compensated career laddered jobs in the United States. Possession of a four year college degree also is related to longevity, general health and wellbeing, relational happiness. So there are reasons why it is important that college continue to be a policy goal in the United States.

But we also must consider that we are living longer than ever. Almost half of five-year-olds alive today will live to 100. It stands to reason that the longer we live, the longer we’ll work. Working throughout the lifespan requires different knowledge and skills, and different ways of acquiring said knowledge and skills. In addition to creating new ways of learning and tools for learning, we need a serious social science of educational transitions and basic information about what kinds of programs work for what kinds of individuals.

Faculty Director

Bio photo of Candace Thille

Candace Thille

Faculty Director, Adult Learning


An Applied Science to Support Working Learners

Supported with funds from the National Science Foundation, researchers and educators assembled to develope a framework for improving educational and mobility opportunities for the millions of employed Americans who do not have college degrees.