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Adult Education and Work Contexts: International Perspectives and Challenges

Comparative Perspectives from the 2017 Würzburg Winter School


Edited By Regina Egetenmeyer and Monica Fedeli

Adult education has deep connections with employment contexts. This volume discusses interrelations within transnational contexts studied during the Würzburg Winter School on Comparative Studies in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning (COMPALL). The book shows that adult education and work contexts are influenced by international and transnational developments. The findings are presented in three chapters: Lifelong Learning Policies Targeting Employment Contexts; Transnational Perspectives on Lifelong Learning Policies; Employment Perspectives and Professionalisation in Adult Education.

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Comparing temporal agendas of policies and institutions in (work-related) adult education (Jan Schiller / Sabine Schmidt-Lauff / Fabio Camilloni)

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Jan Schiller, Sabine Schmidt-Lauff & Fabio Camilloni

Comparing temporal agendas of policies and institutions in (work-related) adult education

Abstract: Policies of the European Union contain a certain temporal agenda based on a conception of functionalistic, manageable, and abstract time. The text shows how this agenda has significant but different influences on national strategies (Italy and Germany) in the field of (work-related) adult education, such as the historicity or distribution of time and participation.


At a first empirical glance, time is understood – similar to money – as a resource. Time seems to be one of the important factors of conceptualisation and even participation in lifelong learning in modern societies. As recent statistics show, the main reason for non-participation in adult education – formal or non-formal – all over the OECD countries seems to be a lack of time (OECD, 2014, Tab. C6.5, and 2016). Different duties and learning activities in our accelerating world (Rosa, 2005) are in a state of constant competition over the scarce time resources of each individual lifetime. To solve this time conflict individually, innovations in competent time balancing are seen as a solution for combining adult learning with other time-related aspects of adult life, such as work, family, and recreation. This conception of time strongly resembles a functionalistic, management-type paradigm. That leads to the central question: How did this management-driven paradigm of time and learning become the leading temporal paradigm in (European) adult education?

In a first step, a short recapitulation of certain contemporary conceptions of time shall be laid out. Secondly, the role given to adult education in this setting is analysed. In the third step, the temporary paradigm and some phenomena are analysed in comparative terms and described via national laws, regulations, and social partners in Germany and Italy. Both countries have unique adult education systems that are influenced directly or indirectly by European policies. Whereas the German system strongly relies on institutions (time ‘rulers’ such as trade unions), the Italian system is guided mainly by laws (time regulations). In the last step, selected PIAAC data on (1) the distribution of time between formal and non-formal education and (2) the motivation for (non-)participation in adult education is presented in comparative terms to point out these differences. ← 25 | 26 →

Towards ‘modern times’ in contemporary capitalism

Citing Norbert Elias’ conception of time as a social dimension that is dependent on its own historicity, Leccardi (2013, p. 252) states that our understanding of time is the result of an evolutionary route, tending more and more towards an abstract conception of time (which means measured time) as the complexity of society grows. The question would arise how and in what direction contemporary capitalism has modified the temporal coordinates of early modernity. The sociologist David Harvey gives a thorough account of the impacts of postmodern production on society: New technologies in production and flexible accumulation, vertical disintegration intensifying the labour process and the need for reskilling to meet new labour needs, a shift in consumption from goods to services, and the dematerialisation of money (to name a few examples) lead to an overall instantaneity, a temporariness that is described as an intensified time-space compression (Harvey, 1990, pp. 284–286, 297). In a similar vein, Leccardi states that earlier understandings of space and time have been altered through the means of electronic communication technologies: As they accelerate the economy and society alike, the temporal profundity of one’s life is replaced by a succession of instants. As a result, simultaneity functions as a new normative ideal. On top, globalisation creates a single (global) temporal system, whose core is instantaneousness (Leccardi, 2013, p. 253). The question is: What does that mean for everyday life and work in general, and adult education in particular?

As the world ‘gets smaller’, significant changes in the temporal structure of work and life in general can be seen. Alhadeff-Jones, Lesourd, Roquet, and Le Grand (2011, p. 397) state that in every moment one knows what is happening on the other side of the world and, depending on one’s work, has to constantly adjust to it. This changes the individual’s relationship to past, present, and future. Alhadeff-Jones et al. see a key challenge for adults in the development of the capacity to pilot the temporalities and rhythms of their own life, meaning to be able to connect their own past, present, and future to negotiate changes and transformations in life (ibid.). This explicitly does not only mean learning time management but learning how one relates to time. Following Nowotny, what we experience is an ‘extended present’, as constant change and time pressure decrease our temporal horizon. We have to focus on the ‘now’ in the ‘real-time’ moment (ibid.). Harvey calls it ‘playing the volatility right’ (Harvey, 1990, p. 286), Leccardi talks about ‘projectuality’ (2013): being highly adaptable, flexible, and fast moving instead of relying on (now) difficult long-term planning. ← 26 | 27 →

Given the emphasis on the present to near future, adult education becomes the role, and lifelong learning becomes an instrument to cope with the constant need to adapt to transformation in modern Western society – in a purely functionalistic and affirmative way. As Schmidt-Lauff and Bergamini (2017, p. 99) critically state, lifelong learning is often the answer to the erosion of temporal structures: ‘Learning over the lifespan emerges as an example of a successful (educational) biography’. Lifelong learning thus becomes a norm, matching the ideal of simultaneity or individual managerialism.

Movements in-between adult education and the economy

The above-mentioned functionalistic approach to lifelong learning can also be found in its supposed role for economic prosperity in European policies. Lima and Guimarães (2011, pp. 25–27) describe a policy shift from the welfare state to the neoliberal state starting in the 1970s; humanistic and social democratic policies were abandoned in favour of a new capitalistic configuration inspired by what they call managerialism. Economically, a transition from the post-war model of full employment supported by the welfare state towards a knowledge-based society produces constant transformations. Thus, constant fundamental change stresses the need for lifelong adaptation. Ideologically, a shift from state-centred welfare to market-centred individual responsibility took place that shows strong similarities to the postmodernist condition described by Harvey above. The relations between education, learning, and employment changed along with that shift: ‘[E]ducation is reconfigured as a form of knowledge that makes it possible to decide on the future of work, the organisation of knowledge institutions, and the way society will be in the future.’ (Lima & Guimarães, 2011, p. 27)

According to Lima and Guimarães (2011, p. 29), UNESCO was particularly important in developing adult education as a public policy segment. A main reason for the commitment to lifelong education and the combination of formal, non-formal, and informal types of education lays in the fact that since at least World War II, many countries’ education systems failed to fulfil the expectation of upward social mobility through traditional formal education systems. As UNESCO-published research like R. H. Dave’s Foundations of Lifelong Education (1976) shows, the promotion of lifelong education to overcome ‘the dead end of equality of opportunity’ (p. 150) and to cope with the ‘changing requirements of the system’ (p. 151) paralleled the neoliberal economic turn of Western societies.

In 2016, Lima, Guimarães, and Touma combined the description of shifting state priorities concerning adult education into a framework that depends mainly on three idealised models: the democratic-emancipatory model, the modernisation ← 27 | 28 → and state control model, and the human resources management model. The latter one strongly resembles aspects of the postmodernist condition and its effects mentioned above in the context of lifelong learning. It ‘stresses the withdrawal of the state that is justified with the internationalisation of the economy, global competition, and diminishing public resources’ (Lima, Guimarães, & Touma, 2016, p. 39). In the human resources management model, learning, especially seen as lifelong adaptation to labour needs, is a responsibility of the individual. Accordingly, the model focuses on the acquisition of competencies in the context of employment, contradicting the modernisation and state control model’s focus on formalised education aimed at qualification (ibid., p. 36).

At this point, we can summarise that the contemporary economic configuration and its concept of education require lifelong adaptation to transformations in all parts of life, especially focused on employment. Adaptation most often translates into gaining specific competences, which leads to a temporal pronunciation of the (extended and accelerated) present in favour of the past and distant future in the context of learning. As we want to show, this functionalistic conception of time can be traced in European and national educational policies, promoting a functionalistic concept of education named ‘lifelong learning’.

Nowadays, the EU concept of lifelong learning incorporates aspects of various earlier models: Whereas OECD’s 1970s concept of ‘recurrent education’ mainly focused on alternating phases of (mostly formal) education or training and work (Trappman & Draheim, 2009, p. 534), and UNESCO’s visionary and emancipatory ‘lifelong education’, as laid out in the 1973 Faure report, proposed ‘learning to be’ in a learning society (Faure et al., 1973), lifelong learning combines both the employment focus of OECD and the temporal simultaneity of UNESCO, in an ever accelerated condition. In addition, the described shift from public to personal responsibility described by Lima et al. requires ‘lifetime flexibility’ (Greenwood & Stuart, 2006, p. 115). Lifelong learning thus refers to both Leccardi’s simultaneity as well as Harvey’s temporariness in a space-time-compressed environment, including a ‘biographical dimension’ (Trappman & Draheim, 2009, p. 534) through individual temporal responsibility. In the Memorandum on Lifelong Learning, the Commission of the European Communities laid out its picture of a future Europe: Redrawing the changes to society described above, the document defines them as an ‘overall transition to a knowledge society, whose economic basis is the creation and exchange of immaterial goods and services. In this kind of social world, up-to-date information, knowledge and skills are at a premium’ (EC, 2000, p. 7). ← 28 | 29 →

Temporal strategies of lifelong learning

The adult education systems of Germany and Italy are the product of their respective history. Both systems are directly influenced by European policies (Lima & Guimarães, 2011; Lima et al., 2016). But as complex as the national systems are, the effects of EU influence are the same. Accordingly, the following sections will give a small insight into major strategies concerning temporalities (e.g. historicity, functionalisation and explicitly of learning time, future shaping of lifelong learning strategies) of each country to introduce the respective paradigms considering ‘Europeanisation’ factors.

Historical developments (laws and social partners)

The EU concept of lifelong learning has undoubtedly had a strong impact on the German adult education sectors. Two main reasons can be identified: First, the adult education sector in Germany is traditionally highly diverse, and thus hard to reform as a whole. Second, the strongly corporatist character of policy-making includes many stakeholders, which often follow their own agendas. A ‘Europeanisation’ of German lifelong learning policies in the way of a ‘central penetration of national systems of governance’ (Olsen, 2002, p. 923), meaning ‘domestic impacts of European-level institutions’ (ibid., p. 932) occur, if at all, fractional. The fact that the states have jurisdiction over education in Germany has produced 16 different, sometimes similar laws covering adult education. Many of them originally date back to the 1970s by referring to the ILO C140 Convention, concerning free learning time via Paid Educational Leave (ILO, 1974). The federal adult and continuing education laws provide for a legal foundation of the highly diverse and heterogeneous system of adult education and training in Germany (institutions, programmes, financing, target groups, learning time, etc.).

Historically, the development of adult education laws in Italy started (like in Germany) in the 1970s. The national law 300/1970 art. 10 and many national collective agreements of 1973 define and declare the right to study for workers. The law promotes the education of workers, who are entitled to a certain number of paid hours off work (maximum 150 hours per year, but up to 250 for employees who need to obtain a basic level of compulsory education) to attend any kind of institution or certified organisation offering courses related or not related to their professional activities. Learning time – as hours per year – are clearly defined and therefore triable. Art. 10 also defines the number of individuals who can be absent from the company to attend courses at the same time. Further agreements of paid (or unpaid) education for workers are described in national workers’ agreements, ← 29 | 30 → trade union agreements, and the individual job contract. Workers who are enrolled in any formal educational courses (such as a bachelor’s or a master’s degree) have the right to a paid day off to take exams (see below).

Different and not easily compulsory, was the development of the ‘Quaternary Segment: Adult Education’ in Germany: The political struggle over the future shape of vocational education and continuous training was and is strongly influenced by important stakeholders, especially the ‘social partners’ (trade unions, their associations, and the employers’ associations). The managerialist approach of the EU lifelong learning concept does not go unchallenged by those institutions. Temporal and formal/non-formal aspects of learning and working play a major role in this struggle, too. Both policy-makers and the social partners rely strongly on scientific analyses to strengthen their point.

In the Italian context, concepts such as adult education and lifelong learning are still not common and sometimes confused. Adult education is defined as ‘an educational offer, both formal and non-formal, aimed at and designed for adults (Italians and migrants)’ (La Marca, n. d.) and is considered a responsibility of the state (policy). It is possible to divide offerings into two macro-categories: first, adult instruction, or Istruzione degli Adulti, which concerns literacy skills or the achievement of a formal diploma (e.g. high school diploma); it is entrusted to the Ministry of Education. It is accompanied by professional training, or Formazione Professionale, which is administrated by the regions and provinces (in partnership with other entities) (Gallina, 2016). The first category, as will become clear in the next paragraph, targets people who are unemployed and people with a gap in their education. The second macro-category concerns continuous training, or Formazione Continua. It refers to activities connected to professional development and employee requalification (ISFOL, 2016). In 1997, the Italian ministerial decree 455/97 represented the first step towards the concretisation of adult education (first category). Nowadays, after years of evolution and reforms, the main protagonists (for formal education) of adult education are the ‘Provincial Centres for Adult Education’ (Centri provinciali per l’istruzione degli adulti – CPIA). Most of the adults who attend formal courses there have special needs regarding time (e.g. due to their job). The full-week courses offered by the centres are organised in the evenings to be more accessible to potential learners to earn the desired formal diploma. CPIA offerings are not limited to primary, secondary, or upper secondary school, they also include functional literacy courses (literature, foreign languages, IT, etc.) and literacy and social integration courses for foreigners (Gallina, 2016). ← 30 | 31 →

Learning-time regulations

For Germany, an overall regulation about learning-time (as the 150 hours of learning per year in Italy) does not exist. But the concept of paid educational leave includes the ‘Länder Regulations’, which deal with educational leave (Bildungsurlaub, Bildungs- und Freistellungsgesetze). Fourteen out of sixteen German states have these legislative options. Every employee has the option to request approximately five days of paid leave per year to participate in specifically accredited courses on differing topics (mostly vocational but also language courses, study trips, political topics, etc.). The instrument’s primary objective is to grant employees time off to participate in learning outside the work environment in something outside of their employability focus. Some states have further instruments (e.g. educational vouchers or Bildungsscheck) to encourage adults to take learning time by means of financial stimuli.

In some aspects comparable to the above-mentioned German situation, the Italian Law 53/2000 Art. 5 regulates learning times. Most of the initiatives are directed in a human resources management model view, which focuses on the empowerment of individuals and their competences to support the economic view of new public management: the market orientation. Law 53/2000 Art. 5 re-regulates the time aspect regarding workers, who can ask time off work for educational purposes that must be related to the work context. Individuals who have accumulated five years of seniority in the same company or organisation can request up to 11 (unpaid) months, consecutive or not, with respect to the whole work-related lifetime. The training leave concerns only the training activities and education activities not organised by the employee. Article 6 of the same law, incorporating the 5th as its evolution, declares the right to education and training, including the right to leave for continuous training, employed or not, to develop professional knowledge and competence. The training, in this case, can be proposed by the employee and be granted together by the employer and social partners. The regions and autonomous provinces (Trento and Bolzano) are responsible for funding the project – with funding received from individuals or organisations (companies, NGOs, associations, training bodies, etc.) – and for communicating the data and prospective developments.

To communicate and reflect on the data for a supporting concept in Germany, the closing report of the ‘Independent Expert Commission on Funding Lifelong Learning’ (Unabhängige Expertenkommission zur Finanzierung Lebenslangen Lernens (UEK), 2004) was published as a strategic paper. It defines objectives to ‘propose funding suggestions that are suitable to promote innovation, economic growth and social cohesion’ (UEK, 2004, p. 12). Knowledge and learning are seen ← 31 | 32 → as key factors for economic development; Bildung as an investment in human capital (p. 18), which, through innovation, promotes economic growth. The impact of knowledge expansion is estimated to be higher the faster new knowledge is created (p. 17). The key resources for this investment in the individual and collective future of a knowledge-based economy and society are time and money (p. 33). The report thoroughly presents the many different possibilities in which way the temporal and financial costs of this ‘investment’ can be shared between state institutions, companies, social partners, and individuals. The expert commission recommends a set of instruments that divide the overall costs between these stakeholders. For job-related learning, the resources are provided by employers (learning during work-time, financial costs) and individuals (learning during non-paid work time and leisure time) (p. 187). This division follows the basic rationale that companies, on the one hand, should be responsible for vocational education and training investments, but that individuals, on the other hand, should contribute adequately to the costs (p. 182). From the commission’s viewpoint, work-related learning agreements should become a standard paragraph in employment contracts (p. 235). Learning-time accounts are seen as a suitable instrument and should be further developed (p. 236).

Partnerships – to the future of lifelong learning – struggling between general adult education and vocational education and training

The national government started to stimulate partnerships and networking in Italy in 2001 with Directive no. 22/01, which declared that there should be an integrated system of institutions and organisations responding to the educational and instructional needs of the population, referring also to their culture and the level of education. Formal adult education, as explained before, is not only about literacy and instruction. Professional training, which is more connected to the Ministry of Labour, is the other side of the coin, fostering the possibilities for people who do not have any certification or diploma giving them access to a profession. It is strongly connected to adult instruction; it relates to basic competences and knowledge in formal certificate/diploma courses, designed to transmit professional skills for middle- and low-qualified jobs. Professional training is organised in collaboration with the region or the province and other entities, such as regional professional training bodies, universities, public technical and professional institutions, and companies.

After six years, not least because of the influence of the EU agenda aims and the goals of the European Social Fund (ESF), an Italian financial law (269/06, art. 632) was passed describing the duties of the whole national system with respect to ← 32 | 33 → regions, local entities, and the aims imposed by the EU. Adult education direction has been shaped with the European aim to increase educational attainment. Since the beginning, the EU has played a central role because of the strong financial subsidies for courses and activities, mostly for professional training and continuous training. As a consequence, the EU and the ESF started to play a central role influencing the providers.

The situation is similar for the non-formal education side, where associations, non-profit organisations, training bodies, and third-age universities are engaged in the same search for funds. Each entity coordinates the design of its programmes and courses in cooperation with the region and the province to be able to obtain funds that allow the entity to offer courses for individuals. One of the most important laws defining and giving a protocol to lifelong learning and hence adult education is law 92/2012. Before that law was passed, a direct definition of lifelong learning, as connected to formal, non-formal, and informal education did not exist; neither was there a focus on learning as the most important principle for personal, civic, social, and professional growth. It is clear how the definition and inspiration refers to the Memorandum on Lifelong Learning (EC, 2000). The law was introduced by the Ministry of Economic Development in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, University, and Research, and the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy. The law took effect in 2013 with the national administrative order number 13, which underlines the right to lifelong learning of every individual.

To underline the German context and its conceptualisation of lifelong learning as vocational education, two examples of governance partnerships should be presented here: The trade union pamphlet ‘Education is not a Commodity’ (Bildung ist keine Ware, Bayer et al., 2006) and the trade union campaign ‘My Life – My Time’ (Mein Leben – Meine Zeit, IG Metall, 2015).

The trade union pamphlet ‘Education is not a commodity’ (Bayer et al., 2006) focuses on the effects of employment on the employed but covers the same considerations. The authors acknowledge there is a broad consensus in society to implement lifelong learning in everyday work relations (p. 84). The process of doing so, on the other hand, seems to be far from completed (p. 84). From their viewpoint, the vocational education system is facing a crisis (p. 2) rooted in the accelerated pace of economic development. To solve this crisis, they recommend a list of objectives that the trade unions should fight for. Lifelong learning should provide individual ways of access, shared responsibility (of employers and employees), and reliable regulations. The authors acknowledge that investing in society’s human capital (such as lifelong learning), as demanded by politicians, today also includes self-responsibility, meaning the privatisation of costs (p. 84). They argue that the ← 33 | 34 → promised benefits for the individual from personal investment into continuing education and training are highly questionable. They state that new allocation patterns emerge in practice, which in general foster individual responsibility for indirect costs, mainly through temporal resources (p. 85). Contributing time can evoke ‘temporal conflicts’ between different qualities of time, meaning different responsibilities that require one’s time. The risk of time conflicts is not equal for all employees, relating to individual conditions of income and life in general (p. 85), and different time responsibilities in detail: family, side jobs, overtime hours, to name a few. The general shift towards individual responsibility for adaptation gets formalised in time-sharing agreements between the companies and the employees. The new ‘allocation patterns’ require time contribution by the employees not only in self-initiated learning but also in learning that is directly required by the job (p. 88). From the trade unions’ point of view, this trend is the result of a shift of power between employers and employees – and it is the responsibility of the state to reverse it, mainly by taking up extensive financial responsibility for continuing education, which to this date is not the case (p. 89).

Launched in 2015, the trade union campaign ‘My life – my time’ (IG Metall, 2015) showcases a number of steps the trade unions believe have been achieved since the 2006 pamphlet. One of the key points are regulations concerning the shared investment of temporal resources into work-related learning: the so-called ‘educational part time’. Since 2015, agreements have been made with different economic sectors (employers’ associations) to regulate the contribution of time (and financial resources) to qualification arrangements for employees. The unions’ rather strong position is evident from the fact that these arrangements concern self-initiated learning, that is, learning not necessarily directly required by the current employment. Learning directly required for the job should be the sole responsibility of employers. ‘Educational part time’ could mean vocational qualification and upper secondary or tertiary education, for example. Employees gain the right to reduce working time in favour of learning time for up to seven years while remaining eligible to return to full-time employment afterwards. Learning time can be full time or part time (next to the job), whilst retaining at least 50 per cent of wage payments. Employees can increase their earnings during educational part time by regular payments into educational accounts. Moreover, they can invest financial (special payments, savings) and temporal resources (e.g. overtime hours) to increase wage payments during the learning phase up to a targeted 70 per cent of the former full-time payment. ← 34 | 35 →

Empirical view on learning times: Comparative PIAAC data analysis

In the following section, the effects of both systems are ‘temporally’ traced again, empirically within the PIAAC data (Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies) collected by the OECD.

Temporal resources for learning

The PIAAC data on Germany (OECD, 2016) provide empirical background that clearly shows the challenges or even disparities between political policies and the reality of adult education and training (AET). Focussing here only on time-related data, a trend of mostly non-formal education at the workplace versus formal education outside of employment arrangements can be reconfirmed by looking at the contribution of temporal resources:

Table 1: Distribution of time between formal and non-formal education with employed interviewees.


Source: OECD (2016), own arrangement (Variables B_Q10b; B_Q15b), ISFOL. (2013). PIAAC-OCSE – Rapporto nazionale sulle Competenze degli Adulti. ISFOL.

For Germany, we can see that the highest rate (58.8%) of learning occurs in the formal AET segment but outside of the workplace (formal learning during ‘non working hours only’). At the same time, 53.3 per cent of learning as non-formal education takes place during ‘working hours only’. All in all, 50.3 per cent of employed interviewees participated in formal or non-formal AET for job-related reasons in the 12 months before the interview (without table). What is more, 43.7 per cent participated in non-formal education for job-related reasons (only 7.5% for non-job related reasons).

For Italy, the PIAAC data show fairly similar proportions. Whereas formal AET is mainly done in an ‘out of the office’ setting (72% of formal learning during ← 35 | 36 → ‘non-working hours only’), non-formal AET takes place mainly at work (49% during ‘working hours only’ versus 29% during ‘non-working hours only’).

Table 1 clearly shows that the temporal resources for formal education are mainly invested outside of working hours – both in Italy and Germany. Temporally, this provokes the ‘competent time balancing management paradigm’ in modern lives, as pointed out in the introduction. On the one hand, it seems problematic that workplace-related demands (skills and knowledge) – which are available via formal learning activities – compete strongly with private time, individual personal or social/family time, recreation, and so forth. On the other hand, the individual responsibility for formal qualification seems to be very strong. By adding monetary aspects to the PIAAC data for Italy, we can find that most non-formal education in Italy is fully or partially paid for by the employer (50%; cf. ISFOL, 2013, pp. 146–161). And most of the formal education is paid for by employees (31%); the majority (61%) of learners had to pay for it completely in order to be able to get the job they were looking for (ISFOL, 2013). Although the emphasis in both countries is on non-formal education during working hours, and formal education outside of working time, the values show slightly different pronunciations: While in Germany much more people take part in formal education during work time, those approx. 13 per cent are placed in strictly non-work time hours in Italy. But more research and reflection on the data is needed to connect it to the described struggle of the social partners in Germany described above. Do ‘time-sharing’ investments between employers and employees already work in Germany?

Temporal reasons for non-participation

For both countries, the reasons given for non-participation in any learning activity confirm the prominent meaning of temporal resources (Table 2). In Italy, 38 per cent of the non-participants reported the educational activity was in conflict with their working time; in Germany 31.3 per cent reported the same conflict. Another 18 per cent in Italy and nearly 14 per cent in Germany did not have time because of family reasons. Concerning gender (no table), family reasons were the main obstacle for women (the main reasons for men concerned work) in both countries. Whether this would be different with so-called ‘time-management’ or ‘work-life balance’ schemes in place could not be answered with this data (for a critical analysis, cf. Schmidt-Lauff & Bergamini, 2017). Nonetheless, we propose a critical view here, which reflects structural problems and cultural phenomena as well, in the specific ‘functional conception of time’ in modernity, as pointed out above. ← 36 | 37 →

Table 2: Distribution of the reasons for non-participation in educational/training activities.

Motivation for non-participationGermanyItaly
Not required1.9%3%
Too expensive10.1%16%
Not supported by employer9.8%3%
Too busy with work31.3%38%
Too far, or not at a good time15.1%6%
Did not have time because of family reasons13.6%18%
Unexpected commitment2.6%3%

Source: OECD (2016) (Variable B_Q26b); ISFOL. (2013). PIAAC-OCSE – Rapporto nazionale sulle Competenze degli Adulti, pp. 159–160, authors’ arrangement.

The obstacle of accessibility (geographic and temporal) is nearly three times higher in Germany than in Italy (15% versus 6%). This is surprising, because the infrastructure as well as the number of providers or the wide range of courses seems to be extraordinary in Germany (e.g. more than 905 Volkshochschulen; DIE, 2014). Likewise, the difference between employer support (‘not supported by employer’) is three times higher in Italy than in Germany (9.8% vs. 3%), which is surprising for us. For Germany, there seems to be a distinct disparity between the political discourse on work-related learning or lifelong learning and reality. This disparity could be interpreted as a sign of political development that has not yet come to an end.


When comparing the situation in Italy and Germany, it becomes clear that the EU policies’ influence on national (work-related) adult learning and education is much more diverse than policies assume. Historically grown systems follow national structure (e.g. the federal system in Germany) as well as international influences (the ILO Paid Educational Leave as an orientation for Italian laws and German regulations). Nonetheless, transformations in both countries are orientated towards the European perspective of highly dynamic economies and accelerated times in general. Time becomes more and more a (countable) resource, politically and economically hard-fought and challenged between human wants, personal interests, family needs, and employers’ interests (production, profit). Different stakeholders, according to their respective historicity, struggle to shape the ← 37 | 38 → future of the lifelong learning system. Whereas in politically corporatist Germany, the social partners have a strong influence next to the rather diverse state laws, the policy influence in Italy proves to be much higher.

However, the centre of both the German and the Italian stakeholders’ attention is on dividing the shares of financial and temporal resources in ‘educational investments’ (Schmidt-Lauff, 2003). The human resources management model’s individual responsibility for personal qualification clearly shows in the time investment of individuals. ‘Playing the volatility right’ seems to be not only a question of personal disposition but also of labour politics in an accelerative modern society.


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