Adult Skills in a Rapidly Changing Society

When we think of learning skills that are necessary to navigate society, the first thing that comes to mind may be our school days. But today’s society is changing so rapidly that many of the skills we need for everyday life we never learned in school, and we need to continue learning in order to keep up with the demands of everyday life. A new article collection published in Large-Scale Assessment in Education examines the process, challenges, and assessment of adult learning, and takes a look at the implications this has for larger groups of adult learners, such as migrants.

Basic skills in international comparison

There has been a big hype about PISA and the performance of students around the world. However little is known about the corresponding study for adults in international comparison: The Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). PIAAC is a representative study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which assesses the basic skills of adults in more than 40 countries. The basic skills measured by PIAAC are literacy, numeracy and the ability to solve problems in technology-rich environments. These basic skills are crucial to successfully face the challenges of everyday life.

Educational scientists from various disciplines, such as economics or psychology, used PIAAC data to examine key predictors and outcomes of adult skills. Their research results have been published in a special issue in Large-Scale Assessment in Education.

In the new era of technological disruptors, PIAAC introduces the use of technology for large-scale assessments. In this context, several outstanding questions were addressed: To what extent does the educational attainment acquired through formal education correlate with the literacy skills needed in daily life, e.g. answering an email at work or buying a train ticket?

Furthermore, researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Economic Research have been exploring a central economic question: what is the causality between skills and labor market outcomes in terms of higher wages as well as better employment chances. Unexpectedly, the returns to skills in the labor market are lower than previously thought!

Further education and the role of motivation and personality  

(image via pixabay CC0 Creative Commons).

Today’s rapidly changing society, globalization and volatile requirements in the labor market require us to continuously improve and adjust our skills. Hence participation in further education is essential. However a key requisite for this is people’s motivation-to-learn. Using PIAAC data great progress has been made in measuring adults’ motivation-to-learn across countries.

We are trying to explain entire processes of skill maintenance and development versus skill loss over time, and want to find out whether self-selection into certain professions might be a crucial determining factor in the correlation between earnings and competences in Germany. This was why PIAAC was transformed into a panel study, the PIAAC-Longitudinal (PIAAC-L). For instance, PIAAC-L data allows researchers to investigate the relationship between cognitive and non-cognitive skills: Would you believe that your personality (in terms of Big Five) is related to your literacy level? Indeed, literacy correlates positively with emotional stability and openness and negatively with conscientiousness.

Finally the PIAAC special issue also provides insights into how we, in response to current high levels of migration, can better account for the coverage of the migrant population in future surveys. Such data is currently desperately needed in order to receive feedback on social processes and derive policies. Have we whet your appetite for doing research with PIAAC data? Do not hesitate to visit our website at

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