Probing the Icebergs of Adult Learning: Comparative Findings and Implications of the 1998, 2004 and 2010 Canadian Surveys of Formal and Informal Learning Practices


  • David Walker Livingstone University of Toronto


surveys of formal and informal learning, learning and work


This paper summarizes the findings of the 2010 Work and Lifelong Learning (WALL) survey of self-reported further education and intentional informal learning activities of Canadian adults and compares them with the results of the 2004 WALL survey and the 1998 New Approaches to Lifelong Learning (NALL) survey on the same subject. Basic profiles of participation in further education courses and intentional informal learning activities related to employment, housework, community volunteer work, and general interests are presented. In addition to being one of the most highly formally educated populations in the world, Canadians quite rapidly increased their participation in further education over the past generation.  They continued to devote much more of their time to an array of informal learning activities. However, Canadian adults’ array of formal and informal learning efforts face relatively diminishing opportunities for application in jobs as they are currently structured.

Author Biography

David Walker Livingstone, University of Toronto

Canada Research Chair in Lifelong Learning and Work, Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology and Equity Studies, OISE/UT


Betcherman, G., McMullen, K., & Davidman, K. (1998). Training for the new economy. Ottawa: Canadian Policy Research Networks.

Canadian Council on Learning. (2009). Post-secondary education in Canada: Who is missing out? Ottawa: CCL.

Canadian Council on Learning. (2010). Taking stock of lifelong learning in Canada: Progress or complacency? Ottawa: CCL.

Colley, S., Hodkinson, P., & Malcom, J. (2003). Informality and formality in learning. London: Learning and Skills Research Centre.

Curtis, B., Livingstone, D. W., & Smaller, H. (1992). Stacking the deck: The streaming of working-class kids in Ontario schools. Toronto: Our Schools-Our Selves Education Foundation.

Desjardins, R., Rubenson, K., & Milana, M. (2006). Unequal chances to participate in adult learning: International perspectives. Paris: UNESCO Institute for Educational Planning.

Devereaux, M. (1985). One in every five: A survey of adult education in Canada. Ottawa, Statistics Canada and Education Support Section, Secretary of State.

Dominion Bureau of Statistics. (1963). Participants in further education in Canada. Ottawa: DBS.

Eichler, M., Albanese, P., Ferguson, S., Hyndman, N., Liu, L.W., & Matthews, A. (2010). More than it seems: Household work and lifelong learning. Toronto: Women’s Press.

Eurofound. (2012). Fifth European working conditions survey. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

European Commission. (2005). Task force report on adult education survey. (Final Report. 30 April 2004). Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

European Commission. (2011). Adults in formal education: Policies and practice in Europe. Brussels: Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency.

Felstead, A., Gallie, D., & Green, F. (2002). Work skills in Britain 1986-2001. Nottingham, UK: Department for Education and Skills.

Knighton, T., Hujaleh, F., Iacampo, J. & Werkneh, G. (2009). Lifelong learning among Canadians aged 18 to 64 years: First results from the 2008 access and support to education and training survey. Ottawa: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.

Lagace, M. (1968). Educational attainment in Canada: Some regional and social aspects. Special Labour Force Studies No. 7. Ottawa: Dominion Bureau of Statistics.

Livingstone, D. W. (1999). Exploring the icebergs of adult learning: Findings of the first Canadian survey of informal learning practices. Canadian Journal for the Study of Adult Education, 13(2), 49–72.

Livingstone, D. W. (2001). Worker control as the missing link: Relations between paid/unpaid work and work-related learning. Journal of Workplace Learning, 13(7/8), 308-317.

Livingstone, D. W. (2002). Working and learning in the information age: A profile of Canadians. Ottawa: Canadian Policy Research Networks.

Livingstone, D. W. (2004). The education-jobs gap: Underemployment or economic democracy (2nd ed.). Aurora, ON: Garamond Press.

Livingstone, D. W. (2005). Informal learning: Conceptual distinctions and preliminary findings. In Z. Bekerman, N. Burbules, & D. Silberman (Eds.), Learning in places: The informal education reader (pp. 203–228). Berlin: Peter Lang.

Livingstone, D.W. (2007a). Re-exploring the icebergs of adult learning: Comparative findings of the 1998 and 2004 Canadian surveys of formal and informal learning practices. Canadian Journal for the Study of Adult Education. 20(2), 1-24.

Livingstone, D. W. (Ed.). (2007b). Work and lifelong learning resource base: Materials for teaching, research and policy making. Toronto: Centre for the Study of Education and Work. Available at

Livingstone, D. W. (2007c). Age, occupational class and lifelong learning: Findings of a 2004 Canadian survey of formal and informal learning through the life course. Keynote address to “The times they are a-changin’: Researching transitions in lifelong learning” conference, Centre for Research on Lifelong Learning, University of Stirling, Scotland.

Livingstone, D. W. (Ed.). (2009). Education and jobs: Exploring the gaps. Toronto: Univeristy of Toronto Press.

Livingstone, D.W. (Ed.). (2010). Lifelong learning in paid and unpaid work. London UK: Routledge.

Livingstone, D.W. & Guile, D. (Eds.). (2012). The knowledge economy and lifelong learning: A critical reader. Rotterdam: Sense Publishing.

Livingstone, D. W., & Mangan, J. M. (Eds.). (1996). Recast dreams: Class and gender consciousness in Steeltown. Toronto: Garamond Press.

Livingstone, D. W., & Myers, D. (2007). ‘I might be overqualified’: Personal perspectives and national survey findings on prior learning assessment and recognition in Canada. Journal of Adult and Continuing Education, 13(1), 27–52.

Livingstone, D. W., & Raykov, M. (2008). Workers’ power and intentional learning: A 2004 benchmark survey. Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations, 63(1), 30-54.

Livingstone, D. W., & Sawchuk, P. (2004). Hidden knowledge: Organized labour in the information age. Toronto: Garamond Press and Lanham, MA.: Rowman & Littlefield.

Livingstone, D.W. & Scholtz, A. (2010). Work and learning in the computer era: Basic survey findings. In D.W. Livingstone, (ed.). Lifelong learning in paid and unpaid work: Survey and case study findings. (pp. 15-55). London, UK: Routledge.

Livingstone, D. W., & Stowe, S. (2007a). Work time and learning activities of the continuously employed: A longitudinal analysis, 1998–2004. Journal of Workplace Learning, 19(1), 17–31.

Livingstone, D. W., & Stowe, S. (2007b). Class mobility and university education: The inter-generational talent gap in Canada. In A. Scott and J. Freeman-Moir (eds.). The Lost Dream of Equality: Critical Essays on Education and Social Class. (pp. 29-46). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Macdonald , D. & E. Shaker. (2011). Under pressure: The impact of rising tuition fees on Ontario families. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Myers, K., & de Broucker, P. (2006). Too many left behind: Canada’s adult education and training system. Ottawa: Canadian Policy Research Networks.

Northrup, D. & Pollard, J. (2011). The 2010 national survey of learning and work: The second WALL survey: Technical Documentation. Toronto: Institute for Social Research, York University.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2011). Education at a glance 2011. Paris: OECD.

Peters, V. (2004). Working and training: First results of the 2003 adult education and training survey. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

Rubenson, K., Desjardins, R., & Yoon, E.S. (2007). Adult learning in Canada: A comparative perspective results from the adult literacy and life skills survey. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

Schugurensky, D. Duguid, F. & Mündel, K. (2010). Volunteer work and informal learning: exploring the connections. In D.W. Livingstone, (ed.). Lifelong Learning in Paid and Unpaid Work: Survey and Case Study Findings. (pp. 79-98). London, UK: Routledge.

Statistics Canada and Human Resources Development Canada. (2001). A report on adult education and training in Canada: Learning a living. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

Statistics Canada. (2005). General social survey on time use: Overview of the time use of Canadians. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

Tough, A. (1979). The adult's learning projects: A fresh approach to theory and practice in adult learning. Toronto: OISE Press.

Vaisey, S. (2006, December). Education and its discontents: Overqualification in America, 1972-2002. Social Forces, 85(2), 835–864.

Wihak, C. & G. Hall. (2008). Work-related informal learning. Ottawa: Canadian Council on Learning, Work and Learning Knowledge Centre.

Williams, J. (2012). Where’s the learning in lifelong participation? Journal of Further and Higher Education, 36(1), 95-107.




How to Cite

Livingstone, D. W. (2012). Probing the Icebergs of Adult Learning: Comparative Findings and Implications of the 1998, 2004 and 2010 Canadian Surveys of Formal and Informal Learning Practices. Canadian Journal for the Study of Adult Education, 25(1), 47–71. Retrieved from