International Review of Education

, Volume 63, Issue 3, pp 319–340 | Cite as

Empirical and genealogical analysis of non-vocational adult education in Europe

Original Paper


Non-formal, non-vocational adult education (NFNVAE) is a low-cost, low-threshold learning activity that generates many benefits for individuals and society, and it should play a more central role in educational policy. NFNVAE’s challenge is that it lacks clear concepts and definitions and is, therefore, less systematically covered in statistics, research and surveys. This article seeks to tackle these problems by providing (1) a mapping of NFNVAE courses in 10 European countries and (2) a conceptual framework for NFNVAE. The mapping is based on survey data (n = 8,646) that contain information on 14,063 courses, which were coded into 24 categories and three general types: civic, liberal and basic skills education. Popular adult education courses (in the radical meaning of the term) were not found among these data; therefore, further mapping is needed. The genealogical analysis shows that ideological discourses and cultural practices should be taken into account when different concepts are used to describe NFNVAE. Especially the concept “popular” needs more clarification, since it is frequently used to refer to several different traditions, for example the Nordic “folkbildning”, which is a civic education system, and therefore differs from Latin American popular adult education, which is a radical, non-governmental movement.


non-vocational education non-formal education adult education liberal popular educational policy genealogy 



Funding was provided by the Directorate-General for Education and Culture (Grant No. 519319-LLP-1-2011-1-DE-KA1-KA1SCR).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht and UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Philosophy, School of Educational Sciences and PsychologyUniversity of Eastern FinlandJoensuuFinland

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