Author(s):Dorothy Olsen (presenting), Tone Cecilie Carlsten (presenting)

Conference:ECER 2016, Leading Education: The Distinct Contributions of Educational Research and Researchers

Network:02. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)


Session Information

02 SES 10 A, The Contribution of Methodologies to VET Research

Paper Session


Room:Vet-Theatre 116

Chair:Lázaro Moreno Herrera


Silver Lining - A Mixed Method Approach to the Study of Employability and Learning Trajectories of Late Career Learners

The reality of an ageing Europe has been recognised by the European Union, and the challenge of maintaining active participation has been one of the focus areas of recent OECD reports (OECD 2012, OECD 2013, OECD 2014). National governments in European and OECD countries are concerned about how to deal with rapidly aging populations. The global share of population aged 60 years or over is predicted to double, reaching more than 20 per cent by 2050 (United Nations 2013). In many European countries, this level has already been reached, and is expected to increase further. This development represents an array of economic and social challenges. 

Increased life expectancy should also be regarded as a triumph and a potential asset, provided that societies are able to ensure a healthy and active ageing. While politicians are concerned about funding pensions, others are interested in the continued active participation of senior employees (aged 55 to 67). One of OECD’s recommendations (2013) to improve the employability of older workers is to ensure a high level of learning throughout their working career i.e. lifelong learning.

In this paper we outline the design of a new project examining the relationship between learning and employment of older workers. We address the issue of the ageing European workforce by examining the relationship between education or learning and the active participation of older adults in the work force. One concept, which has been used to study learning at different times and in different places, is the concept of the learning trajectory. This concept has its origins in practice-based studies largely within the sociocultural perspective of learning (Billett 2001). This perspective moves the focus away from measuring formal education, towards gaining an understanding of the progressive development of the knowledge and skills of individuals or groups in changing contexts.

The aim is to describe and discuss how to approach this field in a novel methodological way. Suggesting a mixed method approach to explore and analyse learning trajectories of late career employees, we outline a design aiming to better understand how the working environment might influence decisions to continue working, or to retire early. While the idea of this study is not new (Lahn 2003, Mayhem & Rijkers 2004, Philipson & Smith 2005, Gries et al 2009, Hanushek et al 2011, Desjardins & Warnke 2012), we do however combine new data in a novel way (cf. Tashakkori & Teddlie 2003, Antonacopoulou 2006, Creswell & Clark 2007).

Our research question is as follows: How may we examine if and how learning in the workplace may be one way to improve the lot of older employees, and to increase the number of those who continue to make an active contribution to the workforce?

By describing how to carry out both quantitative and qualitative studies, we will discuss how to identify the forms and trajectories of learning that are most conducive to the employment of older adults with an aim to explore whether there are gaps or weaknesses in current national policies in this area.


The paper provides a meta-discussion on the use of mixed methods in a large research project funded by the Research Council of Norway, and represents as such a desktop study. We will describe and discuss how to use multiple methods to shed light on the existing situation and discuss future potential for examining late career learners. First, we describe how to select and combine national data on firms and employees to gain an overview of how much formal and informal learning is being registered in the age group 55 to 67 in the various industrial sectors. Second, we describe how to analyse these data in relation to data on employment in the various age groups. Third, we describe how to carry out a national comparison with other European countries using the PIAAC data (Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies carried out by the OECD). Fourth, in order to better understand learning over time and explore some of the myths relating to learning and adaptability among senior employees, we describe how to combine the quantitative data with data from explorative case studies in a selection of industrial sectors. These cases attempt to shed light on informal learning in various working contexts and reveal factors which might hinder or improve learning (cf. Billett 2001, Eraut 2007, Guile 2014). The explorative case studies will ensure that the role of the learning context is carefully analysed from the perspective of senior employees, and will provide a rare opportunity to understand both the kind of learning which older employees have experienced throughout their career and how this relates to their motivation and active participation in the workplace.

Expected Outcomes

The paper presents a novel approach to studying how the ability to remain in employment may be related to lifelong learning and skills among older adults.Describing and discussing how to combine recent statistical data on employment and various forms of learning with qualitative methods to carry out in-depth studies of the learning trajectories of older workers in the workplace, is expected to add to our understanding of the roles of informal or non-formal learning at work.

The outcome of the desktop study will provide a deepening of our understanding of how to examine the relationships between lifelong learning and the employability of older adults by applying a mixed methods design. Better and more targeted measures addressing late career learners may increase their employability and their motivation to postpone retirement, and thereby contribute to more active aging and reduced public costs for pensions and health care.

The paper reflects ECER's tradition and emphasis on comparative projects that shed light on the effect of lifelong learning on the employability of adults by comparing data from different European countries. The discussion is expected to be highly relevant for both academic researchers and for decision makers in private and public sector, including HR-managers and to those involved in policy development.


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Billett, o.S. (2001), Learning in the Workplace, Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
Creswell, J. W., & Plano Clark, V. L. (2007). Designing and conducting mixed methods research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Desjardins, R., and A.J. Warnke (2012), Ageing and Skills: A Review and Analysis of Skill Gain and Skill Loss Over the Lifespan and Over Time, OECD Working Paper No. 72.
Eraut, M. (2007), “Learning from Other People in the Workplace”, Oxford Review of Education, 33(4), p. 403-422.
Gries, T., S. Jungblut, T. Krieger and H. Meier (2009), Statutory Retirement Age and Lifelong Learning, No 9, Working Papers CIE from University of Paderborn, CIE Center for International Economics.
Guile, D. (2014), “Knowledge and practice as recontextualisation in Young”. In: M. Young and J. Muller (eds.), Knowledge, expertise and the professions, Routledge.
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Lahn, L.C. (2003), “Competence and Learning in Late Career”, European Educational Research Journal, 2(1), p. 126-140.
Mayhew, K., and B. Rijkers (2004), “How to improve the human capital of older workers”. In: Human Capital and Labour Market Performance, Paris: OECD.
OECD (2012), Literacy, Numeracy and Problem Solving in Technology-Rich Environments: Framework for the OECD Survey of Adult Skills, OECD Publishing.
OECD (2013), Ageing and Employment Policies: Norway 2013: Working Better with Age, OECD Publishing.
OECD (2014), Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing.
Phillipson, C., and A. Smith (2005), Extending working life: A review of the research literature, Department for Work and Pensions.
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& C. Teddlie (Eds.), Handbook of mixed methods in social and behavioral research (pp. 671–701). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
United Nations (2013), World Population Ageing 2013, United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, ST/ESA/SER.A/348.

Author Information

Dorothy Olsen (presenting)
Research & Innovation
Tone Cecilie Carlsten (presenting)