What Makes Workers Learn: The Role of Incentives in Workplace Education

Hirsch, Donald
Date of publication: 
Sun, 1995-01-01

Adult education and training will be a necessity rather than an optional
luxury in advanced economies in the twenty-first century for three reasons:
(1) the accelerated pace of change in the global economy and the penetration
of new technologies into nearly every aspect of daily life; (2) demographic
changes which increase the importance of adults in the population (when
one or two children per family becomes the norm rather than four or five, as
at the beginning of this century, resource allocation to education and training
needs to be reconsidered); and (3) the consequences of neglecting the first
two reasons will be greater than ever before. That is, if there are insufficient
opportunities and incentives for adult education and training in knowledgeintensive
economies, there will be a growing polarization between the
knows and the know-nots. The eventual result of such polarization could be
a catastrophe for the democratic system.
Yet while we increasingly agree on the need to engage adults in learning
in order to create a learning society, the problem is that we know little or
nothing about the incentives—economic, social and psychological—that are
needed to encourage adults to return to education or to take an interest in
informal learning in ways that can change their lives.
Most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
(OECD) work on this subject, which has been going on since the late
1960s, has focused around changes in institutional structures, content of
education and interaction between education and work. There is now a need
for a better understanding of the incentive structures which cause adults to
learn in relation to their work. As a first analysis of what is known about
incentives, this book aims to encourage researchers in a range of
disciplines—from economics to psychology—to address this issue. This
will be particularly important as the degree of interest in adult education and
training grows, particularly in the private sector. If we remain ignorant
about the factors that cause workers to participate in education and training,
there is a danger that measures to stimulate learning will have benefits for
only a minority of already privileged workers.