Adults’ reading activities: lifelong informal literacy learning

Senior lecturer Sari Sulkunen, University of Jyväskylä

Reading activities play a significant role in adults’ literacy learning both within and outside work. While, individually, these reading activities may make limited contributions to adults’ reading literacy proficiency, when combined, they can even outweigh the effect of formal education.

In this study, reading activities are seen as opportunities to practice and develop reading proficiency in leisure time and at work. Hence, reading activities are conceptualized as informal literacy learning.

This study examines the effects of informal literacy learning on adults’ literacy proficiency using a dataset by the Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). It compares the effects of informal learning to those of formal and non-formal learning. It also examines the extent to which informal literacy learning has the potential to reduce proficiency differences between age groups.

The focus is on Finnish adults aged 35–65 years, and Denmark, Norway and Sweden constitute the frame of reference for the Finnish perspective.

The results show that the most significant determinant of reading literacy proficiency is formal education, followed by informal literacy learning outside work. The role of reading at work is less pronounced since opportunities for literacy learning at work depend on education- and occupation-related factors.

Considering both types of informal literacy learning together reduces age group differences roughly by one-quarter suggesting that reading activities both at and outside work offer also the oldest adults opportunities to further develop their literacy.