Estimated reading time 5 min

Finns of all ages enjoy learning – three out of four also have confidence in their abilities

Finnish people are of the opinion that lifelong learning is one of their fundamental rights and that extensive general knowledge is a value in itself. Learning is something that awakens curiosity, enthusiasm and optimism in adults, but it may also arouse feelings of inadequacy at times. Lack of time and money in particular are the biggest obstacles on the learning path.



Competence provides the preconditions for coping in an ever-changing world and is one of the sources of well-being. The views above are based on a survey commissioned by Sitra taken by more than two thousand Finnish respondents aged from 18 to 85.

The results of the survey shed light on the perspectives of young adults, the working-age population and pensioners on lifelong learning – a topic that gives rise to lively public debate.

The parliamentary working group on continuous learning appointed by the government is currently seeking new ways to enable learning. Sitra’s survey provides new information to support the reform work by complementing the overall picture of the subject.

In particularly, the desire to grow and develop as a person feeds the will to learn new things. People consider the ability to cope in a changing world as the most important reason for developing their competence. This view is particularly true of the middle-aged and pensioners.

Finnish people value extensive general knowledge and regard lifelong learning as their fundamental right. This is how almost nine out of ten respondents feel. Three out of four Finns also have confidence in their ability to learn new things.

“Finns have a very high desire to learn. It is an enormous resource for our country,” says Helena Mustikainen, Project Director of Lifelong learning at Sitra. “After all, the ability to learn is crucial not only for the well-being of individuals but also for the development of work communities and Finland’s future success.”

Learning takes place as part of everyday life and work

Learning takes place in everyday life and on special occasions, and not just at school. According to the survey, the most important learning environments are those that involve the family and other relationships, and working life. About three out of four respondents consider these environments as important or very important to them. Other sources of learning mentioned include formal education, setbacks in life and hobbies.

The respondents reported that, in the 12 months preceding the survey, they learned things in particular by searching for information on the internet, reading and writing, and through their hobbies. Many everyday tasks give people the joy of learning, such as learning a new yoga pose, repairing a car’s brakes, image processing, riding a scooter or understanding a specific matter in depth.

In public discussion, the development needs related to competence are often combined with the changes in working life. However, according to the survey, Finns see the significance of learning in a wider context, although young adults aged 18 to 24 tend to think more often than the older generations that competence should be developed particularly with working-life needs in mind.

Sixty-eight per cent of the respondents believe that within the next five years their work will change in such a way that developing their competence will prove worthwhile. In working life, the ways of learning particularly include working with others and learning from others, as well as testing new things and working methods.

At the general level, people consider the atmosphere of work communities to be largely positive towards learning but feel that not enough opportunities or time are reserved for learning.

Pleasure and joy

People do not learn new things because they feel obliged to do so, but rather the motivation derives from the desire to grow and develop as a person, the pleasure of learning and interest in new things. “In my work, children teach me on a daily basis how small things can give you joy,” one respondent said.

The majority of the respondents admitted that they have been continuously trying to learn new things throughout their lives and are still developing their knowledge and skills.

The respondents highlighted that the most meaningful ways of developing competence were the independent study of new things, acquiring information on the internet, their hobbies, voluntary work or on-the-job learning.

Three out of five respondents felt that they had expertise that they could utilise more in society.

“Developing one’s own competence is the best way of preparing for changes in the world. Learning takes place in everyday life and sometimes even without us noticing – understanding this is a valuable lesson to learn for everyone,” says Milma Arola, Leading Specialist at Sitra.

Lack of time and money

According to the survey, the biggest obstacles to developing competence are the lack of time and money.

A high level of education would seem to correlate with developing competence, whereas respondents with a lower education feel that they have fewer opportunities to do so. This result strengthens the view that education does accumulate.

“In the future, we must ensure that every Finn has the opportunity to renew his or her competence regardless of his or her age or life situation,” says Helena Mustikainen. “It is necessary to examine how different practices, legislation and funding best enable and make room for the lifelong learning of individuals.”

You can read our survey here (in Finnish): Lifelong Learning in Finland 2019

Sitra’s Lifelong learning focus area promotes Finland’s lifelong learning policy in which the development of skills and knowledge is seen as a long-term investment and a source of well-being. Sitra brings together different parts of society and accelerates their adoption of a comprehensive lifelong learning policy. The results of the survey on lifelong learning add the perspective of individual Finns to the debate about the topic.

What's this about?