Lifelong learning

Lifelong learning is the concept that "It's never too soon or too late for learning", a philosophy that has taken root in a whole host of different organisations. Lifelong learning is attitudinal; that one can and should be open to new ideas, decisions, skills or behaviours. Lifelong learning throws the axiom "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" out the door. Lifelong learning sees citizens provided with learning opportunities at all ages and in numerous contexts: at work, at home and through leisure activities, not just through formal channels such as school and higher education.

Lifelong education is a pedagogy often accomplished through distance learning or e-learning, continuing education, homeschooling or correspondence courses. It also includes postgraduate programmes for those who want to improve their qualifications, bring their skills up to date or retrain for a new line of work. Internal corporate training has similar goals, with the concept of lifelong learning used by organisations to promote a more dynamic employee base, better able to react in an agile manner to a rapidly changing climate. In later life, especially in retirement, continued learning takes diverse forms, crossing traditional academic bounds and including recreational activities.

One of the reasons why lifelong education has become so important is the acceleration of scientific and technological progress. Despite the increased duration of primary, secondary and university education (14-18 years depending on the country), the knowledge and skills acquired there are usually not sufficient for a professional career spanning three or four decades. The European Union adopted a Communication in October 2006 entitled "It's never too late to learn". This document suggests lifelong learning to be the core of the ambitious Lisbon 2010-process, in which the whole of the European Union should become a learning area. The OECD is also conducting research on lifelong learning. See Qualifications frameworks and lifelong learning

In practice

In India and elsewhere, the "University of the Third Age" (U3A) provides an example of the almost spontaneous emergence of autonomous learning groups accessing the expertise of their own members in the pursuit of knowledge and shared experience. No prior qualifications and no subsequent certificates feature in this approach to learning for its own sake and, as participants testify, engagement in this type of learning in later life can indeed 'prolong active life'.

In Sweden the successful concept of "study circles", an idea launched almost a century ago, still represents a large portion of the adult education provision. The concept has since spread, and is a common practice in for instance Finland as well. A study circle is one of the most democratic forms of learning environment created. There are no teachers, the group decides themselves the content and scope as well as the method to use.

Sometimes lifelong learning aims to provide educational opportunities outside standard educational systems — which can be cost-prohibitive, if available at all. On the other hand, formal administrative units devoted to this discipline exist in a number of universities. For example, the 'Academy of Lifelong Learning' is an administrative unit within the University-wide 'Professional and Continuing Studies' unit at the University of Delaware. Another example is the Jagiellonian University Extension (Wszechnica Uniwersytetu Jagiellonskiego), which is one of the most comprehensive Polish centers for lifelong learning (open learning, organizational learning, community learning).

In recent years 'Lifelong Learning' has been adopted in the UK as an umbrella term for post-compulsory education that falls outside of the UK Higher Education system - Further Education, Community Education, Work-based Learning and similar voluntary, public sector and commercial settings.

Lifelong learning professionals

As the Jagiellonian University Extension defines it, there are seven main professional profiles in the Lifelong Learning domain:

  • trainer,
  • coach,
  • competency assessor,
  • consultant,
  • training project manager,
  • curriculum designer,
  • mentor.

See also

Further reading

  • Lifelong Learning and the New Educational Order by John Field (Trentham Books, 2006) ISBN 1-85856-346-1
  • The Rapture of Maturity: A Legacy of Lifelong Learning by Charles D. Hayes ISBN 09621979-4-7
  • SELF-UNIVERSITY: The Price of Tuition is the Desire to Learn. Your Degree is a Better life by Charles D. Hayes ISBN 0-9621979-0-4
  • Beyond the American Dream: Lifelong Learning and the Search for Meaning in a Postmodern World by Charles D. Hayes ISBN 0-9621979-2-0


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