Lifelong learning

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'Lifelong learning' (Colloquialism) is the "ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated"[1] pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons. Therefore, it not only enhances social inclusion, active citizenship, and personal development, but also self-sustainability, rather than competitiveness and employability.[2]

The concept Lifelong Learning was introduced in Denmark as early as in 1971 (see Bologna Process).

Evolved from the term “life-long learners” created by Leslie Watkins and used by Professor Clint Taylor (CSULA) and Superintendent for the Temple City Unified School District’s mission statement in 1993, the term recognizes that learning is not confined to childhood or the classroom but takes place throughout life and in a range of situations. Allen Tough (1979), Canadian educator and researcher, asserts that almost 70% of learning projects are self-planned.[3]

During the last fifty years, constant scientific and technological innovation and change has had a profound effect on learning needs and styles. Learning can no longer be divided into a place and time to acquire knowledge (school) and a place and time to apply the knowledge acquired (the workplace).[4] Instead, learning can be seen as something that takes place on an ongoing basis from our daily interactions with others and with the world around us. It can take the form of formal learning or informal learning, or self-directed learning.

Learning economy

Lifelong learning is being recognized by traditional colleges and universities as valid in addition to degree attainment. Some learning is accomplished in segments or interest categories and can still be valuable to the individual and community. The economic impact of educational institutions at all levels will continue to be significant into the future as formal courses of study continue and interest-based subjects are pursued. The institutions produce educated citizens who buy goods and services in the community and the education facilities and personnel generate economic activity during the operations and institutional activities. Similar to health facilities, educational institutions are among the top employers in many cities and towns of the world. Whether brick-and-mortar institutions or on-line schools, there is a great economic impact worldwide from learning, including lifelong learning, for all age groups. The lifelong learners, including persons with academic or professional credentials, tend to find higher-paying occupations, leaving monetary, cultural, and entrepreneurial impressions on communities, according to educator Cassandra B. Whyte.[5][6]

Lifelong learning contexts

Although the term is widely used in a variety of contexts its meaning is often unclear.[7] A learning approach that can be used to define lifelong learning is heutagogy.[8]

There are several established contexts for lifelong learning beyond traditional "brick and mortar" schooling:

  • Home schooling involves learning to learn or the development of informal learning patterns
  • Waldorf education which teaches children to love learning for its own sake .
  • Adult education or the acquisition of formal qualifications or work and leisure skills later in life
  • Continuing education which often describes extension or not-for-credit courses offered by higher education institutions
  • Knowledge work which includes professional development and on-the-job training
  • Personal learning environments or self-directed learning using a range of sources and tools including online applications

E-learning is available at most colleges and universities or to individuals learning independently. There are even online courses being offered for free by many institutions.

One new (2008 and beyond) expression of lifelong learning is the Massive Open Online Course (a MOOC), in which a teacher or team offers a syllabus and some direction for the participation of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of learners. Most MOOCs do not offer typical "credit" for courses taken, which is why they are interesting and useful examples of lifelong learning.

Lifelong Learning and Emerging Technologies

Lifelong learning is defined as “all learning activity undertaken throughout life, with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competences within a personal, civic, social and/or employment-related perspective”.[9] It is often considered learning that occurs after the formal education years of childhood (where learning is instructor driven - pedagogical) and into adulthood (where the learning is individually driven - andragogical). It is sought out naturally through life experiences as the learner seeks to gain knowledge for professional or personal reasons.‘Knowledge results from the combination of grasping experience and transforming it’ (Kolb 1984: 41). The concept of lifelong learning has become of vital importance with the emergence of new technologies that change how we receive and gather information, collaborate with others, and communicate.

Assistive Technology

As technology rapidly changes individuals must adapt and learn to meet everyday demands. However, through the lifecourse an individual's functional capacities may also change. Assistive Technology are also important considerations under the umbrella of emerging technology and lifelong learning. Access to informal and formal learning opportunities for individuals with disabilities may be dependent upon low and high tech assistive technology.

Web 2.0

The emergence of Web 2.0 technologies has great potential to support lifelong learning endeavors, allowing for informal, just-in-time, day-to-day learning.[10] Constant change is emerging as the new normal. In order to survive and thrive, organizations and individuals must be able to adjust, and enhance their knowledge and skills to meet evolving needs. This means the most important thing someone can learn is how to learn.[11] An understanding of web 2.0 tools is critical to keeping up with a changing world and the information explosion.

Workplace Learning

The professions in particular are recognizing the importance of developing practitioners to be lifelong learners. Nowadays, formal training is only a beginning; knowledge is accumulating at such a fast rate that one must continue to learn to be effective (Williams, 2001). Indeed, most professions mandate that their members continue learning in order to maintain their license to practice. (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007).[12] Having said this, what are the characteristics or skills that a lifelong learner will need to develop. Reflective learning and critical thinking can help a learner to become more self-reliant through learning how to learn, thus making them better able to direct, manage, and control their own learning process (Candy, 1990).[13] Sipe (1995) studied experimentally ‘“open” teachers and found that they valued self-directed learning, collaboration, reflection, and challenge; risk taking in their learning was seen as an opportunity, not a threat. Dunlap and Grabinger (2003) make the case that in order to prepare students in higher education to be lifelong learners, we must develop their capacity for self-direction, metacognition awareness, and a disposition toward learning (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007).[12]


While the study of metacognition originally gave educational psychologists insights into what differentiated successful students from their less successful peers, it is increasingly being used to inform teaching that aims to make students more aware of their learning processes, and show them how to regulate those processes for more effective learning throughout their lives.[14]

Educators can employ Cognitive Strategy Instruction (CSI)[15][16] as a means to help learners develop their metacognition. Again, learners who are better equipped to create learning strategies for themselves will have more success in achieving their cognitive goals.[14]

As lifelong learning is "lifelong, lifewide, voluntary, and self-motivated"[1] learning to learn, that is, learning how to recognize learning strategies, and monitor and evaluate learning, is a pre-condition for lifelong learning. Metacognition is an essential first step in developing 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 for instance, is a common practice in Finland as well. A study circle is one of the most democratic forms of a learning environment that has been created. There are no teachers and the group decides on what content will be covered, scope will be used, as well as a delivery method.

Sometimes lifelong learning aims to provide educational opportunities outside standard educational systems — which can be cost-prohibitive, if it is 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.[17] 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).[18]

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.

Most colleges and universities in the United States encourage lifelong learning to non-traditional students. Professional licensure and certification courses are also offered at many universities, for instance for teachers, social services providers, and other professionals. Some colleges even enable adults to earn credit for the college-level learning gained through work, volunteer and other experiences.[19]

Open and distance learning (ODL)is playing a vital role in lifelong learning. Bangladesh Open University (BOU) is a great example of that. BOU has 6 schools and is offering 23 formal and 19 non formal programs and students’ number is 3,78,382 (according to 2010-11 enrolment number). Most of the courses of BOU are for Professional development and most of the students are professional people who are getting scope to study in flexible hours. From BOU Profile, Bangladesh Open University [2] is the only public institution in the country that imparts education in distance mode. In place of campus based teaching, this university uses technology including electronic devices to reach people in different corners of the country. The learner in this system is not restricted by time, space or age. A learner can think and learn at his own will, at his own place and at any time whenever he/she feels free to learn"[20]

In Canada, the federal government's Lifelong Learning Plan allows Canadian residents to withdraw funds from their Registered Retirement Savings Plan to help pay for lifelong learning, but the funds can only be used for formal learning programs at designated educational institutions.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Department of Education and Science (2000). Learning for Life: White Paper on Adult Education. Dublin: Stationery Office. [1]
  2. Commission of the European Communities: "Adult learning: It is never too late to learn". COM(2006) 614 final. Brussels, 23.10.2006.
  3. The Adult's Learning Projects, A Fresh Approach to Theory and Practice in Adult Learning p.1
  4. Fischer, Gerhard (2000). "Lifelong Learning - More than Training" in Journal of Interactive Learning Research, Volume 11 issue 3/4 pp 265-294.
  5. Whyte, Cassandra B/ (2002). "Great Expectations for Higher Education". Speech at Higher Education Round Table Event. Oxford, England.
  6. Whyte, Cassandra B. (1989) "Student Affairs-The Future". Journal of College Student Personnel. 30.(1) 86-89.
  7. Aspin, David N. & Chapman, Judith D. (2007) "Lifelong Learning Concepts and Conceptions" in: David N. Aspin, ed.: Philosophical Perspectives on Lifelong Learning, Springer. ISBN 1-4020-6192-7
  8. Blaschke, Lisa Marie. "Heutagogy and Lifelong Learning: A Review of Heutagogical Practice and Self-Determined Learning". The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Athabasca University. Retrieved 24 November 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Commission of the European Communities. (2001, November 21). Making a European Area of Lifelong Learning a Reality. Retrieved from EUR-Lex:
  10. Dunlap, J. C., & Lowenthal, P. R. (in press). Learning, unlearning, and relearning: Using Web 2.0 technologies to support the development of lifelong learning skills. In G. D. Magoulas (Ed.), E-infrastructures and technologies for lifelong learning: Next generation environments. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Merriam, S. B. & Caffarella, R.S. (2007) Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide. San Francisco: Josseey-Bass (3rd. Edition)
  13. Mackeracher, D. (2004). Making Sense of Adult Learning, Second Edition. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Livingston, Jennifer A. (1997) Metacognition: An Overview
  17. "Academy of Lifelong Learning". University of Delaware. 2006. Retrieved 2006-05-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "Wszechnica Uniwersytetu Jagiellonskiego". The Jagiellonian University. 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "Bangladesh Open University, A Public University of Distance Education." Welcome to Bangladesh Open University. 2004. Web. 28 Oct 2013. <>.

Further reading

  • Peter Jarvis (2006). Towards a Comprehensive Theory of Human Learning. Psychology Press. ISBN 978-0-415-35541-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • 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 0-9621979-4-7
  • Beyond the American Dream: Lifelong Learning and the Search for Meaning in a Postmodern World by Charles D. Hayes ISBN 0-9621979-2-0
  • Pastore G., Un’altra chance. Il futuro progettato tra formazione e flessibilità, in Mario Aldo Toscano, Homo instabilis. Sociologia della precarietà, Grandevetro/Jaca Book, Milano 2007 ISBN 978-88-16-40804-3
  • "Nine Shift: Work, life, and education in the 21st Century," By William A. Draves and Julie Coates ISBN 1-57722-030-7

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