Lifelong Learning

Lifelong Learning

The world is changing fast. Technological developments will cause jobs to disappear while others will be created. The jobs that remain will change out of all recognition while the skills needed to practise them will be very different. Technological progress has also an effect on the way in which we take care of each other or how we commit ourselves for society. There are other changes in society, such as ageing, and the gig economy which are forcing us to think differently about how we live, learn and work. Life, learning and work are mingling more and more with each other and forming one big mosaic.

It is in this framework that a lot of attention is being directed towards lifelong (and life-wide) learning. Learning will increasingly take place in all the phases of your life, in your local area, throughout the city or town or online. Lifelong learning cannot just be seen as important in terms of competitiveness and the (long-term) employability of people, but also in terms of the social integration, active citizenship and personal development of the population. Talents can be discovered and made to flourish, people can create their own lives. All this will occur through a range of networks.

The definition of the concept of lifelong (and life-wide) learning is not evident. The emphasis is increasingly coming to be directed on the role that the individual plays in (lifelong) learning. In the past there was more stress on (lifelong) education and the provision of services. Learning is also increasingly seen as something that can take place everywhere and at all times: at school, in the workplace, at home, with friends,….  In 2000 the European Commission defined lifelong learning as: “any worthwhile educational activity which has a permanent character and aims to improve knowledge, skills and competences”. (European Commission, 2000).

This description is very broad and includes all kinds of education and training which (Eurostat, 2001):

  • take place continuously throughout a lifetime;
  • have a character which may be formal or informal; thus all kinds of adult education, professional training, supplementary courses,…;
  • have the goal of raising the level of knowledge and skills whether job-oriented or not.    

This broad definition draws attention to a wide range of learning activities. In this, a distinction can be made between (European Commission, 2000):

  • formal or regular learning activities which take place in educational or training institutions and lead to recognised diplomas and qualifications;
  • informal or irregular learning activities which take place outside the orthodox education and training systems and which do not necessarily lead to recognised certificates. Irregular learning activities may be offered at the workplace and through the activities of social organisations and groups (such as youth movements, trade unions and political parties). They may also be offered by organisations or services which are set up to complement the orthodox systems (like art, music or sports courses or private lessons to assist preparation for exams);
  • informal learning activities which are a normal aspect of everyday life. Otherwise than regular or irregular learning activities, these informal learning activities may not be intended to be learning activities. As a result it can happen that the people involved in these informal learning activities do not even see them as contributing to their knowledge and skills.

In the European context, lifelong learning is seen as a learning process that extends from the cradle to the grave. What is more, in the opinion of more and more people, lifelong should also be seen as life-wide. This calls attention to the need to spread (all) learning activities over every area and phase of life.

Opinion is growing that without continuous education and training people will not be able to keep up with a rapidly changing society. Gender, employment, or lack of it, level of education, age, economic status and social situation all have an effect on how much importance people attach to further education and development.

The opinion that people have about the importance of further education sometimes stands in stark contrast to their own educational background. People are often aware of the importance of lifelong learning, but in practice do not take the stepsto do anything about it.

The importance of lifelong and life-wide learning can be made known via a range of information canals. These can be aimed at the general public as well as at particular groups in the population such as the lower educated, older people, people without paid employment,…  It is important here to stress the positive message that it is never too late to learn more. It is certainly a majorl challenge to persuade people to get involved in lifelong learning!

European Commission (2000), A Memorandum On Lifelong Learning, European Commission, October 2000.

Eurostat (2001), Report of the Eurostat Task Force on Measuring Lifelong Learning, Eurostat, February 2001

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