Lifelong learning is the "ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated"[1] pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons. It is important for an individual's competitiveness and employability, but also enhances social inclusion, active citizenship, and personal development.[2]

Development

In some contexts, the term "lifelong learning" evolved from the term "life-long learners", created by Leslie Watkins and used by Clint Taylor, professor at CSULA and Superintendent for the Temple City Unified School District, in the 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.[citation needed]

In other contexts, the term "lifelong learning" evolved organically. The first lifelong learning institute began at The New School for Social Research (now New School University) in 1962 as an experiment in "learning in retirement". Later, after similar groups formed across the United States, many chose the name "lifelong learning institute" to be inclusive of nonretired persons in the same age range. See Lifelong learning institutes, or outside the US, University of the Third Age.[3]

During the last fifty years, constant scientific and technological innovation and change has had profound effects on how learning is understood. 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 create and shapeshift into the form of formal learning or informal learning, or self-directed learning. Allen Tough (1979), Canadian educator and researcher, asserts that almost 70% of learning projects are self-planned.[5]

Concept

Lifelong learning has been described as a process that includes people learning in different contexts.[6] These environments do not only include schools but also homes, workplaces, and even locations where people pursue leisure activities. However, while the learning process can be applied to learners of all ages, there is a focus on adults who are returning to organized learning.[6] There are programs based on its framework that address the different needs of learners, such as United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal 4 and the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, which caters to the needs of the disadvantaged and marginalized learners.[7]

Lifelong learning focuses on holistic education and it has two dimensions, namely, lifelong and broad options for learning. These indicate learning that integrates traditional education proposals and modern learning opportunities.[8] It also entails an emphasis on encouraging people to learn how to learn and to select content, process, and methodologies that pursues self-design and self-perfection.[8] Some authors highlight that lifelong learning is founded on a different conceptualization of knowledge and its acquisition. It is explained not only as the possession of discrete pieces of information or factual knowledge but also as a generalized scheme of making sense of new events, including the use of tactics in order to effectively deal with them.[9]

Lifelong learning is distinguished from the concept of continuing education in the sense that it has a broader scope. Unlike the latter, which is oriented towards adult education developed for the needs of schools and industries, this type of learning is concerned with the development of human potential, recognizing each individual's capacity for it.[10]

Links to theory

Two theories of particular relevance when considering lifelong learning are cognitivism and constructivism. Cognitivism, most notably Gestalt theory, speaks of learning as making sense of the relationship between what is old and what is new. Similarly, Constructivist theory states that "knowledge is not passively received from the world or from authoritative sources but constructed by individuals or groups making sense of their experiential worlds".[11] Constructivism lends itself well to Lifelong learning as it brings together learning from many different sources including life experiences.

Learning economy

Traditional colleges and universities are beginning to recognize the value of lifelong learning outside of the credit and degree attainment model. 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 remain significant as individuals continue formal studies and pursue interest-based subjects. 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 or distance education institutions, 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.[12][13]

Contexts

Although the term is widely used in a variety of contexts, its meaning is often unclear.[14] A learning approach that can be used to define lifelong learning is heutagogy.[15]

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

E-learning is available at most colleges and universities or to individuals learning independently. Online courses are 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.

Role of libraries

Partners for Lifelong Learning, Public Libraries and Adult Education

In the United States, librarians have understood lifelong learning as an essential service of libraries since the early part of the 20th century. In 1924, William S. Learned, wrote of the potential of the American public library as an agency for adult education in The American Public Library and the Diffusion of Knowledge.[16] Two decades later, in 1942, the American Library Association Adult Education Board established a new responsibility to the adult reader.[17]

The Adult Education Act of 1966 linked literacy education and adult basic education programs.[18] This occurred at the same time that the Library Services and Construction Act was being passed.[19] Twenty-five years after the U.S. Adult Education Act was passed, the U.S. Office of Education published Partners for Lifelong Learning, Public Libraries and Adult Education.[20]

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) was established in 1996 and incorporated responsibilities from the U.S. Office of Education's library programs, including those focused on lifelong learning. "Championing Lifelong Learning" through libraries and museums is the first goal listed in the organization's strategic plan for 2022-2026.[21]

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".[22] 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. These natural experiences can come about on purpose or throughout life's unpredictable course. '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.[23]

Assistive technology

As technology rapidly changes, individuals must adapt and learn to meet everyday demands. However, throughout life, an individual's functional capacities may also change. Assistive technologies 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.

Internet

The emergence of internet technologies has great potential to support lifelong learning endeavors, allowing for informal, just-in-time, day-to-day learning.[24][25]

Workplace learning

Professions typically recognize the importance of developing practitioners becoming lifelong learners. Nowadays, formal training is only a beginning. Knowledge accumulates at such a fast rate that one must continue to learn to be effective (Williams, 2001). Many licensed professions mandate that their members continue learning to maintain a license. (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007).[26] Having said this, what are the characteristics or skills that a lifelong learner must 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).[27] 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) say that for higher education students to be lifelong learners, they must develop a capacity for self-direction, metacognition awareness, and a disposition toward learning (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007).[26]

Metacognition

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.[28]

Educators can employ Cognitive Strategy Instruction (CSI)[29][30] 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.[28]

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.

Delors Report and the four pillars of learning

Main article: Delors Report

The Delors Report[31] proposed an integrated vision of education based on two key paradigms: lifelong learning and the four pillars of learning. The report proposed a holistic conceptual framework of learning, that of the 'four pillars of learning'. It argued that formal education tends to emphasize the acquisition of knowledge to the detriment of other types of learning essential to sustaining human development. It stressed the need to think of learning over the life course, and to address how everyone can develop relevant skills, knowledge and attitudes for work, citizenship and personal fulfillment.[32] The four pillars of learning are:

  1. Learning to know
  2. Learning to do
  3. Learning to be
  4. Learning to live together

It is important to note that the four pillars of learning were envisaged against the backdrop of the notion of 'lifelong learning', itself an adaptation of the concept of 'lifelong education' as initially conceptualized in the 1972 Faure publication Learning to Be.[33][32]

In practice

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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 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.[34] 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).[35]

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.[36]

Bangladesh Open University (BOU) has six schools and is offering 23 formal and 19 nonformal programs.[37] The number of enrolled students in formal programs for 2016 was 433,413.[37] 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.[37] BOU is the only public institution in the country that imparts education in distance mode.[37] In place of campus based teaching, this university uses technology including electronic devices to reach people in different corners of the country.[37]

In Canada, the federal government's Lifelong Learning Plan[38] 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.

Priorities for lifelong and lifewide learning have different priorities in different countries, some placing more emphasis on economic development (towards a learning economy) and some on social development (towards a learning society). For example, the policies of China, Republic of Korea, Singapore and Malaysia promote lifelong learning in a human resource development (HRD) perspective. The governments of these countries have done much to foster HRD whilst encouraging entrepreneurship.[39]

Impact on long-term economic growth

Mainstream economic analysis has highlighted increased levels of primary and secondary education as a key driver of long-term economic growth. Data show that initial levels of educational attainment explain about half the difference in growth rates between East Asia and sub- Saharan Africa between 1965 and 2010. At the individual level, the knowledge and skills workers acquire through education and training make them more productive. Provision of good quality education can improve the knowledge and skills of a whole population beyond what traditional or informal systems can achieve. For business, educated and highly skilled workers foster productivity gains and technological change, through either innovation or imitation of processes developed elsewhere. At the societal level, education expansion helps build social and institutional capital, which has a strong impact on the investment climate and growth; it also helps in building social trust, developing participatory societies, strengthening the rule of law and supporting good governance.[40]

Role in an aging society

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With today's advances in communication, travel, and medicine, many areas of the world are experiencing an increase in average life expectancy, leading to higher numbers of elderly people in the population.[41] With these individuals living longer, it means that more people will suffer the ravages of the age-related diseases of cognitive decline. According to the Alzheimer's Society, it is estimated that worldwide cases of Alzheimer's diseases will jump from 47.5 million as of 2014 to 75.6 million by 2030.[42]

With this many people living longer, it's important from a socioeconomic perspective that adult healthcare and cognitive decline be addressed in order to head off a worldwide dementia crisis. The cost of caring for an elderly dementia patient is considerably higher than their healthy counterparts. With populations living longer than ever before, the implications of dementia in a growing number of older adults threatens to become an overwhelming expense.[43]

In 2007, the US Department of Health and Human Services published a study suggesting that older people who suffer from cognitive impairment require significantly more care than healthier individuals. Those with mild impairment require about 8.5 more hours of care each week, while those with severe impairment receive about 41.5 additional hours of care.[44] Estimates project over 150 million cases of dementia worldwide by the year 2050 and "and at least one new case... reported every 3.2 seconds"[45] (as cited by researcher Israel Oluwasegun Ayenigbara in the 2022 paper "Preventive Measures against the Development of Dementia in Old Age").

In a 2012 New York Times article, Arthur Toga, a professor of neurology and director of the laboratory of neuroimaging at the University of California, Los Angeles, stated that "Exercising the brain may preserve it, forestalling mental decline."[46] It has been shown that people with higher cognitive reserves (CR), attained through lifelong learning, were better able to endure the inevitable ravages of aging, and thereby avoid the cognitive decline that often accompanies age-related neurodegenerative diseases.[47]

CR is an idea in the medical field postulating that people who have more education and/or have spent more time in mentally challenging situations (sports, hobbies, careers, etc.) develop additional material connections within their brains that allow them to be better equipped to deal with the loss of some of those connections due to brain damage that occurs with age-related neurodegenerative diseases.[48] As tissue damage appears to be an inevitable function of the aging process, working to build reserves throughout one's life may help to prevent cognitive decline.

Studies showed that even when medical testing proved biological deterioration suggestive of structural changes were occurring in subjects' brains, individuals with higher CR proved capable of preserving cognitive function longer than those with lower CR.[49] Put another way, even when subjects' brains were actively being attacked by the diseases of dementia, they were able to persist in a normal mental state for a longer period than subjects who were not involved in some type of lifelong learning.[50]

Much of the population is destined to suffer from some type of age-related neurodegenerative disease, and science has been working on possible solutions ever since German psychiatrist Alios Alzheimer published his first study of a diseased brain in 1906.[51] There is currently no effective treatment for slowing the progression of dementia, and 1520% of adults aged 65 or older are affected by cognitive decline.[49]

It has been shown that an increased CR was associated with a reduction in mild cognitive impairment[49] and may prove to be a relatively inexpensive, non-pharmacological intervention in the fight against age-related dementia that is accessible to all populations, regardless of socio-economic status. In the 2021 paper "Cognitive Reserve, Alzheimer's Neuropathology, and Risk of Dementia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis", authors Monica Nelson, Dylan Jester, Andrew Petkus, and Ross Andel state that "in the absence of an effective treatment strategy, factors that can slow the progression to dementia are of great importance to identify, especially since delaying onset of dementia results in notable public health savings and maintaining quality of life".[49]

While much research has been done supporting the idea that lifelong learning and CR are beneficial tools in the fight against dementia, this field of study is not immune to the problems that often plague scientific inquiry. One of the problems in this space is the lack of large, randomized controlled trials.[52] Even though much of the evidence thus far seems to indicate a demonstrable effect of the studied preventive measures on brain health and the incidence of cognitive decline, more studies need to be done to validate the findings of the published research.

While much of the published work has been positive, the ideas of cognitive reserve and lifelong are not without detractors. In "Education and Alzheimer's Disease: A Review of Recent International Epidemiological Studies" published in 1997 in the journal Aging and Mental Health, author C.J. Gilleard, Honorary Associate Professor, Division of Psychiatry, University College London and Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences, purports to find fault with other studies linking education to cognitive decline. Several arguments are proposed, alleging fault with the methodology of the various reviewed studies. Inconsistencies in diagnostic procedures across the years and between countries, giving rise to skewed results, are also implicated in this review. An argument is made that variations in statistical analysis and their methods of correction may be responsible for some erroneous study results. It is also suggested that variations in lifestyles could be responsible for an increase in vascular dementia, as blue-collar type workers may be less inclined to work in industries that provide mentally challenging situations.[53] Gilleard also argues that variations in the initial education levels of study subjects could skew the resultant test data. The author argues that the lack of formal education in the test subjects made them less familiar with the way the tests were presented during the studies, leading them to feel intimidated by the process which resulted in them putting forth less effort during testing and thereby artificially distorting the resultant data. Ignorance of standard testing procedures, and the stress created by this unfamiliarity, can negatively impact resulting scores, thereby skewing test results simply through a lack of experience with the testing protocols.

While initial test data about the benefits of lifelong learning programs point toward benefits in reducing the risk of dementia, full compliance would seem to be an unrealistic goal, with individuals with lower levels of education likely to be less motivated to participate.[53] While studies have shown that many factors influence the likelihood of adults entering lifelong learning programs, such as gender, race, and initial educational levels, it has also been established that lifelong learning programs provide the opportunity for health benefits regardless of a person's level of formal education. These programs have been shown to increase cognitive reserves and thereby lessen the possibility of succumbing to cognitive decline-related diseases.[54]

There is also a presumption that education is something that occurs only during one's formative years, and that older adults are limited in their capacities for learning.[47] These assumptions appear to have been debunked by numerous studies, as it has been shown that cognitive gains can be made by older adults, and that various methods of lifelong learning can help restore unused skills and slow mental decline.[47]

While some normal cognitive decline is to be expected with aging, the effects of cognitive decline-related diseases like Alzheimer's begin to take hold decades before a patient is diagnosed. While there is currently no cure for dementia and only limited pharmacological interventions available, it has been proposed that gains can be made in the preservation of cognition through lifestyle modification, utilizing methods like education, mentally demanding careers, and a cognitively active lifestyle to help increase individuals' cognitive reserves.[52][45]

Studies indicate that lifelong learning plays an important part in age-related neurodegenerative disease prevention. Some recent studies have shown a reduction in the rates of dementia in more recently born residents of Western countries, suggesting that a healthier, more active lifestyle may play a role in reduction of disease and increased public health.[52] In an attempt to spread these benefits worldwide, increasing free and low-cost access to online and in-person education could provide cognitive health benefits to vulnerable populations across the world, lessening the economic and social impacts of cognitive decline related diseases in communities across the globe.[52]

See also

References

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Further reading