MET:Lifelong Learning

From UBC Wiki

This page originally authored by Oren Lupo (2008).

This page was modified by Cathy Jung (2009). This page was modified by Shannon Coffey (2009).

Lifelong learning has been broadly 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". (1) Lifelong learning is a catchall term that has been used since the 1980’s to refer to continuous learning beyond the traditional contexts of K-12 schooling, post-secondary education, vocational training and professional qualification training. Lifelong learning today may be formal or informal, individual or collective, short-term or long-term, self-directed or curriculum-based, individually motivated or employer mandated.

The noted scholar of education and technology Lewis J. Perelman predicted that “Learning is what most adults will do for a living in the 21st century.” This prediction has proven to be correct not only with reference to the ways in which many people earn their livelihoods in post-industrial societies, but also relative to the broad range of opportunities for learning that people in developed countries have come to expect in nearly every facet of their lives.

As the horizons for learning and self-development expand beyond once-and-for-all educational experiences in institutional settings, the working and life cycles of individuals play an important role in determining how, when and why different people choose to participate in lifelong learning.Individual factors such as age, gender, geographical location, retirement status, marital status, cultural background, previous academic experience, economic status and occupational field have all been shown to affect peoples’ decisions to participate in further adult learning and skills enhancement training. (2) Because the term lifelong learning has been applied to such a broad range of educational purposes, it is usually discussed within one of two overlapping areas of interest: workforce development, and community and citizenship development.

Here is a video introducing the concept of lifelong learning Lifelong learning intro video

Inspiring Lifelong Learning

A first step is building an enthusiasm for learning by believing in one's own capabilities. The following are a few suggestions developed by Susan Hutchinson (BCB Fall Issue 2005) in becoming a lifelong learner.

  1. Curiosity and Discovery - Developing a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world helps one to develop lifelong learning. Curiosity leads to questioning and speculation which in turn leads the search for answers. Questioning requires the need to review multiple sources and sparks further questions and explorations.
  2. Ambiguity - Confusion and ambiguity will be part of the questioning experience. The feelings of ambiguity and confusion must be embraced as they are part of the learning process. Do not expect to know everything all at once.
  3. Effort over Accomplishment - Effort over accomplishment should be the goal. Not all the questions will be answered but what is important is the positive attitude and the internal desire to continue to search for knowledge even when success is not guaranteed.
  4. Resiliency - Mistakes, Failures and difficulties are part of lifelong learning. A positive environment among other lifelong learners will provide a support network need to inspire and provide the "yes you can" attitude.
  5. Find Interest and Passions - Explore topics that are of interest. Lifelong learning involves creating connections between what is known and what is unknown. Following and investigating topics of interest will allow for sustain interest and allow a bigger picture to be build.
  6. Embrace Different Perspectives - The world is in a state of continual change. The future will be different from the present. A respect for change and new ways and ideas will promote a willingness to try new ways of doing things and thinking.

Lifelong Learning and Knowledge Work

The massive economic, socio-cultural and technological shifts that accompanied the advent of the “global economy” in the late 20th century have also brought about profound changes in the types of knowledge and skills that people need in order to function and succeed in nearly every sphere of economic activity.

Knowledge work is now considered to be a prime driver of prosperity and competitiveness in the global economy. Knowledge workers operate in "an economic environment where information and its manipulation are the commodity and the activity, in contrast to the industrial economy where workers produced a tangible object with raw production materials and physical goods." (3)

Not only have the relative proportions knowledge workers grown enormously within the labour forces of industrialized countries like Canada in such technology-based sectors as ICT, science, business services, finance, health care, etc., knowledge-based occupations have also become more prevalent in industry and manufacturing, resource extraction and transportation. (4)

Global Competitiveness and Lifelong Learning

Because organizing, managing, and circulating knowledge are now regarded as vital forms of economic activity in the knowledge economy (5), if not the key forms of work and production itself, governments, academic institutions, and business groups in many countries are actively promoting education, training and lifelong learning for individuals as an investment in “human capital”(6) for long-term economic prosperity.

From this point of view, adult education in broad terms is considered to be a cornerstone of skill formation, innovation, and ingenuity in the "knowledge society". Lifelong learning is considered a critical support for the educational investment that is required to develop a skilled, productive national workforce, both in terms of the knowledge and skills for basic employability, as well as for the technical knowledge and proficiencies that advance overall economic growth and productivity.(7)

Workforce Development

Many international workforce training and development initiatives that concentrate on advancing lifelong learning in developed countries have taken their lead from the research and policy initiatives of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) of the mid-1990's.

The OECD identified a beneficial macro-economic relationship between improved opportunities for lifelong learning and training, and the capacities of national economies to respond to the challenges of rapid technological change, shifting global market realities and rising international competition. (7)

The OECD model favours a systematic approach to continuous learning that involves on-the-job and off-the-job skills training programs; training in basic employability skills that take into account the future needs of the labour market; opportunities to address the skills gaps among workers with lower levels of literacy; and cooperation between governments and private industry in attaining these goals. (8)

Some other economic reasons for promoting lifelong learning that are also in line with the OECD model include: providing older workers with a 'second chance' opportunity to complete high school or vocational training, thus creating more opportunities for mature-student admission to college and university; improving employee motivation and job quality, and integrating of newcomers into the workforce. (9)

Examples of major international public policy and program initiatives that have followed the OECD model in promoting lifelong learning on an economic basis include: Skills for a New Century: A Blueprint for Lifelong Learning in the United States (1999), UK Lifelong Learning in Great Britain, Lifelong Learning in Australia, and Adult Learning, Literacy and Essential Skills Program in Canada.

In terms of practical applications that follow from the OECD model, non-government business and industry organizations such as the Conference Board of Canada have developed various influential worker aptitude tests, guides to employability skills, business-education partnership guides, and performance indices in order to help “…leaders work together to develop a skilled and innovative society that will prepare Canadians for today's knowledge-based economy.” (10)

Lifelong Learning and the Learning Society

While the economic rationale that underlies the OECD model for lifelong learning has its proponents, it also has its critics in educational and social policy circles.

Much of this opposition centres on the tendency of governments, corporations and business organizations to define the educational goals of the post-modern "knowledge society" primarily in economic, instrumental and vocational terms.(11)

An influential rival view of "the learning society" has been advanced by UNESCO, which has issued two landmark studies on the subject, the Faure Report Learning to Be (1972), and the Delors Report Learning: the Treasure Within (1996).

UNESCO has called for "...lifelong and "life-wide" learning policies, including non-formal and informal learning, and policies oriented towards citizenship, social inclusion, employability, personal development and intercultural understanding." (12)

Advocates for a "learning society" based on the principles articulated by the UNESCO reports tend to view lifelong learning one element in a complex effort on the part of educators, institutions and governments to address issues of individual equality, democratic involvement and communal well-being.(13)

Community and Citizenship Development

One approach to achieving the social benefits of lifelong learning envisioned by UNESCO is to integrate the lifetime educational goals of individuals with collective/community development projects whose aim is to promote grassroots economic opportunity, social responsibility and democratic values.

Scholar Richardo Ramirez has proposed that under the right circumstances, community development is compatible with adult learning that is largely self-directed; flexible, in terms of its being either planned, incidental, formal or informal; and open to different types of learning formats and styles (14).

A typical example of a community development learning initiative is an online informational resource base, such as the Vancouver Community Learning Network.

Another important related area for lifelong learning is in citizenship education that strives to involve individuals in active citizenship in order to improve social cohesion and stability on a national, regional and/or local level.

This type of education informs and educates citizens about their political and legal rights and freedoms; and promotes health, social justice, safety, access to housing, media awareness, intellectual freedom, environmental conservation or consumer awareness.

An example of a citizenship education resource is the non-profit People's Law School of British Columbia, which offers public legal education activities and information to individuals and communities.

Technology-Mediated Lifelong Learning

Researcher Mary Thorpe has observed that "information and communication technologies (ICTs) have been an integral element in the growth of diverse forms of open, online and distance education, which over the last 40 years, have brought new opportunities for lifelong learning in many countries." (15)

Before the widespread adoption of networked technologies and World Wide Web, delivery modes such as CD-ROM and instructional DVDs had a strong presence in workplace training and general interest learning.

Currently, the Open University model of online distance learning pioneered in the UK is offered through many post-secondary institutions worldwide.

Training in software and information technology skills through vendor-accredited e-learning programs, such as Microsoft Certified Professional training, has become very prevalent.

Some of the most prestigious universities in the world have taken the further step of offering video and audio podcasts of classroom instruction, syllabi, lecture notes, labs, readings and reading lists, all delivered as non-commercial open-course-ware, without the requirement of any student registration in a formal program, through services such as MITOpen CourseWare and iTunes U.

Commercial providers of face-to-face instruction, seminars and workshops on topics such as personal and spiritual growth, motivation and leadership, wealth management and investing, and creative pursuits have also moved into the online delivery of their programs, as is the case in the US with The Learning Annex.

Lifelong Learning in Canada

In 2006, the Canadian Council of Learning (CCL) developed the Composite Learning Index (CLI) to measure Canada’s performance in lifelong learning. The CLI is a measurement tool based on four categories referred to as learning pillars.

The four learning pillars are:

  1. Learning to Know which involves the development of skills and knowledge needed to function in the world. These skills include literacy, numeracy, critical thinking and general knowledge.
  2. Learning to Do which refers to the acquisition of applied skills that are often linked to occupational success, such as computer training, managerial training and apprenticeships.
  3. Learning to Live Together which involves developing values of respect and concern for others, fostering social and inter-personal skills, and an appreciation of the diversity of Canadians.
  4. Learning to Be which refers to learning that contributes to the development of a person’s body, mind and spirit. Skills in this area include personal discovery and creativity, and can be acquired through reading, use of the internet and activities such as sports and the art. (17)

The CCL identified 17 indicators and 25 specific measures that reflect the four pillars. Scores on each pillar are combined to create an overall score for the country, individual city or region, and province. In 2008, Canada’s Composite Learning Index was 77 out of 100. (18)

The Lifelong Learning Plan (LLP)is a Canadian Government Program. The LLP allows a Canadian resident who has registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs) to withdraw up to $10,000 in a calendar year to finance full-time training or education for the resident or the resident’s spouse/common-law partner. Conditions apply such as enrollment in a designated educational institution and qualifying educational program. (19)

External Links

Research Sites and Organizations:

Commonwealth of Learning

The Research Network on New Approaches to Lifelong Learning (Canada)

European Union's Lifelong Learning Programme

Digital Learning Commons (Washinton State, US)

An animation about Lifelong Learning by Kimberley Haas, MET Student

Lifelong Learning in British Columbia

In May 2003 a detailed presentation was created on Pan-Canadian symposium on career development, lifelong learning, and workforce development. The objective of this presentation was to identify what a comprehensive and well-developed career information, guidance and career development systems can contribute to achieve lifelong learning and workforce excellence. [1]

Residents of British Columbia have access to the official provincial page where information such as lifelong learning can be obtained. The following topics can be found on the website: Aboriginal education, public libraries, private career training institutions, public post-secondary institutions, and school and district information. [2]

Teachers in British Columbia who are certified through the British Columbia College of Teachersgenerally meet all standards of education. One of these standards includes engaging in lifelong learning. Some post-secondary institutions in British Columbia require teacher candidates to demonstrate that they have met all standards by collecting and presenting evidence that support each standard. [3]


(1) Dinevski, Dejan and Kokol, Peter (2004) ICT and Lifelong Learning. European Journal of Open and Distance Learning, (2) Retrieved Feb 27, 2008,

(2) Zhang, Xuelin and Palameta, Boris (2006) Summary of Participation in Adult Schooling and its Earnings. Retrieved Feb 24, 2008,

(3) Spira Jonathan B. (Feb 1, 2005) In praise of knowledge workers. Retrieved Feb 29, 2008,

(4) Statistics Canada (October 30, 2003) Study: Knowledge workers in Canada's workforce, 1971--2001. Retrieved Feb 29, 2008,

(5) Ernst & Young (Aug 31, 1999) What Is the Knowledge Economy?. Retrieved Mar 1, 2008,

(6) Becker Gary S. (2002) Human Capital. The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, Retrieved Mar 1, 2008,

(7) Bernanke, Ben S. (September 24, 2007) Education and Economic Competitiveness. Retrieved Feb 27, 2008,

(8) McKenzie, Phillip and Wurzburg, Gregory. (1998) Lifelong Learning and Employability. OECD Observer, 209. Retrieved Feb 20, 2008,

(9) Canadian Policy Research Networks (October 2006) The Labour Crunch: Waste Not, Want Not. CPRN Policy Brief, 8. Retrieved Feb 20, 2008,

(10) The Conference Board of Canada (August 01, 2007) Education and Learning. Retrieved Feb 22, 2008,

(11) Sumner, Jennifer (2003) Charting the Course from the Knowledge Economy to the Learning Society: Adult Educators as Map Makers. Canadian Association for the Study of Adult Education - Online Proceedings 2003. Retrieved Feb 27, 2008,

(12) UNESCO/Institute for Lifelong Learning (2005) Lifelong Learning. Retrieved Feb 20, 2008,

(13) Smith Mark K. (2002) The theory and rhetoric of the learning society. Retrieved Feb 26, 2008,

(14) Ramirez, Ricardo.(1990) The Application of Adult Education to Community Development. Community Development Journal, 25 (2), 131-138.

(15) Thorpen, Mary, (2005) The Impact of ICT on Lifelong Learning. In McIntosh, Christopher and Varoglu, Zeynep (Eds.), Lifelong Learning & Distance Higher Education (23-32). Vancouver: Commonwealth of Learning / UNESCO Publishing. Retrieved Feb 26, 2008,

(16) Hutchinson, Susan. (2005) How to Inspire Lifelong Learning. BCB Fall Issue.

(17) The Canadian Council of Learning. (2008) “About the CLI” Retrieved Jan 25, 2009 from

(18) The Canadian Council of Learning (2008) “Composite Learning Index” Retrieved Jan 25, 2009 from

(19) Canadian Revenue Agency. (2008) “Lifelong Learning Plan (LLP) - Includes Form RC96” Retrieved Jan 25, 2009 from


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