With the emergence of the so-called knowledge-based economy
and learning society (Dunne, 1999), the term life-long
learning is now rivalling thinking and quality
as educational buzzwords. But what does life-long learning
really entail and what are the implications for us as teaching
professionals? In this short paper, I will first make explicit
the concept of life-long learning. Second, I will outline
three significant change areas that are inevitably
linked to the promotion of life-long learning and offer my
reflections on possible developments. Finally, I will caution
that the reality of many life-long learning initiatives may
not reflect the idealism desired by many proponents.
Getting to Grips with the Concept of Life-long Learning
There is nothing particularly original about life-long learning
as an educational aim. Whether we intend it or not, we also
cannot get away from the fact that we will continue to learn
during the course of our lives. Learning is an inevitable
aspect of the human condition and its response to change.
The nature, rate and form of such learning is variable and
open to qualitative valuations of worth.
However, recent conceptions of life-long learning transcend
such naturalistic learning, seeing it more in
terms of a systematic and value-driven process necessitated
by the demands of modern society. For example, Smith and Spurling
(1999:43) define life-long learning in terms of:
people learning consistently through life. The ascent
is on continuity, intention and unfolding strategy in personal learning. Besides these are the four principles
of personal commitment, social commitment, respect for
others learning and respect for the truth.
The value-driven nature of life-long learning is starkly
captured by Longworth and Davies (1996:9) when they argue
Human beings and organizations on this planet have three
- They can choose the path of hopelessness or complacency,
believing that they have no influence or nothing to contribute,
or that there is nothing to change.
- They can take the path of fundamentalism, paranoid nationalism
or xenophobia and help create intolerance, hatred, war,
homelessness and disorder.
- Or they can invest in the road to lifelong learning and
take control over their own destiny, combining the skills
of learning with the power of knowledge and the joy of being
human and alive.
It can be seen, then, that life-long learning is a multi-faceted
concept. At the level of the individual, the focus is on embracing
planned learning as a life-long adventure and developing the
appropriate skills and dispositions to facilitate this process.
At the societal and global level, it implies major systemic
changes in culture, social organisation and relationships.
1. A curriculum shift towards real-world learning,
underpinned by core generic competencies and dispositions
A curriculum model that largely promotes the rote memorisation
of subject knowledge content is now clearly analogous to an
educational Jurassic Park. The recognition that meaningful
learning is best attained when the emphasis is on real-world
activity underpinned by good thinking is now firmly established,
even in the field of neuroscience. As Jensen (1997:99) points
out: The more we make school learning like real life,
the more the brain, with its rich capabilities, will sort
In this context, I suggest the follow core competencies and
dispositions as fundamental in the development of a life-long
- Competence in all essential communication skills (reading,
writing, speaking and listening)
- Competence in basic numeracy and computation
- Competence in using different types of thinking in a systematic
manner (e.g. ability to generate possibilities, analyse
systems, evaluate options and monitor and review ones
- Competence in the use of IT (information technology) applications
- Competence in handling information efficiently
- Competence in self-management
- Disposition to persevere under pressure
- Disposition to be open minded and honestly critical
2. The pedagogically sound use of IT to provide variety,
access and flexibility to the learning process
IT will bring variety, access and flexibility to learning
as well as revolutionise present learning arrangements and
timetabling structures. However, IT will not necessarily develop
the kinds of thinking essential to the learning demands of
modern society. As Melchior (1997:91) points out: One
pervasive myth is that the technologies themselves teach important
complex skills...They need to be identified, taught, modeled,
and reinforced by capable teachers.
Furthermore, in terms of providing opportunities for the
development of important dispositions to support life-long
learning, we have no reason to see these as naturally emerging
from recent developments in IT. On the one hand, it can be
argued that new technologies provide rich and stimulating
learning opportunities, which will increase the motivation
and will to learn. On the other hand, it can be equally argued
that such technologies, in trying to make learning fun and
entertaining, undermine persistence and the ability to do
the mundane and tedious. Unfortunately, the ability to do
the mundane and tedious, when necessary, is an important ingredient
in being a successful life-long learner.
3. Active, collaborative and diverse models of instruction
We have certainly moved a long way towards understanding
the nature of learning and the various ways in which different
forms of instruction can contribute to the learning process.
As Marzano (1992:2) highlights: Over the past 3 decades,
we have amassed enough research and theory about learning
to derive a truly learning based model of instruction.
It is now clearly established that learning is most effective
when enacted in an active and collaborative context and where
that learning is perceived as meaningful, challenging and
of practical value to learners. Given the integration of pedagogy
and information technologies and the increasing desire of
learners for flexibility and access, the teaching-learning
situation becomes one of myriad diversity. Teachers will play
multiple roles as they seek to use their professional competencies
to help different groups of learners engage in multiple learning
events to meet their desired goals.
Life-long learning is rightly a priority educational aim.
In the present context, it also provides a focus for many
wider social and global concerns that many see as existential
threats to human organisation.
As postmodernism invariably and starkly demonstrates, there
are no rules of human evolution. The fragmentation of countries
into ethnic subdivisions shows that a regression into feudalism
is no less feasible than a future world of connected harmony.
For instance, although the Concorde made supersonic travel
possible some thirty years ago, we have seen little developments
in mass air travel since. It may be that the so-called learning
revolution will simply result in some of us becoming high-flying
life-long learners, while many others will continue to struggle
with core competencies and with greater frustrations than
yesteryear. We may be living in a high-tech digital world;
but psychologically, are we also still living in caves?
Dunne, E. (1999). The Learning Society. London: Kogan
Jensen, E. (1997). Completing the Puzzle: The Brain Compatible
Approach to Learning. Del Mar, CA: The Brain Store Inc.
Longworth, N. & Davies, W.K. (1996). Lifelong Learning.
London: Kogan Page.
Marzano, R.J. (1992). A Different Kind of Classroom.
Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Melchior, T.; et al. (1997). New Technologies.
In Costa, A. & Liebmann, R.M (Eds.) Supporting the
Spirit of Learning: When Process is Content. Thousand
Oaks, California: Corwin Press.
Smith, J. & Spurling, A. (1999). Lifelong Learning:
Riding the Tiger. London & New York: Cassell.