12 October 2020
A brief examination of lifelong education within a modern context
If you’ve read a little about us on our ‘about us’ page or in some of our other articles, you’ll undoubtedly have noticed that we talk about Lifelong Learning quite a bit. This makes sense, as it is central to our mission statement and our business proposition. It’s part of our raison d’etre and our organizational DNA, so to speak. But despite its importance, we haven’t really elaborated on what Lifelong Learning really is. Lucky for you, that’s exactly what we’ll do in this article; we’ll discuss the origin, meaning and importance of Lifelong Learning. And of course, our take on it.
And If that doesn’t sound exciting to you, you’d be sorely mistaken. Either that, or we’re just a bunch of education geeks. You decide.
The modern perspective
Lifelong Learning is generally described as the idea that people should continuously develop their knowledge and skills throughout their life. The modern interpretation of Lifelong Learning is predominantly economically motivated and states that lifelong learning is a necessity for people to adapt to changes in technology, culture and the organizational landscape. As these changes occur at an exponential rate, it is becoming ever more important for people to match the pace of developments both within their industry and beyond. If they do, they stand to increase their chances of success in employment and advancing their careers. If they do not, they risk falling behind on the curve, which clearly no one wants.
Lifelong learning, in this perspective, could be likened to two things. At its most negative it could be seen as a survival tactic to stave off uncertainty and prevent being outpaced by the march of progress, and at its most positive as an attitude or mindset of personal growth aimed at advancing one’s prospects in their working life. This is considered separate from traditional formal education (primary school, college, university, etc.), instead being viewed as an extension of learning beyond these formal institutions.
Opinions differ on whether this form of lifelong learning is the responsibility of the learners themselves, of a third party such as an employer or government, or a combination of both. The fact remains however, that many organizations have systems in place and budgets reserved to facilitate this lifelong learning. They recognize the need for their employees to continue developing themselves beyond just their work experience. This is usually expressed through initiatives such as learning management systems with online learning videos, on-site workshops, classroom trainings and less frequently even further formal education such as an MBA or a college degree. Some countries’ governments even have a budget allotted for those who wish to keep learning beyond formal education.
The origin of Lifelong Learning
So how has this concept of Lifelong Learning become so embedded in our society that businesses and governments alike have begun putting it into practice? The answer to this question lies in the not-so-distant past. In 1996 an independent report was issued to UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) by an independent commission, led by Jacques Delors, former European Commission President. This report was called ‘Learning: The Treasure Within. Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century’.
And because no one felt like having to repeat that title all the time, it is usually referred to as the ‘Delors Report’. A lot catchier, too.
The Delors Report proposed an integrated vision on education and learning in the 21stcentury, ranging from its role in stimulating the economy to its role in contributing to social cohesion, human development and international citizenship. It has become a key document for the conceptualization of education and learning worldwide and is widely credited as the source of our current understanding of Lifelong Learning; referred to as Lifelong Education in the document itself.
The short and easy of this 450+ pages document on education was that Delors et al. believed that in the 21stcentury we would need lifelong education in order to meet the challenge of a rapidly changing world. Learning would have to become flexible, diverse and accessible, and go beyond the traditional distinction between initial schooling and continuing education. It proposed four key pillars underlying education in life, namely ‘learning to know’, ‘learning to do’, ‘learning to be’ and ‘learning to live together’.
Delors vs. Today
The Delors Report was almost prophetic in its assessment that Lifelong Learning would be necessary to meet the challenge of the rapid changes in the 21stcentury. This prediction has rung true and is unanimously agreed on today. However, the Delors Report proposed a far more humanistic and far-reaching vision on Lifelong Education than is commonly embraced today. This is partly because it was never meant to be an instruction on education policy, and merely proposed a philosophical direction to take regarding education.
In practice, only two of Delors’ pillars of learning have gained attention, namely ‘Learning to know’ and ‘learning to be’, these being the most conceptually accessible of the four. ‘Learning to know’ is usually connected to the importance of basic and formal education, and the idea that governments should invest in this as much as possible. Unfortunately budget cuts on education have become a pattern in many countries, and so this pillar is not paid its due attention. ‘Learning to do’ is mainly connected to vocational training; the acquisition of specific skills required for a trade or profession, but is also linked to learning general skills such as teamwork and situational adaptation.
The mainstream view of Lifelong Learning, therefore, can be said to be more economically and practically driven than the original interpretation, which is more oriented at achieving humanistic ideals. Stripped of much of its philosophical bent and idealistic future vision, the modern interpretation is better suited for the context of the predominantly capitalistic and career-oriented working society we live in today. Yet even today the vision presented in the Delors Report remains influential, and may eventually lead to a further crystallization of its ideals into a proposal of practically oriented policies.
Learning how to work
Our interpretation of Lifelong Learning is somewhere between the modern take and that of the Delors Report. We recognize the vast and untapped potential that Lifelong Learning has in regard to improving not only people’s careers and organizational performance, but also people’s understanding of each other and themselves. If we didn’t think education was important we would be in the wrong line of business, after all.
But at the same time, we also approach Lifelong Learning from a more practical perspective. We focus primarily at Delors’ key pillar of ‘Learning to Do’, as it is in line with an important societal need that we have observed. Namely, the need for people to learn how to work. These days, learning a profession, trade or field of knowledge can be very different from practicing it. With the advent of the 21stcentury and the complexities of its rapid changes, working has become an artform in itself. In addition to practicing our crafts and staying ahead of the changes in our respective industries, we also have to manage our time, communications and logistics. And let’s not forget our futile attempts to have a life beyond work as well. We have become jugglers, all.
As prophesied, this is one of those challenges that modernity has faced us with, and it’s our privilege to face it head-on. Our approach is simple. Create online courses that are accessible, effective, useful and even fun. And when we say useful, we mean exactly what we just discussed. Online courses to help people master the modern art of working; saving them time, stress and aggravations through the many techniques, tools and strategies that mankind has developed over the span of millennia (but mostly the last century or so).
To put it simply, we gather useful knowledge and skills and make them easy to learn. What a business model, right?
But enough about us. You came here to read about Lifelong Learning, so we should probably stick to the topic. If we did our job well, then after reading this article, you know what the modern interpretation of Lifelong Learning entails, what the original perspective from the Delors Report is and how we at The Productivity Company interpret it.
Lifelong Learning is the answer to many of the challenges we face today. How we put it into practice however, is another challenge altogether. Because as you’ve read in this simplified summary of the topic, successfully operationalizing Lifelong Education is no task to scoff at. We have our vision on how to make it happen, and we’ll keep working towards it with everything we have. We hope you’ll support us in this endeavor, and that we can help you with your Lifelong Learning in the process.
So what’s your take on Lifelong Learning?
Seriously, let us know. We’d love to learn more.