As we analyse the many examples of good practices and innovative solutions among universities that offer lifelong learning in Europe, it becomes clear that there is no such thing as a singular, definitive strategy and business model that can be generically implemented in all institutions
Although high priority has been given to lifelong learning on the European educational agenda since the late 1990s the implementation has been slow among conventional universities, but not among the open universities.
In many ways, European lifelong learning is well served by its dedicated open and distance teaching universities. They are labelling themselves LOF universities (Lifelong Open and Flexible Universities) due to the specific target groups - lifelong learners - they serve, and to the educational model - an open and flexible learning paths – they offer. They have developed from second-chance universities into further education and lifelong learning institutions. Their focus is on the development of learning materials in a distance-learning context, primarily meant for independent self-study.
The content is rich in pedagogy and didactics and incorporates learning guidance and tutoring elements, designed to be accessible to individuals, studying at home or at work.
The learning process takes place in an online – virtual - learning environment, which supports various kinds of interaction: student-student as well as student-tutor or teacher, both individual and grouped.
Mixed Mode Institutions and Conventional Universities
Not all European countries have chosen educational models that allow the creation of LOF-universities (e.g. the countries in Northern and Eastern Europe).
In these countries conventional universities have to turn into mixed-mode institutions to fulfil the same obligations towards society.
Even in countries with dedicated Lifelong Open and Flexible Universities, conventional universities may be encouraged to take up lifelong learning in order to serve a market and to respond to a societal need that according to the prognoses are growing.
These institutions may learn a lot from the LOF-universities and from already existing mixed-mode universities, but as mentioned above, lifelong learning strategies and business models have to be adapted to the local situation taking into consideration national legal regulations, financial options and labour market requirements, among other more specific issues.