Defining Lifelong Learning

In the first chapter of ”Organising Lifelong Learning” the European policy framework for lifelong learning and the the university responses to this development have been outlined (see ”Organising Lifelong Learning p. 5-13 ). 

When we look at the concept of lifelong learning as it has evolved over the last decade differences in focus between the socio-economic approach and the higher education approach become obvious. From a socio-economic point of view lifelong learning serves the function of upgrading the manual unskilled labour for more knowledge intensive jobs for the benefit of themselves as well as for society as a whole. To a large extent this involves education at secondary level – pre-BA level – delivered by other institutions than universities. 

From a higher education point of view the obligation to become involved in lifelong learning is basically the same, but it is reformulated as a need for widening access to university education. Some open universities are able to respond directly to these needs by recruiting students directly into their programmes due to their policy of openness – e.g. some dedicated open universities like Open University, UK and Open Universiteit, The Netherlands. Most recently, we can point to the development of Open Educational Resources, which is an initiative aiming in the same direction. 

For most universities openness is not an option due to national regulations requiring the same entrance qualification to university education for all students – independently of age, gender and work experience. This is the case for mixed-mode universities, but also for some distance teaching universities such as Fernuniversität, Germany. 

At the same time it is interesting to note that the latest report from the Commission “Europe 2020. A European strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth” claims, “lifelong learning benefits mostly the more educated” (p.16). Undoubtedly, this is a major problem for society, but the solution is hardly to cut back on lifelong learning offered by universities. The upgrading of unskilled labour and widening access to higher education should supplement each other. Both processes are needed in order to turn Europe into a knowledge society.

The USBM project analyses experiences and cases of best practice of delivering lifelong learning at university level by open universities and mixed-mode universities. The main target group for these institutions is the age group 25+ attached to the labour market and often with an initial education (see “Showcases of University Strategies and Business Models for Lifelong Learning”). Consequently the considerations in this report - “Organising Lifelong Learning” - on implementing university strategies and business models have a similar focus and should be read with this limitation in mind.

Central statements on Lifelong Learning

In general, the EU lifelong learning strategy is concerned with the whole range of learning "from the cradle to the grave" and covers all forms of education (formal, informal or non-formal). It thus encompasses all areas of learning including workplace learning, as well as the skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours that people acquire in day-to-day experiences. Furthermore, it is concerned both with personal fulfilment and enterprise; employability and adaptability; active citizenship and social inclusion. 

Lifelong Learning 2000 - 2010

This was emphasised in the European Commission, when it defined lifelong learning as "all learning activity undertaken throughout life, with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competence, within a personal, civic, social and/or employment-related perspective." (Making a European Area of Lifelong Learning a Reality", November 2001, p.10). And it was further developed in a hand-out on “Lifelong learning – a socio-economic interpretation” from 2003.

 

    Lifelong learning is defined as "all learning activity undertaken throughout life, with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competence, within a personal, civic, social and/or employment-related perspective."

    Lifelong learning is therefore about:
    Acquiring and updating all kinds of abilities, interests, knowledge and qualifications from the pre-school years to post-retirement. It promotes the development of knowledge and competences that will enable each citizen to adapt to the knowledge-based society and actively participate in all spheres of social and economic life, taking more control of his or her future.

    Valuing all forms of learning, including: formal learning, such as a degree course followed at university; non-formal learning, such as vocational skills acquired at the workplace; and informal learning, such as inter-generational learning, for example where parents learn to use ICT through their children, or learning how to play an instrument together with friends.

    Learning opportunities should be available to all citizens on an ongoing basis. In practice this should mean that citizens each have individual learning pathways, suitable to their needs and interests at all stages of their lives. The content of learning, the way learning is accessed, and where it takes place may vary depending on the learner and their learning requirements.

    Lifelong learning is also about providing "second chances" to update basic skills and also offering learning opportunities at more advanced levels. All this means that formal systems of provision need to become much more open and flexible, so that such opportunities can truly be tailored to the needs of the learner, or indeed the potential learner.

    Taken from "Lifelong Learning - a socio-economic interpretation"

Lifelong Learning 2011 - 2020

In "The Bologna Process 2020 – The European Higher Education Area in the new decade" the ministers agreed upon central issues such as widening participation, partnerships between public authorities, higher education institutions, students, employers and employees and coordination of national qualifications frameworks.

 

    Widening participation shall also be achieved through Lifelong learning as an integral part of our education systems. Lifelong learning is subject to the principle of public responsibility. The accessibility, quality of provision and transparency of information shall be assured. Lifelong learning involves obtaining qualifications, extending knowledge and understanding, gaining new skills and competences or enriching personal growth. Lifelong learning implies that qualifications may be obtained through flexible learning paths, including part-time studies, as well as work-based routes.

    10. Widening participation shall also be achieved through Lifelong learning as an integral part of our education systems. Lifelong learning is subject to the principle of public responsibility. The accessibility, quality of provision and transparency of information shall be assured. Lifelong learning involves obtaining qualifications, extending knowledge and understanding, gaining new skills and competences or enriching personal growth. Lifelong learning implies that qualifications may be obtained through flexible learning paths, including part-time studies, as well as work-based routes.

    11. The implementation of lifelong learning policies requires strong partnerships between public authorities, higher education institutions, students, employers and employees. The European Universities' Charter on Lifelong Learning developed by the European University Association provides a useful input for defining such partnerships. Successful policies for lifelong learning will include basic principles and procedures for recognition of prior learning on the basis of learning outcomes regardless of whether the knowledge, skills and competences were acquired through formal, non-formal, or informal learning paths. Lifelong learning will be supported by adequate organisational structures and funding. Lifelong learning encouraged by national policies should inform the practice of higher education institutions.

    12. The development of national qualifications frameworks is an important step towards the implementation of lifelong learning. We aim at having them implemented and prepared for self-certification against the overarching Qualifications Framework for the European Higher Education Area by 2012. This will require continued coordination at the level of the EHEA and with the European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning. Within national contexts, intermediate qualifications within the first cycle can be a means of widening access to higher education." (p.3)

    (www.ond.vlaanderen.be/hogeronderwijs/Bologna/ )

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