What is Lifelong Learning ?

There are perhaps three main aspects which take lifelong learning a step further than previous debates on education and training:

1. The range of potential “clients”; (professional or individual objectives; in doors or outdoors learning, public or private providers)
2. The notion of continuity both in time (the lifetime of the individual) and across types of provision (transversal competencies, progression routes, transparencies of qualifications, APEL)
3. The emphasis on “learning” rather than on “education” or “training” (objectives, responsibilities, pedagogy).

The combination of the three: broader range of beneficiaries, continuum through types of provision and over time and an emphasis on learning, presents a formidable challenge to education and training strategies and provision in European countries, as it raises important issues not just of content or delivery but, more fundamentally, of organisation and funding.

The term has, to some extent, become a useful shorthand for a range of aims, enabling objectives, structures which, it is hoped, would contribute to developing a “seamless web” which:

• allows for horizontal and vertical moves and progression;
• funds individuals and institutions in such a way as to make learning a realistic option;
• integrates mechanisms for the recognition of prior learning, flexible assessment and recognised validation;
• provides real access to learning by including transport, encouraging flexible modes of learning, recognising formal, non-formal and informal learning, establishing more outreach work, etc.;
• proposes appropriate learning content;
• fosters distance learning parallel to learning centres;
• provides accessible and user-friendly information, guidance and counselling, etc.

At the same time lifelong learning addresses individuals and their personal commitment posing the issues of how, during compulsory education, one can encourage young people to envisage a culture change in which ‘learning’ will remain part of their way of life, an activity that will not finish at the start of their adult life but be periodic, repeated, continuing. As part of the same process, how can higher education cater for adults who wish to add to their qualifications or obtain a recognised higher education qualification? The agenda proposed to mainstream education and training is vast and multifaceted.

Training has undergone major developments, adapting to new students and trainees and a range of sometimes conflicting requirements, through the introduction of more flexibility to the content and delivery of courses, approaches to recognising prior learning, new awards and qualification structures and frameworks and, in some countries, major organisational changes. Many of these developments were stimulated by the need to find adequate responses to high youth unemployment and for training and re-training both the unemployed and the employed Reforms have equally sought to foster responsiveness to the requirements of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), enhance the role of the social partners and have had to examine the implications for organisation and funding to cope with all of the above.

One hurdle to building coherent and comprehensive lifelong learning systems has been implementation and developing mechanisms for monitoring progress effectively. The challenges at this level are therefore:

1. embedding the objectives agreed for lifelong learning in appropriate policy and strategy terms;
2. developing sets of tools to implement them;
3. establishing mechanisms for monitoring progress.
4. organising and funding the above.

Lifelong learning in action

Lifelong learning is both a vision shared by all the European countries and, within countries, by all the actors involved in education and training. Lifelong learning has become a guiding principle for provision and participation across all learning contexts and is expected to drive fundamental change in education and training. It is also a conceptual framework for thinking about education and training.

The European countries are currently moving from formulating policies to the implementation of strategies for lifelong learning, contributing to a successful transition to a knowledge-based economy and society

To achieve this, the vision and the concept need to be transformed into comprehensive strategies which, in turn, will lead to operational policies, programmes and initiatives in schools, universities, companies, local authorities and other institutions in civil society.

However a broad range of definitions and interpretations co-exist, which leads to very different approaches to implementation. Within the domain of training and employment policies, over recent years, lifelong learning has increasingly been the “label” given to sets of measures implemented in order to reform or adapt existing provision in response to the needs of a changing labour market. Whether or not this implies the existence of a policy of lifelong learning or a strategic vision may be debatable. Has the term “lifelong learning” been, at least to some extent, a useful shorthand for a range of aims, enabling objectives, structures, etc.

On the other hand the debate about “lifelong learning” has acted as a powerful stimulus to find solutions to improve access to learning, link up disconnected segments of the education and training systems, integrate a range of personal, social and economic objectives, reflect on issues of funding and organisation, etc.

Our Objective

Our objective is to present major issues concerning the development and implementation of strategies for lifelong learning. It is a vast arena and so we have decided to select specific issues for exploration and reflection. In order to build up a dossier which takes account of the impressive range of experiences and approaches, we strongly encourage you to send contributions to this site: innovative experiences (at local, sectoral, institutional, etc. levels …), problems seeking solutions, points of reflection, etc..

This dossier aims to provide a tool for practitioners, policy-makers and researchers, for an exchange of information, comment, innovative experiences and reflection. We will undertake the synthesis of your contributions for inclusion on this site and bring to the debate our expertise based on the projects and initiative in which the REDCOM partners are involved

What will you find in this dossier ?

At this pilot stage, we are launching the dossier focusing on some of the specific groups concerned by the development of Lifelong Education (Adults, Disadvantaged Learners and Young People). At a later stage we will also include pages focusing on the challenges to higher education, the school system and others aspects.

National and regional experiences will be presented as illustrative examples of lifelong learning in action selected in different European countries. They will provide the opportunity to examine interesting experiences and to react by submitting comments or by contributing other experiences.

Forthcoming in this dossier:

As the dossier develops there will be a portfolio of materials, which will allow you to select your entry point by :

• Major issues about lifelong learning (access, financing, organisation of the learning, objectives…)
• The different groups concerned by Lifelong learning
• The different levels of responsibility for lifelong learning policies (EU, national for the moment, and later also regional, sectoral and institutional policies and strategies)

For each point of entry we will provide links to relevant pages on the policies and processes of EU policy making, national or regional policies, articles in journals and other recent publications, relevant sites…

An Evaluation of the “Learning Worker” Pilot in Llanelli (2003-2004)

Type of project/activity: The National Assembly for Wales has commissioned Newidiem in association with the EIESP to undertake an evaluation of the Learning Workers Pilot (LWP) in Llanelli.

Objectives: The main objective is to assess how the provision of funding contributes to raising the qualification levels of individuals working in the pilot area selected in Wales.
Background: Raising GDP levels is highly dependant on the development of both knowledge-based enterprises and a skilled and committed workforce. Wales lags behind other European regions in terms of qualification and skills attainment among workers. Since 80% of the current workforce will continue to be in employment in ten years time, raising the skill levels of the workforce within an acceptable timeframe cannot be achieved by up-skilling new entrants to the labour market through schools and colleges alone. Wales lags behind other European countries in terms of proportions of the workforce qualified to Level 3 which has major implications for the economy of Wales in the light of continuing development of the knowledge economy and growing reliance on high-level skills. Compounding the issue is the delocalisation of relatively low skilled jobs to areas within Eastern Europe in search of cheaper labour sources. Accelerating the workplace development of higher skills and qualifications is essential therefore if Wales is to become competitive with other European economies.

Partners: The project is led by NEWIDIEM (Wales, UK) and carried out in association with the EIESP.

Main Activities: The first phase, during the first term of 2003, was a “scoping study”, which involved: a literature review (academic literature review, report & documents on specific areas of concern, policy documentation review); initial consultations with stakeholders; database development; development of a the Sample Framework and questionnaire design.

Overall the evaluation has:

Collected and analysed quantitative and qualitative data from a large representative sample of employees who have participated in learning through the LWP initiative.
Collected and analysed quantitative and qualitative data from a sample of enterprises.
Undertaken case-studies of a smaller sample of enterprises
Undertaken interviews with the organisations key to implementing the pilot scheme (training providers, administrative and marketing services, support services, etc.)
Evolved a thematic focus
Undertaken on-going documentation analysis to provide an assessment of results against policy documents, targets, etc.
Made comparisons with parallel pilot schemes in England.
Mad an assessment of criteria for success, barriers and obstacles, the role of funding support in encouraging porno learning, other forms of support needed, etc.
Name of programme, funder or client: The National Assembly for Wales.

Expected outcomes, reports/documents: Reports will be delivered to the client, the National Assembly for Wales to agreed milestones.

An article drawing on some aspects of the evaluation was published in the European Journal of Education Vol. 39, No. 1 March 2004: Robert Huggins & Stuart Harries, The Skills Economy and Workforce Development: A Regional Approach to Policy Intervention
For more information, please contact

Stuarte Horrios at Newidiem stuarte@newidiem.co.uk or Jeanny Gordona gordona@dauphine.fr