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.