What is Lifelong Learning? (2020) – Benefits & Examples

lifelong learningLifelong learning is incredibly important in the 21st Century. Our world is changing so rapidly that we need to be consistently upskilling in order to keep up to date with the latest knowledge.

It is also incredibly important for improving yourself and trying to become better both professionally and personally.

What is Lifelong Learning? (Definition)

Lifelong learning is the idea that learning does not end at the completion formal education. Instead, we continually learn through our daily experiences throughout our lives (Aspin et al., 2012). In the professional workplace, this concept is often invoked to refer to ongoing professional development. It is also an approach to learning that emphasizes reflective practice for self-betterment.

Key and Defining Features

Key features of lifelong learning include:

1. Ongoing
The central feature of lifelong learning is that learning is never-ending (Billett, 2010). There are many models of learning to represent this. For example, reflective practice cycles (such as Gibbs’ and Kolb’s models) show how we finish every learning scenario with more questions for the next stage of learning. Further, the idea that learning is ‘lifelong’ shows that learning occurs well beyond formal situations – we’ll keep learning even after school is over.

2. Voluntary
A lifelong learning approach is usually voluntary and represents a ‘mindset’ more than anything. An ongoing learning mindset needs to be voluntary rather than compulsory. Compulsory learning (such as K-12 schooling) is not considered ‘lifelong’ because it has a distinct conclusion and no expectations of rolling on to the next point.

3. Self-Motivated
You will need to be self-motivated to embrace lifelong learning. As it is voluntary, you can usually opt-out whenever you want. So, you usually need to enjoy what you are learning or enjoy the process of learning altogether.

4. Broad
It is not exclusive to one subject area or category. You can learn anything you like – so long as it is something new to keep your mind active and to help you with your life. The goal is not necessarily to be a specialist in anything, but to constantly improve yourself – a bit like being a renaissance man!

5. Multiple Contexts
It can take place at the workplace, at home, online, through books, at the coffee shop, in one-to-one meetings, on the job (we call this ‘situated learning‘), or anywhere you want it to be! Online self-taught learning is an increasingly common form of ongoing informal learning as it provides people with instant access to so much information at anyone’s fingertips!

6. Informal
Different to continuing education, lifelong learning often informal. It does not require you to get a formal education degree or certificate from a university. You don’t need to pay anyone or even need a university teacher. It involves any form of learning that takes place at any point in life, so long as it is underpinned by a mindset of ongoing, voluntary and self-motivated personal or professional growth.

7. Learning on Demand
Lastly, if often ‘on-demand’ learning, meaning we learn things when we find it most useful for our lives. This is not always the case (as many people learn for the love of learning), but nonetheless it is common to find that people choose topics to learn that have relevance to (and improves) their immediate lives or skills in the workforce.

Importance of Lifelong Learning

Lifelong learning is important because it helps us to develop as humans. While many theorists once believed that human development peaks at age 20-25, we increasingly understand the importance of learning to help us develop into our old age. We might call learning in older ages the ‘getting of wisdom’. We don’t just learn new things: we also use our past knowledge to become better at thinking through situations.

Benefits & Challenges

Benefits and Strengths – Opportunities it opens up.

Challenges and Weaknesses – What’s hard about it.

1. Builds social capital1. Time consuming
2. Develops a love of learning2. Costly
3. Personal development3. Hard to self-motivate
4. Professional development4. Doesn’t confer a university degree at the “end” of it.
5. Prevents cognitive decline 

Benefits

Benefits of lifelong learning include:

1. Social Capital
Participating in ongoing learning opportunities can help you to develop social contacts (Hildebrand, 2008). You can make new friends and possible employment opportunities through your learning communities. Further, you can open up new social groups that coalesce around shared interest in the topic. However, you won’t gain the “cultural capital” that you can get from a university degree from a popular university like Harvard.

2. Love of Learning
People who are lifelong learners enjoy learning and the process of learning new things. They practice the skill of moving through cognitive dissonance and getting pleasure out of achieving new things.

3. Personal Development
You can grow as a person, developing better communication skills and thinking strategies. Learning will help you discard misconceptions and understand the world through more perspectives. Further, Laal and Salamati (2012) argue it can help with your self-esteem.

4. Professional Development
More skills can help you to be more competitive in future job interviews, making you more employable (Laal & Salamati, 2012). People will often also engage in ongoing learning and development on the job to become more efficient and capable at their job – which may lead to enhanced job satisfaction and further opportunities for promotion.

5. Prevents Cognitive Decline
As people get older, they need to continue to exercise their brains to prevent cognitive decline. Ongoing learning experiences right through past retirement are necessary to sustain brain strength and prolong your life (Findsen & Formosa, 2011).

Challenges

Challenges of lifelong learning include:

1. Time Consuming
It takes time out of your day to do any serious learning. And unfortunately it’s an ongoing commitment – by definition! Some ways to streamline learning include listening to podcasts in the car, learning online rather than on campus,

2. Costly
Ongoing learning will cost you money. You need to continually invest and re-invest in new books, short courses, and tutoring. Setting aside a ‘learning budget’ or seeking out free options such as library membership may be necessary. This is especially true if you need to buy new technology or update old technology to learn.

3. Hard to Self-Motivate
Learning is not always fun. Because lifelong learning is voluntary, you have to be personally motivated and enthusiastic about learning. A possible solution to offset this issue is to focus on learning about your own hobbies or topics you are interested in.

Real Life Examples

Examples of lifelong learning include:

1. Learning a new Skill
The simplest thing you can do is to simply identify a skill to learn and teach yourself that skill. It might require repetition, buying educational kits online, and buying books about the skill.

2. Joining a Club
There are clubs on every topic – just jump on meetup.com and see what’s out there! Clubs will usually meet regularly (once a week or month, perhaps) to get together and discuss your chosen topic together. As you interact with more people, you will learn from them and refine your skills.

3. Downloading Educational Podcasts
Podcasts are a revolutionary way to learn new topics. You can listen to a podcast while going for a run, driving, or put it on as you’re going to sleep. It takes some time to find a podcast host who you like, so fiddle around and have a look for a podcast that’ll teach you your new topic!

4. Keeping a Reflective Journal
A daily reflective journal can help you to continually reflect on your life and things you have been doing, so you can then improve for the future! Simply writing in the journal will often be enough for you to stimulate reflection and get you thinking about some ways to better yourself. You can also re-read the journal at the end of the week for a ‘thinking session’.

5. Use Metacognitive Strategies
Metacognition‘ means to reflection on your own thinking. Take the time to stop and reflect on your own behaviors and thought processes to see if you can find ways to improve your thinking. This might involve coming up with strategies (literally: metacognitive strategies) such as streamlined procedures for certain tasks you do regularly, or reminding yourself to stop and take a deep breathe every 5 minutes.

6. Short College Course
Another example of lifelong learning is to take short college courses every semester at your local college (or even ‘summer courses’). You can choose a course that will help with your work, employability, or even personal life.

Final Thoughts

Lifelong learning is a powerful way to consistently improve yourself and help you become a more refined, wiser person. Over time, you will develop new skills and abilities that you can apply in your everyday life. With the rise of technology, anyone with the internet can be a lifelong learner!

References and Further Reading

Aspin, D. N., Chapman, J., Hatton, M., & Sawano, Y. (Eds.). (2012). International handbook of lifelong learning (Vol. 6). New York: Springer Science & Business Media.

Billett, S. (2010). The perils of confusing lifelong learning with lifelong education. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 29(4), 401-413.

Findsen, B., & Formosa, M. (2011). Lifelong Learning in later life: A handbook on older adult learning. London: Brill Sense.

Laal, M., & Salamati, P. (2012). Lifelong learning; why do we need it? Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 31, 399-403.