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What Do You Know About Lifelong Learning? Some Thoughts

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I have always had a love for Learning which I can attribute to my parents, now deceased. I can remember Dad reading his books on Electronics supplied by a UK distance educational provider even though he was not working in that area. As a teenager, I must admit I found his interest very intriguing. The house was always full of old radios and other electronic items which Dad collected and used to apply his Learning. Though Mum was a housewife, she attended local evening classes in areas such as Toy-making, Cake-Icing and Mastering Counselling. When she was offered an opportunity in the tourism and hospitality sector, she eagerly pursued Conversational Spanish and Interpersonal Communication to equip her for the job role. With her encouragement (and maybe insistence), Mum and I attended Conversational Spanish and Mastering Counselling. Mum was adamant that 'nobody can take away what is in your head'.

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As a family, continuing our education was critical for advancing our employment prospects and improving our standard of living. During the 1980s, that kind of education was called Continuing, or Adult Education and the term is still widely used. However, Continuing or Adult Education is now recognized as part of the Lifelong Learning journey.

What is Lifelong Learning?

Lifelong Learning is "all learning activity undertaken throughout life, which results in improving knowledge, know-how, skills, competences and/or qualifications for personal, social, and/or professional reasons" (CEDEFOP 2008).

Lifelong Learning is comprehensive in that it "has come to mean not just adult education, but all learning from cradle to grave" (OECD 2001)

Lifelong Learning is also seen as being 'life-wide' in that it is "embedded in all life contexts from the school to the workplace, the home and the community" (Laal, Maarjam 2011). That is, persons can learn through Informal, Formal and Non-formal means.

"Informal Learning is learning that occurs in daily life, in the family, in the workplace, in communities and through interests and activities of individuals."

"Formal Learning takes place in education and training institutions, is recognized by relevant national authorities and leads to diplomas and qualifications. Formal Learning is structured according to educational arrangements such as curricula, qualifications, and teaching-learning requirements."

"Non-formal Learning is learning that is acquired in addition or alternatively to Formal Learning. In some cases, it is also structured according to educational and training arrangements, but more flexible. It usually takes place in community-based settings, the workplace and through the activities of civil society organizations." (UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning 2012)

Informal Learning is therefore unplanned and unintentional but can result in Learning, for example, from daily life experiences related to family, work, or leisure. One example, with this COVID-19 lockdown, parents may have learnt some teaching and Information Technology skills because they had to help their children with preparing for online education. For some parents, juggling home, work, and online school may have resulted in them acquiring transferable skills. These skills may be patience (or endurance), creativity, flexibility, communication and planning that they can use to enhance their employability. Indeed, you can place these newly acquired skills on your resumé to let prospective employers know that you have these traits.

On the other hand, Non-formal Learning can be structured or planned, not designated as Learning but can be obtained, for example, through vocational skills at your workplace. You may be familiar with this form of Learning which is typically on-the-job Learning. For example, as part of your orientation to a new job, your employer may want to ensure that you know the requirements for the job. This Learning may come through structured coaching from someone who has performed the work that you are now employed to do. It may not lead to certification, but it is nevertheless learning that you have acquired.

Informal and Non-formal Learning is increasingly being recognized as part of the lifelong learning journey, and in future posts, you will learn more about developments in these areas.

You may more be familiar with Formal Learning which is structured, planned, and designed and may lead to qualifications or certification. This form of Learning is mostly recognized by employers as the award suggests that the individual is knowledgeable and will be more productive. Of course, this is a fallacy! Other factors must be considered, including whether the individual has the competencies to do the job.

Lifelong Learning is a continuous journey. Plan to learn something new for the remaining six months of this year. You can access the numerous learning opportunities that are being offered by attending a physical site or via online mode. Whatever you do, don't stop learning!

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CEDEFOP. 2008. Terminology of European Education and Training Policy: A Selection of 100 Key Terms. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Union Communities.

Laal, Maarjam. 2011. “Lifelong Learning: What does it Mean?” Procedia – Social and Behavioural Sciences 28: 470-474

UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (2012). UNESCO Guidelines for the Recognition, Validation and Accreditation of the Outcomes of Non-formal and Informal Learning. Hamburg: UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning.

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