Education is a human right issue for both personal enrichment and development. The Namibian Constitution made a provision for all people to have access to education. This is also supported by goal 4 for Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Goal 4 aim to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. Today’s world is ever changing rapidly, in terms of social, economic, political and digital connectivity and usage. The changes requires individuals to adapt and adopt by acquiring relevant new knowledge, skills, attitudes and competencies in a wide range of settings to remain relevant and unlimited. Lifelong learning opportunities would enable the acquisition of such relevant new knowledge, skills, attitudes and competencies, for individuals to meet life’s challenges, remain relevant and sustain their lives, communities and societies in this digital world.
According to Toffler (1970) “the illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”. Lifelong learning is about learning, unlearning and relearning through acquiring and updating all kinds of abilities, interests, knowledge and qualifications from the pre-school years to post retirement.
Learning means the acquisition of knowledge or skills through study, experience, or being taught. Unlearning is seen as deleting and replacing obsolete knowledge. Relearning means learn material that has been previously learned and then forgotten. Lifelong learning activities promote the development of knowledge and competencies that will enable adaptations to knowledge-based societies, while at the same time valuing all forms of learning. Lifelong learning (LL) is therefore an indispensable guiding principle of educational development.
The commonly understood definition of lifelong learning is ‘all learning undertaken throughout life which is on-going, voluntary and self-motivated in the pursuit of knowledge, skills, attitudes and competencies for either personal or professional reasons.
What is Lifelong Learning?
The provision of learning through formal, informal and non-formal learning opportunities throughout people’s lives with the purpose of fostering continuous development and improvement of knowledge and skills needed for employment, community service and/or personal fulfilment. As could be deduced from this definition, lifelong learning is all-encompassing and integral to the vision of a knowledge-based economy and/or society. Lifelong learning can enhance our understanding of the world around us, provide us with more and better opportunities and improve our quality of life.
Types/categories of lifelong learning learners
• Skill-seeking – Learners who need to attain new or improved skills for the purpose of bettering themselves and be able to solve the challenges they face (or meet in the future) in their lives.
• Problem-centred – Learners who only want to learn specific skills needed to deal with a specific problem that they have encountered or might encounter in their particular life situations.
• Task-centred – Learners who only want to concentrate on tasks directed towards reaching some specific goals or solving a specific problem.
• Life-centred – Learners with great experience background and faced with a variety of issues in their everyday life and want to focus their attention on real-world/life challenges/situations and solving real-world problems. They also want to focus on applying newly gained knowledge and/or skills to everyday and real-world situations.
• Solution-driven – Learners who are interested in focusing their efforts to solving problems in real life situations, especially those found in their immediate communities and/or environments or dealing with tasks directed towards reaching specific goals or solutions.
• Value-driven – learners who require guidance why they should participate in learning endeavours and what benefit is there for them. These learners need to be motivated by other to explain to them why they should learn.
• Externally motivated – Learners who are motivated by such factors as better jobs, better salaries, and increased promotional opportunities.
• Internally motivated – Learners who possess strong internal motivation to learn, such as developing their self-esteem, confidence, recognition, career satisfaction, gaining skills to manage their time better or improving the overall quality of life for their families or communities or both.
• Active learners – Learners who are just willing to participate in the learning process (they could be internally or externally motivated or no motivation at all).
• Hands-on – Learners who prefer learning by doing rather than by listening and interested in being provided with opportunities to apply their newly gained skills right away.
• Self-directed – Learners who perceive themselves to be independent and responsible for their own learning, planning and directing their own learning activities. According to Fisher, King and Tague (2001) a self-directed learner takes control and accepts the freedom to learn what they view as important for them.
• Expert /experienced-based – Learners are practicing (working) in a specific field and want to gain knowledge/skills in that specific field for the purpose of improving their practice. These learners bring real-life experiences to the learning situations, thereby influencing the learning process and make it relevant.
• Independent – Learners who are more self-reliant and learn by utilising previously gained knowledge, skills and work experience in order to accomplish things for themselves. These learners rely on their own personal experiences, strengths and knowledge in seeking answers to problems and to solving such problems
Why do we need lifelong learning?
• Upgrade job
• Start a business
• Learn about a subject or to extend their knowledge
• Meet new people
• Develop self-confidence
• Participate in social networking
• Develop personal skills
Individual’s capacity for lifelong learning
• Capacity to set personal objectives in a realistic manner
• Effectiveness in applying knowledge already possessed
• Efficiency in evaluating one’s own learning
• Skills to locate the required information
• Effectiveness in using different learning strategies and learning in different settings
• Skills to use learning aids and resources, such as libraries, media and/or the internet
• Ability to use and interpret materials from different subject areas
The benefits of lifelong learning to society
From those critical statements regarding the importance of lifelong learning it emerges that lifelong learning holds both private and public benefits. The benefits of lifelong learning to society, business and the individual include, among others:
• The economic benefits of lifelong learning both for employment purposes and high earnings are regarded by many as the most important. People who have no jobs engage in lifelong learning in order to gain employable skills and to make a living. Those with jobs engage in lifelong learning so that they can upgrade their skills to be able to be promoted to higher positions in their jobs and earn more money.
• Enhanced employability which means lifelong learning adds value to the person’s ability to gain productive employment and make greater economic contribution to his/her organisation and to society as a whole. This is because lifelong learning enables more people to gain skills and competencies required for the job market.
• Reduced expenditure in unemployment and other social benefits and early retirement (in countries that have those benefits), which means if there are more people with skills and being productive government will concentrate the limited resources to developing infrastructure and create jobs rather than spending it on people who are unable to find work or not willing to work. Infrastructure development means more good educational and health facilities as well as roads and other transport infrastructure for promoting economic development. More jobs means there are more people contributing to government income through taxes and supporting the overall development of the country.
• Reduced criminal activities in societies that have high unemployment rates (Namibia is a good example) of which many of the criminal activities are due to citizens who have nothing productive to do, but having a lot of time on their hands to be idling and/or engaging in mischievous and unproductive activities. Lifelong learning opportunities enable people to gain useful skills and competencies so that they are more employable and there are plenty of opportunities for people to be engaged in productive and worthy causes. We are told that criminal activities are on the increase in societies where there is high unemployment, high illiteracy and /or less educated citizenry as well as where there are high levels of poverty.
• Increased high social returns in terms of civic participation and community involvement in activities that are aimed at improving the standards of living of all people in society. Lifelong learning enables citizens to be active in community development activities and thereby improving their health and well-being as well as generating and nurturing creative ideas for business and innovation development. Lifelong learning also increases high social returns in terms of civic participation and community involvement, for instance volunteering for good causes in their communities and societies thereby enabling government to save through increased civil society involvement.
Career development in the age of lifelong learning
Lifelong learning has been more linked to improving work activities through improving workers’ attitudes towards work and their productive capacities. Workplace learning whether formal, non-formal or informal is targeted to career development of employees. Lifelong learning helps people to develop their potential and the knowledge, skills, attitudes and competencies required for the job market. They are required to constantly learn at the workplace. For the lifelong learning system to work at the workplace, where learning is mainly informal, there must be a self-regulating system that enable employees to access relevant information about the labour market and development in the economy. It has been proven across the world that people who are educated are more likely to find decent employment than those with no education. This mean that lifelong learning is currently being used for career development and progress in the labour market as much as it is being used for leisure and community development purposes.
Career development is an important aspect for the labour market as all employees aim for higher salaries, promotions and other incentives that comes with one’s job or employment contract.
Eraut (2007) found that most of the workplace learning of mid-career professionals is largely done in an informal way through consultation and collaboration. The joy of learning and the opportunity to apply the newly acquired skills to the workplace are the best sources of motivation for learning in one’s life.
Approaches to learning at the workplace
Eraut (2004) have identified five approaches for the knowledge, skills, attitudes and competencies for lifelong learning at the workplace.
• Group learning: participation in group activities such as team-working towards a common goal or outcome or group set up to work on special projects or for a special purpose. These circumstances will force members of the group to learn communally in order to accomplish their tasks.
• On the job training through social learning activities allows employees to observe others and learn as they learn new practices, new perspectives as they work alongside each other on a routine task or specific project.
• On the job training through understudy / deputizing allow employees to learn from those with more expertise than them but working in the same organisation / institution.
• On the job training by external expertise (consultants) through performance audits, consultancies, workshops.
• Assessment activities such as monitoring and evaluation are some of the approaches used by organisations to enable employees learn about their progress and address gaps.
Work processes through which employees learn better
• Group participation process: through asking questions and participating in decisions;
• Tackling challenging assignments/tasks/ roles;
• Through being supervised, coached and being mentored, shadowing and or reflecting;
• Working alongside colleagues, locating resource persons within the organisation as well as listening and observing others;
• Through problem solving, trying things out, suing models or mediating artefacts and learning through mistakes;
• Consultation with other employees and management;
• Visiting other sites/attending conferences and participating in short courses;
• Working with clients;
• Consolidating/ extending/ giving and receiving feedback;
• Working/studying for a qualification, working for a reward.
Factors affecting modes of learning in the workplace
The factors that enable employees to be proactive in seeking learning opportunities
• Challenging and value of the work: under challenged and over challenged might impact negatively on the person’s ability to learn;
• Feedback and support;
• Confidence and commitment; and
• The ability to recognise learning opportunities
Work context factors
The factors that attract the employees to the organisation and motivate them to learn and contribute to the goals of the organisation.
• Feedback and support (especially during the few months in a new job);
• Allocation and structuring of work;
• Encounters and relationship with people at wok; and
• Expectations of each person’s role, performance and progress.
Suggestions for employers
Promote Media and Information Literacy (MIL) to enables employees to be informed readers in today’s hyper connected world.
MIL enables employees to interpret the complex messages they receive in today’s hyper connected world.
Eraut, M. (2007). Learning from other people in the workplace. Oxford Review of Education, 33 (4), pp.403-422.
Eraut, M. (2004). Informal learning in the workplace. Studies in Continuing Education, 26, pp. 247-273.
Fisher, M, King, J., &Tague, G. (2001). Development of a self-directed learning readiness scale for nursing education. Nurse Education Today, 21, pp. 516 -525.
Toffler, A. (1970). Future shock. New York: Random House.