The concept of learning throughout life is not a new one. Continuous learning has been considered a virtue in many cultures, both ancient and modern. The modern concept of lifelong education began to take shape in Britain around 1919-1920 with advocates such as Basil Yeaxlee BY Basil Yeaxlee . The concept caught on in France in the 1930s, where lifelong education was called éducation permanente. There, Paul Lengrand PL Paul Lengrand pointed out that it was no longer possible to provide people with a formal education that would equip them for a lifetime. Education must continue throughout life.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was one of the early shapers of the concept of lifelong learning. In 1972, UNESCO proposed lifelong education as the master concept for educational policies. By 1996, the terminology shifted to learning throughout life . The vision of lifelong learning that was put forward by and for UNESCO is considered by many to be a humanist or “maximalist” position. The hope was not just to rethink education, but to transform society. They conceived of a learning society in which all individuals have the freedom to pursue self-fulfillment through self-directed learning.
Every individual must be in a position to keep learning throughout his life. The idea of lifelong education is the keystone of the learning society.
— and others, Learning to Be
Although the influence of UNESCO in educational policy waned, the concept of lifelong learning continued to gain strength and evolve. Lifelong learning has become virtually ubiquitous. It is rare to find educational policies that do not reference lifelong learning in some way.
There remains disagreement about what the objectives of lifelong learning are and how to achieve them. Many perceive economic and market-oriented concerns as the primary drivers for lifelong learning. From this perspective, individuals are seen as resources whose knowledge, skills, and competences are to be improved to achieve a competitive advantage in a globalized economy. There has been some criticism of this narrow view of lifelong learning. If economic concerns prevail, learning could become a trap in which people must endlessly “learn to earn” to stay employable in a changing economic environment.
Lifelong learning can be pursued to achieve objectives other than employability. The European Commission’s definition, for example, lists personal, social, and civic goals in addition to employment-related concerns.