Although the concept of lifelong learning has been enthusiastically embraced in name, according to an assessment by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) actual implementation of related policies has lagged. Data indicate that participation beyond formal schooling remains low.
There are some important challenges to making lifelong learning a reality. One of them is the increased responsibility of the learner to discover and pursue learning opportunities once they move beyond formal education. Lifelong learning requires individuals to be active learners that have the skills to learn in a self-motivated and self-directed manner. Individuals must develop the motivation and capacity to learn independently early in life. Otherwise, there is a risk that a proportion of the population gets left behind because they are unable to navigate the landscape of learning opportunities successfully. The likely result of such a development would be an increased inequality within the population.
Adult participation in lifelong learning can be obstructed by three types of barriers: situational, institutional and dispositional. Identifying such barriers makes them easier to overcome them. Supporting lifelong learning requires significant resources and policy coordination across a range of players. Overall, there is still a long way to go before lifelong learning becomes embedded in educational systems.
The best single predictor of later participation in education is earlier participation.
— Albert Tuijnman, Journal of Lifelong Education
Participation in formal education is a critical step. Providing access to high-quality education and keeping students engaged must be a priority. Increased integration between learning and working environments may help increase the relevance of the material and increase motivation. Additionally, the appropriate guidance, signposting of learning opportunities, and clear learning paths through various life stages, may help people remain engaged with learning beyond compulsory education.
Although the importance of informal learning is widely accepted, finding ways to assess and recognize it has proven challenging. There is a lack of standards and qualification systems to provide forms of recognition that people can use to improve their career opportunities.
Learning opportunities beyond compulsory education should be structured around adults’ distinctive needs. This can be done by creating enjoyable and adult-friendly learning environments such as learning-rich workplaces or dedicated adult learning institutions like community colleges or folk schools. New opportunities for learning in digital environments have become much more common as the adoption of the internet and smartphones has increased. These new technologies have facilitated access to a much broader range of learning material.
Policymakers and institutions have found it challenging to implement lifelong learning because it is a holistic vision that spans the entire human lifespan. Formal education can provide the general knowledge and foundational skills required from a lifetime of learning. But many people exit formal education without the motivation or ability to pursue independent, self-directed learning.