Lifelong Learning: A Necessity


Lifelong Learning Forces

Societal interest in, and pressures for, lifelong learning continue to mount. This growing interest in education throughout life can be documented in many ways. Increasing adult and continuing education enrollments, a growing recognition of enormous educational deficiencies existing in the United States and other countries, mounting pressures for providing individualized, non-traditional, or distance learning opportunities [see /iiindex.html and /sdlindex.html for additional information], and available evidence that formal school experience does not adequately equip people to cope with life's challenges are some major reasons cited in support of continuous learning needs. Later chapters and the various bibliographic references throughout this book provide more extensive documentation of the need for lifelong learning.

Three major forces act in concert to generate this interest in, and need for, lifelong learning. The first of these can be described simply as the rapidity and constancy of change. Societal change has been discussed and described in many ways by many people throughout the past two to three decades; therefore, an extended explanation is not needed in this chapter. However, there are some components of change, some of them fundamental in nature, that have impacted adults in various ways to specifically cause an increased need for learning.

Certainly Toffler and his renowned work related to the theme of Future Shock (see the Bibliography) did as much as anyone else to initiate a focus of attention on the dangers of societal and technological change. Educators at all levels have started to realize that the life skills necessary to cope with rapid change, technological developments, constant concerns about future inflation, and constantly evolving lifestyles are not completely developed in formal K-12 schooling efforts. Thus, continuous change requires continuous learning. Unfortunately, there exist in society many adults unable or unwilling to change, to learn, or to manage their own lives satisfactorily--adults who frequently are led to believe that a better life awaits if only more and more of the material things produced by technological change can be obtained.

Illich and Friere (see the Bibliography) were leaders in efforts to take an even stronger stand through their revolutionary writings in which they suggested that immense inadequacies exist in formal schooling programs throughout the United States and other countries. They suggested that normal schooling efforts and patterns were so designed that learners--especially the poor, the disadvantaged, and the ethnic minority--were inadequately prepared to cope with most of the main societal problems they faced. The results they believed were dysfunctionally schooled products who relied on further institutionalized education for problem solving rather than self-directed or self-motivated learners who knew how to avail themselves of a variety of resources, both personal and external, to cope with various problems.

A second major force, one certainly related to the first, is the continuous march by many adults toward occupational obsolescence. One way of describing this circumstance is to borrow from the nuclear physics field the concept of half-life. Occupational half-life is based on the assumption that enough new developments, techniques, and/or knowledge evolve in a short period of time, say 5-15 years, so that a person becomes roughly half as competent to do the job for which his or her initial training was intended. Consequently, adults frequently must turn to learning activities in and out of the workplace just to maintain or regain competence.

The third force that has helped create the interest in, and need for, lifelong learning deals with the change in lifestyles or value systems affecting so many people. Call it increased leisure, a movement toward self-actualization, or the many concerns for saving or improving the environment, more and more people are believing that a full and rich life is possible primarily through the maximization of individual potentiality. Consequently, an increasing attention toward interpersonal communication skills, values clarification, and self-identity activities is becoming very recognizable in people's learning efforts.

These three forces have done much to heighten an awareness of adult and continuing education activities as viable means for obtaining necessary knowledge or skill. However, to enhance the development of people's potential, it is suggested that many of the basic attitudes and skills possessed by educators toward learners and the learning process must change. The idea of dispensing preestablished knowledge to a vacuum in the form of a student will need to be supplemented by, and in many instances exchanged for, a cooperative relationship between the learner and teacher in a mutual process of problem solving, self-discovery, and just plain learning how to learn.

Innovative Approaches to the Education of Adults

Learning how to learn and how to solve problems through self-inquiry activities has not been easy for the adult student in traditional institutionalized courses or activities. More on the subject of the adult learner and learning styles will be contained in later chapters. However, it needs to be said here that many adults have resisted participating in, or after a short sampling have dropped out of, traditional learning activities. At the same time, various educational researchers have discovered that there exists much interest in learning by adults and an apparently high participation in learning endeavors outside normal institutional forms of education.

Consequently, education professionals have begun to pay particular attention to non-traditional forms for, and delivery systems of, learning. The following list represents some of the educational change taking place or existing in the American society:

Such non-traditional activities, alternative learning modes, or innovative educational changes are based primarily on the assumption that lifelong learning is a natural circumstance of life within which autonomous, self-directed learners participate according to their needs and interests. More change can be expected and must happen if education is to meet a goal of truly helping people with a lifetime of challenges.

Implications for Training Teachers of Adults

Lifelong learning changes and forces have not been recognized very readily in colleges of education throughout the United States. Curriculum updating, for example, is frequently geared to content changes with new information; attention is seldom given to finding ways of incorporating curriculum with the challenges that occur throughout a lifetime. Unless students at undergraduate or graduate levels are directly involved with curriculum designed to build teachers or trainers of adults, frequently they are taught that the school is an island to which people come for a predetermined amount of time, rather than viewing the school as one resource in an educative environment.

There is also growing evidence that advanced learning credentials possessed by individuals do not automatically signal all is well in life. National achievement test scores are decreasing over time, numerous doctoral degree holders are unable to find meaningful work, and school systems have been sued by students or parents who claim viable forms of education are not received. Charter schools and education through "for profit" organizations have begun to spring up across the United States.

Another frustrating problem educators must face is the continuing and plaguing problem of school dropouts. In many K-12 schools throughout the United States, dropout rates are increasing; the eventual price such individuals must pay can be enormous. Added to this dilemma is the complaint by many teachers that today's student often has a poor attitude about school and learning. The result is that teachers and trainers of adults often are faced with students inadequately prepared for advanced education.

It is suggested that those training to work with students at the K-12 levels must learn to think of themselves more as educators, instead of fairly narrow specialists such as high school science teachers, junior high counselors, or elementary school principals, if learning is to become lifelong instead of something that is discontinued at age 16, 18, or 22. In many respects the role of the teacher in such learning setting smust change to that of facilitating student learning, helping such students learn to use the many resources now available electronically, and promoting in learners attitudes of and commitment to lifelong learning.

Unfortunately, there are many differing views regarding the role of the teacher in a learning setting. Perhaps the most widely accepted view is that the teacher is one who imparts knowledge on a subject to others (see for some discussion of changing views of teaching approaches). Indeed, teacher training efforts frequently involve the development of content specialization by a teacher and, concurrently, the provision of training in various techniques, methods, and devices so that the person will become skillful in presenting any knowledge inherent in the specialization.

There are, however, potential weaknesses in the above-described training scheme, especially when adults are the students to be reached by teachers. First, if a receptor does not want to receive some predetermined knowledge because she or he is tired, fearful of the whole learning endeavor, or interested in something else--as can happen with adult learners of varying ages--then it is very difficult to simply impart some knowledge.

Second, a person receiving a piece of information incorporates that datum through his or her own eyes, knowledge limitations, and experience base. Thus, what a teacher might perceive as the important point on some topic might be perceived quite differently by the learner. Consequently, teacher training efforts must be aimed at more than the development of information transmittal skills.

As will be developed further in this and later chapters, the suggestion is made that teachers need to become more skilled as facilitators of, and resources in, the learning process. This will require that more attention be given to a discipline of learning where the rigor of analysis and the capacity to acquire new knowledge as needed are addressed foremost in the learning setting.

Such a role as facilitator and resource person includes one of helping learners determine their needs, discover what resources can be brought to bear on these needs, and match the resources with the needs. Learning in this type of arrangement becomes one of integrating the educational process with life's activities.

A point related to the one above is that in working with the student as an active partner in the educational process, each student has a potential, some need, and various experiences that will have a bearing on the teaching learning process. This factor moves the instructional process toward one of a cooperative student-teacher relationship, with the teacher as a facilitative resource person and the learner as an autonomous seeker of necessary knowledge. Such an ideal relationship is not obtained easily; however, it is something possible, particularly as both the learner and instructor become confident in the process.

In this type of arrangement the school, classroom, and community become learning resource centers and the teacher becomes a learning process consultant. In addition, this instructional approach requires the skills to promote self-inquiry, to involve students and others in program or course planning, and to facilitate individualized learning activities.

The discussion to this point has not meant to imply that lifelong learning needs have been totally unrecognized by teachers or trainers. Attempts to teach self-inquiry skills, individualization of instruction, team teaching, and the open or on-line classroom have all been efforts to improve learning attitudes and to develop useful learning skills. Indeed, it is expected that the movement toward creating lifelong learning skills will provide opportunities for teachers and trainers to improve or to shift their teaching styles and for the trainers of trainers or teachers to do even better jobs.

Several needed changes related to training teachers are implied in the discussion above. First, if all teachers or trainers are to become effective in the facilitation of lifelong learning and in the utilization of a variety of innovative approaches to teaching or learning, they must come to grips with the concept of education as a lifetime process and need. For example, the enclosure of education only within the institutional boundaries implied by a K-12 setting or even a K-college setting is not consistent with the constancy of needs emerging because of societal change. Thus, the expanding of educational abilities so that they foster continuous lifelong learning will require new commitments on the part of teachers in training, experienced teachers or trainers through in-service training, and those institutions involved in training teachers.

A second change suggested here is related to a pragmatic and economical need--teachers, trainers, and administrators will need to be shown how better to make use of each community's total resources for education. Each teacher or trainer must learn how to use agency or individual expertise as supplemental and primary learning resources, how to help learners use community resources in solving problems, and how to develop curricula that help learners understand the relationships between subject matter and later or emerging lives in the community. These changes require that educators in training be exposed to community theory, be able to work closely with community leaders, be exposed to the community through various activities, and be involved in studying communities and their resources through community survey techniques. (More information on this theme is presented in a later chapter.)

The third change involves helping each educator become skilled at facilitating education for people of all ages and backgrounds. In addition to general adult and youth groups that probably come quickly to mind, the following are suggested as special groups of people with educational needs:

Ways must also be discovered for meeting the educational needs of handicapped adults and people in correctional or other institutions. In addition, the entire area of job retraining will increasingly require the expertise of skilled educators. Certainly those educators being prepared specifically for the adult education profession will work with the above groups as well as with programs designed to meet general adult interests and needs. However, because so many people who eventually work with educational programs for adults arrive in such positions by accident rather than by design, it is suggested that teacher preparation institutions and those working with the training of trainers--especially those that attempt to incorporate the concept of educator as a lifelong learning facilitator--need to consider the various types of clientele who will be recipients of educational efforts.

It is recognized that many implications of the changes suggested above cannot be accomplished overnight. Attitudes will need to change, innovations will need to be tried and tested, and new teaching or training strategies will need to be discovered. Hopefully, however, those responsible for the training of trainers and educators are beginning to meet such challenges with new and experimental approaches to their preparation efforts.

Some Plaguing Problems

There are several plaguing problems with which the educational profession must deal if lifelong learning is truly to become a reality. They are enumerated here but not described in much specific detail. Educational philosophers, leaders, and practitioners will need to find the solutions.

  1. Much greater precision is needed in defining what are inquiry skills or lifelong learning skills, what bearing, if any, age has on such skills, and how such skills might be taught.
  2. In a lifelong learning environment, what will be the role of educational institutions and what will be the differences, if any, between techniques used by individuals working with children and those used in working with adults?
  3. The concept of community (i.e., boundaries, roles, power structures, etc.) will require change to accommodate a lifelong learning environment.
  4. How will the evolving "for profit" educational programs affect the lifelong learning movement?
  5. The related issues of financing education, needed legislation, and the rights of every citizen in the United States will need to be examined thoroughly.
  6. The two or three generations of individuals caught between a traditional education structure and a lifelong learning society will need to be given special attention.
  7. The role of higher education in a lifelong learning environment will need to be examined.

Where Do We Go From Here?

There is no magical way of summing up the thoughts made to this point nor of drawing any magnanimous conclusions upon which a new society built around lifelong learning can be created. As a matter of fact, much of the discussion offered thus far has not been very profound or new. However, it is suggested here that for whatever the reasons--bureaucratic or administrative hurdles, institutional handcuffing, or overworked and underpaid teachers/trainers--huge educational challenges remain. Furthermore, the intent of this chapter was not to provide a profound statement on societal ills, to attack the educational system in the United States, or to present a third-world view of a better life potential; rather, it was presented to provide a backdrop for the chapters to follow.

There are tremendous opportunities today and tomorrow in continuing education as it is predicted by many that adult and continuing education will be one of the few future growth areas in education. However, such opportunities are dependent, for the most part, on lifelong learning becoming a reality for all. John Dewey stated it much better: "Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself."

The Remaining Chapters

This book has not been designed as the final word on the field of adult and of continuing education nor even as a comprehensive statement on the profession, its aims, and its programs. Rather, the information is intended as an introduction to education and the adult learner. It presents the field of adult and continuing education as a leading force in both the historical and current movement toward a lifelong learning society. The book should be only one resource which the self-directed and, hopefully, interested learner will utilize. To that end, each chapter in this book contains any necessary definitions, several study questions, and suggestions of additional resources. A brief description of the remaining chapters follows.

The second chapter presents a discussion of the societal role prescribed for, and assumed by, the adult and continuing education profession. Included is a discussion of the historical importance of adult and continuing education and how this history has shaped continuing education in the United States today. The chapter also contains an analysis of the changing American society, the character of the American citizen, and the role of continuing education in helping the modern family. The chapter concludes with an analysis of why adult education is needed, a description of various obstacles to adult education, and a discussion of several implications for teacher education.

Chapter 3 describes the clientele being served in adult and continuing education programs and activities. It includes a discussion of some unique qualities of the adult learner and a description of several categories of adult learners. The chapter also contains a discussion of the many undereducated or disadvantaged adults and of limited educational opportunities for the elderly person. The chapter concludes with some suggested implications for teachers and trainers.

The fourth chapter presents a picture of the various adult and continuing education programs available in the United States. Federal, state, and community-level programs are described.

Chapter 5 contains a description of the professional educators who work with the various continuing education programs. Included is a discussion relative to who is an adult and continuing educator, what are the various types of available positions or roles, and how are these individuals trained for their work.

Chapter 6 presents information pertaining to the relationship between the American community and adult education. It describes the problems of people at the community level, the availability of resources for education in communities, and how these educational resources can be activated in the pursuit of lifelong learning. A variety of implications for education are also described.

The seventh chapter presents an introduction to the theoretical bases and research important to adult education.

The final chapter describes various trends and projections related to society, higher education, and adult education. It also contains a discussion of various adult education needs and suggests several opportunities for educators.

Some Definitions

Adult--A person who has reached the maturity level where he or she has assumed responsibility for himself or herself and sometimes others and who typically is earning an income.

Adult education--The relationship between an adult student and an educational specialist trained to work with adult learners in which the specialist provides the student with specialized information, learning experiences, or reference to resource materials. Frequently, such activities take place in the evening hours but on-line opportunities are on the increase.

Continuing education--Often referred to in connection with or synonymous with adult education, the term has come to mean for many the extension of higher education programs to adult students. In this book, adult education, continuing education, and adult and continuing education usually have synonymous meanings.

Education--The provision of instructional situations where the intent is that information, knowledge, and learning skills are acquired.

Educative community--The utilization and availability of a variety of community resources for learning and education.

Learning--The acquisition of knowledge, attitudes, and skills, usually resulting in behavioral change in an individual.

Learning society--The provision of purposeful learning opportunities both within and outside of the traditional educational institutions. In such a setting, formal education could be obtained throughout one's life.

Lifelong learning--A process of learning that continues throughout one's lifetime, depending on individual needs, interests, and learning skills.

Schooling--The provision of educational opportunity in a formal setting for some predetermined length of time.

Study Questions or Stimulators

1. What are the skills involved in lifelong learning? Are they intellectual skills, personal skills, or adaptive skills?

2. Should there be a qualitative dimension to such skills?

3. How could such skills be acquired by an individual?

4. What concepts of learning and what portion of the theory base from the current K-12 field of education should be incorporated into an evolving body of knowledge related to lifelong learning?

5. What kinds of changes will adult and continuing educators need to make in a lifelong learning society? What kind of changes will learners need to make?

6. What are some basic interdisciplinary concepts that can be applied in a variety of learning settings?

7. What is the relationship of the home environment and the family to lifelong learning?

8. Will there need to be societal changes before lifelong learning becomes a reality? If so, what kinds of changes?

Selected Bibliography

Candy, P. C. (1991). Self-direction for lifelong learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. This book contains a wealth of information on both self-directed learning and lifelong learning written from the perspective of an Australian.

Carnegie Commission on Higher Education. (1973). Toward a learning society, New York: McGraw-Hill. This book describes the tremendous activity of a post-secondary nature. Lifelong learning, adult education, and alternative modes of education are also discussed. The book concludes by describing some objectives and priorities.

Gould, S. B., & Cross, K. P. (Eds.). (1973). Exploration in non-traditional study. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. This book contains a series of background essays prepared for the Commission on Non-Traditional Study. Problems of access, recognition, and the external degree programs are discussed. Another related book is the commission's Diversity by design, 1973.

Hayes, C. D. (1998). Lifelong learning the search for meaning in a postmodern world. Wasilla, AK: Autodidactic Press. This book contains chapters or information on such topics as perception and beliefs, religion and reality, postmodernism and its meanting, intellectual development and the quality of life.

Hesburgh, T. M., Miller, P. A., & Wharton, C. R. (1973). Patterns for lifelong learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. This book is the work of a task force that studied continuing education and the future. It is divided into three sections. Section 1 looks at the future by describing a learning society and needed policy changes. Section 2 describes the role of higher education in the learning society. The final section describes some organizational and institutional needs to establish a lifelong learning system.

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling society. New York: Harper & Row. This classic presents a thesis that the school must be disestablished because of Illich's theory that obligatory school polarizes people without preparing them for a future of learning needs. Alternative learning modes are described.

Longworth, N., & Davies, W. K. (1997). Lifelong learning: New vision, new implications, new roles for people, organizations, nations and communities in the 21st century. Oxford: Kogan Page. Those responsible for the development of organizations and people will enjoy this book. It provides countless practical working ideas, challenges ,and strategies for learning and helping. The challenge will be to implement even a small fraction of the actions that could be taken as a result of reading this book.

Merriam, S. B., & Brockett, R. G. (1997). The profession and practice of adult education: An introduction. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. This book provides an excellent introduction to the field of adult education. It contains chapters on philosophy, history, providers of adult education, international settings, and some future ideas.

Smith, R. M., & Associates. (1990). Learning to learn across the life span. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Several authors contribute ideas on how learning throughout life can be developed or encouraged.

Spikes, W. F. (Ed.). (1980). The university and the inner city: A redefinition of relationships. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books. Several chapters by various contain information related to lifelong learning, especially with ideas on how higher education and the training of trainers or teachers must adapt to meet changing needs.


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