What is “Lifelong Learning”?
With the advent of MOOCs (massive open online courses), there’s been a lot of buzz in recent years around the concept of “lifelong learning” which refers broadly to any variety of ongoing, self-motivated education.
As the internet becomes more and more ubiquitous and digital solutions extend learning beyond physical classrooms, the potential for lifelong learning has grown dramatically.
In earlier years, brick-and-mortar continuing education classes, books for self-study, and mentoring and apprenticeship programs represented the range of possibilities for lifelong learning. With the proliferation of both for-profit and nonprofit online schools in the last decade, and the corresponding increase in variety, quality, and affordability of classes and programs available, exponentially more professionals have been able to engage in lifelong learning.
Lifelong learning today supports a broad spectrum of subjects — ranging from the creative and intellectual to the professional and vocational (skills and knowledge that might allow people to reach their next promotion or switch careers). In this way, lifelong learning supports both “just in time” learning (knowledge that helps you accomplish a task at hand or in the immediate future) and “just in case” learning (deep disciplinary knowledge usually associated with the liberal arts) as I refer to it in my article, Technology and the Myth of Education’s Golden Past and Richard Haverson and Allan Collins refer to it in their book, Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology.
To some extent, the market itself has placed increased pressure on professionals of all ages to reinvent themselves continuously and engage in lifelong learning. In a post on the new world of work, Dan Friedman (founder of Thinkful) describes the trend: “Historically, college educated, service sector workers worked at one firm for a career, and relied on employers to provide the training necessary to move up the corporate ladder. With less loyalty between employers and employees, employers provide less training because neither side can commit for long enough to see the benefit (though the best companies work hard to buck that trend). The burden is now on the individual to gain skills and grow his or her own career across companies.” Luckily the market has also supplied a range of products, platforms, and applications that support the growing need for individuals to take charge of their educational destiny.
Some trends associated with lifelong learning:
Generation Flux: the term was coined by Fast Company and refers to people who shape their careers with remarkable agility and, as a result, are particularly suited for the chaotic, rapidly changing nature of today’s business world.
Quantified Self: the term refers to the tracking and analysis of granular personal data whether it relates to health & fitness, professional productivity, or intellectual, social and leisure activity.
Meetup and mentoring movement: opportunities for connecting the online and offline in the context of professional development have proliferated in recent years. In my article, NYC Meetup Explosion: Tangible Connections in a Digital Culture, I describe the trend as it pertains to the New York tech scene.