The Encyclopedia of Informal Education
From Lifelong Education to Lifelong Learning
Lifelong learning - along with ideas such as 'the learning society' - has become popular with politicians and policymakers in a number of countries. But what do people mean by it?
Is the idea of lifelong learning helpful?
Contents: education is life - lifelong education - lifelong learning - conclusion - further reading
The idea of lifelong education was first fully articulated in this century by Basil Yeaxlee (1929). He along with Eduard Lindeman (1926) provided an intellectual basis for a comprehensive understanding of education as a continuing aspect of everyday life. In this they touched upon various continental traditions such as the French notion of education permanente and drew upon developments within adult education within Britain and North America. In more recent years we have seen a shift into discussion of lifelong learning and the more problematic notion of informal learning. Here we examine the development of thinking about lifelong education and learning - and highlight some issues with the interest shown by policymakers in the notions.
Education is life
The notion of learning through life is hardly new, as a glance at Plato's Republic reveals. However, with the development of a self-consciously 'adult education' came the view that education should be lifelong. In what Waller (1956: 22) describes as a report without parallel, the Adult Education Committee of the British Ministry of Reconstruction concluded:
(A)dult education must not be regarded as a luxury for a few exceptional persons here and there, nor as a thing which concerns only a short span of early manhood, but that adult education is a permanent national necessity, an inseparable aspect of citizenship, and therefore should be both universal and lifelong. (1919: 55)
The committee's membership was a roll call of the great and good in adult education at the time: Albert Mansfield, R. H. Tawney and Basil Yeaxlee. Similar themes appeared in Eduard Lindman's classic The Meaning of Adult Education (1926). Building on a number of themes associated with his friend and colleague, John Dewey, he argued that:
1. Education is life: 'not merely preparation for an unknown kind of future living... The whole of life is learning, therefore education can have no endings. This new venture is called adult education not because it is confined to adults but because adulthood, maturity, defines its limits...' (Lindeman 1926: 4-5)
2. Adult education should be non-vocational: 'Education conceived as a process coterminous with life revolves about non-vocational ideals... adult education more accurately defined begins where vocational education leaves off. Its purpose is to put meaning into the whole of life' (ibid.: 5).
3. We should start with situations not subjects: 'The approach... will be via the route of situations, not subjects... In conventional education the student is required to adjust himself to an established curriculum; in adult education the curriculum is built around the student's needs and interests' (ibid.: 6).
4. We must use the learner's experience: 'The resource of highest value in adult education is the learner's experience... all genuine education will keep doing and thinking together' (ibid.: 6-7) (Extracts from Lindeman can be found in key texts).
These concerns seem rather idealistic when placed in the context of the emphasis on the acquisition of competencies for employment and upon accreditation that came strongly into force in the 1990s. However, they link very strongly with the concerns and practices of informal educators. It is not only that education carries on throughout life, it also part of living.
Education as part of living is a theme that Basil Yeaxlee develops in the first book-length exploration of lifelong education in 1929. He drew on the work of Lindeman and others, and upon his own extensive experience within adult education in Britain. He had helped organize the adult learning and social programmes of the YMCA (e.g. around the extensive provision for soldiers during the First World War), and was a pivotal figure in gaining recognition for adult education as a field of practice in the UK (partly through his work for educational settlements and the British Institute of Adult Education.
In Lifelong Education, Yeaxlee looks back at many of the themes of The 1919 Report and argues for a ' much wider and fuller lifelong education' (Yeaxlee 1929: 34).
Read the article: http://www.infed.org/lifelonglearning/b-life.htm
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