lifelong learning


the provision or use of both formal and informal learning opportunities throughout people's lives in order to foster the continuous development and improvement of the knowledge and skills needed for employment and personal fulfilment



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Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012


What is lifelong learning?

Lifelong learning is the practice of continuing to learn throughout one’s entire life, especially outside of or after the completion of formal schooling.

Lifelong means “lasting or continuing through all or much of one’s life.”

We tend to think of learning as ending when school ends. But there is always more to learn, in both formal and informal settings. Lifelong learning can be pursued for a number of reasons, such as to acquire new skills for one’s job or hobby or simply for personal fulfillment.

Why is lifelong learning important?

Picasso, da Vinci, and van Gogh didn’t call it a day after their first painting. They continued perfecting their craft. To do this, they learned more—both by studying technique and by practicing. We may not all be artistic geniuses, but we can use these same methods to continue learning throughout our lives.

Lifelong learning is the intentional, ongoing pursuit of knowledge for personal or career-related reasons. It can be formal (learning in a classroom setting) or informal (learning something from a friend, through reading, or from simple trial and error). The concept of lifelong learning is based on the idea that classroom education is not the only form of learning. When there is no classroom (or teachers, assignments, or tests), learning must be pursued through self-motivation. That means having the will to learn on one’s own, without the supervision or demand of a teacher or other instructor. (A fancy word for learning on one’s own is autodidacticism). Lifelong learning is not about grades or tests. Most people want to keep learning to acquire new skills or for the simple enjoyment of learning new things.

Lifelong learning is not a new concept, but the phrase itself is relatively recent. It was first recorded in the 1900s, and its use has skyrocketed since the 1990s. This reflects a growing focus on learning as a pursuit that continues after one’s initial schooling. Today, the phrase is often used alongside the term continuing education, especially in the context of adult education programs that are now offered by many universities.

Did you know ... ?

Abraham Lincoln is a great example of a lifelong learner. He had very little formal education (about 18 months of schooling), but he was an avid reader. He even taught himself law by reading books!

What are real-life examples of lifelong learning?

As the term implies, lifelong learning is a process that continues throughout life—in school, in the workplace, in retirement, and in between.




What other words are related to lifelong learning?

Quiz yourself!

True or False: Going back to college after retirement is an example of pursuing lifelong learning.