Life Long Learning

What is Life-Long Learning

According to the definition, life long learning is “the activity of seeking out new knowledge or developing a skill, and participating in educational activities over the course of a person’s entire life” (Anon March 9, 2004, http://www.sustainable-city.org/Plan/Parks/defs.htm). In other words, life long learning is the process of one educating itself from his/her early childhood till his/her late senior years.

A Brief History of Life-Long Learning

During the early twentieth century, the economic structures in the countries of the developed world have gone through a drastrical change. All through this last century, but especially after World War I, the economies and the societies that wanted to expand and prosper needed to focus more and more on education and on building a knowledge based economy. This required an extensive increase in the higher education systems. After World War II, the United States, as the country with the largest economy and a superpower, was viewed by many, including Europeans, as the country where the unsatisfied could make their dreams come true. This resulted in a large number of immigrants into America. In fact between 1941 and 1960 only, there were about 3.5 million legal immigrants, a little less then 10 percent of the total population, arrived to the United States. (John M. Abowd and Richard B. Freeman, Immigration, Trade, and the Labor Market, 1991: 4; U.S. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970, 1975: 105, 131. cited by: http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/Immigration.html, March 10, 2004). This large mass of immigration resulted in a population boom. To be able to keep up the economic development, a larger and larger portion of this population was admitted to American universities.

As later in the century the natural growth of the population slowed there were less and less young college and university graduates, requiring the have the older populations to further develop their skills. The concept and philosophy of life long learning started to its extensive growth during the 1980, when people, mainly Peter Drucker in his “Post Capitalist Society” work and Elise Boulding in her “Building Global Civic Culture” work, started to promote it. From  around 20,000 in the 1980s, the number of those involved in some sort of additional self learning has grown to be a vast amount of an estimated 2 million today (www.creatinglearningcommunities.org, cited on March 1, 2004, “Proofs of Effectiveness” par. 3).

The Employer’s Point of View

This is good for both the employers, employees, and the society as a whole. The employers in these societies and countries are able to find access quicker and easier to better qualified, experienced employees, who have a wider viewpoint, and have skills in a number of types of jobs that might actually be very different in nature from each other.


The Employee’s Point of View

In the case of the employees, the advantage of lifelong learning can be seen easily too. Those who are involved in different trainings have two major advantages. First, when they apply for a job, s/he will be placed on a higher level in the eyes of the job interviewer, and may be preferred over someone, who might actually be just as fit for the particular job at hand. The reason for this is that this interviewer will see this person as someone who accepts new challenges and has the ability to cope with tougher works. As mentioned before, they are also expected to be equipped with a broader viewpoint, and less prejudice. Here comes into picture the second major advantage of a life long learner over a non-life long learner, namely that these type of people often tend to find jobs easier and faster.

The Advantages of Life-Long Learning for the Society

After these points discussed above, we have arrived at the major topic of this research paper, why and how does the society profit from life long learning and the continuous training of the individual throughout his/her life, the more people apply this life philosophy the larger portion of the societal population will prosper, making the society to increase in wealth as a whole. We also know that people, who have a secure financial status, usually tend to be more tolerant and giving, further decreasing the number of the poor in the society.

Let us look at the economical impact of an effective life long learning educational system first. Suppose that an employer is given and employee with outdated knowledge and skill. The employer can choose between two possibilities, one is to fire him/her and employ someone who is more up to date in the given field or area of work, or further train him to meet the new and more modern needs and requirements of the job.

If he/she employs a new worker, than there is a major drawback, namely that the new employee has to be show and taught the specific aspects and procedures of the corporate culture and atmosphere. It might also very well happen that this new person might not be able to fit in, and get along satisfactorily with his/her working mates.

On the other hand the newly employed person often, at least in the early stage of his/her career at the particular company, or any other type of organization, will work very hard and do all his/her best to prove that he/she is dependable, and diligent.

The other possible choice of the employer is providing additional education to the particular person in question. If he/she decides on this further training of the employee, than he/she will face the following consequences: impairing extra cost to the organization, and/or the department he/she is heading, and loosing a workforce during the stage the training.

In the analysis of this second potential choice let us begin with the second consequence first, as it is that one that poses and arises more complex and extensively problematic issues. Even during the most ideal training scheme, at weekend courses, there still are some considerable hardships that have to be dealt with, and that is, that the worker undergoing the specific training program, due to the continuous studying, will be much more tired, and thus less effective during his/her work-hours. Furthermore, since his/her time is limited, he/she will not be able to take some work home, in case he/she is overtime with them. This means that his/her workload will have to be decreased, decreasing his/her efficiency even further.

The other temporary shortcoming of an employee conducting learning at the workplace is the financial cost that the organization, or the specific department of it, has to deal with. Usually it is the organization who pays for the course, not the employee who will attend it, unless he/she choose learning on his/her own as a mean of improving him-/herself in the efficiency of how he/she gets the specific jobs assigned to him/her done. Sometimes other employees have to take up some of the work of the currently trained, causing them to have overtime jobs, giving them the right to demand for a higher hourly wage rate for each overtime hour that they spend in their workplaces. It is clear and easy to see how this increases costs (additional taxation- and administration related costs).

Learning at the Different Stages of Life

Early Childhood

Firstly the term “early childhood” should be defined. “Early childhood” is the time from “birth through grade three” (http://www.newhorizons.org January 2004, Accessed 1 March 2004). During this stage of life youngsters learn about and study the world that surrounds them. They do this by touching objects around them. Although learning in this early childhood part of life may seem not to be so important as developing skills in later years, it is vital for every person, because it is during this learning process when people develop their very basic personality based on the way that they perceive and interpret their experiences, which will also impact their later lives and the way and pace at which they develop.

Learning in Adolescence

By definition, adolescence is time of life from onset of puberty to full adulthood. The exact period of adolescence, which varies from person to person, falls approximately between the ages 12 and 20 and encompasses both physiological and psychological changes. In other words this is the stage of puberty.

Members of this age group, usually middle schoolers, because of they are changing fast, both physiologically and psychologically, it is often hard for them to concentrate on their studies. Although they are expected and required to learn a lot of things, it often happens that they study only because their parents want them to. For an average person going through adolescence, it often happens that their results in their studies sharply decrease.

Because they are in middle school, they study general things and subjects, such as mathematics, biology, history, literature and grammar. Since there are subjects that do not interest the individual students their results will usually be quite uneven. In areas that they like they will have a considerable pool of knowledge, whereas in the case of disliked subjects they might continuously fight for a pass mark.

Higher Education

People attending higher education institutions, like universities and colleges, usually twenty years of age or older, undergo and receive a more sophisticated and specialized training. Those that graduate from this type of institutions have developed skills needed in some certain sections of work, and required by employers. Since they have an expertise in their field and area they are more effective and efficient for their employers. Furthermore, those that are equipped with a university or college diploma will be able to earn more. Besides the financial advantages of such a diploma they usually have a higher self confidence, and feel themselves.

Learning in the Workplace

Employers after a certain time send some of their employees for further training. This is so, because although universities and colleges give a somewhat specialized training in a certain field they are often not fit or enough for the specific operations, plans and goals of the certain company at hand. The reason behind this is that each organization has specific requirements, and they want to further shape their employees according to their own needs, either because they want him/her to be more efficient, or may plan to change increase the responsibilities of the employee in question or maybe even to promote him/her. It is easy to see that these prospects all need different kinds of skills and knowledge.

Learning in the Senior Years

Nowadays it is a trend that more and more of those considered to be senior or old, decide to continue on with their training in courses, and sometimes even start to learn in universities and colleges. They might do this for a number of reasons. For instance, they still feel themselves young, and want to maintain their intellectual and emotional youth. Or they might feel themselves old, but want to be, or perceived to be as if they still were young. Some simply are curious and are only seeking out new ways in which they can find out more about the topics that interest them. However the fact that the populations of the western and the developed world are aging quite fast, this will inevitably bring with it the increase of this phenomena in the future, causing some of the aspects of the higher education system to have to be rethought again.



The Economic Implications of Life-Long Learning

Today, more than ever before in the history of economics, the world is becoming more and more globalised. Also the growth of the knowledge-based economy in all developed and developing societies, pose some very serious economic and technological challenges to the education systems worldwide. The economic importance of knowledge and innovation is increasing, along with reliance on technology and demand for both, traditional skills and new competencies. People therefore need access to learning on an on-going, continuous, and lifelong basis, which in turn requires a stronger and better harmonization of educational institutions and policies to create high performance, and learner-driven systems. How developing countries respond to these challenges will greatly affect their economic growth, human capital development, and social unity. Donors are considering the issues, but the discussion so far has been limited in scope. It is very important to identify policies needed for education and training systems to respond to the needs of a knowledge economy, and create the essential requirements, and to promote lifelong learning in as many of today’s societies as possible. The knowledge economy relies primarily on the use of ideas instead of physical abilities, and on the application of technologies available. Lifelong learning covers learning over the entire life of individuals, from their early childhood trough retirement on to their older senior years. It also covers all learning systems, that is, formal, non-formal, and informal. Lifelong learning is increasingly important in the globally changing economy.

Psychological Impacts of Life-Long Learning on Members of the Society

To be able to fully answer this question we first have to define what psychology exactly is. According to the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary it is
”the mental or behavioral characteristics of an individual or group” and also “the study of mind and behavior in relation to a particular field of knowledge or activity”. (http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=psychology March 16, 2004). This, in another word, is the way one behaves due to the way he/she thinks.

The reason why it is important to conduct studies throughout one’s life is that usually the better educated a person is, the more civilized way he/she behaves and talks and in a manner that is much more acceptable to the society and the members of that group.this is because he/she usually knows the ethics, and what is polite better.

Ecological Impacts of Life-Long Learning

There are many issues of the ecological impacts that are affected by a life long learning.

First of all, the absence of knowledge about what is good and bad for the ecology and the environment often results in the unintentional destruction of it, or part of it.

For instance, let us suppose that we are given a forest. A man wants to help the environment and expand the forest. He/she starts to plant some trees at the edge of the forest. Although his intentions were good, he planted trees that actually took away some minerals from the soil, thus hurting and in extreme cases, he/she might also have destroyed the trees surrounding his/her new plantations. The reason why this is life long learning is that these knowledge and skills could be mastered at any stage of life.

The Importance of Investing in Life-Long Learning

Investment in quality-assured learning offers benefits to the individual, to the economy and to wider society as a whole. The knowledge, skills, competencies and other attributes people acquire through learning, contribute to economic activity prosperity, and growth. Their economic behaviour, especially in the way their accumulation of knowledge and skills enables them to improve their position in the labour market, increases productivity and earnings, and collectively enhances the society in which they live. Investment in knowledge skills and education at any stage of one’s lifecycyle, brings direct economic returns to individuals and collective economic returns to the whole of the society as well.

But people are not solely and only interested in their potential for earning. We live in a society where diversity of background, culture, knowledge and skills should be valued and nurtured, and acknowledged. We want a society where people actively engage in their communities, both on a local and a national level, and learning can enable people to do that. Lifelong learning contributes to the development of society through the achievement of other social goals such as civic participation, sustainable development, improved health and wellbeing, reduced crime and greater social cohesion.

Institutional Factors

The various aspirations and motivations of future learners vary according to their personal situations and may change over time and space. The decision to undertake some form of learning after school or to interrupt a period of employment is variously dependent on personal, social and economic circumstances.

A person's perception of their learning experience can be negative for a wide variety of reasons. This can have major implications for personal confidence and the likelihood of their responding to promotion and marketing and creation of new learning opportunities. For these people, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, a process of proactive engagement and confidence building and support is required before participation in a formal learning context is a realistic possibility.

We need to ensure that whatever learning a person takes is of the highest quality, relevant to their needs and abilities and offers value for money. The risk otherwise is de-motivation and a waste of the individuals' and the organisations' time and money.

In the labour market, individuals supply the skills and knowledge demanded by employers. In the learning market, private and publicly-funded organisations, such as educational institutions and learning centres, contribute to the supply of learning that both employers and individuals demand. There is interaction between the two markets. For example, the learning market exists in part, because individuals want to acquire specific skills which they believe employers want, but there is no definitive explanation of exactly how one causes change in the other. Skills gaps are more likely to arise because of deficiencies in the way the labour market works rather than in the learning market.

No market works perfectly; and remedying market failure is a legitimate role for government. This can be through influencing the level and rate of supply; stimulating, moderating or supporting demand; and in ensuring there is adequate information about the market.

For the learning market, government attention and resources have generally been concentrated on the supply side. The great majority of public expenditure is devoted to the support of institutional provision. This continues to be very important, and resources have been made available to increase considerably the capacity of the higher and further education sectors, and training providers, to grow the scale of their provision. More recently, greater effort has been made to stimulate and support demand through resources to reform existing streams of learner support and introduce new resources to stimulate and support demand where it has been weak. How best to achieve a balance between supporting supply and supporting demand within necessarily limited resources is a key issue. Also more recently, steps have been taken to improve greatly the level of information available to both learners and providers about the learning and labour markets.

There are a number of implications arising out of a growing post-retirement population. At present, the labour market has a greater supply of older workers than younger workers and the demographic trends indicate that this will continue. Maintaining a sufficient supply of labour that is able to respond quickly to changes in demand will require older workers to stay in the labour market for longer.

As well as the demographic transition, described above, an additional factor in in the industrialized and developed nations and societies today, is that older workers have been disproportionately affected by unemployment compared to younger workers.

As the demographic changes continue, employers will increasingly need a workforce of all ages and with the skills for the next, coming century. At the same time, many older people may wish to continue working. There are several programs for such types of people, especially int he Anglo-Saxon societies, like in Great Brittain, which set out the ways they will encourage older people to remain in the workforce through their pensions, benefits and employment policies. In fact, studies have shown that the uneven access to lifelong learning is one of the reasons that prevent people from making a full contribution to working life as they get older. Therefore the need for access to appropriate training opportunities for older people, both for those in employment and for those seeking employment, will increase in the future.

Another potential barrier to employment is the lack of training given to older workers. Figures show that in 1998 only abuot 17 per cent of the employees aged 50 plus had received training in the last 13 weeks, compared with 29 per cent of those aged below 50. As older workers are generally less likely to participate in job-related training, they have higher barriers to overcome should they be confronted late in their career with the need to engage in instructor-led learning. Indeed, there is now considerable evidence, that older workers are less likely to receive work-related training than their younger counterparts. Ensuring that we have the supply of skills we need to match demand means that lifelong learning for all ages will be increasingly important. Governments today are committed to do more to promote employment amongst those aged 50 and over and to tackle age discrimination. A key initiative in this area is the Age Positive campaign and the Code of Practice on Age Diversity in Employment in the UK.

A healthy and sustainable labour market, characterised by a low unemployment rate, a high level of labour force participation and low skill shortages, is vital if we are to meet both the low growth, low productivity and demographic challenges described above. This can be achieved through flexibility in the labour market's response to changes in the demand and supply of labour. Flexibility contributes to improved productivity in the economy, reduced skill mismatches and promotes competitiveness. In a flexible labour market, changes to employment patterns reflect the skills required, and possessed, by the workforce. Lifelong learning can promote flexibility in the supply of labour by creating opportunities for skills upgrading, retraining of workers and the continuous development of knowledge. The promotion of a healthy labour market needs to ensure the following things:

  1. every individual has the information, opportunity and skills necessary to participate in the labour market;
  2. the whole workforce is encouraged to learn and develop, thereby improving its productivity and employability; and
  3. employers are able to recruit skilled workers, and are satisfied with the skills of their employees.

There are a number of implications arising out of a growing post-retirement population. At present, the labour market has a greater supply of older workers than younger workers and the demographic trends indicate that this will continue. Maintaining a sufficient supply of labour that is able to respond quickly to changes in demand will require older workers to stay in the labour market for longer.

As well as the demographic transition (described above) an additional factor is that older workers have been disproportionately affected by unemployment.

Sustainable development

A wider participation in lifelong learning can be expected to enable people to become more aware and knowledgeable about environmental issues and the ways in which they might lead a more sustainable lifestyle. Increased levels of knowledge and skills are the means of developing innovative solutions to the problems of sustainable development. In particular, this strategy is relevant to sustainable development indicator on people as a resource in the workplace.

Financing Life-Long Learning

The issue of financing life long learning is of great importance, as an educational system that integrates learning into all ages of individuals is a very expensive one both to create and to maintain it in a proper manner.

There can be three major ways in which life long learning could be financed, publicly, privately, and a combination of the previous two.

There are, again, three types of public financing of such a type of educational system could be paid for. The first way is a centralized way of funding, where the government deals with all types of educational institutions. This is a bit extreme, because it is usually the strictest totalitarian governments that choose and apply this method, such as communist ones, who does not permit private ownership.

The second type of public financing is trough local authorities. Here the central government distributes the pool of fund that town councils require and the councils spread them among the individual institutions, according to their needs.

Some public funding systems are a mixture of the previous, above two. For instance, the financial matters of large institutions, such as universities and colleges are dealt with by the central governments, whereas the network of the smaller, lower level institutions are left for the local authorities.

The second major type of educational system financing involves the private sector only. Within this method there are also subsystems, in this case too, three, profit and non-profit oriented organizational funding, and a combination of these two.

When only profit oriented organizations deal with the educational system, attendants of such a network of educational system of life long learning have to pay tuition fees at all levels of the system and in all institutions that they go to, as companies operate them who want to make profit.

In the other hand of the scale there are the cases, when non-profit organizations finance it, then no payment is required, as the source of funding comes from donations to the particular non-profit organization at hand.

Sometimes a combination of profit- and non-profit oriented organizations are the maintainers of the life long learning educational system. This is done when profit oriented businesses operate institutions and educational service providers at the better located sites, and at sites, institutions disfunctioning for any other reason, are maintained by non-profit organizations, for profit oriented businesses would not deal with loss making institutions.

In spite of this wide range of choices for financing life long learning educational systems, however, the most popular form is the involvement of both the public and the private sector. Usually major universities are financed by the central governments. Elementary-, middle-, and high schools most often are financed by local authorities. Along with these are some privately owned colleges, elementary-, middle-, and high schools that are maintained either by profit, or non-profit oriented businesses. There are also some course providers who specialized in a few, limited number of areas, selling their services at a certain profit.

Equal Opportunity in Educational Systems

In education, discrimination, and non-equal opportunity treatment of the individuals, besides the mere humane side of the issue, is also bad for how the society as a whole gets along and progresses. People, who have been closed out of the educational system, often do not work or carry out very lowly jobs only. There are primarily two basic reason for why they do not do any work; their free will, or because they are unable to find any jobs. These people are obviously very expensive for the society as a whole and the members of the society who do some work of some kind. The governments have to pay aids to these non-working members of the society, which comes from taxes of the working people. Another drawback of this type of dealing with the education system is that.

Conclusion

As it could be seen life long learning has a very important role in our societies today, as it has an effect on all the largest aspects impacting modern countries and nations and the communities making them up. Policy makers should all turn their attentions to it and decide what would be the ideal means to have it integrated in the societies, both on a national and on an international basis. A better educational system that involves all age groups and all types of people of their different background should be implemented in order to not only improve, but also the mere maintenance of societal growth, prosperity, and maturity.

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