Embed concept of lifelong learning in curriculum for personal growth

EDUCATION |

It is important that institutions have an institutional commitment to support teachers and students in developing the concept of themselves. [Courtesy]

Lifelong learning is a form of self-initiated education that is focused on personal development. Lifelong learning has generally been taken to refer to the learning that occurs outside of a formal educational institute, such as a school, university or corporate training. Basically, it is all purposeful learning activity undertaken throughout life with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competencies within a personal, civic, social and/or employment-related perspectives.

Lifelong learning does not necessarily have to restrict itself to informal learning, however. It is best described as being voluntary with the purpose of achieving personal fulfillment. The means to achieve this could result in informal or formal education.

What qualities/attributes does it require one to have to be a lifelong learner? What skills does it call for?

Lifelong learning blends formal education with continual professional and personal development. As technology advances quickly, lifelong learners have to learn new skills and adapt to rapid changes in professional and personal environments. Curiosity, a willingness to ask questions, and a healthy view of mistakes are some of the qualities of a lifelong learner. Other attributes that can aid one stay connected, motivated and identify new ways to grow and develop include:

Know your interests: If you could learn a new skill, what are you most interested in learning? Is this new skill for professional or personal reasons or both? Even if you can’t apply it directly to your job, following new interests can help you become a more passionate, well-rounded professional.

Acknowledge your learning style: Everyone has his or her own way of learning new things. For example, do you learn best by reading, writing, listening, or by a hands-on approach? Choose lifelong learning resources that cater to your best learning style and preferences.

Set goals: Commit yourself to learning by setting clear goals for what you want to learn, how you plan to go about it and how long it will take. Don’t forget to reward yourself once you have acquired this new knowledge.

Develop good reading habits: When was the last time you read or listened to a good book? Good reading habits open up new adventures and explorations into other cultures and worldly experiences.

Seek resources: Finding out about learning opportunities online, in a local library, or at your local school is essential. They may offer continuing education opportunities that are fun and educational.

Join a group of like-minded learners: Put in a few descriptors about yourself and find others in your area or online that enjoy the same experiences.

Get involved: Volunteer in a church or in your community to help meet people, learn about various opportunities and give service to others in need.

Share your skills and knowledge: Do you crochet or cook or enjoy ceramics or drawing or music? Why not share your expertise with others? By communicating ideas to others, you are more likely to solidify that knowledge in your brain.

Stay curious: Often, learning has to start with curiosity. Lifelong learning is about staying active and staying curious in your mind, body and spirit.

Lastly, mistakes are an important learning tool in life. Perhaps, that’s an obvious statement. The reality is that if we want to be lifelong learners and encourage a love of learning, then we each need to remember that mistakes serve a purpose, rather than seeing them as miserable failures.

Thomas Edison, when faced with failure, is reported to have said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” I believe Edison aptly embodied this philosophy in his quest to invent the electric light bulb.

What role can a curriculum play to spur and ensure lifelong learning? What roles can teachers/lecturers/instructors play?

It is important that institutions of learning have an institutional commitment to support teachers and students in developing the concept of themselves as lifelong learners. Course documentation, school policies, and a curriculum which is not overloaded and which enables students progressively to build on knowledge and establish connections between fields of knowledge, take time to develop and to support.

However, in practice, teachers and students are often faced with a crowded and compartmentalised curriculum, particularly in relation to examination demands, and particularly at senior year levels. In these instances, teachers can still try to be explicit about the processes they used to gather information, and they can set up exercises whereby students participate in a dialogue about the process of information gathering and evaluation.

Teachers need to provide a systematic and integrated introduction to particular fields of study. It is important that students be encouraged to develop contextualised frameworks in which to develop their understanding. The opportunity for making connections may be achieved by teachers working with their colleagues to develop themes of learning across subject areas. For example, teaching about nuclear power may involve a range of subject areas including science, politics and history. Cross-curricular planning, aiming for connectedness between learning activities, encourages both a broader and deeper understanding of content where the subject areas become vehicles which enable students to develop their generic, higher order thinking skills.

A lifelong learning curriculum should increase the resources available to the schools by harnessing the skills, talents and knowledge of administrators, parents, business leaders and other members of the community, to create new learning opportunities and implement school strategies that aid in lifelong learning.

Which curricula across the world best exemplify this and how?

Nowadays the concept of lifelong learning seems to be very popular worldwide and is included in the national policies of many countries. This may be considered as a direct consequence of a decision made at the Lisbon European Council meeting in March 2000. Their government leaders “set the European Union a 10-year mission to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustained economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion”. To succeed in this mission, they decided that improvement in areas like competitiveness, employability, social inclusion, active citizenship and personal development was required and lifelong learning was chosen to be the key strategy to deliver this.

On November 21, 2001, the European Commission published the ‘Communication on Making a European Area of Lifelong Learning a Reality,’ and in June 2002, the European Union Education Council adopted a resolution on lifelong learning. This explains why the idea of lifelong learning has become the guiding principle for education and training policy in many European countries at the same time. The British Education Reform Act of 1988 played a key role in making lifelong learning a reality that starts in pre-school and provides the foundation for future learning.

The Act introduced the National Curriculum and divided the process of education into graduated stages. Each stage prepares for the next one but the Early Years Education Foundation Stage is considered as crucial for future success. Educational activities at this stage are focused on developing a love for learning. Teachers are supposed to inspire children to look for information and to explore the environment. Students should feel confident enough to discover new knowledge and to build their own opinions based on personal experience.

Teachers are also supposed to observe children to identify any problems that can slow down the learning process like speech impediments, hearing problems, physical disorders or any personal weaknesses. They are expected to cooperate with parents and specialists to provide specific help or to find solutions. This role is very important in order to allow students to build a solid foundation for lifelong learning. This is why personal, social and health education is a very important element of Early Years Education in the UK. It can be delivered as an individual subject or part of others and its main aim is to equip children with the knowledge and skills necessary to be independent and confident personalities who are able to successfully and with confidence, continue lifelong learning. The National Curriculum introduced by the Education Reform Act of 1988 revolutionised the British approach to teaching and learning. It turned British schools into a field where lifelong learning begins, develops and continues. The better prepared the field, the more successful learning that starts in pre-school and lasts the whole life.

What are the indicators of success in this regard (how are the products?)                

In Sweden, the successful concept of study circles, an idea launched almost a century ago, still represents a large portion of the adult education provision. The concept has since spread and, for instance, is a common practice in Finland as well. A study circle is one of the most democratic forms of a learning environment that has been created. There are no teachers and the group decides on what content will be covered, scope will be used, as well as a delivery method.

Learning society

Formal administrative units devoted to this discipline has extended to a number of universities. For example, the ‘Academy of Lifelong Learning’ is an administrative unit within the university-wide ‘Professional and Continuing Studies’ unit at the University of Delaware. Another example is the Jagiellonian University Extension, which is one of the most comprehensive Polish centres for lifelong learning (open learning, organisational learning, community learning).

Priorities for lifelong and life-wide learning have different priorities in different countries, some placing more emphasis on economic development (towards a learning economy) and some on social development (towards a learning society).

For example, the policies of China, Republic of Korea, Singapore and Malaysia promote lifelong learning in a human resource development (HRD) perspective.

The governments of these countries have done much to foster HRD whilst encouraging entrepreneurship.

We, therefore, need to be intentional about this concept and embed it in our curriculum with a view of churning out products, read graduates, who appreciate continuous self-improvement and have the requisite tools and attitude to achieve the said self-improvement. 

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