Put simply, lifelong learning means that people can – and should have the opportunity to – learn throughout their lives. A lot of learning takes place in a lot of different situations and much of this occurs once we have finished our formal education. Lifelong learning serves not only to make people more employable, but also to further their personal development and encourage active citizenship and social inclusion.
Lifelong learning first became a buzzword in Europe in the mid 1990s. It has been part of the EU’s policy response to a fast-changing world ever since.
With such a long pedigree, you might expect that little remains to be done and that access to lifelong learning is now a well-established right for all. But nothing could be further from the truth. A recent study showed that in the highest achieving countries of the EU, only 12% of people aged 24-59 participate in at least one week of training every year. In the ETF’s partner countries where resources are scarcer and provision of post-secondary education and training tends to be less developed, the proportion of people who have access to lifelong learning is even lower.
Therefore adult learning – whether it be second chance adult education or more job-related continuing training – is a special priority. The ETF has been supporting the development of national adult education strategies in countries such as those of South Eastern Europe for some time now. Adult education also takes pride of place in the ETF’s new Mutual Learning project focusing on the same region.
Harnessing the potential of new technology to provide e-learning is another important area. E-learning is seen as an excellent tool for lifelong learning with its capacity to make learning available in an affordable way for people living in remote areas or with limited time to study. Projects such as MEDA - Education and Training for Employment have developed e-learning capacities for teacher trainers in Mediterranean countries and it is the countries themselves who are now continuing this work. Alongside numerous initiatives aimed at promoting e-learning, the ETF regularly uses e-learning as a vehicle for networking and information exchange within its own projects through the provision of virtual communities where project participants can lead their own debates.