“Lifelong learning is the continual acquisition of knowledge and skills throughout somebody's life. Lifelong learning occurs in preparation for, and in response to, the different roles, situations, and environments that somebody will encounter in the course of a lifetime. It is supported by formal and informal education systems, both within and outside the workplace, through which somebody can both learn and receive guidance and encouragement. The adoption of lifelong learning is seen as a key element in continuing professional development, and as an important tool in maintaining employability.”
I found the above definition in the Internet dictionary at BNET, the Business Directory, and liked the comprehensive way in which it presented the concept. While reading it, however, I couldn’t help but think back to an experience I had as a middle school teacher a long time ago. A young man---frustrated by the challenges of math and science and language---looked up at me from his classroom desk one day and said: “I can’t wait to graduate from high school. I want school to be over.”
In the times since my student offered what has turned into an improbable aspiration, the workplace has moved in varied ways. The work you do is constantly changing. New occupational roles are emerging all the time. When occupational roles are found to be obsolete, they are abolished. Few use the exact skills, strategies and tools you originally brought to your work roles. Lifelong learning has facilitated your development, adjustment and mobility---in many ways---your success.
Indeed, lifelong learning is a fact-of-life for the American workforce and the workplace has become one of the many classrooms that professional and skilled workers will move through in their personal career development, including members of the staffing profession. The American worker of tomorrow can be expected to spend a significant portion of her or his time (work and non-work) keeping abreast of the knowledge and skills required to perform their career role and progress in it to levels of mastery and achievement. That learning can be characterized in number of ways.
Lifelong learning is personal renewal
Individually, and at a pace each person chooses, many in the workforce chart a course of personal “renewal.” From formal course-taking to in-depth study to casual reading, one’s continuing education is adapted to his or her personal needs and unique learning style. Your school and college experiences were shaped for you. In lifelong learning, many of your educational experiences will be shaped by you for you.
The curriculum will have no limits
The learning needs of the workforce are varied and constantly changing. Imagine a course catalog with as many entries as a phone book. Anything the professional or skilled worker needs to know will be available to her or him. Technology can bring any subject to any person at any time. If one can’t find a learning opportunity immediately---wait an hour---someone is working on it as you wait. Much of the applied curriculum of the workplace of the future will be a mix of content (the what you need to know) and process (the how you do it) information
The classroom will have no walls
Yes, you will return on occasion to the formal classrooms where you once studied---the 2- and 4-year institutions and schools that prepared you for career entry. The National Association of Personnel Services (NAPS) and state associations have created and will continue to create learning and networking opportunities. In many instances, the association sponsored programs are peerless and you should participate in them.
But the workplace will also become a classroom, as will your individual offices and work stations. Education will be available everywhere because career success in business, communications, engineering, finance, manufacturing, marketing and every other work endeavor and the very profitability of those entities will demand it.
Teachers will abound and be accessible
Educators will surround you. They will be your owners, managers, supervisors and coaches---even you and your co-workers in some instances. Workforce members will don their “educator” hats and instruct the workforce. In other instances, the educators will come in from the outside or you will tune them in via the electronic communication tools you now have at your command. The “best and brightest” teachers are a short “dial up” distance away.
Adding the human touch
Beyond the transmission of new knowledge and extended skills, many of your lifelong educators will personalize the post learning experience by serving you in a mentoring capacity. Lifelong learning will become much more “humanized” than many of your earlier educational experiences. A part of the performance-appraisal activity of the future may be the inclusion of an personal educational plan (PEP) and you will be evaluated on your movement toward the achievement of the objectives identified in that plan.
Futurists say things that appear frightening when first heard and then less so when considered in light of the changes experienced in our own careers. Realizing that many of today’s kindergarten students will enter occupations that didn’t exist the day they started school, maybe the best career guidance for young people is to be prepared for change. The futurists also talk about the rapidity of change and the explosion of knowledge and technology that has occurred, is occurring and will continue to occur. Lifelong learning is a means of adapting and adjusting---factors that will bring success to the individual worker, and to the business, organization or agency.
Creating a system for lifelong learning with the human resource development mechanisms in place that facilitate the knowledge and skill acquisition experiences of the workforce is growing in importance in the U.S. workplace. It is frequently mentioned in the retention literature as an employer characteristic desired by the American worker. Workforce members desire whatever is needed to grow in competence and become successful in their careers.
On the subject of education, Eric Hoffer, a philosopher and writer from the last century said: “Those who stop learning find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” I wonder what ever happened to my middle school student who all those years ago couldn’t wait for school to end.
BNET Business Dictionary: http://dictionary.bnet.com/definition/lifelong+learning.html