Lifelong Learning Research Paper Starter

Lifelong Learning

(Research Starters)

This article focuses on adult lifelong learning and how it applies in the workforce, after retirement and for older adults, and for personal enrichment purposes. Lifelong learning is a broad term which covers anything that deals with education from early childhood through adulthood and can refer to permanent learning, recurring learning, continuing education and adult education. Also, as increased global competition and economic restructuring have become more prevalent, the need for training and retraining for the workforce has grown. Many government and work-related programs have contributed to the education of adults for economic success.

Keywords Adult Education; Baby Boomer; Community Colleges; Community Education; Continuing Education; Continuing Education Units (CEUs); Contracted Instruction; Enrichment; Personal Development; Welfare-to-Work; Worker-Trainee Program; Workforce Development


Lifelong learning can cover anything that deals with education from early childhood through adulthood and can refer to permanent learning, recurring learning, continuing education and adult education. Longworth and Davies (1996) describe lifelong learning as, "the development of human potential through a continuously supportive process which stimulates and empowers individuals to acquire all the knowledge, values, skills, and understanding they will require throughout their lifetimes and to apply them with confidence, creativity and enjoyment in all roles, circumstances, and environments" (Longworth & Davies, p. 22). For the purposes of this article, lifelong learning will focus on adult lifelong learning. As with the variety of concepts that fall into the category of lifelong learning, there are many ways that lifelong learning can be accomplished. Lifelong learning can occur practically anywhere and in any way, including educational institutions, libraries, museums, civic clubs, zoos, the workplace, etc.

In 1999, data shows that an estimated 90 million adults in the United States (approximately 46 percent of the population) had enrolled in a course in the past twelve months, a number that was higher than the 32 percent of the adult population in 1991. These figures only take into account formal courses led by an instructor and include adult basic education courses, English as a second language classes, postsecondary credit programs, work-related courses, and personal development courses and do not include any informal learning opportunities such as book clubs and writing circles.

Implementation of Lifelong Learning

Work-Related Programs

As increased global competition and economic restructuring have become more prevalent in the United States, the need for training and retraining for the workforce has grown. Employment-related training, or workforce development, also affects the unemployed with such programs as Welfare-to-Work, which gained popularity during President Bill Clinton's administration even though it actually was a component of the Worker-Trainee Program, a program that originated in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson (Office of Personnel Management, 2001). Employment-related programs can be apprenticeship programs, work-related courses, and degree/certificate programs. Many community colleges and four-year colleges and universities that offer technical programs partner with businesses and industries in their service areas to place their students in internship programs with those entities so that students can acquire some real-life experience working in their chosen field, which better prepares them for the world of work and the possibility of full-time employment from their internship employers.

Work-related courses are broad in content, providers, and delivery settings and systems. Courses may be freestanding, a one-day seminar, a single course over a few days, or may contain courses that interrelate, leading to the completion or certificate of professional qualification. In some instances, depending upon the size of the business and obligation to workforce development, businesses may found their own “universities” or “colleges” that can provide their employees with advanced training opportunities (Jones, 1997). Corporations such as McDonald's, Motorola, and Disney have such training programs in place. McDonald's Hamburger University was established in 1961 and has trained more than 80,000 managers and owner/operators since its inception (McDonald's Corporation, 2006), and Motorola claims to have saved over $17 billion in the more than 18 years that their university has been up and running (Motorola, Inc., 2007). Disney's training program, the Disney Institute, now offers off-site programs and trainings for outside organizations, and participants can even receive Continuing Education Units (Disney, 2007).

While there are some major corporations who have developed their own internal workforce training programs, many other businesses prefer to use external providers, such as colleges, universities, and training organizations or certificate programs, to address their training needs. This is where community colleges, with their inherent flexibility and mission, can really shine by providing on-site or off-site training on demand that meets each employer's unique training needs. They can also offer the training to meet each shift's needs by offering opportunities in the morning, afternoon, and evening and on weekends when necessary.

Higher Education Programs

Colleges and universities are in the unique position of seeing a lot of adults enroll who already have a degree but would like to change careers. They also see older adults who never went to college after high school but have found that if they want to attain a higher-paying job and some degree of economic security they need training beyond high school. To keep up with an ever-changing job market and to meet the needs of these non-traditional students, some colleges and universities have implemented greater flexibility in the admissions process and the times at which classes are offered. For example, in a town where there is very little, if any, shift work industry, these institutions consider the fact that the majority of adults are already working in a job and cannot get to class until five o'clock. Distance education is another way they meet society's needs since it offers flexible meeting times and the ability to complete a program from the comfort of one's own home, provided internet access is available. Thus, the parent who cannot afford a babysitter or the adult who does not have access to transportation can still take advantage of educational opportunities.

Higher education institutions also work with local businesses, industries, and school districts to assure their employees receive the education they need. For example, many colleges work with a school district to provide required teacher certification classes in the summertime that address the district's particular needs. These certification classes can be offered in a variety of ways to meet instructors' schedules with an intensive two- or three-day course or courses that span a week and meet a few hours a day or even courses that meet once a week for an hour or two over the summer. Higher education institutions can offer short-term or ongoing training to companies depending on their needs. For example, a college may be called upon to come to a business for a few hours and train employees on an upgraded operating system or program. Long-term training can occur if a company purchases a new program or operating system with which the employees have no familiarity, or if the company is instituting new processes that must be learned from the very beginning.

Personal Development Courses

Personal development courses are also known as personal enrichment courses, and these courses can cover every conceivable area of interest from health and fitness, hobbies, sports, political engagement, travel and culture, and religious studies. Personal development courses can also cover every level of interest from novice to expert. While work-related and educational programs tend to be more for adults who need the...

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