In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Lifelong Learning

  • Introduction
  • Equity
  • Institutional Change
  • Journals
  • Bibliographies
  • Textbooks

Education Lifelong Learning
Toby Linden
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 December 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0024


The concept of lifelong learning is increasingly being used to frame education and training policy reforms in countries from both the developed and developing worlds. However, there are two different definitions of lifelong learning, with different policy implications: the first emphasizes that all types of learning, from the youngest ages to the oldest and of different types (formal, informal, and nonformal), need to be considered as part of lifelong learning. The alternative conception is learning that takes place after compulsory education, when an individual enters the labor market or goes into higher education (here, too, learning can be of a formal or informal nature). With the upsurge in interest in the concept, there are now a number of methodologies for measuring lifelong learning, as well as detailed country studies (including studies that use comparable approaches). Moreover, there are a number of synonyms for the concept, such as “lifelong education,” “recurrent education,” and “life-wide education.” Lifelong learning concepts are intended to profoundly reorient countries’ education and training systems in order to respond to changes in countries’ economies where knowledge generation, adaptation, and use play an increasingly large role. These changes in the nature of firms’ competitive advantage imply changing skills and competencies needed by workers. Moving towards a lifelong learning system is also seen as desirable because it will address equity concerns.

General Overviews

The interest in the concept of lifelong learning stems primarily from the premise that successful economies will be those that become “knowledge economies,” where value added is driven by the use of knowledge products in all sectors of the economy. This knowledge economy requires workers to have different skills and knowledge to be effective—skills and knowledge that are also necessary for successful social development.

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