Definition of Lifelong Learning

What is lifelong learning? Great question! We hear the phrase batted around universities, colleges, institutions, and intellectual circles (fun!). But what does it mean? Is it continuing education? Is it personal or professional development? Is it the general pursuit of knowledge?

Well, the answer is “all of the above”. Lifelong learning was introduced by the University of Copenhagen, Denmark in 1971 (see Bologna Process). The term recognizes that learning and knowledge seeking goes beyond childhood and the traditional classroom. Learning happens at a place in time; it is iterative, progresses through life, and is experienced through a myriad of circumstances or life situations.

Learning happens at a place in time; it is iterative, progresses through life, and is experienced through a myriad of circumstances or life situations.

The term lifelong learning is also considered a colloquial phrase, meaning the expression can be used or interpreted multiple ways. So, don’t roll your eyes when someone states they have “learned from the streets,” is a “student of life,” or has “multicultural expertise.” It’s all considered lifelong learning.

Knowledge can be acquired and skill sets developed anywhere – learning is unavoidable and happens all the time. However, lifelong learning is about creating and maintaining a positive attitude towards learning for both personal and professional development.

So, lifelong learners are motivated to learn and develop because they want to. It is both a deliberate and voluntary act.

lifelong learners

Different Ways to Pursue Lifelong Learning

The more important question is whether you seek higher learning and consider yourself a lifelong learner. The first step is acknowledging your lust for education, knowledge and learning experiences. Do you participate in formal learning, informal learning, or self-directed learning? You can choose to learn from daily interactions, the world around you, interest groups, collaborating with others, or even expressing your thoughts.

In the past 8-12 years many lifelong learners between the ages of 35-60 have chosen a more informal path through a university program. For example, non-accredited certificate and short courses are the fast-growing programs within higher education. According to a 2012 survey by the Council of Graduate Schools, the number of graduate certificates awarded increased an average of nearly 19 percent per year between the 2005-2006 and 2010-2011 school years.

For those who seek knowledge without the painful required core curriculum of a degree program, it’s the perfect opportunity to hone necessary skills and pick up knowledge in a condensed period of time. No need to spend thousands of dollars and multiple years in pursuit of “another” degree if all you seek is professor-lead facilitation, unbiased research, and relevant university curriculum.

For example, let’s say you are a mid-career business professional with an MBA. You want to make a career shift and work for a local nonprofit. Nonprofit organizations, by definition, are different and the learning curve could be steep without formal education. One option to accelerate the ramp time is through a nonprofit management certificate program. In a three- to six-day focused program, you can gain the necessary skills to hit the new job running! Does this require the GMAT exam? Do you need Calculus 101 again? Of course not!

certificate course learning

Benefits of Lifelong Learning for Professional Development


A global economy and the rapidity of progress in technology require continuous education. Certificate programs are very useful for people who see the world around them changing faster than they can keep pace.

– Neil Braun, the dean and a former president of the NBC Television Network and CEO of Viacom, as quoted by Time Magazine

Generally speaking, it is true that a formal education and the resulting qualifications are important. Higher education will maximize our potential to find better, more satisfying jobs, earn more and, perhaps, become more successful in our chosen career.

However, being well-educated is not necessarily the key to employment. Employers are looking for well-balanced people with multiple and transferable skills. This includes the ability to demonstrate that you are able to learn, grow and develop. Take full advantage of tuition assistance or training development programs and work on your continuous professional development. Lifelong learners, who seek continuous development, become better at what they do and are more indispensable to current and future employer.

Putting the time in for extra learning brings career rewards such as:

  • More personal job satisfaction
  • Better results
  • More rewarding working day and decreased stress
  • Wider experience on which to build knowledge
  • Transferable skills within the organization

A highly skilled, educated and knowledgeable worker is an asset to any company and finds increased opportunities for promotion and associated salary increases. Continue to hone your skills and keep an open mind to learning – it will give you more room for flexibility. By being more educated, experienced and knowledgeable, lifelong learners tend to have an edge against other job seekers inside and outside the organization.

professional development through lifelong learning

Benefits of Lifelong Learning for Personal Development

The personal development benefits of formal lifelong learning are powerful. Humans, at all ages, naturally have a curious mind. Nobody told us to stop learning at 25, and we need to constantly develop our natural and unnatural abilities. Feeding our minds with knowledge and wisdom will help us navigate life’s personal, organizational, and societal challenges.

The measurable impact of lifelong learning as experienced by our team and course attendees includes improvements in:

  • Mental sharpness
  • Self-esteem
  • Physical well-being
  • Adapting to change
  • Emotional health
personal development through learning

Take Action, Pursue Lifelong Learning

I was told that we only use 10% of our brain (tired myth). The movie Lucy (2014) fantastically exploits this myth and fuels the research of neuroscientists. Learning and practicing any challenging skill can change the structure of your brain. Whether you agree with the 10% or not, we have a choice. I chose to believe 90% goes unused, which is thoughtful justification for the pursuit of lifelong learning.

Take action and develop yourself further by building the habit of lifelong learning. You can do so through lifelong learning programs in Vail. Take a hands-on certificate course organized by a prominent university, join a fellowship, or attend an inspiring event. And above all, take action based on what you learn.

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