Lifelong learning is one of the most recognized terms within pedagogy. The European Commission defines the term as possibilities to add and update all forms of skills, interests, knowledge and qualifications during the whole life. In order to give people better prospects; ” … to adapt to the knowledge-based society” (…) ”and take better control over once own future.” This is great ideas, but how do you put these ideas into practice? During working life? What does science say about learning when you get older?
Background: The lifelong learning has for most people a positive sound and has been a natural part of labour market during the second half of the 20th Century. This has included trade union courses, education financed by employers as well as private adult education. Nevertheless the term has gone through a renaissance during the past years due to the profound ongoing transformation of the labour market. Jobs and business sectors disappears and is replaced with new that demand completely new competences. In fact this has lead to that the general prerequisites for the labour market during the industrial society have gone through profound changes. This is the process that according to Joseph Schumpeter’s vocabulary is termed creative destruction. The development can simply be described as a process from lifelong employment to a lifelong learning.
The phenomenon that during the 20th Century almost exclusively was limited to the place of work in order to improve the competence to manage new tasks and trade union education to be able to claim ones labour market rights. Today this has expanded to build up the individual’s competition power for future employment or business start ups etc. With this renaissance for the lifelong learning as the heart of the progress, which pedagogic methods has proved to be effective for people that has passed 30 years of age? What does the brain research say?
Brain research: An OECD-study from 2001 is showing that many cognitive abilities begin to detoriate already by 30 years of age. This includes for example reading abilities and memory functions. The process accelerates around 50 years of age and is characterised by loss of memory, delayed line of thoughts and communication difficulties. However, today research shows that it is possible to prevent the weakening of intellectual abilities and keep brain functions that makes learning effective even in high age. As Eleonora Guglielman by the University Rom Tre writes: ”… learning can actually be lifelong. The key word is neuroplasticity”.
The brain is not static after a human has become an adult as scientists earlier have claimed. It is plastic with ability to adapt to new prerequisites. However, to be able to use this capacity the brain demands continual and versatile training, since it is only the areas that are being trained that are developing. For the other areas a gradual close down is following in accordance with the OECD-study’s conclusions that were referred to above. With this in mind our brain-maps is changes in accordance with what we do during our life.
In addition experience is another obstacle for learning since there are obvious difficulties to change ingrained knowledge and behaviour. New learning efforts will meet an inbuilt resistance to challenge old truths. But as Guglielman summarises: “If we stop learning new things, we are destined to ageing brain.”
New learning- and educational methods: Research concerning neuroplasticity is showing that learning in adult age should focus on new challenging tasks that originate from complex and problem related activities. The pedagogic challenge consists of transforming traditional models in terms of flexibility and individual adaption preferably directly related to real life. This is characteristics that provide computer-related activities a prominent position for learning and teaching.
The key to effective lifelong learning is that there are some form of challenge where the learning-process and the results origin from to solve practical problems in real life. At the same time as learning should be adapted to individual preferences like the student’s priorities, learning requirements, earlier knowledge and experience and potential areas for development. Experimentation, stimulus to finalise new levels of difficulty and simulation exercises for new working tasks, where the student also participate in building their own learning environment and in the next step their knowledge-base.
Part 2 of this series of articles we will dig deeper in pedagogical methods that is applicable to new conditions mentioned in part 1.
Written by LarsGöran Boström©
The Ageing Brain: Neuroplasticity and Lifelong Learning Eleonora Guglielman 2012 http://www.elearningeuropa.info/en/download/file/fid/24921
Trends in the pattern of lifelong learning in Sweden: towards a decentralized economy Thomas Ericson, CELMS, Department of Economics, School of Business, Economics and Law, Göteborg University 2006 https://gupea.ub.gu.se/bitstream/2077/2735/1/gunwpe0188.pdf
What is lifelong learning? The view from the European Commission 2007 http://www.esae.org/articles/2007_08_005.pdf