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Lifelong Learning

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Educational theorists like Sir Kenneth Robinson have long called for a learning revolution that would better equip learners to live and work in our modern world. The challenges of new technologies, the information (or knowledge) economy, and decline of career employment have all pressed educational organizations to innovate as they seek to prepare learners to navigate such tumultuous waters. Today, many educators are speaking of a third education revolution, a re-envisioning of learning that would help to cultivate a capacity for and commitment to lifelong learning among learners today. Our question for you is, how might you design learning pathways in your course that could fan the flames of your students’ motivations to learn while also working to habituate skills that lead to such a mindset? 

Dan Pink is one among several researchers who have identified a set of qualities or characteristics that tend to engender motivation among adult learners. Pink argues that the research on motivation encourages a three-fold design focus, namely, autonomy, mastery, and purpose


Autonomy – Adult learners demonstrate motivation to learn when they are given degree of autonomy in the learning process. This in fact, has been a driving factor in much of the growth around the field of study called Self Directed Learning (SDL). SDL encourages designers to consider how the learning pathway might be individualized, that is, organized around a unique learner’s readiness to learn, personal learning goals, experience, and areas of interest. SDL also encourages pedagogies that leverage community-based learning where peer-to-peer as well as peer-to-teacher learning are emphasized.

Mastery – Adult learners demonstrate motivation to learn when they have opportunity to pursue mastery in areas of interest. Too often, learning designs focus on discreet knowledge objectives rather than on the growth of cognitive, behavioral, and affective habits in the lives of learners. In the design process, take time to articulate learning goals that reflect ways of thinking, praxis, and character development that connect with the disciplinary priorities upon which your course is founded. As you envision pathways that lead to these long-term outcomes (habits of the mind, habits of praxis, and habits of character development and ethical living), build opportunities to practice these priorities in incremental ways that lead to growth. Secondly, look for opportunities to cultivate the development of a growth mindset in your learner. Scaffold opportunities for learners to progress in their belief that they can learn and grow in these ways. 

Purpose – Adult learners demonstrate motivation to learn when they envision their learning as connecting with a meaningful or transcendent purpose. From its inception, lifelong learning as a field of study has sought to communicate the message that learning is life [1]. Connecting significant purposes to specific learning goals and activities can generate powerful motivation to engage and even excel in such tasks. Moreover, finding ways to integrate this learning within real-world problems, settings, and experience can enhance learner motivation by encouraging deeper transfer of learning to areas that matter to the learner. 

Design Priorities

A Learning Ecology – As designers, we must recognize that learning does not need to be trapped within the formal learning setting but can be viewed as connected and integrated across the multiple sets of contexts in a learner’s life [2], whether physical or virtual. In this model, learning may be connected by the designer to the learner’s broader ecosystem, whether at home, in local communities, with peers, at work, in school, and through other social and resource networks. All these contexts suggest places in which to situate, connect, and integrate learning. 

Lifelong Learning Processes – Traditionally, formal education has only focused attention on one (#3 below) of five social learning processes which have been identified as inherent within lifelong learning models [3]. These are:

  1. Forming a learning identity and purpose
  2. Developing learning power
  3. Generating knowledge and know-how
  4. Applying or performing learning in authentic contexts
  5. Sustaining learning relationships

How might your course design focus attention on more than just the third social learning process? 

Lifelong Learning Value Rubric – The Association of American Colleges and Universities has created a rubric that articulates a progression of five dispositions / skills that lead to lifelong learning. The rubric is scaffolded across four sets of criteria leading from an initial benchmark to a capstone level in each of the following dispositions/skills:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Initiative
  3. Independence
  4. Transfer
  5. Reflection

Horizon would encourage envisioning #3 as also encompassing interdependence, that is, an independent commitment to sustain and grow from learning relationships. If you are a Horizon partner, you can access the rubric via Horizon’s Moodle Resources. If you are not, you may see a preview and request a copy of this document via the AACU website.

[1] Lindeman, E. C. (1926). The Meaning of Adult Education, New York: New Republic.

[2] Barron, B. (2004). Learning ecologies for technological fluency in a technology-rich community. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 31, 1–37.

[3] Deakin-Crick, R., Huang, S., Shafi, A. & Goldspink, C. (2015). Developing Resilient Agency in Learning: The Internal Structure of Learning Power. British Journal of Educational Studies, 63:2, 121-160.

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