Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning Trends

AuthorDawn Gaymer

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Continuing Education, professional development and lifelong learning are all terms used to describe an educational or training process that is a key component for successful organizations. The term Continuing Education often elicits several definitions, however one of the most comprehensive and applicable is Liveright and Haygood's 1969 version, "a process whereby persons who no longer attend school on a regular full-time basis … undertake sequential and organized activities with the conscious intention of bringing about changes in information, knowledge undertaking, skill appreciation and attitudes or for the purpose of identifying or solving personal or community problems" (Courtenay, 1990).

Continuing Education and the adult education movement began with the twentieth century. As the world moved to an industrialized economy the need for continued education and improved access for adults challenged traditional educational venues and created opportunities for both professional and personal skill enhancement and enrichment. Several environmental factors are driving the demand for lifelong learning in the twenty-first century: abundant access to information, rapid technology changes, increased global interactions, industry shifts, as well as increasing entry level credentials and skill requirements.

Employers depend on continuing education as a tool for ensuring a highly skilled and knowledgeable workforce. Individuals use continuing education for upward career mobility, job enhancement and personal enrichment.

The Continuing education activity can take place at virtually any time or any place. The format for the continuing education learning should be driven by the content and learning goals. Internet and satellite

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technology allow employees to engage in educational coursework on the job or at home, which results in a tremendous savings of travel costs and time. Continuing Education courses are offered for academic or university level credit, as well as non-credit courses. Universities, community colleges, k-12 school districts, private consultants and corporations all participate in offering continuing education content and courses. Many organizations take advantage of "off-the shelf" or commission for customized content that is offered through their own employee training group.


Throughout the last decade the concept of life-long learning has continued to gain popularity. Organizations in the twenty-first century are challenged to quickly adapt to industry changes and rapidly identify solutions for obstacles or barriers that the organization encounters. Through the lifelong learning process, individuals develop the capacity for addressing this organizational need. Key characteristics of lifelong learning include duration, learner-centered perspective, multi-level and multi-subject learning, and open access.

The core concept of lifelong learning is that individuals learn from cradle to grave and that each individual progresses from one learning level to the next throughout their lifetime. Each learning event is a continuous progression to the next learning event and never isolated or a means to an end in itself.

Lifelong learning also focuses on the learner rather than an instructor or trainer. The learning process often involves a facilitator but the facilitator should be skilled at providing an educational environment that allows the individual to enhance and engage in his or her own learning objectives. The learning format and content should be designed with the learner in mind. Lifelong learners require choices and educational experiences that fit within their lifestyle. The educational activity should balance the needs and convenience of the organization with individual learner's need in order to maximize the learning outcome. Lifelong learning activities are also designed for multiple learning styles. Experiential and applied learning as well as tutorials and self-directed content are often embraced by lifelong learners.

Lifelong learning...

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