The idea that lifelong learning can be harnessed in the service of sustaining our presence in this fragile world is emerging in the thinking of the world’s global strategic planner. The wicked problem of our survival is framed by the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which offers 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Education has its own SDG 'Ensure inclusive and equitable quality and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all'. This SDG gives education a new role – to educate the world in ways that will encourage behaviours that will support sustainable development.
The UNESCO Futures of Education Initiative aims to rethink education, knowledge production and learning from a future-oriented perspective. The first report of this initiative (1) presents a future-focused vision that demands a major shift towards a culture of lifelong learning by 2050. It argues that the unprecedented challenges humanity faces, require societies to embrace and support learning throughout life and people who identify themselves as learners throughout their lives.
For this ambition to be realised there would need to be significant changes in culture and practice at a global scale. It requires a culture that transcends all other cultures, that values learning in every aspect of life. It’s a vision of a culture that reaches beyond the idea of “promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all” to the belief that “the whole of life is learning therefore education can have no ending” (2).
Perhaps the time has come to develop and enrich the concept of lifelong learning in the service of humanity and the planet, by embracing consciously and fully the lifewide dimensions of everyday life. I believe that the act of making the lifewide dimension of learning explicit would make a significant contribution to the goal of ‘a more holistic understanding of lifelong learning’ because lifewide learning gives day to day practical expression and meaning to lifelong learning. For lifelong learning is the accumulation of all our lifewide experiences and what we have learnt and become through them.
Lifewide learning (3) adds the detail and purpose to the lifelong pattern of human development by recognising that most people, no matter what their age or circumstances, simultaneously inhabit a number of different spaces - like work or education, being a member of a family and a community, managing a home, caring for others, engaging in sport and other interests, and looking after their own physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. So the timeframes of lifelong learning and the multiple spaces and places for lifewide learning will characteristically intermingle and who we are and who we are becoming are the consequences of this intermingling.
It is in the lifewide dimension of our life that we learn what it is to be human in the contexts of our own lives by discovering our purposes and what we value and care about. It is in this dimension of our life that we also learn about the world in all its diversity and confusing complexity, through the media we access, or the experiences of others we know, or through our own experience as we travel to cultures that are different to our own. If we are to create a culture that is committed to sustaining the world, it is the lifewide dimension of learning we have to nurture.
Through an education for sustainable development we can develop the knowledge to enable us to sustain our future. But we have to apply this knowledge in every part of our life and keep on learning how to do it for the rest of our lives, and that requires both agency and will.
It is precisely because every individual’s lifewide learning is a product of their historical and current interactions with their unique environments and circumstances, that they are the unique person they are. This is what makes us different from machines -everyone one of us is one of a kind and that is to be celebrated. It is also the real meaning of personalised learning and it provides a better foundation for understanding the scope and nature of lifelong learning as it is embodied, enacted and experienced by every person on planet.
The article was written by Noman Jackson who is Emeritus Professor at the University of Surrey and Founder of ‘Lifewide Education’
Lifewide Education is participating in UNESCO's Future of Education Initiative and this post is derived from the White Paper we have prepared to explain how lifewide learning can enrich the concept of lifelong learning. Click here to download the White Paper.
1 UNESCO (2020b) Embracing a culture of lifelong learning: Contribution to the Futures of Education Initiative Report : A transdisciplinary expert consultation UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning: Paris Available at: https://www.sdg4education2030.org/embracing-culture-lifelong-learning-uil-september-2020
2 Lindeman C (1926) The Meaning of Adult Education New York: New Republic. Republished in a new edition in 1989 by The Oklahoma Research Centre for Continuing Professional and Higher Education. Available at:
3 Jackson, N. J. (ed) (2011) Learning for a Complex World: A Lifewide Concept of Learning, Development and Achievement Authorhouse Available at: https://www.lifewideeducation.uk/learning-for-a-complex-world.html
4 UNESCO (2020a) Education for Sustainable Development: A Roadmap UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. Paris Available at: https://en.unesco.org/themes/education-sustainable-development