Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-21, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 22 September, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


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Lifelong learning

core definition

Lifelong learning is all learning activity undertaken throughout life, whether formal or informal.

explanatory context

The concept is closely linked to continuous education and to continuing education and continuing professional development.

analytical review

In answer to the question, ‘What is Lifelong Learning?’ The Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT, 200) stated:

In order to create an enriching and dynamic society in the 21st century, it is vital to form a lifelong learning society in which people can freely choose learning opportunities at any time during their lives and in which proper recognition is accorded to those learning achievements.

Lifelong learning comprises two main aspects: the concept to comprehensively review various systems including education, in order to create a lifelong learning society; and the concept of learning at all stages of life. In other words, the concept of learning in the context of lifelong learning encompasses not only structured learning through school and social education but also learning through involvement in such areas as sports, cultural activities, hobbies, recreation and volunteer activities. The places for conducting learning activities are also diverse, including elementary and secondary schools, universities and other institutions of higher education, citizens' public halls, libraries, museums, cultural facilities, sports facilities, lifelong learning program facilities in the private sector, companies, and offices.


The Scottish Executive (2006):

Iifelong learning covers the whole range of learning. That includes formal and informal learning and workplace learning. It also includes the skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours that people acquire in their day-to-day experiences.


ELWA (2001–2003) states that The European Commission has defined lifelong learning as:

All purposeful learning activity, undertaken on an ongoing basis with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competence.


Europa (2003) [The European Commission site] states it slightly differently: Lifelong learning is defined as:

all learning activity undertaken throughout life, with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competence, within a personal, civic, social and/or employment-related perspective.


This is extensively elaborated:

Lifelong learning is therefore about:

·         acquiring and updating all kinds of abilities, interests, knowledge and qualifications from the pre-school years to post-retirement. It promotes the development of knowledge and competences that will enable each citizen to adapt to the knowledge-based society and actively participate in all spheres of social and economic life, taking more control of his or her future.

·         valuing all forms of learning, including: formal learning, such as a degree course followed at university; non-formal learning, such as vocational skills acquired at the workplace; and informal learning, such as inter-generational learning, for example where parents learn to use ICT through their children, or learning how to play an instrument together with friends.

Learning opportunities should be available to all citizens on an ongoing basis. In practice this should mean that citizens each have individual learning pathways, suitable to their needs and interests at all stages of their lives. The content of learning, the way learning is accessed, and where it takes place may vary depending on the learner and their learning requirements.

Lifelong learning is also about providing "second chances" to update basic skills and also offering learning opportunities at more advanced levels. All this means that formal systems of provision need to become much more open and flexible, so that such opportunities can truly be tailored to the needs of the learner, or indeed the potential learner. (Europa, 2003)


AEC (2004) do not differentiate between lifelong learning and continuous education:

Lifelong learning/continuing education: All learning activity, formal or informal, undertaken throughout life, with the aim of enhancing knowledge, skills and competencies from a personal, civic, social and/or employment-related perspective.


In its Glossary on the Berlin Communiqué, ENQA (2003) notes:

Lifelong Learning: The final communiqué of the Bologna follow-up meeting in Prague in 2001 stressed the importance of “Lifelong Learning” (LLL) as an essential element of the European Higher Education Area. Lifelong Learning comprises all phases of learning, from pre-school to post-retirement, and covers the whole spectrum of formal, non-formal and informal learning. The implementation of this idea will be facilitated by bringing together education and vocational education in central aspects of different policies such as education, youth, employment and research. A lifelong learning framework is to be developed to enable each individual to choose among learning environments, jobs, regions and countries in order to improve his [sic] knowledge, skills and competencies and to use them optimally. An important condition for the implementation of LLL is the development of a coherent system of credits that allows the evaluation and recognition of diplomas and certificates acquired at school, at university and in the framework of work-based learning. In this way, the transfer of qualifications between schools, universities and the world of work could be ensured...

For Behringer and Coles (2003, p. 7), lifelong learning includes:

all learning activity undertaken throughout life, with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competences within a personal, civic, social and/or employment-related perspective

associated issues

Elements for developing lifelong learning

Lifelong learning was given a high priority in the EC at the Council meetings of Lisbon and StockholmThe consultation which followed the Memorandum on Lifelong Learning, identified six essential elements for coherent and comprehensive lifelong learning strategies:

Partnership working, not only between decision-making levels (e.g. national, regional and local) but also between public authorities and education service providers (schools, universities, etc.), the business sector and the social partners, local associations, vocational guidance services, research centres, etc.

Insight into the demand for learning in the knowledge-based society – which will entail redefining basic skills, to include for instance the new information and communication technologies. Analyses should take into account foreseeable labour market trends.

Adequate resourcing, involving a substantial increase in public and private investment in learning. This does not only imply substantially increasing public budgets, but also ensuring the effective allocation of existing resources and encouraging new forms of investment. Investment in human capital is important at all points in the economic cycle; skills gaps and shortages can certainly co-exist with unemployment.

Facilitating access to learning opportunities by making them more visible, introducing new provision and removing obstacles to access, for example through the creation of more local learning centres. Special efforts are necessary in this context for different groups such as ethnic minorities, people with disabilities or people living in rural areas.

Creating a learning culture by giving learning a higher profile, both in terms of image and by providing incentives for the people most reticent to opt for learning.

Striving for excellence through the introduction of quality control and indicators to measure progress. In concrete terms, provision must be made for standards, guidelines and mechanisms whereby achievements can be recognised and rewarded.

On the basis of the feedback relating to the six ‘key messages’ of the Memorandum on Lifelong Learning, which formed the basis of the consultation, the Communication identifies six ‘priorities for action: Valuing Learning, Information, guidance and counselling, Investing time and money in learning, Bringing together learners and learning opportunities, Basic skills and Innovative pedagogy. (Europa, 2003)

related areas

See also

continuing education

continuing professional development


Association europeenne des conservatoires [Academies de musique et musikhochschulen] (AEC), 2004, Glossary of terms used in relation to the Bologna Declaration, accessed September 2004. Not available at this address 31 January 2011.

Behringer, F. and Coles, M., 2003, Towards an understanding of the mechanisms that link qualifications and lifelong learning. Paris: OECD, available at, accessed 23 May 2005, not available 10 October 2012.

ELWA, 2001–2003, What is Lifelong Learning?, not available 20 January 2012.

Europa, 2003, European Commission: Policy Areas:  Lifelong Learning, What is Lifelong Learning?, update: 02-10-2003, address obsolete 20 January 2012.

European Network of Quality Agencies (ENQA), 2003, The Bologna Process, Glossary, Accreditation,, accessed, 3 August, 2008, page changed to accessed 20 August 2012, page not available 30 December 2016.

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), 2004,   [Japan] Lifelong Learning: What is Lifelong Learning?, accessed, November 2004, not available 20 January 2012.

Scottish Executive, 2006, Life Through Learning; Learning Through Life, The Lifelong Learning Strategy for Scotland : Summary, update 16 May 2006, accessed 20 August 2012, still available 26 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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