Lifelong Learning


Learning across the lifespan

Principal Metaphors

Lifelong Learning is inattentive to descriptions of knowledge, and teaching. Metaphors from all perspectives are encountered in its literatures, with common links drawn to Cognitivism, Gestaltism, and Non-Trivial Constructivisms. That said, the following generalities seem to apply across all relevant frames:
  • Knowledge is … scope of possible actions and interpretations
  • Knowing is … functioning adequately
  • Learner is … a living human
  • Learning is … a continuous, lifelong process
  • Teaching is … N/A




The core assertion of Lifelong Learning is that learning is constant, present in every activity and every interaction. The perspective is typically introduced as a reaction to the notion that formal education (i.e., school and similar settings) is the main location to learn and the workplace is the main place to apply learnings. The discourse also reflects broadened learning expectations of the modern citizen, who can expect to live longer and deal with unforeseeable evolutions in technology, employment, distractions, politics, and so on. Subdiscourses include:
  • Biographical Learning (Peter Alheit, 1990s) – the theory and study of the relationship between biography and one’s learning, as well as the use of one’s life history perspective in the learning process.
  • Transitional Learning (Danny Wildemeersch & Veerle Stoobants, 2000s) – focused on moments when one faces unpredictable changes in one’s life that bring new responsibilities, trigger unanticipated choices, and compel the creation of new meaning and new self-understanding


More an attitude than a theory, over the past few decades Lifelong Learning has become a mantra inside and outside of formal educational settings – driven in large part by dramatic evolutions in career landscapes and in part by greater variety in leisure activities. Not long ago, when adult work lives were spent in single careers, schooling was typically characterized as preparation for the adult (work) world and non-work pass times were not seen as sites for significant learning. Such imaginings are currently untenable, now that work lives are expected to span multiple careers and hobbies can have intense learning demands. Consequently, Lifelong Learning is perhaps better understood as a recognition of a cultural shift than a grand insight – a shift that has been greatly enabled by information technologies.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Knud Illeris

Status as a Theory of Learning

Lifelong Learning is not a theory of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Lifelong Learning is not a theory of teaching, although it is reflective of significant shifts in focus and attitude in formal educational settings over the past few decades.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Lifelong Learning is better described as an observation or elaboration than a scientific theory.


  • Biographical Learning
  • Transitional Learning

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2021). “Lifelong Learning” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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