Lifelong learning is a challenge and one of the most recognized terms within pedagogy. The European Commission defines the term as possibilities to add and update all forms of skills, interests, knowledge and qualifications during the whole life. In order to give people better prospects;
” … to adapt to the knowledge-based society” (…) ”and take better control over once own future.”
This is great ideas, but how do you put these ideas into practice? During working life? What does science say about learning when you get older?
The lifelong learning challenge has for most people a positive sound and has been a natural part of labour market during the second half of the 20th Century. This has included trade union courses, education financed by employers as well as private adult education. Nevertheless, the term has gone through a renaissance during the past years due to the profound ongoing transformation of the labour market. Jobs and business sectors disappear and are replaced with new that demand completely new competences. In fact, this has lead to that the general prerequisites for the labour market during the industrial society have gone through profound changes. This is the process that according to Joseph Schumpeter’s vocabulary is termed creative destruction. The development can simply be described as a process from lifelong employment to lifelong learning.
The phenomenon that during the 20th Century almost exclusively was limited to the place of work in order to improve the competence to manage new tasks and trade union education to be able to claim one’s labour market rights. Today this has expanded to build up the individual’s competition power for future employment or business start-ups etc. With this renaissance for lifelong learning as the heart of the progress, which pedagogic methods have proved to be effective for people that have passed 30 years of age? What does brain research say?
An OECD-study from 2001 is showing that many cognitive abilities begin to deteriorate already by 30 years of age. This includes, for example, reading abilities and memory functions. The process accelerates around 50 years of age and is characterised by loss of memory, delayed line of thoughts and communication difficulties. However, today research shows that it is possible to prevent the weakening of intellectual abilities and keep brain functions that make learning effective even in high age. As Eleonora Guglielman by the University Rom Tre writes: ”… learning can actually be lifelong. The keyword is neuroplasticity”.
The brain is not static after a human has become an adult as scientists earlier have claimed. It is plastic with the ability to adapt to new prerequisites. However, to be able to use this capacity the brain demands continual and versatile training. Since it is only the areas that are being trained that are developing. For the other areas, a gradual close down is following in accordance with the OECD-study’s conclusions that were referred to above. With this in mind, our brain-maps is changing in accordance with what we do during our life.
In addition, the experience is another obstacle for learning since there are obvious difficulties to change ingrained knowledge and behaviour. New learning efforts will meet an inbuilt resistance to challenge old truths. But as Guglielman summarises: “If we stop learning new things, we are destined to an ageing brain.”
New learning- and educational methods:
Research concerning neuroplasticity is showing that learning in adult age should focus on new challenging tasks that originate from complex and problem-related activities. The pedagogic challenge consists of transforming traditional models in terms of flexibility and individual adaption preferably directly related to real life. This is characteristics that provide computer-related activities with a prominent position for learning and teaching.
The key to effective lifelong learning is that there is some form of challenge. Where the learning-process and the origin of the results from to solve practical problems in real life. At the same time as learning should be adapted to individual preferences like the student’s priorities, learning requirements, earlier knowledge and experience and potential areas for development. Experimentation, a stimulus to finalise new levels of difficulty and simulation exercises for new working tasks. Where the student also participates in building their own learning environment and in the next step their knowledge-base.
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