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Adolescence and lifelong learning

In this article Donna Pendergast explores the concept of lifelong learning in relation to adolescence.
Adolescence And Lifelong Learning
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Now that we have explored the idea of age-stage developmentalism and adolescence, we can link this to the idea of lifelong learning.

In 1996 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Education Ministers declared “Lifelong Learning for All” as a policy priority and since then the concept has been embraced around the world. Let’s unpack what lifelong learning really means.

Purposeful learning activities throughout all of life

Lifelong learning incorporates all purposeful learning activity, from the cradle to the grave, that aims to improve knowledge and competencies for all individuals. Lifelong learning emphasises that learning occurs during the whole course of a person’s life. Formal education contributes to learning as do the non-formal and informal settings of home, the workplace, the community and society at large.

To be a lifelong learner means to have the ability to grow and change, to challenge and reflect, to propose new ideas, and to ask questions like:

  • Why?
  • How?
  • What if…?

Continual learning for social and economic wellbeing

The notion of lifelong learning, then, focuses attention on the need for continual learning and on the sets of generic skills and capacities that will equip individuals to embrace this expanded notion of learning and the challenges of living and working in knowledge economies. Both the OECD 1 and UNESCO 2 agree that lifelong learning is an essential component of social and economic wellbeing.

OECD pillars of lifelong learning

The OECD identifies four key pillars of lifelong learning in contemporary societies:

  1. Systemic view of learning – that learning, formal and informal, is linked to the full lifecycle rather than ‘front-loaded’ into the compulsory years of schooling.
  2. Centrality of the learner – recognition of diversity of learners and a shift in priority towards an increased client focus.
  3. Motivation to learn – attention to self-directed and individualised learning.
  4. Multiple objectives of educational policies – economic, social, personal.

UNESCO characteristics of lifelong learners

Likewise, UNESCO identified four characteristics of lifelong learners that could set the parameters of a learning society:

  1. learning to do – acquiring and applying skills, including life skills
  2. learning to be – promoting creativity and personal fulfilment
  3. learning to know – an approach to learning that is flexible, critical and capable
  4. learning to live together – exercising tolerance, understanding and mutual respect

Growth mindset in adolescent learners

With regard to adolescence and lifelong learning, developing positive learning attitudes is of great importance. During the adolescent years, this can take place in both formal school settings and other informal contexts. Key attitudes to be promoted include:

  • a love of learning
  • a sense of purpose and self-regulation
  • a sense of goal setting and agency for one’s own learning

One way to do this is by promoting a growth mindset. A growth mindset is about embracing a commitment to be challenged and to continue to evolve our thinking and learning. This includes taking on challenges where we learn through failure.

If you would like to delve deeper into the topic of the growth mindset, we encourage you to check out the video resource in the See also section.

Your task

What are some opportunities for learning where adolescents can use a growth mindset?

Share your answer in the comments.


  1. OECD Education Committee. Lifelong learning for all: meeting of the Education Committee at ministerial level. Paris; 1996 16-17 January. 

  2. UNESCO. Education for all 2000-2015: Achievements and challenges [Internet]. Paris: Publisher; 2015c [cited 2018 Aug 13]. 499 p. EFA Global Monitoring Report: Available from: 

© Griffith University
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