How to Build Lifelong Learning Skills

A global initiative with regional practices, lifelong learning embodies the calling for a more sustainable economy as well as a more proactive attitude toward learning. John Dewey, an American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer, maintained that “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” That is to say, our students are expected to learn and upskill both in and outside the classroom—they need to be continuous learners equipped with lifelong learning skills.


Before embarking on this journey, we ask ourselves: what is lifelong learning? What competencies are we looking to develop, and how do we build lifelong learning skills? Keep reading to find out!


What is lifelong learning?


Lifelong learning is a form of self-initiated education that gives rise to personal development. Even though it is hard to determine a standardized definition of lifelong learning, this term, more often than not, is associated with learning that occurs outside of a formal educational institute, such as a school, university or corporate training. Its purpose lies in achieving personal fulfilment.


The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) highlighted that “Our rapidly changing world calls for opportunities to learn throughout life, for individual fulfilment, social cohesion and economic prosperity.” As a result, the institute works hard to formulate effective and inclusive lifelong learning policies and systems, positioning its goal to be skills enhancement for the benefit of individuals, communities, and the planet.

The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) highlighted that "Our rapidly changing world calls for opportunities to learn throughout life, for individual fulfilment, social cohesion and economic prosperity."

On the other hand, Dr. Maylyn Tan, Assistant Dean and Head of Academic Development at Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) cautioned that “some of us might be ambitious to jump into the deep water and transition fully outside that takes totally different skills, while lifelong learning is about incremental changes and looking at what can you do right now and combine it with different disciplines to create more value.”


The changes and skills in the 21st century, therefore, should be identified to promote value creation via lifelong learning.


What are the skills for the 21st century?


The skills for the 21st century help students succeed in keeping up with this ever-changing era. Specifically, Applied Education Systems stressed 12 essential abilities: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication, information literacy, media literacy, technology literacy, flexibility, leadership, initiative, productivity, and social skills.


Framework for 21st Century Competencies and Student Outcomes
Singapore MOE's Framework for 21st Century Competencies and Student Outcomes

Such skills are also theorized and integrated into national systems. Most prominently, Singapore’s Ministry of Education identified core values-based 21st-century competencies, which prepare students for a globalized context and a future of challenges.


Charles Fadel, global education thought leader and author, underscored in his speech for OECD, “We are currently preparing students for jobs and technologies that don’t yet exist . . . in order to solve problems that we don’t even know are problems yet.”

“We are currently preparing students for jobs and technologies that don’t yet exist . . . in order to solve problems that we don’t even know are problems yet.” ---Charles Fadel, Global Education Thought Leader and Author

Educators in the 21st century are prompted to think about new environment adaptability, the fourth industrial revolution, and innovative pedagogical approaches to foster students’ skills. Nayeema Rahman, senior lecturer and LMS specialist at Daffodil International University, pointed to characteristics such as being globally aware, civically engaged, collaborative as well as thinking critically.


But how can we get there? Here are 6 tips.


6 tips to develop skills for lifelong learning


1. Cultivate a growth mindset

While a fixed mindset hinders you from becoming a lifelong learner, a growth mindset emphasizes student agency and continuous changes. With a growth mindset, “you believe your intelligence and life skills can be developed with concerted effort and thoughtful feedback, not that they’re innate and immutable,” the University of Phoenix shared. If you have an idea of what you want, there’s always a way to get there.

Students who are armed with a growth mindset continue to improve their skills and grow both personally and professionally during every season of life. Kevin Dickinson, writing for Big Think, suggested that students should “recognize that they will always have room to grow.”


2. Set SMART goals

SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely, which help keep lifelong learning on track. The following five questions can help you make sure the goals you agree are SMART:

  • Specific: what do I need to do?

  • Measurable: how will I know I have been successful?

  • Achievable: can I do it on my own or with a little help?

  • Relevant: will it help me be better at one certain subject?

  • Timely: when do I need to complete it?

Such a framework can help students become disciplined and emboldened to set goals and obtain achievements in an effective manner. It also boosts continual reflections, allowing students to “view their investments of time, energy, and resources through the lens of what is most important for them to achieve their aspirations.”


3. Find motivations

Figuring out what inspires you puts you in the driver’s seat to achieve what you want to do. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it’s what sustains a lifelong learner. Re-igniting what makes you tick as a person reduces boredom, makes life more interesting, and can even open future opportunities.


Dickinson believed that “the transition from studying course material to obtain a good grade to learning in order to attain continual self-improvement or career advancement may be the most important paradigm shift that a lifelong learner will make.”


4. Encourage independent learning

Online education that predominates in the 21st century can serve as a practical model where many teachers laid more emphasis on students’ autonomic and independent learning with the aid of technology.


As a pioneering advocate of the adoption of self-directed learning, Malcolm Knowles dissected such mode into five steps: individuals take the initiative, with or without the assistance of others, in

1) diagnosing their learning needs,

2) formulating learning goals,

3) identifying human and material resources for learning,

4) choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and

5) evaluating learning outcomes.

In a word, research showed that independent and self-directed learning offers learners the “freedom and autonomy to choose the what, why, how, and where of their learning.”


5. Foster critical thinking

Dr. Peter Facione defined critical thinking to be “purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based.”


It is intertwined with diverse cognitive, interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies, including creativity, self-direction, motivation, effective communication, and more, which pave the way for students to become lifelong learners.


6. Use technology

We live in an age with access to an abundance of information, rapid changes in technology tools, and the ability to collaborate and make individual contributions on an unprecedented scale. To be lifelong learners in the 21st century, students must be able to exhibit a range of independent learning and critical thinking skills related to information, media and technology.

A student learning on ClassIn
A student learning on ClassIn

One way to blend technology with lifelong learning is through the use of edtech. There are plenty of platforms directed at online learning, among which ClassIn plays an active and essential role. For example, it provides a platform for learners to learn independently, think creatively, and act cooperatively.


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