The term ‘lifelong learning’ has advanced to an integral part of the contemporary discourse about education and education policy – or as John Field (2002) wrote: lifelong learning has become a “global policy consensus”, even if often more of rhetorical than conceptual relevance. However, the meaning of this term varies considerably. Often lifelong learning is not more than a fashionable catch-all phrase for the simple fact that learning basically is a never-ending process. On the other hand, some advocates understand lifelong learning as a vision of an open, permeable, transparent and flexible education system, of life-wide learning opportunities, as a kind of social utopia or as a critical counterfactual alternative concept to the existing world of education.
Whereas the observation that humans learn in different forms over their complete life-span is very old, the concept of lifelong learning as a strategic policy did not emerge before the early 1970s, primarily promoted by some international organizations such as the OECD or UNESCO (Schuetze 2007, Wolter 2012). From the beginning two different aspirations have stood side by side in the discourse about lifelong learning: a minimalist and a maximalist ambition (Cropley 1979, Dohmen 1996). In the minimalist frame of reference lifelong learning is understood mainly as continuing or adult education in a narrow sense. In the maximalist view the meaning of lifelong learning is biographically extended from childhood and youth over professional life and family to later life, as an element of a comprehensive life-wide education system which includes all biographical...
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