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URGENT: We need sustainable hybrid and inclusive lifelong learning ecosystems

June 18, 2022

Fellow researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and leaders in all fields, let’s build on partnerships and community involvement to engage in high-leverage well-focused actions that foster sustainable hybrid and inclusive lifelong learning ecosystems (HILLLE) and help enable and sustain our lifelong learning societies (LLLS).  


The rise of digitalization, automation and cyber-physical systems, the gig economy, the great resignation/reimagination, the climate change crisis, the demographic changes, the investment in green and renewable technologies, and the extended lifespans, to name only a few disruptive events, are reshaping the work-related skills we need, and the way we acquire and use these skills. Researchers on aging and longevity are projecting that children who are born today could live to be 150 years old, which means a longer work life, a higher number of career changes, and thus a need for long life learn.

The UNESCO urges the global community to recognize lifelong learning (LLL) as a human right and common good and learning to learn and managing one’s own learning journey as basic competencies for the future of our societies and their economic recovery. LLL minimizes skills shortages, including the skills needed today and those emerging and most needed by industries and sectors tomorrow.

The LLL concept exists for decades and yet there is a lack in building the systems and the infrastructures essential to sustain it.

The turbulence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, while it put LLL skills on steroids, only accentuated the urgency to rethink the learning ecosystem and its functioning to answer the needs of all current and future learning workers, especially those who are left behind by the systems.

A serious number of workers quit their jobs and need redeployment, reskilling, and upskilling.

The OECD recommends designing inclusive, affordable, accessible, and adaptable policies that place learners at the centre of learning, motivate them to participate in lifelong and life-wide learning, help them develop a habit of learning, diversify learning opportunities, and harness the power of technology while being critical of its effects on existing and potential skills inequalities. Weise adds the need for an ecosystem that learners can seamlessly navigate. The OECD also emphasizes the importance of strong synergetic partnerships across different actors to support high-quality, inclusive LLL. Special attention is drawn to enhancing the visibility and the transferability of the developed skills through improving recognition, validation, and accreditation procedures.

While several initiatives are put in place, such as Matkin’s 60-year curriculum, the open education movement, the Future Skill Centre’s digital infrastructure, the implementation of new training programs designed specifically to include underrepresented groups in the job market and digital credentialing through, for example, the blockchain technology, many unanswered questions persist, such as:

  • How to break silos and incite, strengthen, and sustain partnerships between all LLL stakeholders to benefit today and tomorrow’s learners?
  • How to rethink the existing infrastructures to make sure that no one is left behind, especially less advantaged, underrepresented vulnerable groups, gig workers, and those who are not in formal workplace settings? How to make learning responsive to the evolving demand for skills and knowledge in the labor market and society?
  • How to recognize the skills developed through the wide spectrum of granular, incremental, and dynamic lifelong learning instances?
  • How to incentivize LLL while willingness to participate in adult learning is modest?

Let’s adopt a systemic approach to:

  1. Define a hybrid and inclusive lifelong learning ecosystem for a digital and AI era;
  2. Explore how to create synergies, fluidity, and partnerships between stakeholders within lifelong learning ecosystems to support and enable lifelong learning societies. Stakeholders include but are not restricted to schools, the higher education sector, vocational education and training institutions, employers from public, semi-public, and private sectors, associations, and civil society organizations;
  3. Put forward strategies to break silos and dilute the boundaries between lifelong learning systems;
  4. Examine existing and potential initiatives, such as the open-source movement, and infrastructures in hybrid contexts to help support and enable LLL for all, including those left behind by the existing systems;
  5. Examine strategies to ensure and sustain symbiotic, equitable, diverse, targeted, and navigable HILLLEs

We can then propose a HILLLE model for the post-COVID digital and AI era!

Here are a few ideas of actions we, as a community, can start with:

Action 1: Document and Analyse Lifelong Learning Policies and Strategies

  • Document and analyze current lifelong learning policies and strategies 2) in schools, colleges, and universities 2) in the public, semi-public and private sectors 3) issued by our governments and their provinces. The analysis of all policy documents should focus, inter alia, and as per the elements highlighted by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, on the rationale of the policy, the concept of lifelong learning, the main challenges, the main targets and measures, and particular features of the policy. In addition to these elements, we should examine the policies’ EDI strategies to lifelong learning.
  • Conduct a review of scientific and professional articles and reports produced by renowned and credible organizations such as EDUCAUSE, UNESCO, OECD, and the World Economic Forum, and published since the eruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, which examines LLL strategies in an accelerated digital transformation era.

Action 2: Discover The Lifelong Learner Identity (ies)

  • Unpack how lifelong learners explain their own learning paths and their motivation to follow them;
  • Examine how lifelong learners develop lifelong and life-wide learning digital and human competencies, their disposition to lifelong learning, their thought processes, the strategies they adopt and adapt, and how they perceive and address the challenges they face in their quest;
  • Analyze the digital technologies lifelong learners utilize to reach their learning objectives;
  • Inquire about lifelong learners’ needs from and expectations for the HILLLE.

Action 3: Draw on Digital Technologies in Service of Lifelong Learning

  • Explore the power of technology in the interests of all lifelong learners, including socially and economically disadvantaged groups;
  • Examine how to ensure the ethical, critical, responsible, and sustainable application of disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence in the lifelong learning of the current and future workforce.

Action 4: Utilize Learning Experience Design to Develop Lifelong and Life-Wide Learning Competencies

  • Investigate the design of learning experiences in digital contexts that help foster lifelong and life-wide learning attitudes and dispositions and develop lifelong learning competencies, for learners from all age groups, employment and socioeconomic statuses, and digital literacy levels;
  • Propose recommendations to design, develop, implement, and evaluate formal and informal high-quality, equitable and inclusive learning experiences that foster lifelong learning attitudes and dispositions and develop lifelong learning competencies to meet the needs of a multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, cross-sectoral, multigenerational, and global workforce in the AI era.

Action 5: Invest in Lifelong Learning Recognition and Validation System

  • Determine the metrics and indicators, i.e., the measurable performance elements, and the procedures to recognize and validate lifelong and life-wide learning at the individual, social, and organizational levels;
  • Propose the International Lifelong Learning Digital Passport: Every learning instance and form counts;
  • Examine the elements, expertise, and processes required to design, develop, implement, and sustain the lifelong learning digital passport, and ensure its acceptability, feasibility, reliability, and recognition.

So who’s with me?