Lifelong Learning Process Theory and the Learning Society

| Introduction | The Learning Society Background | The Learning Society in the United States | What is the Learning Society | Lifelong Learning Process Theory | What Constitutes Lifelong Learning | Modern Lifelong Learning | Lifelong Learning OR Lifelong Education | | Lifelong Learning AND Lifelong Education | Summary | | References | Further Learning Resources


The World Wide Web, the Internet, and globalization has, to some extent, affected every living being on the planet, and created a much smaller living, working, and learning space, than many could have envisioned in the late 20th Century. Additionally, these three innovative entities, pioneered brisk increases regarding subsequent technological advances, which influenced globalization. This rapid movement of globalization and technological innovation perpetuated swift changes worldwide, in terms of universal economics and banking, restructuring of corporate and organizational operations, and the designs and marketing prototypes of educational systems and institutions. Now, in the 21st Century, the frenzied chaos of revolutionary lifestyles, workplaces, and educational constructs have gained momentum, which may create more inclusive, community-driven ideas and patterns, for the betterment of humankind, correspondingly. The aim of this discussion is to view the educational opportunities presented today, and beyond, through the lens of the learning society, in relation to Peter Jarvis' Lifelong Learning Process Theory, and in the context of the contemporary atmosphere of e-learning.

The Learning Society Background

The notion of the learning society pre-dates the Internet, the World Wide Web, and most of the technologies of present-day personal, educational, and professional spheres. As Polish sociologist, Zygmunt Bauman (2000) observed the fluidity of the social conditions of the latter years of the 20th Century take shape, which encouraged his social theories and the pinning of a book called, Liquid Modernity (Bauman, 2000). In Bauman's work, he articulated how the stable modernity movement of previous decades had become liquid and vague during the latter decades of the century. Moreover, Bauman reflected on the challenges that every aspect of life would encounter during this liquid modernity state of affairs. Consequently, he predicted that the learning society should and would emerge in the next century, which would socially and psychologically generate opportunities for global actors to learn and act together, for the good of everyone (Bauman, 2000).
Other researchers included the concepts of the learning society in the notions of transition from the industrial era to the technologically globalized era of today. During the final fraction of the 20th Century, and the commencement of the 21st Century, knowledge, learning, and education were on the minds of many future forecasters from business managers, to economic and political experts. For example, Yapp (2000) forecasted, "The globalization of education will make learning the largest industry of the twenty-first century" (Yapp, 2000, p.59).

Conversely, many educators and theorist took a dim view of the future society that might be constructed in the new millennium. For instance, it was assumed that the younger generation would flourish and learn to manipulate and utilize all types of technologies, including those integrated into the formal learning atmosphere. However, of equal importance, assumptions surrounding the older generations, presupposed that these citizens of society would resist technological adaptations, and choose not to negotiate or embrace these advancements, into their everyday living structures (Yapp, 2000).

The Learning Society in the United States

In 1999, The U. S. National Advisory Committee and Kellogg Commission invited twenty-four university leaders, such a chancellors and presidents, from across the nation to discuss and devise a plan for a viable national learning society. The philosophy of education, at that time, continued to surround the industrial workforce and social issues, such as equity for all learners in school districts and the embryonic digital divide. The scheme of a learning society was grounded in the conception of competitive markets and vocational and continuing adult education in the United States. The summit report had no mention of plans for or integration of a globalized learning society. The focus of the summit was intended for improving adult learning opportunities that would affect economic growth in a constructive manner. The report concluded with a mention of experimental asynchronous learning environment-efforts being launched by specific universities nationwide for further economic advancement (Kellogg Commission, 1999). Sadly, many of the conceptions were outmoded within the first decade of the new century. For example, although the thrust toward educational technology development and application was on the summit agenda, changes in learning and workspaces, and the education required to occupy them, was sorely archaic. It was this thin philosophy of digital age education and work, which continues to plague the U. S., in terms of becoming a reliable contributor to the learning society, nationally, as well as, globally. Consequently, it is crucial to knowledge advancement and economic growth, for the United States to move from an educational system into the global learning society emerging elsewhere in the world (Cisco Systems, 2010)

"Formal learning following traditional education methods is ill suited to provide people with the skills they need to be successful in a knowledge economy, because the traditional learning model differs from Lifelong Learning methods in important ways (van Weert, 2004, p. 12).

In 2010, an article was released, called, Support for a Learning Society (U.S. Department of Education, 2010). Regrettably, the report was not an innovative movement of the learning society ideal in the U. S., it was a report exposing Taiwan's inventive learning society programs, encompassing learning society initiatives among "... more than 1.5 million students and over 1,700 schools" (U.S. Department of Education, 2010, para 2).
Further, the World Bank Institute Branch of the World Bank tracks the educational and economic progress of countries across the global, as well as, offers training in economic growth through educational programs provided by the Global Development Learning Network (GDLN). In 2000, the U.S. could be found in the forefront of the World Bank's Knowledge and Economic Index (KEI), holding fourth place in the world. Nevertheless, by 2012, the U.S. had slipped into twelfth place on the KEI report globally (World Bank, 2012).

What is the Learning Society

It is a difficult mission to conceptualize definitely the elements of the learning society, because of its wide-ranging assumptions and theories today. It has been defined, refined, and critiqued from various perspectives and belief systems by many of the most prominent sociologists, philosophers, and educators of the former and present centuries. For example, Robert M. Hutchins (1968) proposed a theory of the learning society from the perspective of unstable educational systems, which were incapable of addressing the demands and desires of a modern society in rapid flux. In his theory, Hutchins surmised that learning was not an isolate activity, apart from life experiences, but was intended to be the process of a person's lifespan (Hutchins, 1968). Conversely, Schon (1973) viewed the learning society through the lens of the formal education and governmental system's incapacity to address the demands of a society in perpetual flux. In addition, he endorsed the ways in which business organizations promoted and managed learning for large groups of employees, as the ideal model for the learning society to progress (Schon, 1973).

Jarvis (1992; 1987) proposed four theoretical principles that would advance the learning society in light of the contemporary landscape, as (a) futuristic, (b) societal, (c) reflexive, and (d) global (Jarvis, 1992). First, the futuristic principle of the learning society, referred to technological advancements that would permit the society to exchange information and ideas over distances, in order to benefit the whole of the society, internationally. Second, the societal principle pointed to the proposal that human existence, behavior and learning, are contingent to some extent, on their association with society, indicating a lifeway attitude toward community and community involvement. Third, the reflexive principle viewed society and learning through a lens that cannot be focused indefinitely on what has been understood previously, but is in constant fluctuation, due to rapid, unpredictable changes that largely affect prior social and learning norms. Furthermore, reflexivity calls the individual-person within the society and learning process, to function from a self-reflection standpoint, which Jarvis assumed, would become an involuntary response over time and through life experiences. Reflexivity aids individuals within the learning society to become increasingly experienced and self-reliant, which positions them in advantageous circumstances, as mentors for others in the society, who are in a less mature condition. Lastly, Jarvis' global principle of the learning society is an orientation in favor of the ideas of global markets, in which education must participate, as a consumer commodity. From this supposition, informed consumer satisfaction is fundamental to learning processes and lifetime learning opportunities (Jarvis, 2000).

Lifelong Learning Process Theory

During the latter segment of the 20th Century, while other researchers were formulating thoughts and concepts of the learning society view, Peter Jarvis began exploration of the subject from the context of human learning experiences. Jarvis viewed human learning from (a) the whole-person perspective (mind and body), and (b) considered the person's biography (former experiences), and (c) future experiences, as a lifetime formula for the invention of authentic, mature learning (Jarvis, 1987). Initially, Jarvis examined Kolb's (1984) theory of Experimental Learning. Although, Jarvis determined that Kolb's theory contained a number of viable explanations for the how of human learning, he concluded that human learning was much more complex and elastic, than the Kolb learning cycle model illustrated (Jarvis, 2000).


Figure 2.1 Kolb's Experimental Learning Model, (Jarvis, 1987, p. 19)

Jarvis continued his research from the context of adult learning, as a social dimension of the learning process. Thereby, fabricating the Adult Learning Cycle Model, in which Jarvis' concepts were tested and published in print form as, Adult Learning in the Social Context (Jarvis, 1987). At this point in his research on how adult learners process learning, Jarvis states, “All learning begins with experience” (Jarvis, 1987, p. 16). Here Jarvis is referring to everyday life situations, which enable learning-processes to take root and flourish over time, as well as, create mature, experienced learners with the scope of the learning society (Jarvis, 2005).

In conjunction with his adult learning process model, Jarvis argues that human learning is not a single episode. Instead, it is intermittent episodic events, which reveal legitimate learning opportunities via the learning process outlined in his learning model. For this reason, Jarvis declares that learning is situational and social. First, the situation leads to a disjuncture or separation from what a person perceived his or her world (society) consisted of or offered, drawn from previous experiences with the society. Comprehending his or her place within the society is extremely important to a person's sense of well-being and security. Central to understanding one's place within the society, is perceiving oneself, as a unique being in relation to the larger extent of the society one inhabits. Jarvis refers to this concept of being, as "...learning to be me..." (Jarvis, 2009, p. 21). He contends that the significance of each person's existence is in question, when he or she does not understand the me of the existence: The person currently, and the person becoming me in the future. Jarvis further argues that the learning to be me concept is intimately linked to how one perceives self, others, and the larger society. Therefore, the learning to be me notion consists of former biographies and experiences of each person. The learning to be me concept is analyzed against personal and situational experiences over time, such as (a) how the experiences shaped the me of the present, and (b) how the experiences will continue to shape the person me is becoming (Jarvis, 1992).

At the realization of disjuncture, the person has " a sense of not-knowing..." (Jarvis, 2009, p.25). In other words, something is occurring that does not align with earlier learning-experiences within the biographical past. The situational disjuncture is also grounded in human senses, such as hearing, seeing, touching, and so on, which defines it, as a personal-physical experience. Second, before a proper action-reply (learning) to the disjuncture can take place, Jarvis purports that the person should (a) memorize, (b) evaluate, (c) reason, and (d) reflect (Jarvis, 1987, Figure 2.2: Model of Learning, p. 22) on the circumstances that launched the need for a learning response, with the intention to continue the cyclic learning experiences. The rationale for memorization, evaluation, and reflection is to transport the mind's cognitive qualities into the landscape of the learning process, and prevent hasty assessments. Thus, the person's focus is in the direction of appraisal, which provides manifold itineraries for learning to occur. Moreover, the person's present, as well as, future learning processes and experiences are influenced through practice (repeated occurrences). Practicing the learning process furnishes the person with opportunities to learn, by way of, a continuous lifecycle underpinning, referred to as lifelong learning (Jarvis, 2009).

Jarvis_(1987)_Adult_Learning_Model_Figure 2.2, p. 16.png

Figure 2.2--Jarvis' Adult Learning Model (Jarvis, 1987, p. 22)

What Constitutes Lifelong Learning

As Jarvis' research and learning model evolved, he recognized a lifelong learning element emerging, which included the entire lifespan of a person, from birth to death, opposed to adult-only lifelong learning experiences. Therefore, he investigated how learning took place from childhood through adulthood, and into mature life (Jarvis, 1992). By the early 1990's, Jarvis was recognizing multiple avenues that people, young and mature, choose to learn from, in relation to disjuncture and biographic past. Further research led Jarvis to a new perceptive, with respect to his previous postulations about a sequential pattern for lifelong learning. He now viewed his model, as less explicit in pattern, and, as a more multi-directional pathway of choices reliant on biographical elements and practiced experiences, both of which, promote lifelong learning (Jarvis, 2005). Jarvis' new insights of whole-person learning escorted him in a maturing conceptual direction, which gradually redefined the earlier adult learning model, in favor of a lifetime-inclusive model: Lifelong Learning Process Theory. In this way, the whole person changes and becomes more experienced in the processes of learning through disjuncture and the capacity to contribute explicitly and vigorously to the learning society (Jarvis, 1992).
"Human learning is a combination of processes throughout a lifetime whereby the whole person -- body (genetic, physical and biological) and mind (knowledge, skills, attitudes, values, emotions, beliefs and senses) -- experiences social situations, the perceived content of which is then transformed cognitively, emotively or practically (or through any combination) and integrated into the individual person's biography resulting in a continually changing (or experienced person)" (Jarvis, 1992, p. 10).

By 2005, Jarvis had expended almost two decades of research on human learning and the theoretical framework of lifelong learning. Then, he published an up-dated book entitled, Toward a Comprehensive Theory of Human Learning: Lifelong Learning and the Learning Society (Volume 1) (Jarvis, 2005). Within this analytical volume, Jarvis explained in critical detail, his hypothesis of contemporary perspectives on human learning, the learning society, and lifelong learning. A significant contribution in the book was his distinguishing perspective between learning and education. From Jarvis' perspective, the terms were not interchangeable concepts, as some of his contemporaries had supported (Jarvis, 2005).

Jarvis_Figure_2.4_Lifelong Learning Process Model.png

Figure 2.4: Lifelong Learning Process Model (Jarvis, 2009, p. 23)

Modern Lifelong Learning

Various approaches and perspectives have been launched from the basis of Jarvis' exhaustive work on lifelong learning. For example, van Weert (2004) developed a model that presented lifelong learning, as a learning process lasting from birth through retirement. This model did not consider the learning processes following the retirement years. Moreover, his model segmented learning by locations, instead of experiences. For instance, van Weert (2004) described lifelong learning in the formal segment, as learning in "...schools, training institutions, and universities..." (p. 10), (b) in the non-formal segment, as learning "...on-the-job and household training..." (p. 10), and (c) in the informal segment, as learning provided through "... skills learned from family members or people in the community" (p. 10). Although, van Weert's model demonstrated social dimensions, as Jarvis supported; nevertheless, it neglected learning as a human activity, emphasizing the place of the learning, rather than the learning itself. Moreover, van Weert viewed learning as "the use and the creation of new operational knowledge" (van Weert, 2004, p. 12), again placing learning within the environment, rather than the human. Additionally, he advocated that his model of lifelong learning was a realistic format for the digital age (van Weert, 2004). Conversely, Jarvis (2005) stated, "...lifelong learning can correctly be interpreted as the learning provided throughout the lifespan" (p. 141) and provides opportunities for personal growth and change, as well as, maturity in the learning society (Jarvis, 2005).

Lifelong Learning OR Lifelong Education

Jarvis possesses a strong sense of language, meaning, and terminology, in relation to lifelong learning. Therefore, he vehemently opposes the idea of lifelong learning portrayed as lifelong education. Jarvis offers a clear divergence between learning (a human activity) to education (a formal institution). In 2005, Jarvis expressed education, as belonging to and the responsibility of the state, amid an increased direct-connection with human performance and assessment. The idea being that through prescribed materials and functions, knowledge acquisition could be rewarded via promotion, certification, or academic degree. On the other hand, he described learning as an activity placed squarely on human autonomy. The choice to learn, ignore, reject or even delay learning is the free-will choice of the potential learner, and is not found in a compulsory environment. Further, the rewards for choosing to learn are personal, in terms of cognitive and intellectual growth, and matured pragmatic gain (Jarvis, 2009).

Billet (2010) warns against confusing lifelong learning with lifelong education. He proposes, as does Jarvis (2009), that lifelong learning is a human-only, continuous activity, which comprises "...consciousness and the capacity to utilize what we know and leads to change both in what we know and how we know" (Billet, 2010, p. 401). Furthermore, Billet makes distinctions between the motivation of learning and education in the human experience. First, education whether compulsory for age-regulated reasons or compulsory for academic incentive, has standards by which the learner must adhere, in order to continue the knowledge acquisition process. Lifelong education for adults, sometimes aptly referred to as continuing education, is pursued for a number of reasons, such as job promotion, career change, and personal interest. In contrast, lifelong learning is a "socio-personal" (Billet, 2010, 407), conscious decision to permit unfamiliar circumstances to dictate the need for learning. It is purposeful, takes continuing effort, self-monitoring and -regulation, and emphasizes the compensational outcome of personal transformation (Billet, 2010).

Lifelong Learning AND Lifelong Education

The distinctions presented (above) surrounding the characteristics of learning and education is not intended to suggest that the two are in complete opposition of one another. In this global age, where knowledge and learning are in soaring demand, some research proposes the twain should meet. For example, in a study of the inter-generational dynamics of learning, Field (2013) discovered that when one or more members of the generational faction is proficient in the effective processes and outcomes of lifelong learning, others within the generational mix are influenced as well. This generational connection perpetuates the principles of lifelong learning, and has a tendency to apply them to institutional learning settings (Field, 2013).

For example, in recent years, e-learning formats and options have become as diverse as the learners enrolled in the world's educational institutions. In addition, the majority of contemporary educational institutions have designed course materials, activities, and assessments embedded with socially engaging opportunities to advance personal learning, in terms of cognition, as well as, social properties. Thus, learners have more options to utilize autonomy and self-regulation, within the learning format, which obliges the exploitation of lifelong learning skills. (Field, 2012). Educational environments, such as e-learning provide constant avenues for learners to meet with problems or issues never before encountered, opening options for the use of lifelong learning experiences within the parameters of distance education. An effective way to approach such issues is through lifelong learning principles, such as analysis and reflection (McClellan, 2001). In this way, learning can become more than an exercise in performance standards, and therefore, transformed into a learner-driven adaptation for personal growth and change, as well as, personal experience-building opportunities in the lifelong learning process (Su, 2011).

Moreover, the e-learning arena is an effective possibility for socially encountering the learning society, within the framework of distance education. Lee (2008) declared that the learning society appreciates movement in the direction of lifelong learning that can be demonstrated through international relationships, entrepreneurship, and cultural integration. She further proposed, in order for educational systems and institutions to realize envisioned expansion and success, the lifelong learning principles must be incorporated into the institutionalized systems of education (Lee, 2012).


The World Wide Web, the Internet, and globalization has, to some extent, affected every living being on the planet, and created a much smaller living, working, and learning space, than many could have envisioned in the late 20th Century. Additionally, these three innovative entities, pioneered brisk increases regarding subsequent technological advances, which influenced globalization. This rapid movement of globalization and technological innovation perpetuated swift changes worldwide, in terms of universal economics and banking, restructuring of corporate and organizational operations, and the designs and marketing prototypes of educational systems and institutions.

Now, in the 21st Century, the frenzied chaos of revolutionary lifestyles, workplaces, and educational constructs have gained momentum, which may create more inclusive, community-driven ideas and patterns, for the betterment of humankind, correspondingly. The aim of this discussion was to view the educational opportunities presented today, and beyond, through the lens of the learning society, in relation to Peter Jarvis' Lifelong Learning Process Theory, in the context of the contemporary atmosphere of e-learning.

The current demands of high quality, efficient learning and education provide educational institutions and organizations worldwide with opportunities to integrate and utilize the Lifelong Learning Process Theory. Incorporating lifelong learning principles, aids in the construction of increased learner satisfaction and options for genuine learning, through autonomy, analysis, and reflection. These characteristics of lifelong learning are useful avenues, in which to assemble and maintain the learning society across global dimensions.


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Further Learning Resources

Routledge Education Arena. (2009): Interviews with Peter Jarvis, 2009. Retrieved from

University of Texas. (2008). Mike Wallace interview (podcast) with Robert Hutchins, 1958. Retrieved from