Feb. 14-15: Online Days
Feb. 18-22: On-site Days in Washington DC

Lifelong Learning: A Critical Response to CIES 2023 Meeting Theme

Wing On Lee

Institute for Adult Learning

Singapore University of Social Sciences

My warmest congratulations to CIES for selecting an important theme for the CIES2023 Conference, namely, Improving Education for a More Equitable World.

Truly, as the Conference Announcement says:

Educational improvement is not merely a technical term, evidenced by the emerging, fast-growing and interdisciplinary field of educational improvement studies. It constitutes a powerful approach and a dynamic process to advance education at individual, organizational, systemic, national and/or global levels, through which reality and uncertainty are examined and problems are tackled. Also, it varies across educational levels, forms, and contexts, including but not limited to equity, inclusion, diversity, quality, effectiveness, and sustainability. They each deserve stronger policy actions and more integrated theories and applications, requiring capacity- and community-building, a systemic approach, and multi-perspective inquiries. Comparative and international perspectives are essential to fulfilling the dream of educational equity.

I am at present co-editing the Springer Third International Handbook of Lifelong Learning, together with Karen Evans (Chief Editor), Jörg Markowitsch and Miriam Zukas. I am editor of the Section on “Emerging Programs and New Approaches”. I have planned to organize this Section to include 16 chapters, covering a broad range of newly developed programs emerged mainly in the last two decades. They include workplace learning, competence development programs, arts-based learning and public pedagogies, programs supporting young adults with vulnerability, intergenerational learning, innovation learning, neuroplasticity and adult learning, microcedentialism and recognition of prior learning, and the proposal for lifelong learning university, etc. This book has adopted comparative lens, with contributors from around the world, sharing lifelong learning experiences in different localities and contexts.

All chapters offer serious scholarly analysis and discussion, especially in explaining why these programs were necessary in order to advance lifelong learning. I am truly excited by the discourse on the and banking and deficit theories in education, and thereby the need for serious rethink of the various problems of existing concepts of lifelong learning that govern the programs being offered, and the need to for critical review and proposing new directions as put forward by the various authors in this Section.

It is interesting that although this Section is focused on programs, most authors address the issues coming along with the changing economy, the education lag, and insufficiency of lifelong learning in helping people to cope with the requirements for new skills and knowledge to survive in the fast-changing future economy, and many of the unknowns that come along.

Most of the authors point out that the present lifelong learning programs are built upon the existing education system that is basically a closed system in terms of schooling and its curriculum. Most teachers in school have no direct experience of the changing economy, and what is taught in school will already be outdated at the time a student graduates from school or university. Fortunately, lifelong learning courses are offered to provide upskilling and reskilling courses to help the workforce to acquire the latest requirements for knowledge and skills in the changing economy. Unfortunately, they are generally offered by the extension arms of the HEIs, mostly offered in nonformal modes and taught by instructors whose qualifications are inferior to the HEI faculty. Thus, lifelong learning over the last thirty years, despite its mission to complement and supplement the education lag, has failed its mission by adhering to the traditional education system. Many of the chapter authors thus call for fundamental and even radical changes, and suggest new directions that deviate from the existing pedagogical concepts.

New inequalities emerge with the new economic landscapes emerging. For example, gig and platform economy provides new opportunities of running business and thus creates new forms of employment. However, they also tend to turn jobs into projects and turn permanent employment into on-demand services. The concept of ‘low skills equilibrium’ suggests that low-skills learners continue to take low skills courses, and their opportunities are taken by the elites and high skills individuals who can take the advantage of attending high level courses and then prosper. Lifelong learning in this way does not enhance equity, and the elites have better accessibility to high level learning even for nonformal courses. There is strong criticism against the banking approach to education, assuming students have to learn knowledge first before they work, or teachers know therefore they can teach, and students don’t know therefore they have to listen to teachers. Many chapter authors support the notion of “pedagogy for the oppressed” and feel a need to suggest liberating pedagogies.

In the main, authors challenge John Lock’s “blank slate” assumption about the learners. Whether young or old, our authors found that learners from both age groups have lots to offer in the process of learning, especially in the community of learning, and/or community of practices. Thus, many authors suggest employee-driven innovation, pedagogy of the public and in the interest of publicness, interactive learning, knowledge sharing particularly in communities of practices, enhancing communicative ecologies so that learners can support one another to achieve better learning outcomes, the adoption of heutagogy that will encourage self-directive learning yet supported by the learning community to enhance communication with instant messaging devices. More radically, there is a proposal for intergenerational learning, suggesting the need for ‘reciprocal learning’ and ‘reverse mentoring’. For innovation learning, authors advocate co-creation and co-development. In addition, there is a reminder that informal and incidental learning is predominant in the workplace learning, and tacit knowledge is important for innovation. All these are challenges to the existing teaching paradigm that challenges teacher’s authority in teaching, and acknowledging the learning contribution of learners, and this makes peer learning and reverse mentoring possible. Knowledge sharing is important to optimize learning resources embedded in the learners, so that learning is not only self-directed but with ownership and empowerment in lifelong learning.

CIES 2023 will be a remarkable event, choosing such an important topic for discussion. I am sure there will be lots of insights generated from the various presentations by participants attending from around the world. I wish CIES 2023 conference a great success!



Maden, J. (2021). John Locke’s Empiricism: Why We are All Tabula Rasas (Blank States)? Avaialable at https://philosophybreak.com/. Accessed May 4, 2022.

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Introduction by Donaldo Macedo. Trans. Myra Berman Ramos. 30th Anniversary Edition. New York: Continuum.