Lifelong Learning and Continuing Education: What is a Learning Society?

John Williams (Leadership and Management Unit, Centre for Continuing Professional Development, Sheffield Hallam University)

Quality Assurance in Education

ISSN: 0968-4883

Article publication date: 1 June 2000




Williams, J. (2000), "Lifelong Learning and Continuing Education: What is a Learning Society?", Quality Assurance in Education, Vol. 8 No. 2, pp. 100-102.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

For a concept to be successful in becoming a widespread and accepted part of the education landscape, it needs to be both ambiguous and capable of sustaining a multitude of interpretations. One of the best examples of this is the concept of community education and, in the past decade, lifelong learning has achieved this status. Thus, when the editor of the book writes that concepts such as lifelong learning are often used uncritically and without precision of thought, this is undoubtedly a factor in its widespread use and its success as a concept.

The book is a collection of 14 articles, which explore the use of the concept of lifelong learning in an attempt to unpack its various meanings and to redress the rather uncritical usage of the term in recent times. The range of contributions includes both empirically‐based studies and theoretical contributions, but the majority are of the latter rather than the former kind. Each chapter explores a different facet of the concept. The tensions between the liberal humanist concept of education as a route to personal fulfilment, and more economistic views about the contribution to earning a living, are also explored in various ways. The papers by Martin, Oliver and Edwards address some of the theoretical issues, and papers by Usher and Deane‐Drummond examine lifelong education as a facet of adult education. The breadth of contributions is enormous, ranging through parenting education, the role of community organisations, environmental education, parenting programmes and the relationship between employers and lifelong learning. The individual learner perspective is covered by Powell’s chapter on issues of self‐development and professional development within teaching, while Paczuska writes about the learning of mature students within a lifelong learning context. Merrill, who looks at adult participation in European universities, provides a European dimension.

One of the most thought‐provoking chapters is by Katherine Hughes, which looks at the issue of student support in a context of cuts in funding, ever larger group sizes and increasing pressures on students from non‐traditional education backgrounds. She maintains that adult education is experiencing greater involvement of students with mental health problems and that this needs to be taken more seriously and made more “visible” as part of an equal opportunities approach.

The book provides a useful overview of the diversity of issues that could be included within lifelong learning and, as such, people who want a quick introduction to the field will read it. One of the strengths of the book may also turn out to be its weakness, because the inclusion of so many articles covering such a wide range of issues means that it is not easy to discern for whom it is written. Inevitably, some issues are treated superficially, but one of its uses may be on courses aimed at people training in the field of post‐compulsory education who want an overview of the area.

There is, however, little attempt to group major themes within the book and the reader is left with the impression of a rather disparate collection of articles of uneven quality that are only loosely related to one another. The book would be more accessible if there was an editorial contribution that identified and grouped the major themes of the book for the reader to reflect on.

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