Lifelong learning: a blessing or a curse?

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Let’s all be more productive, effectively chase our goals, and of course… continue to grow and learn! This seems to be one of the most important mantras of the 21st century. But is it justified? Dr. Jeltsen Peeters weighs up the options.

Lifelong learning for teachers

For any professional working with learners, I would lean towards ‘Yes, lifelong pursuit of learning is justified’.

When deciding what methods are most effective for supporting students, teachers should make use of objective information like research-based knowledge. It’s what sets professionals apart from novices who primarily (or solely) count on their intuition or subjective experiences. For example, since meta-review studies show that supporting metacognition and self-regulation is one of the most effective and well-studied teaching practices for improving academic performance, any professional teacher should get the chance to learn how to support student self-regulation.

So, yes, teachers should be lifelong learners, so they can continue to update their skills and knowledge. And just like students, teachers too can benefit from self-regulated learning skills.

Lifelong learning in society

Broadening the scope to citizens (including teachers in their function as citizens), I would say, ‘No, it is not justified to continuously push yourself or others to be even more productive, effective, etc.’. There are limits to it. After all, your well-being, health, and family goals are just as important as your professional and lifelong learning goals.

That being said, self-regulated learning skills will help any citizen become a lifelong learner – which will prepare them for a job market we may not yet know much about – and help them achieve some of their life goals, as well.

It’s no coincidence that both self-regulation and self-regulated learning (or ‘managing learning’) are two distinct competences within the LifeComp Framework. The framework identifies nine competences that are crucial for living and thriving in the 21st century.

Self-regulated learning: more than a hype

The interest in self-regulated learning is not just a research and policy hype. How can it be if it has been studied for decades already? In fact, self-regulated learning lies at the heart of learning. Teachers facing various challenges look at self-regulated learning in order to:

  • help at-risk students learn to their maximum capacity (inclusive education);
  • support students when learning from a distance (home education during pandemic);
  • help students deal with more autonomy in bigger class groups;
  • help students learn outside and after school (dual learning and lifelong learning);
  • support students to better study for the exams (increased academic achievement);
  • boost learning during student collaboration (co-regulation);
  • better coach students in student-centred classroom practices (personalised education);
  • prevent and cope with disengaged students (early school leaving).

There are plenty of reasons why teachers might be motivated to invest in students’ self-regulated learning. But motivation alone is insufficient.

Firstly, teachers should find out what self-regulated learning really is (and what it is not), how they can recognise it in their students, and how to then choose the most effective strategy to promote it. Luckily, research offers lots of answers already.

Secondly, we should support teachers in translating that knowledge into their own practice. We should help them set goals that are realistic and motivating for them, translate them into concrete plans, seek help when needed, self-observe, readjust, manage emotions and motivation… you get the point, right?

Teachers should also be able to benefit from strong self-regulated learning skills. And we should do everything in our power to further empower them.                                                                                   

For more information on the topic, check out this video.

Jeltsen Peeters

Dr. Jeltsen Peeters works in the interesting area of research, policy and practice. She currently works for GO! Education in the Flemish Community, where she supports the implementation of self-regulated learning. As co-founder of the Self-Regulated Learning Collective and active advisory board member of multiple research projects, she continues to help bridge the research-practice gap.