A Nigerian Perspective on Lifelong Learning

Tanar educational consultancy












JUNE, 2013










This paper is an exploration of lifelong learning from a Nigerian perspective. It begins with an ex-ray of the various definitions of lifelong learning by scholars. Traditional education in Nigeria as they relate to the philosophy of lifelong learning are examined, taking into consideration local customs and practices. The various aspects of lifelong learning such as: informal learning, self-motivated learning, self-funded learning and universal participation are explored and related to the Nigerian experience. Nine (9) strategies for the effective implementation of lifelong learning practices in the Nigerian Educational system are posited at the end.











Lifelong learning is a relatively new field of academic endeavour. It has become a predominant goal for International policy making, and is often advocated as a way to achieve socio-economic development and as a tool for promoting a knowledge based society. Lifelong learning is inbuilt into the nature of human beings. Humans by nature are self-preserving specie. Every society, whether simple or complex has its own system for training and educating its citizens. The education for the good life has been one of the most persistent concerns of men throughout the ages (Fafunwa, 1974). In our rapidly developing world knowledge and education play an even more significant role than ever, so learning and education in Nigeria should not be confined to the school setting alone.

What is Lifelong learning?

The concept of Lifelong learning has to do with all learning activity taken throughout life. According to the Scottish Executive in Sachs (1995); lifelong learning covers the wide range of learning that includes formal and informal. It also includes the skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours that people acquire in their day to day experiences. In response to finding an accurate definition for lifelong learning several scholars and institutions have come up with different ideas to what lifelong learning should be. The European council commission (2007) defines it as “all learning activity undertaken throughout life, with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competence, within a personal, civic, social and or employment related perspective”. It was defined by the Association europeenne des conservatories as “all learning activity, formal or informal”. In the Harper Collins dictionary “lifelong learning is the provision or use of both formal and informal learning opportunities throughout people’s lives in order to foster the continuous development and improvement of the knowledge and skills needed for employment and personal fulfilment”. The common factor in all the definitions stated above are learning activities and throughout life. Lifelong learning can therefore be said to be about acquiring all kinds of abilities, interests and knowledge from Pre School to post retirement. It also implies all forms of learning including formal learning such as regular school programmes to non-formal learning such as vocational skills acquired at work and informal learning such as learning music notes from friends. It may be broadly defined as learning that is pursued throughout life; learning that is flexible, diverse and available at different times and in different places. Lifelong learning crosses sectors, promoting learning beyond traditional schooling and throughout life. This definition is based on Jacques Delors’ (1996) four pillars of education for the future: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be. These are summarized in “learning to learn”. Lifelong learning therefore instils creativity, initiative and responsiveness in people thereby creating a learning society.

Lifelong Education in Nigeria

The above concept and definitions of Lifelong learning brings us to the traditional practice of education in Nigeria, in which education is regarded as a means to an end and not and end in itself. In the traditional Nigerian setting Education was seen as an immediate induction into society and a preparation for adulthood. Children were involved in practical farming, fishing, weaving, cooking, carving and other such crafts. The ability to pass this knowledge from one person to another is very important. The traditional society envisioned lifelong learning by the roles one was expected to play in society. Despite the advent of modern educational systems these traditional practices still take place alongside.

Contemporary educational practices in Nigeria have over the years played down on vocational, non-formal and informal learning: key aspects of lifelong learning. However, the internet has exposed the current generation of Educationists to external experiences through social media interactions, which has affected their perspective. They are now more aware of globalization and are flexible in adopting new global pedagogies. The new National Policy on Education in Nigeria seeks to make education more assessable and lifelong to a wider population through e-learning, adult education, continuous learning, nomadic and vocational education. It also recognizes the fact that that the former system where learners focus on classroom reading ill-suited to equip people to work or live in a knowledge economy and learning society. The notion of a learning society has gained considerable recognition because if learning involves all of one’s life in the sense of both time-span and diversity, and all of society, including its social and economic as well as its educational resources, then we must go even further than necessary overhaul of educational systems until we reach the stage of a learning society. The learning society is an educated society, committed to active citizenship. The aim is to provide learning opportunities to educate adults to meet the challenges of change and citizenship

Despite the shift in policy on education in Nigeria, educational administrators must come to understand that lifelong learning spans a wide range of education issues and speaks to many different audiences. They should come to terms with four major characteristics of lifelong learning as espoused by researchers.

Informal learning

As seen in the various definitions, Lifelong learning encompasses formal and informal learning.  Informal learning describes a lifelong process whereby individuals acquire attitudes, values, skills and knowledge from daily experience and the educational influences and resources in his or her environment, from family and neighbours, from work and play, from the market place, the library and the mass media. It also means that there is no need to talk about planning, organizing and structuring of the learning process. It comes about in an unplanned manner. In Nigeria informal learning also takes the form of folklore, traditional events like age grade rites of passage. Although it is not easily measured informal learning plays an important part in the process of lifelong learning. “Informal learning, Schugurensky (2000) suggests, has its own internal forms that are important to distinguish in studying the phenomenon. He proposes three forms: self-directed learning, incidental learning, and socialization, or tacit learning. These differ among themselves in terms of intentionality and awareness at the time of the learning experience. Self-directed learning, for example, is intentional and conscious; incidental learning, which Marsick and Watkins (1990) describe as an accidental by-product of doing something else, is unintentional but after the experience she or he becomes aware that some learning has taken place; and finally, socialization or tacit learning is neither intentional nor conscious (although we can become aware of this learning later through “retrospective recognition”).   Merriam and others (2007) state: “studies of informal learning, especially those asking about adults’ self-directed learning projects, reveal that upwards of 90 per cent of adults are engaged in hundreds of hours of informal learning. It has also been estimated that the great majority (upwards of 70 per cent) of learning in the workplace is informal (Kim, Collins, Hagedorn, Williamson, & Chapman, 2004), although billions of dollars each year are spent by business and industry on formal training programs.”  Experience indicates that much of the learning for performance is informal (The Institute for Research on Learning, 2000). Those who transfer their knowledge to a learner are usually present in real time. Such learning can take place over the telephone or through the Internet, as well as in person.


Self-motivated learning

The second major characteristic of Lifelong learning is self-motivated learning. The human person has an innate desire to explore the unknown and discover new frontiers of life. Although education and training may have economic benefits for individuals, it is recognized that economic incentives alone are not necessarily sufficient to motivate people to engage in education and training. A range of motivational barriers need to be identified and addressed in order for some people to participate in education and training. While some of these barriers are economic and can be overcome with financial assistance, many people are deterred from engaging in education and training by social and personal factors. An Australian survey of participants (in Soni, 2012) in adult education courses identified a range of factors motivating people to undertake adult learning, such as:

  • To upgrade job skills;
  • To start a business;
  • To learn about a subject or to extend their knowledge;
  • To meet new people;
  • To develop self-confidence;
  • To get involved in the community; and
  • To develop personal skills;
  • To participate in social networking

By acknowledging the range of factors that act as both a motivation and barrier to engagement in education and training, lifelong learning policies tend to promote participation in learning for its own sake rather than as a means to a specific end (i.e. employment) which is the prevalent case in Nigeria. The goal of participation in learning thus appears to be more significant than the reason why. This can be seen as an acknowledgment of the range of factors that motivate people to participate in formal and informal learning other than, or in addition to, instrumental goals. The day to day life of an average Nigerian presents him/her with several challenges to encourage self-motivated learning. The lack of many basic infrastructures opens new doors for people to advance their learning. For example the lack of regular power supply should be used as a motivator to learn new technology to solve power problems in many communities. The internet revolution is another avenue for young Nigerians to motivate themselves to enhance their I.C.T skills.  In the diverse communities of Nigeria there is a pool of self-motivated learners who should be harnessed to promote national development. It is quite unfortunate that this category of learners is not given attention by education policy makers and economic planners in Nigeria.

Self-funded learning

Self-funded learning is the third characteristic of the lifelong learning literature. The concept of self-funded learning is linked to the characteristic of self-motivated learning. In recognition of the costs involved in subsidizing lifelong involvement in education and training, the lifelong learning philosophy emphasizes the responsibility of individuals to finance their own continuing education and training with minimal support from government. Nordstorm (2008) defines a lifelong learner as a person who takes responsibility for their own learning and who is prepared to invest time, money and effort in education or training on a continuous basis. The government in Nigeria subsidizes most aspects of adult Education, but enough has not been done to encourage people to see the need to pay to acquire knowledge for their personal development. According to a survey carried out by the University of Calabar most Nigerians feel that learning is for Job seeking and so do not feel they have a need to pay to acquire more knowledge.


Universal participation

The fourth distinctive feature of the lifelong learning is a commitment to universal participation in education and training. In advocating ‘lifelong learning for all’, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) argues that universal participation is necessary for meeting the economic demands of the 21st century. The concept of universal participation includes both informal and formal learning for all purposes – social, economic and personal. As stated earlier, universal participation in lifelong learning is necessary for social cohesion in a time of rapid economic and social change. The world is now a global village and Nigerian educators should make this reflect in their pedagogy and policy.

Strategies for Implementing Lifelong Learning in Nigeria

The following strategies posited by Soni (2012), are relevant to entrench lifelong learning in the Nigerian Educational system.

– First, recognize all forms of learning, not just formal courses of study.

– Partnership working, between public authorities and education service providers (schools, universities, etc.), the business sector and the social partners, local associations, vocational guidance services, research centres, etc.

– Insight into the demand for learning in the knowledge-based society – which will entail  redefining basic skills, to include for instance the new information and communication  technologies. Analyses should take into account foreseeable labour market trends. There is the requirement for collaboration in policy development and implementation among a wide range of partners, including ministries other than education.

– Adequate resourcing, involving a substantial increase in public and private investment in learning. This does not only imply substantially increasing public budgets, but also ensuring the effective allocation of existing resources and encouraging new forms of investment. Investment in human capital is important at all points in economic cycles; skills gaps and shortages can certainly co-exist with unemployment.

– Facilitating access to learning opportunities by making them more visible, introducing new provision and removing obstacles to access, for example through the creation of more local learning centres. Special efforts are necessary in this context for different groups such as ethnic minorities, people with disabilities or people living in rural areas.

– Creating a learning culture by giving learning a higher profile, both in terms of image and by providing incentives for the people most reticent to opt for learning.

– Striving for excellence through the introduction of quality control and indicators to measure progress. In concrete terms, provision must be made for standards, guidelines and mechanisms whereby achievements can be recognised and rewarded.

– Reformulation of access and equity priorities in a lifelong context, by looking at the opportunities that are available to individuals across their life-cycle and in the different settings where learning can occur. It is argued that knowledge-based economies and societies cannot afford to exclude a large part of their population from access to education and learning resources. Furthermore, inequalities in society often raise problems of mutual understanding and adjustment within organisations, in society at large and in the democratic process.

I must add that there must be less emphasis on certification in favour of practical skills.




Lifelong learning underlies everything education stands for. It should be incorporated into the Nigerian Educational system to make it more meaning full to those who acquire it. Traditional cultural practices in arts, health care, sports, social life and technology should be encouraged informal schools to make learning more domesticated without losing a world view of learning. For education to be truly meaningful to Nigerians it should embrace all aspects of lifelong learning.













Fafunwa, A. B. (1974). History of Education in Nigeria. London: George Allen and Unwin         Ltd

European Council Commission. (2007). Lifelong learning. retrieved from http://www.ec.europa.eu   on 9/06/2013

Delors, J. (1996). Learning: The Treasure Within. (Report to UNESCO of the International

Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century), retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/education/

Kim, K., Collins Hagedorn, M., Williamson, J., Chapman, C. (2004). Participation in Adult  Education and Lifelong Learning: 2000–01 (NCES 2004–050). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office

Marsick, V. J., & Watkins, K. E. (1990). Informal and incidental learning in the workplace. London and New York: Routledge.

Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.

Nordstrom N. (2008). Top 10 Benefits of Lifelong Learning. Retrieved from   http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/Top_10_Benefits_of_Lifelong_Learning.html on 13/06/2013

Sachs, P. (1995). Transforming Work: Collaboration, Learning, and Design.

  Communications of the ACM, 38(9), pp. 36-44.

Soni S. (2012). Lifelong Learning – Education and Training. FIG working week reports


One Response to “A Nigerian Perspective on Lifelong Learning”


    Am in educational foundation department and offering community development also known as adult education /health and while going through dis site I loved what I saw, it has really inculcated in me extensive definition of lifelong learning .thanks I appreciate .

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