Edtech, or educational technology, is a big field and is growing fast. Lifelong learning technology is not currently thought of as it’s own field (as far as I know) and if anything is considered a part of, or an application of edtech. I argue that lifelong learning technology is not the same as edtech in many important ways and should be its own field. They are related to each other like health information technology is related to information technology but should be separate fields.
It’s good that edtech and lifelong learning technology are related as edtech has so much activity that lifelong learning technology is certain to benefit. Lifelong learning technology will take off with the increased attention and funding support from being an independent field. Most processes and technology are applicable to each, but lifelong learning is more specialized than edtech. The focus on lifelong learning technology will also help lifelong learning to grow in importance and visibility.
To make my argument I must first differentiate between lifelong learning, education, and learning.
A formal definition of lifelong learning, as we know, is the ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons. Another definition from evolllution.com describes lifelong learning as the active process of learning throughout one’s life, with the aim of improving knowledge, skill mastery and competence, within a personal, civic, social and workforce related perspective. Additionally the Free Dictionary says that lifelong learning is the 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 fulfillment.
We all know what education is. A good definition of education is the process of receiving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university. I have previously stated that education is primarily focused on obtaining the skills and knowledge to prepare for a career. Learning is certainly different from education. Learning is acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, practice, study, or by being taught. Simply put learning is part of the educational and lifelong learning processes and occurs as part of both education and lifelong learning. Learning is also separate and distinct from education and occurs during many other activities and processes, and in other forms.
Lifelong learning is not education. Lifelong learning can occur in an educational format or activity. The key things that differentiates education and lifelong learning are the intent and purpose for each. Lifelong learning is self-motivated and voluntary. I argue that often education is neither, it is often mandatory and sometimes forced. This is a fundamental difference between the two and implies that certain aspects of each require a different approach. This also highlights the need to utilize different technologies for each in certain applications.
Edtech, the acronym of educational technology, generally refers to tools for e-learning. Educational technology is defined as the field of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources. Based on these definitions edtech has taken on a meaning of it’s own, and is no longer considered the same as educational technology. In this case edtech refers specifically to the tools and technologies, educational technology is the field of applying tools to the challenge.
I think of edtech as all of the tools that support the learning process, not just e-learning tools. My description is the most broad description and includes administrative systems, authoring systems, delivery systems, social and collaboration platforms and integration technology. Many new web tools will be lumped into edtech if they are in any way related to learning and are social.
I use the term lifelong learning technology since it’s be the best phrase to use for now and the most descriptive. Are lifelong learning technology and edtech related? Is lifelong learning technology a subset of edtech? My gut feel is that they are not the same as they don’t completely overlap. Lifelong learning technology is more specialized than edtech requiring additional features and capabilities, and they often should be applied and used differently to be applicable for lifelong learning.
If you agree with me that lifelong learning is a much more self-motivated endeavor as compared to most education, then you should acknowledge that lifelong learning requires technologies that differ from edtech. As an example, in information discovery and sharing lifelong learning technologies should be more push than pull-based as well as more on-demand and real-time based than edtech. That doesn’t mean the edtech can’t be on-demand or real-time just that these capabilities are more fundamental to lifelong learning. Someone that has a focus on always learning, and having an open and inquisitive mind to learning opportunities will have more desire and need for more on-demand type learning. An increased need for on-demand learning also implies more mobile applications that are easy to access and use. On-demand collaboration, the ability to collaborate with others that share an interest in a topic area in a more ad-hoc way, is another interesting more specialized requirement for lifelong learning.
Why does lifelong learning technology need to be it’s own separate field? Lifelong learning technology will not achieve it’s fullest potential unless it’s focused on, and it will not be focused on sufficiently unless it becomes its own field. Lifelong learning technology needs its own spotlight so that it can become a full fledge field of it’s own and achieve more than if it’s stays a part of edtech.
Lifelong learning is important, different and unique from continuing education and needs to have its own focus so that it can grow. People need to understand what lifelong learning is, why it’s important in general, and why it’s important to them. Lifelong learning can apply to everyone and is a huge opportunity. Lifelong learning deserves more attention to it for all of these reasons. It should become more of a cause like other causes before it.
Interest in lifelong learning and in lifelong learning technology will grow together. Interest in lifelong learning will increase due to more awareness and improvements in lifelong learning technology that makes lifelong learning easier and more accessible. Lifelong learning technology will get more focus and grow based on the increased interest and attention in lifelong learning.
Lifelong learning technology must be focused on more and receive more attention so that it becomes its own field or domain. As a field of its own it will grow in popularity, in importance, in investment, in innovation and in possibilities. Let’s all work to make this happen and join the cause of lifelong learning technology. It will be fun.