Lifelong learning: a key competence for the workers of the future


A few weeks ago we talked here about some recommendations for a company to start its journey towards Industry 4.0 and we highlighted the importance of the human factor to implement a successful “4.0 strategy”. Taking into account the change that might happen in the employee’s duties in the course of the transition, in our previous post we anticipated the great significance education and training plans will have in protecting employees against the needs of the new competitive environment and engaging them with the changes already set in motion.

In the awareness of the importance people have in this journey towards the new industrial revolution, this time we want to go deeply into: the relevance of education as a mechanism to the adaptation of workers; the new skills will be necessary; and the relationship between this context and the new model of continuous learning or lifelong learning, in which Gradiant and Netex are working on.


Education as the driving force for change

Taking into account the revolution that organizations of different sectors are already experiencing, it is understandable that new professional profiles will be needed during the process and the existing ones will be changed in order to incorporate today’s workers in the industry of the future. In both cases, the needed changes in the process of workers’ training can only be successfully addressed from a deep change in the educational model we know, oriented towards formal learning.

To address this redesign, experts raise two key issues:

– Rethinking Education plans: it is estimated that 65% of children who are currently accessing primary education will have Jobs and functions do not currently exist. Such Jobs will require technical, social and analytical skills that are not correctly boosted in current education plans (based on the dichotomy of Sciences and Humanities and oriented mostly to obtain qualifications and not to acquire skills or abilities).

– Encourage continuous learning or lifelong learning: in addition to rethinking current education plans, future workers will need a continuous learning aimed to reskill them. In a competitive work environment such as the one we are living in – and as expected in the future- employees will have to gain skills that allow them to update their knowledge and, more generally, to be prepared to manage their own learning.

In this line of educational rethinking, Peter Firsk claims a “4.0 education for an industry 4.0” that, adopted in all educational levels, has the following characteristics:

  1. Students will have more opportunities to learn at different times in different places
  2. Personalized learning, including adaptive learning tools and learning processes able to adapt to the capabilities of a student
  3. Project based learning to apply student skills in shorter terms to a variety of situations
  4. Field experience to gain real-world skills and abilities (useful for their job)
  5. Automatic data interpretation by computers
  6. Project based evaluation and field experience evaluation
  7. Students involved in shaping their own curricula
  8. Mentoring as a key issue in a process with a increasing student regulation and freedom (self-regulated learning)

From both aspects, we can conclude continuous learning has to be not only a consequence of the new industrial and professional scenario, but also a driving force for the transition towards Industry 4.0 and the future jobs, focusing the efforts in the classrooms of ‘today’.


What is lifelong learning and why is it important?

As an evolution of the adult education concept coined by UNESCO in the 1940s, permanent education, recurrent learning, or lifelong learning is defined by the European Parliament [1] as all general education, vocational education and training, non-formal education and informal learning undertaken throughout life, resulting in an improvement in knowledge, skills, and competences within a personal, civic, social and/or employment-related perspective.

From a somewhat more focused point of view than the one granted by the European institution, lifelong learning is defined as the continuous development of knowledge and skills that people experience after formal education and throughout their lives, and that supposes a considerable domain about how learning occurs and the tools that are available for it. In this line, the importance of experience-based learning is emphasized.

As some experts highlight, these definitions point to self-regulated learning and autonomous learning. Self-regulation refers to the regulation of the personal factors of the learning process, the setting of goals, the monitoring and self-evaluation of progress and the evaluation of performance in order to continue learning. Closely linked to this concept of self-regulation, autonomous learning arises as a process by which an individual learning areas go beyond the formal (informal learning and non-formal learning) on her own. In any case, although personal effort is key in lifelong learning, it does not have to depend solely on the responsibility of individual people. Technology can also contribute to facilitate its development. Technologies such as the open learner models (OLM) and learning analytics (LA), learning networks and networked learning, open educational resources, or mobile and contextualized learning can be used in this regard [2].

The importance of lifelong learning should not be considered only as a consequence of the new industrial environment towards which we are heading. In our current context, continuous learning is also important in demographic terms, knowing that people live longer and tend to have a longer working life; and in contextual terms per se, by the increasing ease of access to information and knowledge. Around this relevance, we can find personal, organizational, social and economic benefits both in the labor market and employment, e.g. motivation, personal fulfillment, or social welfare.


Providing a lifelong learning based on technology

Gradiant has collaborated in several R+D+i projects related to open learner models (OLM) and Learning Analytics (LA) technologies that, as we discussed earlier, promotes continuous learning. On one hand, regarding open learner models, we can highlight the SIMPLIFY Project, where we work together with Ednon and Grupo Océano in tools to support teachers and help them to better understand the learning process and the problems of their students. On the other hand, regarding Learning Analytics, we also highlight both the T-DIDACTA Project, with Netex; or the ATENEA-I Project, with Ednon, Altia and Postal3.

Being aware of the change posed by the transition to the Industry 4.0 model, Gradiant and Netex currently work in a Mixed Research Unit that aims to improve competitiveness through personalized and continuous learning solutions for workers. In this line, we include a package specifically focused on the development of training solutions that facilitate lifelong learning and competency-based learning.



[1] Volles, N. (2016). “Lifelong learning in the EU: changing conceptualisations, actors, and policies”. doi: 10.1080/03075079.2014.927852

[2] Tabuenca B., Kalz M., Specht M. (2014). “Lifelong Learning Hub: A Seamless Tracking Tool for Mobile Learning”. In: Rensing C., de Freitas S., Ley T., Muñoz-Merino P.J. (eds) “Open Learning and Teaching in Educational Communities”. EC-TEL 2014. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 8719


UMI Netex – Gradiant

Subsidized by the Galician Innovation Agency through the 2016 Mixed Research Units Program, the research unit Smart Lifelong Learning for the Industry of the Future and the Society of Knowledge is co-financed by the European Union, within the framework of the ERDF Operational Program Galicia 2014-2020 , to promote technological development, innovation and quality research.

Supported by the Consellería de Economía, Empleo e Industria of the Xunta de Galicia.

FEDER, A way to build Europe



Autor: Agustín Cañas,  Head of eLearning in Services & Applications Department at Gradiant.