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What Does Lifelong Learning Mean in K-12 Education?
ClassIn Official
2023/06/06· 4 min read
In our previous blog posts, we have explored in depth the concept, skills, and practices of lifelong learning. One critical question remains: who are the lifelong learners? While many associate the practice with adult education and upskilling in the workplace, lifelong learning takes place at a young age and can be applied in the existing school system.
In this article, we will take you through the why and how of integrating lifelong learning in the current K-12 structure with two success stories. Keep reading!

Why do we need to practice lifelong learning in K-12 schools?

1. Develop habits


Gerhard Fischer, director of the Center for LifeLong Learning and Design (L3D) at the University of Colorado, pointed out that “Lifelong learning is an essential challenge for inventing the future of our societies; it is a necessity rather than a luxury to be considered. . . . It is a mindset and a habit for people to acquire.” At an early age, students can develop a mindset and habits for lifelong learning that will drive sustainable and long-term innovation.

2. Overcome challenges


Lifelong learning is particularly productive when it comes to problem-solving. People with a lifelong learning mindset never see challenges or mistakes as obstacles or failures; rather, they acknowledge the barriers as part of the learning process and actively seek solutions.
“By embracing a student-like mindset and learning to turn self-education into a daily habit, you can hone your current skills and develop new ones while enriching your mind,” Paul Jun, writer and author, explained. “Then, when the time to adapt arrives, the transitions are less bumpy.”
A student working through a homework problem
A student working through a homework problem

3. Proliferate learning outcomes


Education scholars identified “a growing awareness of the necessity to change and improve the preparation of students for productive functioning in the continually changing and highly demanding environment”. With an inclusive and dynamic vision, lifelong learning equips students with the skillset to constantly acquire new information amid rapid changes.


How to integrate lifelong learning opportunities into K-12 education?


“Even for the best educators,” Thomas Arnett confessed, “meeting every student’s needs can prove elusive.” In conventional schooling, a rigid system of teacher-led, whole-class instruction is carried out to keep all students in order with limited regard to individual learning journeys. As a result, many fail to meet their set goals and become easily discouraged.


So how can educators introduce more adaptability and flexibility in K-12 education for would-be lifelong learners?


1. Set flexible deadlines


Deadlines are a common tool to keep students motivated, but being too rigid often sends students into overwhelming anxieties. Allow some wiggle room in the lesson plan to give students a total number of grace days that they can navigate the class at their own pace.


2. Offer accessible materials


Accessibility of learning materials is vital when it comes to costs, storage, disability accommodations, and more. With a cloud-based management system, teachers can make readily accessible course materials available at all times to encourage flexible learning pathways. In addition, get to know the class ahead of time and work with on-campus disability center to implement inclusive teaching strategies.


Student accessing cloud-based learning report and resources on ClassIn


Student accessing cloud-based learning report and resources on ClassIn

3. Provide spaces for collaboration


Classrooms should not be constructed as sectioned-off spaces to keep students until the bell. Instead, we need to design these spaces as opportunities to promote interaction and cooperation. For example, we can use moving seats and even movable walls to create breakout space for group work. Another famous K-12 school design trend is the use of blended learning spaces. Rather than building separate spaces for students who need extra support or resources, we incorporate these needs into every room!


4. Encourage community building


“Taking the time to get to know your students and for them to know each other will make for a better learning environment, enhance student belonging, and lower the barrier for students to come to you when they may need to ask for more flexibility,” according to Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning. The center advocates for such activities as writing exercises or short discussions to mediate stressful moments as well as to build a community with shared affection and atmosphere.


5. Use technologies in classrooms


To be lifelong learners in the 21st century, students must be able to exhibit a range of independent learning and critical thinking skills related to information, media and technology. One way to blend technology with lifelong learning is through the use of edtech tools. For example, ClassIn, an online and hybrid learning solution, provides a platform for learners to learn independently, think creatively, and act cooperatively.


A ClassIn-enabled smart classroom


A ClassIn-enabled smart classroom

Success stories of K-12 schools with flexible designs

1. Map Academy


Map Academy is a free, charter public high school open to all Massachusetts students up to age 24. It holds the belief that every student can succeed though some may take some detours along the way towards success, “putting students at the center of their own learning journeys.”


Students choose Map Academy for a number of reasons, but often as a result of insurmountable barriers in other schools. Map provides a new start for young dropouts or exiles to continue their plans and goals in K-12 education.


Map Academy allows students’ learning experience to flow within the space and outside the walls in flexible ways. Its model is founded on four key principles:

  • Competency-Based – Students master skills or knowledge before moving on

  • Highly-Supportive – Students get what they need to succeed

  • Flexible Pathways – No one path to success looks the same

  • Career Development – Students are ready for life after high school


In this way, students are involved in their own learning and already live in the real world, making education relevant, engaging and meaningful and preparing for lifelong learning after high school. At Map Academy, “I get to experiment on what I want,” commented Virginia, a beneficiary of Map. “It opens my mind and challenges me more. . . . It helps me find myself as a person in a way too.”


2. Lakeville Schools


Lakeville Schools in Lakeville, Minn., serving 10,800 students, have gained tremendous value in long-term planning with flexible designs. Designed to meet current and future needs, Lakeville schools accommodate seamless additions and renovations along with demographic shifts, programming changes and technology.


Lakeville schools implement seven strategies to ensure their flexibility in support of the educational programming of future generations. The strategies include collaborating during design, designing with change in mind, designing for the greater community, investing in quality materials, considering expansion, assuming technology will change, and considering the future of energy.


“Discussing proactive consideration and implementation of these strategies into a school’s design will facilitate future adaptability,” Vaughn Dierks of Wold Architects & Engineers, a partner of Lakeville for 25 years, observed.