A “Whole Life” Policy: and It’s not from GEICO

As we have been discussing, the new universe of learning is going to have tools and services that were previously unimaginable. For example, the term “lifelong learning,” even 25 years ago, was interpreted to mean the role institutions would play in offering appropriate courses throughout the learner’s life. There was, literally, no way for the learner to control their lifelong learning. Now, however, as we look forward, we can envision a “free range” learning universe in which all kinds of learning, from structured to completely personalized, is available 24/7/365.

Equally as revolutionary, however, will be our ability to understand the cumulative meaning of that learning as never before; to curate all learning in electronic files, to participate in learning communities as we see fit, with a keystroke, and to sustain a lifelong relationship with one or more institutions that facilitates these and other services as needed.

Lifelong Portfolios. In earlier writings, I discussed several ways that, philosophically, the new universe of learning would support purposeful lifelong learning. They included T.S. Eliot’s “arriving where we started and know the place for the first time.” And I recalled dozens of events in my own life which formed a new understanding of how lifelong learning, in all of its forms, changes and informs us if we only learn how to let it. I framed my understanding this way.

Time is the classroom.

Life is the teacher.

We are the learners, dancing with time through our lives.

I added a later discussion about the interplay between personal, experiential, and academic or more formalized learning. I went on to say “there are two sides to this personal/experiential learning coin: the actual skills and abilities that are concrete and knowable and gained through experience and the values, attitudes, and behaviors developed and refined through experience, reflection, and introspection.” Dr. Jill Mattuck-Tarule said that I had “made visible a form of adult knowing that has largely been invisible for all adults.”

Other than being a serial diarist, however, there has been no way to capture, reflect on, and store all the evidence of learning in the past. As a result, one’s personal development could not be chronicled in a dynamic, helpful and productive way. The act of remembering and reflecting on learning for its meaning was virtually impossible. And the curation and archiving of all types of learning was equally impossible.

All that is changing. In the new universe, companies like Parchment will offer living portfolios that encourage all forms of learning to be included in the developmental mosaic that “adult knowing” represents. These portfolios will be living documents that reflect all aspects of learning as they accumulate throughout life.


Lifelong Communities. Operating in support of these portfolios will be a wide variety of lifelong learning support communities. Of course, all adult learners operate and live in their own community, with family and friends, workplace associates and civic acquaintances. And learnings from these relationships will be rich material for a learning portfolio. Another source of community will be interest-based communities established on line, like OpenStudy , which support inquiry and work, both formal and informal, around ongoing learning projects. Such online communities will contribute as well to the learner’s portfolio.

Finally, universities will create lifetime relationships with their learners, offering a “warm hearth” for further learning, counseling, and career guidance. These, and other communities like them, will encourage learners to track, accumulate, and understand all forms of learning that occur during life’s journey. To continually fill in the picture of who they are becoming, understanding their “adult knowing” as they return again to where they started and know the place for the first time.

What ideas do you have about how to best structure this kind of lifelong effort and documentation?

2 thoughts on “A “Whole Life” Policy: and It’s not from GEICO

  1. Your article is encouraging. Some Adult life experiences may not have been valued highly by those who dwell in the academic world. German engineering is often viewed as exceptional. However, the engineering education model requires years of adult apprenticeship that supplements and/or precedes any traditional, formal academic work. This is a more open and inclusive approach to education, and gives Germany world-class leadership in many areas of engineering. The Whole Life model may open the U.S. academic world to give increased value to the practical experiences of hackers and other basement tech pioneers, too.


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