Sustained self-improvement is a hallmark characteristic of successful people. Whatever career they may choose, a persistent effort to further their expertise serves them well. This idea of lifelong learning is ancient. Virgil (70–19 BC) commented that, “One grows weary of everything except science”. A modern resurgence of this concept was articulated by Basil Yeaxlee (1929) and Eduard Lindeman (1926). Learning has undeniably undergone dramatic change throughout time. Progress has fueled these changes and made the world we know possible.
Today, a host of online learning options are available to anyone who is willing and interested. While formal education remains a way of measuring individual abilities, a general trend in informal training is evident as well. Fast-evolving technological progress has made the rapid acquisition of new skills and knowledge a necessity for success. Many different modes of education have sprung up in response to this need. Meanwhile, the dynamics of learning have undergone some dramatic changes. How people learn and the variety of sources from which they learn is growing daily. The internet and easy access to seemingly unlimited quantities of information are helping to address both the need and the desire of adults to continue their self-directed educational efforts.
Other dynamics include the pace of growth in the body of knowledge and increasingly easy access to information. These two areas serve as evidence that adult lifelong learning is flourishing. A demand and supply economy of information is emerging. The continued motivation to acquire knowledge contributes to the increasing pace of human advancement. The history of these two dynamics in fascinating.
Growth in the Body of Knowledge
An early articulation of the scientific method was presented in 1621 by Francis Bacon. His “Instauratio Magna” or “Great Insaturation” proposed a new method by which scientific knowledge could be acquired and classified. Bacon’s work, while extraordinary, was only accomplished on the shoulder of preceding work done by Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei. The scientific method has since been refined and improved. Parallel technological advances have enabled the recording and maintenance of information in various forms. This dynamic allows for systematic advancement by simultaneously growing the collective knowledge of mankind, improving its quality and making it available and accessible by larger numbers of people.
Disappearing Roadblocks of Access to Knowledge
The value of early written works was severely limited by two main barriers. Education and the ability to read and write were rare commodities limited to a small set of people. This stifled advancement and learning by restricting the dissemination of knowledge. The second roadblock was the lack of a mechanism by which written works could survive over time. Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1436 overcame this limitation to some degree allowing for the recordation of written works in larger quantity while limiting errors by avoiding alterations of content due to human error.
These two dynamics and their continued evolution and improvement have made the dramatic growth and distribution of knowledge a reality. A more educated and literate population has resulted. Today’s world of education would hardly be recognizable by the individuals who made it possible. Nevertheless, it has become a reality that has empowered lifelong learning and continues to increase the dimensions of progress.