A celebration of lifelong learning…

Woman in a red shirt wearing glasses and reading a book laying on grass

Who doesn’t love learning? I’m sure that pretty well everyone in the inquisitive Henpicked community loves to learn, whether it’s a new styling trick, a new skill or for a new qualification.

Woman in a red shirt wearing glasses and reading a book laying on grass Lifelong learning is a very familiar concept, and something in which many of us are engaged.

During May and June each year in the UK, we celebrate the Festival of Learning, formerly known as Adult Learners’ Week.  There are lots of events and taster sessions happening all over the country, from a Chinese tea ceremony experience to Adult Learning Awards.

I thought I’d share with you a few reflections on lifelong learning.

Once upon a time, mostly, we left school, college or university, found a job and settled in it for life. Now we’re used to the labour market and even the nature of work being much more fluid and insecure. Employers need staff who can learn new skills quickly, adapt to changing demands in the workplace and multi-task.

During our working lives we are probably more likely than ever to experience jobs or even whole industries we trained for ceasing to exist, meaning we need to reskill ourselves. Even if we do stay in our original profession or vocation, there are requirements for continuing professional development and accreditation which keep people learning.

Conversely, there are so many more opportunities now to learn and study in adult life. While the Open University, where I taught for almost 20 years, was an innovation in the late 1960s in offering adults a chance to study for a degree, most institutes of higher education now have lifelong learning departments and many offer distance learning.

Careers like counselling and psychotherapy are particularly suited to people with real life experience in related professions, who want a change of career in midlife.

Our reflexive, self questioning and perhaps less risk-averse culture allows people to retrain rather than staying in a job they have grown to hate. And with pension ages set to rise ever higher, I think we’re likely to see more and more people changing professions at least once in their careers.

Learning for pleasure

Even if we’re not learning for professional purposes, there are psychological benefits to continuing to learn. A few years ago I undertook a research study among Open University students who had begun their studies at age 70 or over. The results were fascinating. People were studying to try to stave off dementia, to take their minds off pain, grief or loneliness, or to fulfil lifelong ambitions.

One lady told me how she had wanted to go to Paris aged 16 to paint, but her mother made her get a clerical job and took her earnings off her each week. Now well into her 70s, that lady was fulfilling her long-held dream by studying art.

Psychologist Carl Rogers developed a person-centred theory as a framework for learning. He described people striving for self actualisation, and that resonated very strongly with what my respondents were telling me.

I use that research in my self employment as a lifelong learning practitioner, working with textile crafts and reflexive narrative to help people with experience of dementia, mental health difficulties or enduring grief reconnect with their positive self concept. It’s a model of lifelong learning called wise, humanising creativity and it uses Rogers’ core conditions of empathy, warmth, congruence and unconditional positive regard to help people free themselves from oppressive thoughts or self doubts.

The best learning should always be enjoyable and it doesn’t have to be for a qualification or professional development. So whether you choose to learn Arabic or Zumba, beekeeping or Reiki, take a taster session in knitting or apply to do a PhD, get involved in the Festival of Learning and enjoy…


Craft, A (2012) ‘Co-participative transformation: Creative learning conversations’ in Soler J, Walsh C, Craft A, Rix J and Simmons K (eds) (2012) Transforming Practice, Stoke on Trent, Trentham Books

Rogers, C. (2002) ‘The interpersonal relationship in the facilitation of learning’ in Harrison, R, Reeve, F, Hanson, A and Clarke, J (eds) Supporting Lifelong Learning Vol. 1 Perspectives on Learning. London: Routledge.


Hilary Wellington

About Hilary Wellington

I have over 30 years' professional experience of working with Disabled people, in health and social care and in teaching and support work in higher education. I'm a passionate textiles crafter, and am combining these two threads of my life in my therapeutic crafting and reminiscence therapy social business.