[Introduction]: Lifelong learning has been extensively researched and has attained global prominence since the 1970s. There now exists a large body of literature on the subject and supranational institutions, such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), and the World Bank have and continue to influence the policies of national and intra-national governments. Lifelong learning is promoted to populations, workforces, and individuals as benefiting national and global economies and personal well-being.
Lifelong learning terminology and policy are ubiquitous. Governments and the business sector now expect individuals in general, and workers in particular, to be lifelong learners. The rationale proffered is that lifelong learning enables people to cope with an ever-changing society, economy and world of work, that is, to be good and effective citizens and workers. For that expectation and policy to be achievable, reasonable, and equitable it must be known whether it is in fact possible for everyone to be a lifelong learner. Therefore it must also be known what makes or motivates a lifelong learner (determinants). This research goes beyond lifelong learner attributes, to focus on the propensity to lifelong learning of contemporary Australians, that is, what makes an Australian lifelong learner.
A review of literature found the Adult Learning @ Home research project in Britain, viewable at http://www.cf.ac.uk/socsi/ict/, is arguably the seminal work on the determinants of lifelong learning. The findings about learning trajectories add new and deeper insight into the subject and its implications for education and policy. This work was conducted by researchers Stephen Gorard, Neil Selwyn, John Furlong and Louise Madden between 2002 and 2004. It investigated lifelong learning determinants in conjunction with the use and influence of information and communication technology in and on both formal and informal learning. Some answers were found to the question ‘What makes a lifelong learner’ in the British context. Whilst Watson (2003) has conducted significant Australian research in this area, there is no evident Australian research comparable to the British work.
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Mindful of Osborne’s (2002) caution about making international comparisons, this pilot study investigates whether there is a prima facie case for the proposition that the British findings are, or may be, either generalisable or transferable to the Australian context. This study describes the background to lifelong learning and the literature review offers a working definition and description of attributes. It also provides an overview of policy and equity, the world of work, and propensity to lifelong learning. A positivist approach was taken to the choice of methods, and the data from a purposive sample of interviewees was quantitatively analysed. Finally, analysis informed by literature suggested that there is a prima facie case, and further research into determinants and implications for policy and equity is recommended.