Key Competencies for Lifelong Learning

Over the last 10 years, economies and societies have experienced essential changes: demographic, labor market, digital, and technological. These changes and developments affect people’s daily life, both at work and leisure:

  • Many new job roles appeared in the market, and much more are still expected;
  • Manual and routine operations are subject to automatization and robotization;
  • New forms of communication and relationships are changing the structure of societies;
  • Modern world relies heavily on highly competent professionals and the competencies themselves are changing regularly.

In addition to traditional skills such as literacy, numeracy, basic digital skills, and civic competencies, a new set of skills play an increasing role in a complex and constantly changing environment: creativity, critical thinking, initiative taking, and problem-solving.

Therefore, investments in people and their education are considered as a high priority task in every country. Providing equal access to high-quality education and training help to redistribute wealth in the society.

The Key Competencies for Lifelong learning are not static; they are changing regularly reflecting developments taking place in economies and societies, and it is important to make sure that all people, both young and adults have the opportunity to build the required competencies by accessing different forms of education and training.

Competency-based approach for Lifelong learning

The move to a competence-oriented approach in Lifelong learning impacts the structure of curricula and the organization of learning. It requires a number of serious adjustments:

  • Implementation of multi-disciplinary content,
  • Emphasis on online learning and training,
  • Combination and acknowledgment of formal, non-formal, and informal learning,
  • A new role of educators in guiding a learning process, and
  • New approaches to assessment strategies.

For example, the current EU Framework for Lifelong learning defines eight key competencies:

  • Communication in the mother tongue;
  • Communication in foreign languages;
  • Mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology;
  • Digital competence;
  • Learning to learn;
  • Social and civic competences;
  • The sense of initiative and entrepreneurship; and
  • Cultural awareness and expression.

The definition of each key competence includes the knowledge, skills, and attitudes relevant to it:

  • Knowledge encompasses already established and known facts and figures, concepts, ideas and theories which support the understanding of a certain subject area;
  • Skills define the ability to use the existing knowledge in managing the processes and achieve the expected results;
  • Attitudes reflect the reaction to ideas, people, or situations.

Acknowledging the Dynamic Nature of the Key Competencies for Lifelong Learning

When revising the current competencies, it becomes clear that the set of the existing competencies need to be adjusted, and in some cases extended.

The future development of the concept of Key Competences for Lifelong Learning in EU will be focused on the following aspects:

  • The necessity to support learners of all ages and in all education and training sectors in getting better education and training, and achieving key competencies for lifelong learning;
  • Regular revision of the key competencies to reflect current and future needs and making sure that people can develop the competencies which will benefit them professionally and socially;
  • Creating suitable learning environments to enhance and promote Lifelong learning, provide support for teachers and other educational staff, and develop comprehensive methods for assessment and validation of competence development.

Examples of the suggested changes to individual competencies

  • Communication in the mother tongue

It is suggested to change the name of the competency to ‘Literacy’ to highlight the importance of literacy in at least one language. It will also help to address literacy demands in different areas. The level of literacy in the society serves as a basis for the development of key competencies.

  • Communication in foreign languages

Ability to communicate in several foreign languages opens more opportunities for professional and personal growth. Learning languages and being able to communicate in more than one language is considered as an important competence for lifelong learning. This competency should be focused on the importance of learning different languages and use them as a tool for communication within multinational and multilingual societies and work environments.

  • Mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology

This competence reflects modern requirements, but it needs more efforts to motivate young people to choose careers in STEM areas: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

  • Digital competence

This competence is a response to the rapidly changing digital and technological environments. The latest advances and the implementations of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence solutions indicate the importance of these skills and they should be added to Digital competencies. It is also suggested strengthening social media usage skills.

  • Learning to learn

It is recommended to combine in one category personal, social, and learning competencies because they become more important in the modern life. These competencies respond to the needs of individuals to deal with uncertainty and constant changes and help to build successful interpersonal relationships and stay resilient during difficult times.

  • Civic competence

The civic competence empowers individuals to act as responsible and active citizens who are contributing effectively to peaceful, tolerant, and secure societies. Civic competence includes support to sustainable societies, economies, and ecosystems. It highlights the role of citizenship, democratic values, and human rights.

  • The sense of initiative and entrepreneurship

This competence is dealing with developing an entrepreneurial mindset, creativity, and ability to plan and manage processes.

  • Cultural awareness and expression

The cultural awareness and expression competence are currently revised to include a wider range of modern forms of cultural expression. This competence is the important element in understanding, developing and expressing ideas. It promotes positive and open-minded attitudes towards other cultures and cultural differences.

Sustainability – Underlying Concept

The description of Key Competencies defined by EU follows several principles such as openness to cultural diversity, creativity, and innovations. The most important underlying concept is sustainability.

Lifelong learning should provide the knowledge needed to understand sustainable development and sustainable lifestyle. It includes interdisciplinary content, intercultural understanding, collaborative skills, the ability reflect on personal position and experiences, problem-solving skills, and initiative-taking.

Supporting the Development of Key Competencies

Implementation of the competence-based Lifelong learning requires significant changes in traditional teaching and learning approaches and assessment strategies. It also involves:

  • Support for teachers and instructors in changing their teaching practices,
  • Development of coherent assessments and evaluation systems,
  • Creating learning environments which support competency-based learning by establishing an effective partnership between educational institutions and external stakeholders;
  • Providing opportunities for real-life learning.






4 thoughts on “Key Competencies for Lifelong Learning”

  1. I love that you address the idea of learning multiple languages. I feel like the U.S. neglects that factor by limiting school language studies to Spanish and French, and in some schools they don’t even have that. There are so many opportunities for future generations world wide, it seems unfortunate to limit our kids’ ability to communicate in multiple languages. I also think that goes a long way in building social skills and perspective.

    That we need to direct our kids’ futures more towards STEM based careers is no joke. Everyone’s looking at getting famous on YouTube as a career these days, making the future look a little bleak. There is so much right about what you are teaching here. I look forward to more.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. You are right regarding necessity to prepare our kids for lifelong learning. They need to accept it is a constant process. Everything around is changing constantly, it will also require constant adjustments of the skills. There is also a huge problem with our educational system which is outdated, and does not solve problems of the 21st century learners. We are expecting huge changes in this area.

  2. I do agree with you. But, sometimes I feel like we are pushing our children too hard. Why cannot we design learning material to suit individual interests?
    Can we develop competencies that are more close to the hearts of the learner rather than pushing them towards developing what society demands?

    1. Thank you for your comment. You have mentioned one of the most important aspects of future learning. I have written some posts about it. Yes, personalisation of learning which allows to customize learning depending on individual learning preferences, approaches, and pace. This is a very near future of learning. We need to get away with the old approach when one learning model suits all… It does not happen in reality, each person is individual.

      Wishing you all the best,


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