Last Updated: March 12th, 2019
One of the strengths of life learning is that it keeps the world whole rather than dicing it up into pieces. Knowledge is an interconnected web of information and insight, with no subject boundaries and no grade levels. If a learner wants to pursue her interest in something, she should be able to, with no mind to whether or not it is part of somebody else’s agenda, which subject heading it fits under, or which grade it should be studied in. But in school, you do math for an hour and then move on to French, whether or not you are ready to stop thinking about math, and with no connections between the subjects, and usually, in fact, barriers set up so they wouldn’t be too connected.
There’s no mystery why school compartmentalizes knowledge. Academia in general likes to dice and sort information as a way of making sense of it, digging deep into it and sharing it. But more than that, our whole society is compartmentalized, with different activities happening at different times in different places.
For most people, work takes places somewhere other than home. Learning takes place at school. Religion and spirituality are something we do on Sunday morning at church. Play is elsewhere. Few people’s lives are integrated and, in fact, most people are concerned about finding balance rather than integration.
Neither of those were a problem just a few hundred years ago, when most North Americans lived an agrarian lifestyle, in which work, play and contemplation were integrated into a rhythm created by the seasons. People of all ages worked side by side, growing, preserving and preparing food; milking cows and shearing sheep; spinning thread and weaving cloth.
Some people learned to read and write and many wise people guided their society. Many learned the skills necessary to make a living by apprenticing to their parents or neighbours.
Then came the Industrial Revolution and economic centralization took over. The spinning wheels and looms became spinning and weaving machines, which needed large factories to house them and people with specialized skills to run them. These factories also required capital and managers, creating two distinct classes of people.
Even the rhythm of life changed, and that’s when people began to divide life up into separate spheres. Work was something we left home to do—often grudgingly—in order to make money to relax at home on the weekend. And once trained for a job, workers often stayed in it for their working lifetime. The need for outside experts and specialists to keep the factories running expanded to other spheres of life—from health care to house building to education. Eventually women began to work outside the home as well, resulting in the need for a place to put the kids during working hours, a need met by a formal system of education that was administered in a special factory called a school.
Now, life learners are on the frontlines of more economic and social change. This one requires workers to change jobs numerous times and to retrain and readjust to those new positions over and over. And we’re also seeing a reintegration of the various facets of life, with more and more people working at home—because they choose that lifestyle, because lack of jobs forces them to become self-employed, or because their jobs require them to perform 24/7.