A couple of years ago I was invited to join in a think-tank, organised by the Cabinet Office, to generate ideas on what the government could do to motivate more people to embrace lifelong learning.  It seems that far too many people treat L&D as an optional extra – despite all the messages about learning being the core capability, the only skill that can never become obsolete, the gateway to employability and fulfilment, the only way to sustain a competitive edge and all the rest of it. 

The meeting started off making the usual assumption that wanting has to come before doing.  Whilst I agree that in a perfect world people would do what we want them to do because they wanted to (if you see what I mean), I have serious reservations about the wisdom of assuming that wanting is a prerequisite. At the meeting I therefore put in a plea to think of the problem the other way round, where musts would precede wants.

I remain keen to win hearts and minds and do all I can to cajole people to becoming willing lifelong learners, but I am concerned that this will only ever bring patchy results.  The trick, I’m sure, with lifelong learning is to think of ways to make it a must and to lean over backwards to make it a good experience so that what started out as a must becomes a want.

The trouble is, for reasons I quite understand, in our society we are tend to go in the other direction; we provide people with lots of choices and opportunities and allow market forces do the rest.  This works fine for inherently popular things like pop music, fashionable clothes and holidays, but less well for less popular things like making a will, eating healthily, taking exercise and planning for old age/fixing yourself up with a pension.  All the evidence suggests that, for too many people, lifelong learning is altogether too ‘sensible’ to be popular. 

The answer is for all of us in our respective organisations, and in government, to take a gamble and work out how to make learning a must in such a way that it will become a want.

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