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The challenge of lifelong learning
  lifelong learning

An interdisciplinary team from the UOC has analysed what the fundamental characteristics of a model of lifelong learning should be (Photo: UOC)

Agustín López

A UOC team analyses what a lifelong learning model should look like

Based on this study, the researchers have designed iLearn, a pilot virtual experience with 300 students

Everyday activities force us to learn constantly: to use new software, to travel, to keep up to date at work or for personal interest. This lifelong learning is one of the challenges society currently faces. A team from the UOC has analysed what the fundamental characteristics of a model of lifelong learning should be. The study, published in the International Journal of Grid and Utility Computing, describes this type of educational experience as a "fully student-centred environment, where it is possible to choose what to learn, how to learn it, when to learn it, in which order and how quickly".

Based on this study, the researchers have designed iLearn, a virtual model that includes some of these characteristics and that has been piloted with 300 students. iLearn is a project funded by the Xtrem internal grants programme from the UOC's eLearn Center. This programme aims to promote ground-breaking projects that represent a qualitative leap forward in the University's educational model and how we see e-learning.

iLearn has been developed by a multidisciplinary team made up of the UOC researchers Josep María Batalla and María Jesús Martínez, from the Faculty of Economics and Business; Montserrat Garcia, from the Faculty of Information and Communication Sciences; Jordi Conesa, Enric Mor and Tona Monjo, from the Faculty of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications; Beni Gómez, from the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences, and Maria del Carmen Cruz, a researcher from the University of Zaragoza.


Taking into account students' interests and situation

At the moment, the options for lifelong learning for adults are based on traditional education formats and, therefore, impose many barriers, including deadlines, compulsory courses, a lack of flexibility, long courses or programmes with limited time and topics. "What these people often do to learn as part of their day-to-day life is make the most of any free moment they have, for example on the bus or in the park, to watch a video or do a course. A lifelong learning model must take into account these restrictions and the interests of the students: aspects such as limited time and dedication, their prior knowledge or their goals," explained Jordi Conesa, they study's coordinator and a researcher in the UOC's SmartLearn group.

"This personalization should result in a flexible and dynamic experience, in other words, make it possible to start or postpone the courses as the student wishes, and also to retake them when necessary,” he added.


A project based on co-creation 

Starting from this basis, the researchers began a co-creation process with different focus groups to learn about the needs of this group. The result was iLearn, a virtual environment based on the open-source Moodle platform, that can be accessed from all sorts of devices (including computers, tablets and mobile phones) and at any time.  "The fact that it's an online environment enables us to provide omnipresent and contextual learning in a sustainable manner. In the pilot study we designed a virtual campus in Moodle, but ideally it had to be an environment that centralizes all relevant tasks for the student and that favours the use of the students' usual communications channels, from WordPress to their email, from messaging apps such as Telegram or WhatsApp, to Twitter, or YouTube", said Conesa.


A wide range of topics

According to the authors, the contents covered in this learning model have to be "as broad as possible", since people can be interested in very different subjects. "There are highly interrelated modular learning units, lasting from a few minutes to several hours," he said. In addition, they must adapt to the needs and knowledge of each person: "A course on Big Data is not the same for a computer scientist as for someone who has a business and wants knowledge that is more applicable to their situation. The latter wants to know what they can do, and not how they can do it."

Within the iLearn project, more than 40 courses were designed on subjects as diverse as data science, stress management, Renaissance art history, and fake news. Structured in the form of challenges, they can be combined to create larger and more complex units with names based on flowers: the basic learning units were named petals, that alongside other petals are grouped thematically into flowers; different interrelated flowers are grouped into plants; plants in gardens, and different gardens form a thematic ecosystem, for example Finance and Business Organization, Quality of Life, Art and Design or Data in my Life.

To make the most of this structure, the authors highlight the importance of mentors. "The idea is for them to supplement the teaching staff, like a personal trainer in a gym, supporting and personalizing the experience of each student", said Conesa.


Lasting learning communities

Another key element is the creation of communities of practice to learn from the experiences of others. "Adult students are experts in some subjects and sometimes we have to let them act as members of teaching staff. The time limits of our pilot study did not allow us to organize this type of experience, but the creation of lasting communities of practice, that do not break up when classes end, are very important for motivation, learning and professional progress,” he said.


A different business model

The implementation of all these changes requires educational organizations to evolve, principally in their business and organizational models. "The paradigm shift affects not only the teaching, but also the whole learning experience: the need for new materials, new technological tools, people with new roles, new motivational policies, organizational changes, etc.," he said.

These changes also entail research into new routes for economic sustainability. "We have to find a fair business model, that adapts to the needs and use of each student. For example, a flexible payment system closer to subscription models or packs for courses completed or hours of use," said Conesa.

The pilot test ended a few months ago, but the content can still be accessed on the iLearn platform. The next step in the project is to evaluate the experience through surveys, focus groups and the analysis of comments by the participants.


This UOC research project promotes Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 (Quality education).


This study received partial support from the eLearn Center through the Xtrem 2018 project and from the European Commission through the colMOOC: Integrating Conversational Agents and Learning Analytics in MOOCs project (588438-EPP-1-2017-1-EL-EPPKA2-KA). This study has also had support from the SmartLearn research group at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.


Reference articles:

Conesa, J. et al. (2021). "A Vision About Lifelong Learning and Its Barriers". International Journal of Grid and Utility Computing (IJGUC). In press. Pre-print version available at the UOC Institutional Repository O2 :

Conesa, J. et al. (2020) Towards an Educational Model for Lifelong Learning. In: Barolli L., Hellinckx P., Natwichai J. (eds) Advances on P2P, Parallel, Grid, Cloud and Internet Computing. 3PGCIC 2019. Lecture Notes in Networks and Systems, vol 96. Springer, Cham.


This press release is a part of the ECT2020-000724 project, funded by MCIN/AEI/10.13039/501100011033 and by the European Union (EU Next Generation / PRTR)




The UOC's research and innovation (R&I) is helping overcome pressing challenges faced by global societies in the 21st century, by studying interactions between technology and human & social sciences with a specific focus on the network society, e-learning and e-health.

Over 500 researchers and 51 research groups work among the University's seven faculties and two research centres: the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) and the eHealth Center (eHC).

The University also cultivates online learning innovations at its eLearn Center (eLC), as well as UOC community entrepreneurship and knowledge transfer via the Hubbik platform.

The United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and open knowledge serve as strategic pillars for the UOC's teaching, research and innovation. More information: #UOC25years

UOC experts

Photograph of Jordi Conesa Caralt

Jordi Conesa Caralt

Expert in: E-learning, business intelligence, conceptual modelling and NoSQL databases.

Knowledge area: Databases, business intelligence and conceptual modelling.

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Josep María Batalla

Josep María Batalla

Professor at the Faculty of Economy and Business and researcher in the grup Managament & eLearning (MeL)

María Jesús Martínez

María Jesús Martínez

Professor at the Faculty of Economy and Business and researcher in the grup Managament & eLearning (MeL)

Photograph of Montserrat Garcia Alsina

Montserrat Garcia Alsina

Lecturer in the Information and Communication Sciences Department
Director of the Postgraduate Course in Electronic Document and Records Management Systems (EDRMS)

Expert in: Knowledge management, information management (competitive and territorial information), knowledge maps, records management and transparency, archiving, digital transformation, reuse of data, document analysis ? cataloguing, indexing, metadata, document languages, ontologies and taxonomies.

Knowledge area: Information and documentation.

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Photograph of Enric Mor Pera

Enric Mor Pera

Expert in: User-centred design, interaction design, human-computer interaction, computational thinking, and technology-enhanced learning.

Knowledge area: Interaction design and e-learning.

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Tona Monjo

Tona Monjo

Professor at the Faculty of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications

Photograp of Beni Gómez Zúñiga

Beni Gómez Zúñiga

Expert in: Psychology of health; quality of life and the use of ICT for prevention and health promotion; the historical and epistemological development of psychology as a scientific discipline.

Knowledge area: Basic psychology.

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