Inspired by Infrastructure New Zealand’s Vision Week in June 2020, this poster page accompanies the page at and provides some:

  • Quotable Quotes about learning; and
  • definitions of the Learning Society with links to some of the extensive literature.

Some of the definitions are deeply inspiring and touch humanity’s highest untapped potentials.

Quotable Quotes

‘Creating a learning society should be one of the major objectives of economic policy.’ Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. (2014) Creating a Learning Society. Columbia University Press. Page 6.

‘Climate change is the latest urgent issue where lifelong adult learning and education has powerful potential.’ Shirley Walters, Emerita Professor of Adult and Continuing Education, University of Western Cape, South Africa. Shirley Walters (2019) Shirley Walters: the power of lifelong learning. An RNZ interview and article available at [accessed 11 June 2019].

‘Building enterprises capable of continually adapting to changing realities clearly demands new ways of thinking and operating. So do the sustainability challenges [we face], in many ways the archetypal organizational learning challenges of this era.’ Dr Peter Senge, MIT Sloan. Peter M Senge (2006) The Fifth Discipline: the Art & Practice of the Learning Organization. Revised Edition. Currency, Doubleday. Page xvi.

‘Lifelong learning, like sustainable development, is a notional germ from which a different kind of society may sprout; one that values learning both for its uses and its own sake and that likewise values people both for what they do and who they are.’ International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEOP) UNESCO Learning Portal

‘The transformation to “learning societies” … appears to have had a greater impact on human well-being than improvements in allocative efficiency or resource accumulation … Widespread environmental problems have called attention to the role of government in preventing pollution and preventing potentially catastrophic climate change. These are examples of government’s role in preventing negative externalities. The production of knowledge entails positive externalities. … Government has a role in creating a learning society.”’ Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. Joseph Stiglitz (2014) Creating a Learning Society. Columbia University Press. The excerpts about include the author’s emphasis and are from pages 18, 20 and 21.

A sample of definitions of the Learning Society

UNESCO International Institute for Lifelong Learning


Definition: A community that promotes a culture of learning by developing effective local partnerships between all sectors of the community, and supports and motivates individuals and organisations to learn.

Example: Lifelong learning is about more than diversifying the loci and modi of learning, more than expanding access and opportunity, more indeed than transferring primary agency from the educator to the learner. Its value is nothing less than the inspiration for a new idea of human society. Lifelong learning, like sustainable development, is a notional germ from which a different kind of society may sprout; one that values learning both for its uses and its own sake and that likewise values people both for what they do and who they are. Such a “learning society” is not as distant or utopian a vision as it might at first seem. Its inception requires that we re-examine how and why we learn, and then harness our creativity to design systems of learning that enrich all aspects of our lives.

Infed: the theory and rhetoric of the learning society


All societies need to be characterized by learning or else they will die!

Donald Schon made an early, defining, contribution by providing a theoretical framework linking the experience of living in a situation of an increasing change with the need for learning.

The loss of the stable state means that our society and all of its institutions are in continuous processes of transformation. We cannot expect new stable states that will endure for our own lifetimes.We must learn to understand, guide, influence and manage these transformations. We must make the capacity for undertaking them integral to ourselves and to our institutions.

We must, in other words, become adept at learning. We must become able not only to transform our institutions, in response to changing situations and requirements; we must invent and develop institutions which are ‘learning systems’, that is to say, systems capable of bringing about their own continuing transformation.

One of Schon’s great innovations was to explore the extent to which companies, social movements and governments were learning systems – and how those systems could be enhanced. He argues that the business firm is a striking example of a learning system.



The learning society is an educational philosophy advocated by the OECD and UNESCO that positions education as the key to a nation’s economic development, and holds that education should extend beyond formal learning (based in traditional educational institutions – schools, universities etc.) into informal learning  centres to support a knowledge economy.

Learning societies are broader in context, drawing on elements of systems to facilitate the ability for lifelong learning in the individual. If lifelong learning is about the ability of the individual, then this is enabled through a Learning Society.

This page gives a good history of the development of the concept.

IGI Global


The learning society can be defined as:

  • an environment in which the plurality of actors contribute to the construction of shared knowledge in a continuous and procedural perspective, whether individual or collective, and in all areas of society
  • a group of people who are bound together by a primary focus on learning as a major guiding principle throughout life
  • a society committed to active citizenship and equal opportunities. It aims at providing learning opportunities to educate adults to meet the challenges of change and citizenship, as well as the demands for the updating of skills and competences (in a lifelong learning perspective).

Other links

  • Check out my 1-minute preview video and watch the 30-minute video presentation at institute/strategic-solutions/visionweek.
  • Visit Infrastructure New Zealand’s website here.
  • Click here to go directly to Infrastructure New Zealand’s VisionWeek pages.