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How to Assess Lifelong Learning in One Semester

Learning does not stagnate after students complete their courses. Individuals must adapt to changing work environments, acquire new skills and knowledge, and engage in civic and social situations well after their studies are over. Individuals must strive to be lifelong learners to thrust themselves forward after formal education. At Ut Knoxville, lifelong learning serves as a key outcome in experiential learning.

This webpage will cover some of the key attributes of lifelong learning, how to measure attainment of lifelong learning outcomes, and how to determine the best methods to assess lifelong learning in your experiential course.

What is a Lifelong Learner?

For a better understanding of what we mean by “lifelong learner,” check out the following resources:

Read more about the characteristics of lifelong learners below:

Self-directed learning is tied to two behaviors of learners: setting learning goals and engagement in the learning process. Students that set goals for themselves not only establish a clear direction, but become invested in the learning process. When students see the value in the purpose and projected outcome of the process, they will be more engaged to learn on their own (Romero, 2015). Students who exhibit self-directed learning will ask questions, engage in discussions, and persevere through adversity (du Toit-Brtis & Zyl, 2017).

Self-regulated learning happens when students hold themselves accountable for learning. Self-regulated learners can set a pace for themselves that is both ambitious and realistic. Students that demonstrate a willingness to set a schedule or set aside time to learn are self-regulated learners. In an experiential learning context, self-regulated learners will put in the time to regularly participate in hands-on learning and build upon their prior knowledge and skills.

Self-motivated learners stay curious; curiosity drives motivation. A student that can stay motivated to learn will continue to learn without the push from other parties.  Motivation is driven through a sense of purpose, connections between ideas, and intrigue in the subject. Students that can see the purpose in learning the subject and find a connection between the subject matter and its application are generally more willing to take the extra steps and time to indulge in deep learning (Romero, 2015).

Reflective learning encompasses internal exploration of a moment from a learning experience and results in students creating meaning and, ultimately, changing their conceptual understanding (Boyd & Fales, 1983). In essence, reflection ties the experiential learning cycle together. Without structured reflection, students cannot fully appreciate and comprehend what was valuable from the experience and how it can be used again in the future. Reflection is one of the most important parts of the learning process. Reflective practices need to be integrated into the learning experience, used frequently, and clearly emphasized in order to develop strong lifelong learners.

Metacognition is closely tied to reflective practices. Students that use metacognition through their learning experience become assessors of themselves (Boud & Falchikov, 2006). They consider the ways they think about learning and how they learn. Metacognition is demonstrated by careful examination of learning and understanding through the reflective practices.

As you think about emphasizing lifelong learning into your classroom or implementing an assessment that focuses on lifelong learning, consider how your learning outcomes are written.  Your learning outcomes drive the direction of learning in your course.  Learning outcomes should be SMART:

Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-framed

When we develop SMART learning outcomes, we can integrate language in the outcomes to entice and encourage lifelong learning characteristics.

Think about how you can word your learning outcomes to encourage and force students to be self-directed, self-regulated, and self-motivated in their learning.

Think about how you want students to show that they are self-directed, self-regulated, and self-motivated learners when considering the best method for assessing students. Students should also be demonstrating structured reflection after each learning experience. Consider different ways they can show that they have thought about what worked in their last experience and what didn’t work.

While assessment for learning (formative) and assessment of learning (summative) are widely discussed, few students are directed to use assessment as learning.  Assessment as learning encourages students to reflect on their learning and focus on their “meta” skills; that is, thinking about the way in which they learn (Boud & Falchikov, 2006). The development of metacognitive behaviors are important to grow for students to be effective lifelong learners.

Assessment tools do not always need to be created to gauge student behavior or learning. Observation and discourse also serve as effective strategies to measure student progress.

When creating or implementing a new assessment to gauge lifelong learning, consider the following:

  • Allow students to self-assess. Students need to be able to evaluate and critique themselves to be true-lifelong learners. Provide students the opportunity to share what they learned, how well they performed, what went well, and what can be improved for future learning experiences.
  • Develop with the end in mind. How do the characteristics of lifelong learning fit into your current learning outcomes? If they don’t, how can your learning outcomes be updated to help measure these characteristics?
  • Measure each lifelong learning characteristic. Each characteristic is vital to developing into a strong lifelong learner. Although they are all intertwined, each characteristic needs to be assessed and fostered for the student to be a well-rounded lifelong learner.
  • Measure in steps. Learning is a long process, lifelong learning is a lifetime process. To measure lifelong learning, we need to consider the steps that push students into the direction of being self-guided learners. Each learning experience should measure at least one characteristic and the results of that assessment must be shared with the students. Sharing those results and allowing the students to reflect on them allows the student to become an independent learner. That’s how we can assess lifelong learning in one semester.



Boud, D. & Falchichov, N. (2006). Aligning assessment with long-term learning. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 31(4), 399–413.

Boyd, E.M. & Fales, A.W. (1983). Reflective learning: Key to learning from experience. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 23(2), 99-117.

Du Toit-Brits, C. & Zyl, C.M. (2017). Self-directed learning characteristics: Making learning personal, empowering, and successful. Africa Education Review, 14(3-4), 122-141.

Romero, C. (2015). What we know about purpose and relevance from scientific research. Palo Alto, CA: Mindset Scholars Network.

Other Resources

O’Farrell, C. (2017). Assessment for lifelong learning. University of Dublin, Trinity College: Dublin, Ireland.

Toomey, R. et al. (2004). Lifelong learning and the assessment and evaluation practices in some Australian faculties of education. Journal of In-Service Education, 30(2), 225-244. Doi: