L3 Learning: Life-Wide Learning

By Lauren Della Bella

Exploring what it means to learn outside of specific spaces and places.

If you’re involved in conversations about education and pedagogy, you’ve likely heard about lifelong learning. It’s become a buzzword, a rallying cry for everyone from C-suite executives singing the praises of professional development to brain scientists, elder care experts and classroom teachers. No doubt, womb-to-tomb learning is crucial to personal development, satisfaction and health, but at 9 Billion Schools, we believe it’s only part of the puzzle.


Just like we learned in elementary school geometry, there are three dimensions to learning: length, width and depth – we call this L3 learning (life-long, life-wide and life-deep). In this blog series, we’ll explore life-wide and life-deep learning, the lesser-known but equally important concepts that complement the lifelong variety.

Life-wide learning, sometimes called liquid learning, simply means that as humans, we don’t learn in a vacuum – in a classroom or office. Learning isn’t bound to any specific place or building. Rather, opportunities to learn are present everywhere we are: at work or school, yes, but also at home, in the car, at the grocery or a family gathering and even (shocker) on vacation. Because we’ve become accustomed to learning in certain environments, we’ve developed a tendency to turn on our blinders in others, often at the cost of valuable knowledge and growth.

We forget, too, that learning can take a variety of forms. It’s not all about facts and figures. As anyone who’s been through adolescence can tell you, the arguably more important mode of learning turns a microscope on our own selves and on our society. That means that we stand to learn just as much from playing in a recreational basketball league as we do from a biology lecture, or from taking care of an ill relative as from a professional development day at the office. Life-wide learning is holistic learning, encompassing our personal, professional, academic, social and recreational lives.

While it seems logical, this view wasn’t always so widely held. Take, for instance, the formation of one of America’s earliest – and most revered - universities. In 1836, Harvard’s founders, drawing on the walled-in quadrangle design of such English institutions as Oxford and Cambridge, built a tall fence around their campus. As Andrew Delbanco writes in College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be, the fence was “not so much to keep the cows and goats out as to keep the students in.”

It was all part of the reform-era view that colleges were supposed to be austere, self-contained purveyors of knowledge. Now, of course, we don’t see institutions of higher education as ivory towers, but as headquarters of sorts, from which students venture out by taking internships and jobs, volunteering in the community and studying abroad.

Our challenge, at 9 Billion Schools and in the quest to reimagine learning, is to tear down those fences and allow learning to flourish outside of them, to champion learning across a lifespan.

Lauren Della BellaComment