LERN History & Mission


LERN is a non-profit educational association founded in 1974. LERN was a key player in the Free University Movement which spread across the United States in the late 1960s and 1970s. Growing out of the Free Speech Movement and activism at the University of California at Berkeley, the Free University Movement was a celebration of the idea that learning was lifelong, and that “anyone can teach and anyone can learn,” without the necessity for bureaucratic structure and hierarchical credentialing. The notion that learning was a natural part of the human experience and not something confined to traditional classrooms was expressed through “Teach-Ins” held wherever teachers and learners could gather.

Teach-ins helped to galvanize a generation of ordinary citizens around critical societal issues, and LERN emerged as a source of information and expertise to support the growing numbers of community learning organizations.


Since the mid-1970s, LERN has played an increasingly important role in supporting community and continuing education. As an organization, it has been agile and flexible with an unerring commitment to education as the cornerstone of societal well-being and positive change.

The fundamental mission of LERN has not changed in its almost 50 years of practice.
Although methods of education delivery have changed, and the learning needs of an information society have changed, LERN’s mission of “extending lifelong learning to all” has been a constant.

Likewise, the essential methodology by which LERN has provided support to the growth and success of lifelong learning and continuing education organizations has not changed in concept. The method is simple—LERN provides “information that works.”

By collecting, cataloging, and curating best practice from member organizations and disseminating those best practices to others, LERN has been a significant contributor to the growth, vitality and success of lifelong learning and continuing education organizations in the United States and Canada.

Our Profile:

LERN has been a virtual organization since 1998, and has staff and consultants based in seven states and provinces. Now serving some 5000 members internationally, membership is primarily in North America, but there are members on every continent except Antarctica. Primary constituencies served include

  • Community Colleges
  • Universities
  • Public Schools
  • Recreation Departments
  • Associations

LERN is the largest lifelong learning association in the world, and LERN consultants work tirelessly to identify best practice in the field of lifelong learning, continuing education and recreation and to share that information with our membership through:

  • Newsletters
  • Conferences
  • Publications
  • Training Institutes
  • Consulting
  • Online Courses
  • Video
  • Webinars

LERN/University of South Dakota Master’s Degree Program

LERN participates in a partnership with the University of South Dakota to provide half the curriculum for an online Master’s Degree in Continuing Education Administration.

LERN also offers online courses through our UGotClass platform with more than 200 partner organizations.

Online Classes and Partnerships:

During the past decade, LERN has expanded its role in lifelong learning and continuing education to include not only providing operational support to lifelong learning and continuing education organizations but also to providing curriculum through their partnership with the University of South Dakota and offering a joint Master’s Degree Program.

In addition, LERN has developed an online learning platform for delivery of online courses which is one of the most innovative available. Through partnerships with LERN members, online learning is successfully offered by hundreds of educational institutions to thousands of learners, providing workplace training for individuals and supporting the movement into online course delivery by LERN members.

Become part of our learning community by joining us and your colleagues in providing lifelong learning to all.