Lifelong Learning is the successor of the earlier Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci and eLearning Programmes. All of the EEA EFTA States have participated in these programmes and participate in Lifelong Learning. Switzerland joined in 2008.
The programme's objectives are first to support the development of quality lifelong learning and then help Member States develop their own education and training schemes. The objectives are underpinned by actions that concentrate on the creation of links between people, institutions and countries in the "European dimension" of education and training.
The programme also contributes to the development of the Community as an advanced knowledge society, with sustainable economic development, additional and better jobs and greater social cohesion (see the Lisbon Strategy). It aims to foster interaction, cooperation and mobility between education and training systems within the Community so that they become a world quality reference. The programme has also been set up to enable individuals in schools, universities and companies across Europe, at all stages of their lives, to pursue stimulating learning opportunities.
Lifelong Learning is an overarching structure built on four pillars or sub-programmes. Grants and subsidies are awarded to projects under each of these pillars to enhance the transnational mobility of individuals, to promote bilateral and multilateral partnerships and to improve quality in education and training schemes, for example through multilateral projects encouraging innovation.
The four pillars are:
Comenius: Addresses the teaching and learning needs of all those in pre-school and school education up to the end of upper secondary education, and the institutions and organisations providing such education;
Erasmus: Addresses the teaching and learning needs of all those in formal higher education, including transnational student placements in enterprises, and institutions and organisations providing or facilitating such education and training;
Leonardo da Vinci: Addresses the teaching and learning needs of all those in vocational education and training, including the placement in enterprises of persons other than students, as well as institutions and organisations providing or facilitating such education and training;
Grundtvig: Addresses the teaching and learning needs of those in all forms of adult education, as well as institutions and organisations providing or facilitating such education.
The integration of these pillars and the general simplification of application and evaluation procedures for the programme is a major innovation in the area of education and training. These four pillars are joined by a "transversal programme", which pursues four key activities: policy cooperation and innovation, languages, information and communication technologies and dissemination and exploitation of results.
The whole structure is complemented by the new Jean Monnet Programme, which supports institutions and activities promoting European integration. This sub-programme is designed to strengthen European identity and to boost knowledge and awareness of European integration. It is designed to stimulate teaching, reflection and debate on European integration at higher education institutions worldwide.