This warning came last week in an impassioned plea for an all-embracing drive towards lifelong learning by Bob Fryer, who chairs the national advisory group for continuing education and lifelong learning that produced the key report on Learning for the 21st Century.
Professor Fryer, the director of New College at Southampton University, praised the Scottish Office green paper on lifelong learning, particularly its emphasis on access, on the community dimension and on the importance of the pre-16 experience.
But, speaking at a conference at Gleneagles organised by British Telecom and the Scottish Further Education Unit, he said "we are not yet ready" for the learning age.
"There is a danger of wanting to do things before we are ready and then we fail. We have been here before with lifelong learning and we have spectacularly failed.
"We have not yet won the argument with the public for lifelong learning. It is seen as a preoccupation of the professionals, at best a vague idea but at worst a turn-off. There is plenty of evidence from surveys that there are a substantial number of people and, in the case of some surveys, a majority who make it clear the only thing they want from lifelong learning is that it should leave them alone."
One of the first steps should be an acknowledgement that "the narrow notion of training must go out of the window". No Government had succeeded in second-guessing skill requirements.
"So we end up training for yesterday's skills today when what we should be doing is promoting learning how to learn and teaching self-sustaining skills. "
He also argued for lifelong learning to link with students' pre-16 education. "We cannot be agnostic about it," he said.
The present divided system means colleges are forced to spend their time on compensatory and remedial programmes which are not only costly but condescending. "You don't get commitment to learning from condescension, " he remarked.
Official figures had shown that the class and attainment gap had actually widened in the UK over the past seven years.
The key to progress lay in "making learning normal", Professor Fryer suggested. It must be "bite-sized, clear and achievable". The first step should be to take learning "beyond fear and dread".