Further education colleges are "the engine that will drive forward this Government's commitment to lifelong learning", according to film producer and Labour peer David Puttnam.
Lord Puttnam, who left school at 16 and studied at evening classes, told a Further Education Development Agency meeting that colleges had to change with the times.
He said that while participation rates were rising - 23 per cent of adults are currently taking courses - large numbers were deaf to the lifelong learning creed.
He said: "If only 23 per cent of adults are learning anything right now, what on earth are the other 77 per cent doing? The question now facing the Government and further education colleges, therefore, is how to produce a radical culture shift towards becoming a nation of mass learners."
He said it was essential that technology in schools and colleges was "future proof" and "fast and reliable".
Lord Puttnam, who sits on Government taskforces on standards and the creative industries, hinted to ministers that more money should go towards information technology in education.
"There are no short cuts here," he said. "We simply have to commit the resources which will deliver the quality of equipment and service we need."
He compared society's approach to education with the Bible's parable of the sower. For people to learn, the seeds of knowledge should be cast on receptive, fertile minds, he said.
"If your first learning experience - school - leaves you cold, failing to inspire an interest in learning for learning's sake, then I think the oportunities for learning are in danger of falling on those paths, rocks and brambles.
"No matter how many brilliant training and retraining schemes we implement for adults, no matter how much money we pump into FE colleges, and no matter how many rigorous Office for Standards in Education inspections we employ to ensure high standards, at the end of the day, if we can't enhance that natural instinct for learning with which all young people are born, the future of our economy and society are in great peril."