Lifelong Learning Support – A New Challenge for Higher Education

The concept of lifelong learning is strongly promoted by various organizations and individuals as a complement to the emerging knowledge-based society and the variety of social, economic, and educational changes. It is not a surprise that higher education institutions are expected to get actively involved and play an important role in the establishment and the delivery of lifelong learning opportunities.

Within the context of lifelong learning, new educational objectives should be addressed which include not just personal development but also social inclusion and economic growth. Lifelong learning support is seen as a major challenge for Higher Education Institutions because of the necessity to adjust traditional educational processes to the new requirements.

The interpretation of Lifelong learning concept

There is a variety of interpretations connected to the concept of Lifelong learning which attempts to cover a wide scope of learning opportunities it involves:

  • A strong emphasis on the fundamental value of education and learning;
  • Open access to learning opportunities;
  • Recognition of learning in diverse forms;
  • Learning throughout the lifetime;
  • A diversity of modes and methods of teaching and learning;
  • Recognition of the importance of the learning process;
  • A shift from teaching to learning, and
  • Strong emphasis on learning on demand.

The concept listed above highlights the variety of learning modes, styles, and pedagogical approaches which define the fundamental values of lifelong learning.

Educational values and Lifelong learning objectives

As expected, the existing support for Lifelong learning by Universities and colleges is not satisfactory; there are considerable gaps between the expectations and the actual implementation of the programs and courses addressing the needs of the lifelong learners. It seems that Higher Education can’t find the right way how to accommodate the different and sometimes contradictory objectives of lifelong learning.

For example, it is a challenge to accommodate such objectives as enhancing democratic values, providing equal opportunities, and developing human resources to respond job market requirements, globalization, and economic competitiveness. These dual objectives don’t go along with the traditional educational values in pursuit and dissemination of knowledge and truth.

Another challenging task is related to the necessity to change the program structures and curriculum design to meet the specific requirements of lifelong learning. Lifelong learning opens more learning opportunities for different categories of learners from different social, cultural, and educational backgrounds. It also means that lifelong learners can learn from a variety of resources, diverse fields of study, including personal work experience.

The question is how to evaluate informal learning and what is the basis for exemption of students from the certain parts of the degree program? Some universities in Europe have piloted different exemption approaches and accumulated certain experience in solving these problems. But we still don’t have a common methodology regarding the evaluation of informal learning.

What is expected from Universities?

It seems that universities need to replace traditional approaches to dissemination of knowledge with multidisciplinary, dynamic, and temporary forms, which include the recognition of work-based and experiential learning by awarding credit points and exemptions.

This will require universities to focus on the development of programs which are required by learners or their employers. Universities have to build a close relationship with industries and work with employers to ensure that learners are getting current knowledge and skills which are aligned with the industry requirements. Universities will need to put more efforts to improve their communication and cooperation with the business environment and external stakeholders. It will help to produce educational programs for all categories of learners which will meet the requirements of the fast-changing environment.

From the pedagogical respective, universities must promote the action-oriented (active) concept of knowledge when learners will be able to understand the personal learning process (learning to learn) and identify learning needs and progress status. Universities can’t rely anymore on the traditional offers of programs if they plan to succeed in the future.

New roles for teachers and learners

When it comes to lifelong learning, the teacher’s expertise in the specific area of studies is important, but not sufficient to manage the learning process successfully. The new forms of learning such as online delivery, active learning or flipped classroom learning require the ability to convey how the knowledge can be applied to solve real world problems. It means that along with the subject knowledge, students should learn problem-solving, decision-making, collaboration, communication, negotiation, and team-work skills.

Because of the variety of learning opportunities offered to lifelong learners, teachers and instructors are having more responsibilities than in the traditional settings. Apart from subject-matter knowledge and skills, they must support learners during the study process by:

  • Providing detailed and constructive regular feedback on learners’ progression;
  • Participating and moderating discussion forums;
  • Helping learners to make plans for improving learning results;
  • Offer individual mentoring sessions and encouraging students to study.

Obviously, all this will require some additional skills:

  • Good communication and negotiation skills;
  • Problem-solving skills;
  • Patience and tolerance;
  • Positive and enthusiastic approach to the teaching job.

It is not a secret that in the traditional learning environment, some instructors and teachers are neglecting so-called “soft skills”. Adult learners are usually more sensitive to communication style; they appreciate the positive approach, cooperation with instructors, and the flexibility of the learning process.

Supporting lifelong learners at university level

The concept of lifelong learning was introduced 40 years ago, but until the beginning of the 21st century it was mostly a subject for discussion. Our century has shown the necessity to adjust learning to the fast pace of changes, and it made lifelong learning critically important for every person who is planning to live fulfilling and successful professional and personal life.

There is an opinion that lifelong learning is creating a threat to universities by undermining their initial values and knowledge building approaches. The transformation is always a difficult process, it takes time to accept and implement new learning models, and start offering programs and courses which will accommodate lifelong learners:

  • Accept and recognize different modes of learning;
  • Develop new programs and courses to accommodate the requirements of the stakeholders and trends and developments in the economy;
  • Implement learning on-demand approach;
  • Focus on skills development which is in high demand in the industry;
  • Develop partnerships at the local, regional, national and international level to provide attractive and relevant programs to learners across the globe;
  • Apply the latest educational technology tools and platforms to enhance the quality of learning;
  • Train the team of skilled instructors who will be supporting lifelong learners.
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