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Lifelong Learning has Become Key to Society and Individual Careers


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Our education system is dormant and stagnant. It stirs up a lot of discussion, but what is actually changing in the nearby future? With that question in my head, I recently gave in to the urge to find out what is withholding us from creating an educational system that is based on lifelong learning. Why? Because in this volatile world that is disrupted in so many ways by innovation and technology, it seems impossible to ever stop learning when you want to keep up with society.

One of the interesting sources I stumbled upon was a video of Ken Robinson, a great speaker and true inspirer when it comes to unlocking creativity. In this video of his Ted Talk he said:

You take an area, a school, a district, you change the conditions, give people a different sense of possibility, a different set of expectations, a broader range of opportunities, you cherish and value the relationships between teachers and learners, you offer people the discretion to be creative and to innovate in what they do, and schools that were once bereft spring to life.”

A powerful range of ideas. I think he is right, but changing those conditions is the biggest challenge we need to deal with in a cultural inheritance that brings along a traditional, rigid mind-set. Somehow most countries do not seem to be able to translate knowledge and business experiences into an educational system that properly connects with the daily practise. Although we have a pretty high-level education system in the Netherlands when it comes to knowledge, we are struggling with the same issue due to a system that is based on market and social circumstances in the past. Another issue is that people are educated for jobs that within ten years from now probably won’t exist anymore, educating for jobs is for me something else than educating for continuous learning. Our education system is – as in most countries – not keeping pace with society. Furthermore, the focus seems to be out of balance. We have been inclined to the testing part and forget to take teaching and learning as the basic reference point. The diagnostic element can be important, but should never be leading.

Technology: the example and the accelerator

An example I read about I found quite similar looking at the route these companies had to take to be able to deal with the changing society. In this Dutch article about lifelong learning education was compared to business software development. Companies as KLM, TNT and ING are nowadays investing in smaller software modules that are all connected and collaborate to the fullest extent; created through front-end development, also known as client side development. This modular way of developing makes them more flexible. It enables them to integrate with other platforms. In these cases you can think of ING customers being able to check their bank balance on their Apple watch or TNT customers that can use the track-and-trace functionality on their mobile devices. These companies need to change continuously and this is how they do that.

Another great example I know from my own environment is related to dynamic planning. The company Calendar42 bases its mission on the fact that most people follow their planning obsessively, almost as a planning fetish. This forms a huge distraction from what really matters. So what is their mission? Well, to restore to the World the freedom to focus on the here and now. They do this by enabling businesses to make their planning based on last-minute data (the influencing variables that define your efficiency) by connecting user-friendly applications with their C42 platform. So they help other companies to change. For instance, it enables insurers to optimise their claim management or employment agencies and hospitals to optimise their workforce management. This company makes use of a development method that foresees in the possibility to connect future functionalities; it learns from practise and adapts accordingly. Highly efficient and super agile in the rapidly changing society.

What we can learn from these businesses

These examples show two key strategies of which I think today’s education system should embrace in the context of lifelong learning: a modular approach and a client-side focus . With these two strategies and the widespread possibilities of technology learning institutions can develop foundational education as a basis for future personal development, design courses that motivate self-education skills and create possibilities for exploration. In order to achieve this, educational institutions should not only collaborate with each other, but also work together with businesses, preferably linked to the industries that are in the surroundings of each school in question. This way we can create ecosystems that motivate and facilitates lifelong learning.

These innovative ecosystems should be accessible for everyone, regardless the reason that people have for their need to develop:

• Any person that didn’t go to school at a young age, should at any time be able to catch up.
• Any person that wants to change careers, should always be able to follow courses that enable the switch.
• Any person that wants to stay up to date and keep pace with society, should always be able to refresh skills, knowledge and competences to improve their position in the labour market.

People do not only learn for their careers, they often experience learning as a primary necessities to keep on working on their personal development. It gives them a sense of growth and usefulness in their lives. Society needs to use that sense and meet these necessities, so in the future individuals and society will flawlessly connect again. Continuously. Lets’ make it even more concrete, it is about learning how to learn and develop; obtaining and reproducing knowledge is becoming obsolete.

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