Answering the Call for Lifelong Learning – Part 1
This is the first installment in a series on answering the call for lifelong learning. In this post, we’ll share how higher ed is being asked to pivot and what that looks like when offering lifelong learning options and advice on what the areas of focus should be.
Day 1 – the pivot and what we know today
More than ever, higher education is being asked to pivot and think about what it looks like to offer lifelong learning options. The online modality or elearning is an obvious choice for the continuous learning that is needed in today’s world and as traditional degree students are shrinking in numbers, we all turn our attention to the growing population of learners over 25 years old. Simultaneously, workforce skills are in great demand. If higher education does not answer this call, private industry will. In fact they are already launching programs and they are not constrained by money, silos or reticent folks who don’t want change. Facebook, Google, Amazon – they are all offering online elearning options and are ramping up quickly! However, in order to balance the soft skills and critical thinking that we all know is essential to combine with hard skills, higher education should play a major role in filling this need. They have much to offer here with centuries of experience embedding soft skills into curriculum – what is in dire need of an upgrade is the agility to flex to new models of delivery. Are they able to overcome the institutional barriers that are holding them back? What does lifelong learning look like? What exactly is needed for a successful pivot?
Here are a few things we know for certain:
Most colleges and universities see new program launches in some online modality as a strategic initiative they need to explore, yet when we dig more deeply into this with our clients, many have not identified target learners, the market needs, or the programs they should prioritize.
Incentivizing faculty to design for online is hard – the current university structures are not aligned with motivating this to take place. Learning design is not the faculties’ core competency, however it is a necessary ingredient for quality elearning student experiences.
All online learners need learning presented in a certain way to be more successful, but non-traditional learners are particularly sensitive and their persistence depends on certain key attributes in a learning experience:
They need relevancy and real world practice with tangible skills
They need progress that drives them towards their goals – this can mean varying durations for course access and completion that fits their complex adult lives and schedules
They need bite-sized things to complete and feedback along the way to build knowledge and skills they are seeking
They need peers to bounce ideas around and instructors to coach them
They need incremental bits of learning that they can use quickly
They need a consistent user experience that isn’t jarring and hard to navigate
They need a solid game plan for course sequence and path to graduation and eventual employment
Students and university stakeholders need to see alignment to workforce skills, however they likely have a different view of what that means to them respectively.
Insights on learners’ skills can inform not only their progress, but their optimal direction towards life goals and are critical in guiding them in their lifelong learning. Identifying these patterns in the learning analytics can also empower university stakeholders to foster success for their students in new and innovative ways that differentiate them as providers of learning.
So what areas of focus do universities need in order to facilitate this pivot and position themselves for growing enrollments and a new market of lifelong learners?
Define roles based on core competencies – make sure faculty can focus on their content and instruction and have the design support they need to ensure that the student experience is meeting the needs of learners. This is really deeply tied not only to enrollments, persistence and overall levels of engagement but it is deeply rooted in equity and access for learners are you presently possibly failing as a demographic.
Know the market – Do not approach online program development with the lens of build it and they will come. You need to either curate internal teams who can evaluate the market need for a program and its viability, or you need to budget for this service and outsource this. This means looking at workforce needs and providing relevant, impactful pathways towards these demands.
Reallocate budgets and commit to the long haul – Growing online enrollments and shrinking face to face enrollments requires some innovative thinking about how to fund your strategic initiative. The cost to build and maintain programs and infrastructure for online learning is ongoing. The need to maintain quality assurance requires a continuous improvement mindset and a team dedicated to growing this over several years.
Figure out how to break silos – Online program development requires different stakeholders to communicate. Establishing frameworks that break down silos will be an essential element to ensure scalability, and brand consistency.
Choose a task force – align an internal team who are committed to this pivot and who are open minded to the changes that are required to see it through.
Check back soon for the next installment in this series! And if you’d like to learn more about how Ease Learning can help you develop compelling programs to attract lifelong learners, contact us to learn more.
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