Published on 2014/07/23

Understanding and Serving the Lifelong Learner (Part 2)

Understanding and Serving the Lifelong Learner (Part 2)
Interactivity is central to learning; without engagement, students tend to lose interest in a subject matter quickly.
This is the conclusion of a two-part series by Richard Gentle discussing the importance of understanding and serving non-traditional, lifelong learners in the postsecondary space. In the first part, Gentle discussed some of the characteristics of non-traditional students and shared his thoughts on the challenges of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) model. In this article, he suggests a few strategies institutions can put in place to better serve this population.

The extremely low completion rates of MOOCs suggest to me that people lose the impetus to complete after their initial enthusiasm; when learning becomes difficult, the student falls behind or anxiety over ability to cope sets in. This doesn’t even take into account the disruption of the daily life routines many adult learners have to manage along with course work.

How, then, can we provide lifelong learning in a way that’s both accessible and manageable? Perhaps offering short, accredited course units or modules is one way — achievable over just a few hours or days of study. Or perhaps an hour of study in the workplace, not resulting in the anxiety sometimes created by removing a person from his or her workload for several hours at a time, causing the person to fall behind in completing necessary tasks.

And what of those out of work?

Perhaps we need educational establishments to offer online, bookable timetables for specific areas of knowledge acquisition. Where someone with an interest in a subject, no matter age, gender, ethnicity, educational background or employment situation, can go along to a physical ‘classroom’ and ask a teacher for assistance in expanding a specific knowledge requirement.

This brings me to another important element of successful learning: social interactivity, and I don’t mean just electronically through chat forums or social media. The vast majority of people need physical, social interaction and activity. We like to compare ourselves with others (in positive as well as negative ways) and we like to spar with ideas and use others as sounding-boards for our ridiculous optimism. A community of balance, with a mix of online and physically present, in-person interaction is essential for most people. A sense of palpable camaraderie can be infectious and creates a learning environment through contextual activity.

Much research has been written about lifelong learning but, frankly speaking, all of the lingo, acronyms, complex diagrams and arguments over pedagogy just bamboozle people. To me, they reflect an endemic disease of contemporary society both in education and the workplace: dissecting and over-assessing everything to the point of destruction of sanity.

Perhaps it’s time to create a new, simplified survey aimed at the whole populace: how do you learn new things? When do you learn most? Where do you learn new things? If you could drop in to a specialist place of learning near you, would you go? This is obviously not a complete survey — we will need to increase the number of questions — but you get my drift.

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Readers Comments

Jennifer Long 2014/07/23 at 11:26 am

Gentle’s suggestion of a drop-in style of learning is fascinating in that it is both innovative and traditional. On one level, it represents a move toward the “concierge” model some institutions are now adopting, which is an innovative and fresh way to deliver individualized education. On another, it hearkens back to the time of Socrates and Plato and the foundation of higher education, where an eager student had direct access to an expert/master. As such, it certainly begs further consideration.

Rose Han 2014/07/23 at 12:53 pm

Gentle’s idea may make for an interesting theoretical discussion, but I can see many issues with its adoption. Putting the onus on students to “drop in” when they have a question creates unequal access to higher education. Those who end up dropping in, and benefiting from working with a faculty member, will be people who have the time and resources to do so. As well, studies show that historically underrepresented groups in higher ed (e.g. students of color) are less likely to seek this type of assistance, for various systemic reasons.

Richard Gentle 2014/07/23 at 1:26 pm

Thank you, Jennifer and Rose, for your feedback. I believe that, along with other changes required in our society for this to work well, we must embrace a different way from what is currently available in learning choices – even if we resurrect some ideas from the past and meld them with fresh ways of approaching learning today and in the future.

We must also be clear that not only is this model available to everyone, but that its benefits are encouraged among all “under-represented groups” within our greater society and access is made easy. The advantage of the suggested model is that it would be available to everyone and given free of charge. This would however, require national [political] support and funding.

I actually see the more distant future as reclassifying the way we use our schools, post age 13, and not just limiting life-long learning to FE and HE establishments – but this perhaps is a discussion for another article.

Chad Lovell 2014/07/23 at 3:18 pm

This is exactly why people need to be empowered to find the learning resources that fit their needs the most. Sometimes it is good to snack on learning, in which case on-demand online classes and skills training are often a good fit. Sometimes you want to go around the corner for a quick 2-3 hour workshop (if you even know it is available). Other times, you need more in-depth training that could last days or even weeks.

This is why we created, so people could easily search both online and local resources to get the learning opportunities they need.

Richard Gentle 2014/07/30 at 2:37 pm

Agreed, Chad. It’s good to know there are opportunities for this type of learning out there. As I’m sure you know though, getting the message across that ‘you exist and offer something’ is a challenge in its own right!

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