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Lifelong Learning is essential in a VUCA World. The @weforum has published a white paper on it. Here are 6 Pathways for lifelong learning for individuals.
Lifelong Learning

Learning Does not Stop When the School Finishes

Learning does not stop when school finishes. That’s the sentence the OECD PIAAC video ends with. The video shows how the skill acquisition (maths and reading) is changing in the world. The US and the UK seem to bellowing ground. Countries like Japan, Finland, the Netherlands and South Korea are either maintaining their level or they are progressing.

Skills are important to an economy. Talent is the raw material for future economies. In a digital world we need to invest both in education of young people and in retraining ageing people. If not there will be a divide between the educated and the non-educated.

Arguments for Lifelong Learning

To build a sustainable society we must make sure that people get education. They should be able and willing to learn and develop throughout their life-span. This is not new in itself. But there are two fundamental reasons why this has become more pressing than ever:

  1. the rate of change, and digital change in particular is dazzling.
    Industries are disrupted and new ways of working and living appear. The changes are challenging the traditional industrial way of working. We seem to be returning – maybe slowly – towards a talent market that is no longer solely based on employment contracts and job tenure, but on entrepreneurship and agility.
    The value of a degree is quite limited. Skills and especially knowledge have the tendency to become obsolete very fast. Jobs that we know today, will not exist in the future. They will disappear faster than in the past. So we have a choice. We can all become Luddites and try and stop these changes. Or, we can embrace them and tackle them through lifelong learning.
  2. We will live longer.
    So we will have to provide for ourselves longer than ever before. If the 100 year Life is to become a reality, we need to increase the productive hours. There are two reasons for this.
    First, pension schemes are under financed and cannot support pensions of 30-40 years.
    Second, we might see careers of 50 to 60 years. Are we able to do the same job during 6 decades? I don’t think so. We are not the Rolling Stones. The social, emotional, physical and mental challenges that we will have are tremendous. Andrew Scott and Lynda Gratton have given us these insights in their splendid book ‘The 100 year Life‘.This means that we will have to learn and unlearn continuous. It also means that we might have to develop 2 or 3 career orientations in our lifetime.

Is Lifelong Learning a Fact or a Desire?

Having multiple career orientations requires lifelong learning. But today I fear there is no common understanding of the need to engage in lifelong learning behaviour.
When I ask people if they have a plan B, an alternative route towards the future, most people reply that they don’t. But if you ask people what they would like to do when they would have to leave their current job, they do have an idea.
Most people do not invest (personal) time in learning. They do follow courses, but usually in the context of their current job. They want to keep up or become better in what they do today. In itself that is very honourable. But it might be not enough if digitization and longevity force us to reinvent ourselves continuously.
The World Economic Forum states in its recent report on Accelerating Workforce Reskilling for the Fourth Industrial Revolution that

Despite the growing need for adult reskilling, opportunities for broad-based and inclusive reskilling are currently not available at the appropriate levels of access, quality and scale of supply in most countries.

Progress has been made in the access to greater amounts of low-cost digital training across many countries; but a cohesive system which addresses the diverse needs of learners, dedicates sufficient resources, and brings together the right stakeholders in providing applied learning opportunities is still lacking.

These are harsh words. Especially the difficulty that low-skilled and elderly people have to pursue a path of continuous learning is troublesome. Like it’s often  the case, programs of reskilling do not reach those who need it the most. People who have the habit of learning will find their way faster towards new and old learning platforms. MOOCS provide a tremendous source for learning, but are not reaching all levels and segments of the talent market.
But there is no excuse for not knowing and not learning. In a VUCA world only the ones who are able to learn and apply their skills in a creative and connected way will succeed. The future is bright for those who can evolve throughout their entire career and life.

Pathways for Change

Should we then be pessimistic? The WEF report says that the coming (or arriving?) 4th industrial revolution brings also opportunities. It identifies 10 pathways for change.

  1. Take Stock and Recognise Existing Skills
  2. Understand Skills Demand
  3. Adopt the Right Mix of Financing Instruments
  4. Build and sustain motivation for adult learning through active labour market policies and accessible resources
  5. Create shorter learning modules that foster continued learning
  6. Determine the role of different stakeholders
  7. Recognize and promote on-the-job training opportunities and maximize informal learning opportunities
  8. Reach those that need it most—SMEs, lower-skilled workers and older workers
  9. Customized teaching for adults
  10. Harness the power and scalability of blended off-line and online learning, enhanced with virtual and augmented reality when relevant

These pathways have been identified on country level. And the report provides examples of actions for governments, companies, unions and institutions. But if you look at them, you can apply some of them on individual level. So I’d like to add some ideas for individuals to increase their employability through lifelong learning. Here are the 6 pathways for Lifelong Learning.
Lifelong Learning

Shared Responsibility

Fact is that lifelong learning is not common enough. It is a shared responsibility. Governments and organizations should create contexts where learning is easy, affordable and safe. Schools should focus on learning skills. Individuals should spend personal time in learning and be proactive.
In a VUCA World, learning is the greatest skill to have. And the increasing digitization offers opportunities to embed learning in daily life. Maybe, it’s now or never for lifelong learning. These 6 Pathways might help people to create their personal lifelong learning strategy. I will come back to these 6 Pathways in a next blog.

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.

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