The swiftly emerging technology-led education has rekindled the spirit of lifelong learning through making seamless education available to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Online learning today has lent new meaning to the idea of lifelong learning.
In the digital age, learning is no longer confined to childhood or educational institutions like schools and colleges. The rapid developments in the field of technology has made it possible to take learning to the learners’ doorstep. Lifelong learning has been conceived as true learning leading to human development and self-actualization.
Many hapless attempts to bring lifelong learning into the folds of mainstream education have taken place in the past. In the 21st century, technology is at its all-time peak and, like other fields, it has influenced education in innumerable ways. These technology driven influences on education has made it possible to crystallize lifelong learning.
Lifelong Learning: The Concept
Lifelong learning is the learning which occurs throughout the span of a human life. While it is obvious that learning doesn’t takes place just in a brick-and-mortar place, it is more an accumulation of all human experiences gained through family tradition, socio-cultural context, educational institutes, daily events, and workplaces. It is also a process of getting wise through a great deal of intangible learning, encountered consciously or sub-consciously while dealing with life’s necessities.
Wikipedia defines lifelong learning as ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge. Lifelong learning bestows on one with innumerable benefits like employability, competitiveness, personal development, and social inclusion. It also increases one’s metacognitive abilities like reflecting on one’s own thought process to create, invent, and innovate. Such people with pursuit of lifelong learning becomes valuable human resource for a country.
The lifelong-learning movement started in 1970s when the Council of Europe introduced the concept of ‘permanent education’ and explained education to be a permanent process for development of knowledge and skills. This was followed by UNESCO’s Faure Report in 1972 titled ‘Learning to be’ which talked about ‘recurrent education’. This emphasized on alternation of full time work with full time study to enhance one’s work related skills with systematic up gradation of knowledge.
The 1996 Delor’s commission report of UNESCO titled ‘Learning the Treasure Within’ stressed upon education as a necessary utopia for individuals to realize their true potential. This International commission on education for 21st century conceived education as a utopian tool for bringing transformation and emancipation in the society.
Learning the Treasure Within
The four pillars of learning as envisaged in the Delor’s report are 1) Learning to know, 2) Learning to do, 3) Learning to be, and 4) Learning to live together. These four pillars reflect vitality of education in all facets of life. Education unlike other commodity has been visualized as a tool for empowerment, social healing, and one’s ability to avail opportunities in life to progress and move up the social ladder.
In the 21st century of digital age, the concept of lifelong learning has gained increased traction owing to knowledge explosion and techno-revolution bringing in a gamut of unprecedented changes. For instance, many technologies are rapidly becoming obsolete and information redundant at an unimaginable pace. Simply put, how one can sustain the learning acquired forever in today’s time is almost unthinkable. Everyone has to keep on learning in order to stay relevant and up to date, just what all the reports on egalitarian education had predicted way before we entered into the millennial century.
In India, for a brief period this concept got associated with adult literacy and education for all (EFA) initiatives. Establishment of open and distance learning universities and institutions was a major step towards democratizing education for all. Online education as an offshoot of distance education today has made people realize that learning is beyond literacy and one needs to continuously learn till he is alive.
Online Learning and Reskilling: A Case of Lifelong Learning
The fact that reskilling category of online education is doing exceptionally well in India, and also across the globe, is an indicator of how people are keen to learn and upgrade themselves. The reskilling category contributes to 39 percent of the total online education revenue in India. Today, we don’t talk about learning individuals but we do speak of learning organizations. It is said that a learning organization views its employees’ learning as an investment rather than expenditure.
According to Mettl’s State of Workplace Learning and Development Report 2018, more than 80 percent of large companies earmark some budget for corporate training and professional enhancement of their employees. The report also said that 50 percent of organizations increased their L&D (learning and development) budget in the year 2018.
Online reskilling education has certainly brought ease and convenience for the employees and the organizations to get best instructional package at a reduced cost than the traditional training modules. The sales department tend to benefit most from these exercises and gorge about 25 percent of overall L&D expenditure.
Professional Courses: Upskilling and Reskilling
The professional courses are provided under two categories: upskilling and reskilling. Upskilling refers to honing of the existing skills and upgrading knowledge at a more advanced level than the existing. Whereas reskilling refers to completely orient oneself towards a new career by acquiring a set of new skills and related knowledge.
Here is how the reskilling and upskilling online course providers like Talentedge, Imarticus, Edureka, and upGrad along with the global players like coursera, Udacity and simplilearn achieving the 21st century learning goals:
1. Global Exposure
The online reskilling and upskilling courses are bringing the academic and industry experts of the field through their online courses in order to provide the best global learning experience to the learners. Many of these courses have collaborated with prestigious universities like MIT, Stanford, MICA, BITS-Pilani, IIMs, IITs, University of Cambridge, etc. to provide learners with an enriching experience.
2. Self-paced Adaptive Learning
The needs and level of professionals may vary. Hence, the courses employ AI and ML technology to become responsive and adaptive as per the need of the learners.
3. Industry Tie-ups for Placement and Internships
The learner gets enrolled into a reskilling course with an immediate goal of getting placement or better career opportunity. The online course providers are keeping this in mind and increasing their linkages with industries not only for designing their courses as per industry needs but also for providing placement to their students in these industries.
4. Human Capital
These online reskilling and upskilling courses are helping individuals to gain knowledge, skills and information relevant to present and future. In this way they are creating human capital which is most valuable for the development of a nation.
5. Career Advancement Opportunities
The students get opportunities for career advancement after getting certification from the courses. These courses have inter-sectoral linkages, unlike the traditional education which doesn’t give an individual a surety of livelihood. In India, unemployment rate has been reported to be at its highest in 45 years with 3.5 percent.
According to the latest data of ILO, India has more than 18 million jobless people under working age-group. The most important cause which has been identified for this grave scenario is unemployability of those graduating from the conventional education system.
6. Relevant to Need and Demand
The online reskilling courses providers are filling in that gap between what the industry and market needs vis-à-vis the knowledge and skills possessed by the job seekers. It is their relevance which is making them so popular among the professionals and job seeking population.
7. 24×7 continuous Access of Support
The learners get quality education with a continuous 24×7 access to the course, learning content, mentors etc. This enable them to balance their work-life priorities and manage their own path of learning.
8. Mobile-Friendly Interface
The courses are accessible over various kind of digital devices. The mobile apps provide easy to use interface and hence provides flexibility to learn anywhere anytime. Most professionals prefer laptops to access online courses while most of the new job seekers access them through their smartphones. Increase use of affordable smartphones has assisted in learners accessing these courses.
Restructuring of Labor Force
World Economic Forum (WEF) in their report Towards a Reskilling Revolution forecasts that large parts of labour market will get impacted by intelligent computing systems and automations leading to job losses. Similarly, it also projects a change in the business models of all industries giving rise to newer emerging jobs requiring specialized skills of the 21st century.
In the absence of any strategy towards reskilling opportunities for the existing workforce will create mass job losses on one hand and talent shortage in industry at the other end. Both the situations are detrimental for the economy of a country. This necessities the need of a country too to become a learning economy and invest in creation of new forms of human capital.
The IT industry and its allied sectors, because of the dynamic and fast changing technological advancements, are especially vulnerable to shortage of skilled professionals and job losses. Hence, the adoption of reskilling courses has been seen much more by the IT sector professionals. The courses which were popular among the IT people in the last decade are not even in the list of today’s sought after courses.
The most popular online reskilling courses are those in machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), deep learning and NLP, R programming, Python, big data and data analytics, digital media marketing, web development, Spark developer etc. Few of these courses didn’t even exist a decade ago.
The online reskilling courses offers respite in this gloomy scenario of job losses and talent shortage in industry. The rapid need to upgrade the courses according to the relevance seems possible with the online course platforms, thereby providing opportunities for individuals to stay up-to-date even in changing and challenging times.