On Lifelong Learning

Another post on education...?  well yes, because it's needed, but this time I'm not talking about schools and colleges - rather the opposite.

Back in the 19th century, education was something you might go to school for, and but more likely practiced for as an apprentice or "junior". There was an expectation that you would be learning new skills through your life as you progressed through from apprentice level to senior or master. Learning was frequently on-the-job and passed as "rules of thumb" or simple experience, but in the crafts there was an expectation that experienced craftspeople would be experimenting with new techniques and learning new things. For example, the masters of steam engine design at Swindon in the 1920s and '30s went abroad to look at alternative designs, buying several for trials.

Fast forward to today and there seems to be an expectation in some quarters that once you leave school, or possibly leave college, your learning days are over. I can remember myself thinking after my degree "At last, no more exams!". Well, I learnt that this is not and cannot be true. We must all learn throughout our lives. Some people "get it"... probably many more now than then, but we as a society seem to have got into the mindset that students are young and older adults don't learn new things. Changes in technology, business practice, and society, are so rapid now that, while in earlier years one could hope to survive on one "dose" of education, it is no longer possible, and longer lifetimes and the consequent need for longer working lives only exacerbate that.

So what next? We have an inherited culture of school / college / work / retirement, and support, educational and support frameworks often assume one course of higher education, but society and the workplace is forcing employees to two, three or more courses. Support networks assume you are either a student or a worker but not both, while many people these days can't afford formal learning without employment. Simultaneously, employers are more and more looking for reasons not to train employees - a misguided  view in my view, although such training has often been poorly selected and not applied quickly enough to be become properly absorbed.

We do have various distance-learning institutions, such as University of the Third Age and the Open University and several traditional universities that offer remote courses. While this might seem to solve the problem, it is only a partial solution; the time taken for a standard degree course via OU evenings/weekends is around 7 years; not an encouraging sort of period when the average job tenure is 2-3 years, and the cost is still very significant. Day release of staff, which might enable faster completion, is common for young people but unavailable or very difficult for the middle aged, who are those most in need of additional training, because companies need people working for them, not wandering off doing other stuff (even if that stuff could benefit them in the distant future).

I was recently reading of a competition:

"... for all students studying a discipline related to engineering at undergraduate level in a UK higher education institution to submit opinions ...."

... why is it necessary to be a "student .. at .. a UK higher education institution"?

In many places there seems to be a built-in assumption here that learning cannot happen unless you are full-time in a college. One might think this was about winning some prize sponsored by said institutions, but itis actually from a body promoting international development.

This sort of thinking must cease... We can no longer use the school / college / work / retirement model: it has already broken, and attempts to make-believe otherwise will fail against the grinding wheel of reality.

Continuous learning: continually evaluating yourself... continually challenging yourself... continually growing in and through yourself to the benefit of all.