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Three trends that are driving lifelong learning in 2022
Jessie Hill is Market Intelligence Analyst with the Faculty of Open Learning and Career Development.
Like many sectors over the past few years, higher education is evolving and changing. A growing number of adults are turning to postsecondary education for quick pathways to credentials that help them get a better job or secure the job they have. It should come as no surprise that non-degree education is a rapidly expanding area of higher education, offering learners a way to highlight their skills while complementing other types of learning.
In the midst of all of this change, analysts in higher education have identified three factors that are shaping lifelong learning in 2022: technology, job dissatisfaction, and the rise of microcredentials. Below, we explore each of these factors and relate them to findings from our recent analysis of lifelong learning across Canada.
The pandemic forced education institutions to quickly transition to online learning, demonstrating that lifelong learning does not have to be bound to a physical location. As a result, online learning environments have become normalized in education, and many learners are in no hurry to return to the physical classroom. Our analysis of public statements from the websites of lifelong learning institutions in Canada showed that these institutions use terms like “flexible,” “online,” and “part-time” in their messaging to potential students, relying on technology to connect with a broader range of learners. But thanks to the vast amount of free educational content on the web today, lifelong learning providers will need to go further in proving to learners that their courses, both online and face-to-face, are worth the cost.
Low wages, climbing inflation rates, and poor workplace conditions have led many workers to reconsider their employment options, leading to a sharp increase in the number of people quitting their jobs. This phenomenon has been dubbed the Great Resignation, but some have argued that it should be called the Great Reshuffle because rather than leaving the workforce, many people are instead finding new jobs where they make more money, have more freedom, or enjoy their work more. It is estimated that nearly 25% of Canadians changed jobs amid the Great Resignation. This growing number of restless workers looking to upskill gives lifelong learning institutions an opportunity to offer short courses and stackable programs that allow learners to quickly earn only the credentials they need for job change or job advancement — without the multi-year commitment of a degree program.
The rise of microcredentials
Microcredentials are learning experiences that focus specifically on an earned skill or competency. These short, targeted courses are used to build a unique skillset for upskilling or reskilling. There has been a recent uptick in the number of these offerings, with our analysis revealing that at least 10% of all newly added non-degree programs in Canada are microcredentials. Despite the growing focus on microcredentials from education institutions, more buy-in is needed from employers and all levels of government to demonstrate the value of these programs to learners. Microcredentials have been found to vary in their cost, curriculum, and time to completion, which poses a challenge for students and employers who do not have time to compare the details of each offering. Although microcredentials offer a unique pathway to skills endorsement, there is still a lack of shared standards across microcredentials nationally.
These three factors, taken together, show that lifelong learning has a valuable role to play in preparing people for a changing workforce. Professional development should be both ongoing and nimble, and lifelong learning institutions will need to be proactive to best prepare today’s lifelong learners for the new future of work.
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