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Flexible, life-long learning: where are we now, what works and where next?

24 Nov 2020 | Dr Kay Hack (PFHEA) Dr Kay Hack, Advance HE Principal Adviser (Learning and Teaching), explains a new Collaborative Development Fund project that aims to review capacity for flexible provision to identify exemplars of the requisite infrastructure, strategies and enabling technologies that support equitable transitions.

Prior to the current crisis, the HE sector had begun to recognise the growing need for agile and responsive education and training systems to regularly upskill and reskill the workforce. Changes to the ways of working, living and learning already being wrought by the fourth industrial revolution and artificial intelligence have accelerated over the past eight months. The predicted global recession combined with an ageing population, the rise of AI and the potential for geographical shifts in centres of excellence for high-tech manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, finance, and IT will increase the global demand for higher education to support a reformed workforce to build our knowledge economy and enable us to bounce-forward from this crisis. The emerging skills landscape will require agile lifelong learning opportunities that provide seamless and equitable transitions between tertiary education providers and various avenues of employment.  

The pandemic has highlighted that, globally, higher education institutions need to enhance their capacity to operate flexible and resilient education systems to meet student expectations and the accelerating social and economic transformations that society anticipates. Previous research conducted by Advance HE (Building Higher Education Curricula Fit for the Future, 2018) and the Augar Report in 2019 emphasised the need for approaches to lifelong learning that meet the economic and social transformations envisaged for the next 50 years. Through this Collaborative Development Fund project we aim to develop our understanding of the global HE sector’s readiness to provide high quality, on-going learning opportunities responsive to the needs of students and employers.

In 2018, Universities UK provided a snapshot of flexible learning across the UK higher education sector, for this call we are interested in proposals that investigate an alternative perspective of provision, whether by geographical region, discipline or currency. It is recognised that the requisite ecosystems for flexible, life-long learning are at a nascent stage in many countries, therefore the research should provide illustrative case studies where institutions are building the infrastructure, strategies, practices or partnerships required for flexible, life-long learning.

Infrastructure: Block-chain, micro-accreditation and digital badging provide interoperability and secure data sharing allowing employers, institutions and the learner instant access to verified evidence of learning or competencies from alternative providers including MOOCs, CPD as well as university accredited courses.

Pedagogies and practices: teaching and assessment strategies that support the development of student’s digital capabilities, their capacity for self-directed learning and their self-awareness competency to enable them to take advantage of life-long learning opportunities.

Enabling technologies: learning analytics, adaptive learning, social network analysis, discourse analytics, semantic web technologies that scaffold effective higher education provision and support the delivery of quality higher education at scale.

Partnerships: working with other providers of tertiary education, community groups, employers and agencies that promote social mobility. 

Globally, the higher education sector needs to ensure it has the strategies, infrastructure and partnerships to develop and support the workforce society and the economy. At Advance HE, we are interested in developing a deeper understanding of the sector’s readiness to provide equitable transitions through learning and work and identify priority areas to be addressed by Advance HE and our members to meet immediate and longer term economic needs.

We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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