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Breaking the boundaries between academic degrees and lifelong learning
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by Thomas J.P. Thijssen, Fons T.J. Vernooij 11 the future of Education & Learning

Designing demand driven lifelong learning processes for employees

Keywords: educational design, didactics, lifelong learning, innovation, collaborative technologies, assessment tools, personal development, demand driven

Many educational institutes and their staff, struggle with the issue of capturing the market of lifelong learning, whilst continuing to offer traditional courses. Whereas traditional courses are more or less fixed in curricula and cover certain topics in a planned period of time, lifelong learning requires agreements between teachers and students on specific topics related to competencies acquired before. Students with working experiences are mostly skilled in self-regulated learning processes. Education has to benefit from that. Yet many post-academic courses are built around the same educational processes as the regular academic courses for those between the ages of 17 and 25. Those courses are supply driven and not demand driven and they are separated from the working context. They offer more general modules, which by definition are not relevant for the individual student. Moreover, the costs of these traditional forms of education are high, both in time and money. This paper explores the design problems and generates the outline of a transformation framework to build lifelong learning processes in a demand driven way. The framework includes relevant components for students to regulate their own learning processes and ensure they are integrated in their work processes. The student, the coach and the assessor can continuously monitor the desired learning outcomes, by using assessment tools. Tools for mass-customisation and automation (collaborative technologies) make it possible to support large numbers of students in their learning processes. This will be demonstrated by experiences from the Netherlands at the Johan Cruijff University, the Centre for Post initial Education (CPE) and the Network University, all three vested in Amsterdam.

1. Introduction

There are two main reasons for people who finished their regular education to continue learning when they have found a job. One is that they want to improve their competencies, understood as a combination of knowledge, skills and attitude (Parry, 1996; Stoof and others, 2001). They want as well to prepare themselves for a career. The second reason is that working situations are changing fast. New developments in information and communication technology create changes in the working situation. In order to keep up with these changes further education is required. This may either be conceived as an improvement in acquired competencies or as an extension of certificates acquired. In both situations the question arises whether this additional learning should be supply driven or demand driven.

Supply driven learning can be understood as learning situations where the supplier develops a course or seminar, based on its own market research, resulting in an offer to customers. As far as universities and business schools are concerned they have material available from their bachelor, master or Ph-D program. For some employees this might just be what they are looking for, but for many these courses are too abstract and too little applicable in their own working situation. They have other learning goals, related to the job they have or the position they want to acquire. For them another approach would be more suitable: demand driven learning. In this approach the learning goals of the learner, or maybe a group of learners are the starting point for the design of a course. The learner himself is in control of the learning process.

There are many concepts used to describe the learning demands of people who finished their initial education. One is life long learning. The national research network for new approaches to lifelong learning describes working definitions for formal schooling, further education and informal learning (Livingstone, 1998). In this paper we will use the definition of lifelong learning in the sense of further education. In addition to that we limit ourselves to work related lifelong learning, excluding such fine courses as for instance violin studies and sailing. One important distinction is that we will explore lifelong learning as a demand driven learning activity of further education whereby the learner is in control. When this concept is used in this contribution, it is restricted to situations where an employee is working on his employability. Therefore, an employer is involved in most of these cases. Employer and employee have both common interests and personal interests in describing the specific learning outcomes and in creating a learning situation. They each have their own value chain with input of effort, time and money and output in terms of competencies for the employee that can contribute to the productivity of the company. We will use the concept of the value chain (Porter, 1985) to describe the processes of creating value through learning/teaching activities.

Once the learning goals are stated a supplier is looked for or the employer might develop a course by his own personnel department. If a university or business school is approached to make an offer, then a third value chain becomes involved, that is the value chain of the institute (Thijssen, Maes, & Vernooij, 2001). As a well-organized institute it will try to reduce its costs and look for existing material as the basis for an offer. That is where demand driven learning can collide with supply driven learning.

In this contribution we will explore the value chains of the learners, the companies and the educational institutions. We introduce as well the home front as a separate role, that is the relatives and friends of the learner, that are influenced in their social lives, because of the time the learner invests in his learning. The three value chains and the role of the home front are explored in order to find the research questions today that are required to find the answers tomorrow. It reports on the journey towards designing demand driven education that forces educators to rethink their role in learning processes and break through the boundaries of formal schooling. The aim is to present a fresh way of looking at design problems and inspiring educators by sharing experiences. First we will describe the various value chains and make an inventory on conflicting interests and problems. We formulate design goals at the end of this section. In section 2 we will introduce a framework for designing demand driven life long learning for employees. In section 3 we will share some insights on experiments with new educational design and in section 4 we list the learning points from these experiments for educational institutions. We conclude with recommendations for further exploratory research.

We will first describe the characteristics of the value chain of the Learner and explore the role of the home front. Secondly we will embark on describing the value chain of the company. By comparing these value chains we can identify conflicts of interest and specific problems. Then we will describe the value chain of the traditional educational institute en we will explore how this value chain fits the needs of the two other value chains. Based on this analysis we can formulate our design goals.

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