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We need to be “Life Long Learners”

We need to become independent “lifelong learners” in order to meet the challenges of technological change and thrive in the digital economy.

Given the current pace of change, we need to focus on the digital literacies, technological skills and learning behaviours which will allow us to adapt throughout our working lives. This means becoming effective, independent “lifelong learners”.

The UK government and business leaders have recognised this. The UK’s Digital Strategy 2017 states:

“The pace of technological change makes it difficult to predict the nature of digital skills that will be needed in future. Requirements will change quickly so we will need to up-skill people across their working lives…It is therefore essential for people to continue to develop their digital skills after they have left formal education”.

This need for learning on an on-going basis is expanded in a 2017 Future of Skills and Lifelong Learning document, which suggests:

“Those entering the labour market now can expect to work longer and may need to change careers more frequently. Economic security will not come from having a job for life but from having the ability to maintain and renew the right skills through lifelong learning…”

Businesses and academics agree. At a recent Innovate UK discussion panel:

Professor Harrison (University of Warwick) argued for “a different approach to key aspects of education”. Dr Hamid Mughal (Director of Global Manufacturing, Rolls Royce) predicted that “lifelong learning will be almost compulsory” while also suggesting that “universities currently do not cater for that”.

Kalyan Kumar (Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of HCL Technologies) reported that about eighty percent of graduates he takes on are not ready for work. He has to spend time and money to upskill them, and feels that individuals should shoulder more of the responsibility for re-skilling themselves.

We will not be able to rely on the State, or even on businesses, to take the lead in retraining us as our knowledge becomes out-of-date. We need to be flexible workers with transferable skills and the ability to learn effectively in self-directed ways. We should expect to build our digital skills, literacies and networks throughout our lives.

These themes were echoed more broadly at a recent UNESCO mobile learning event in Paris. A key message was the role of digital skills in promoting lifelong learning that also addressed gender and other inequalities.

A new Digital Strategy is promised by the UK government for publication in Autumn 2020, which will hopefully allow us to update this discussion while the course is live, as well as bring in examples contributed by learners from other countries.

© University of Exeter
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