The value of lifelong learning – 145 years on

During the 2022/23 academic year, Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education engaged with over 14,000 students. They represented 161 nationalities and lived all over the world across 153 countries. ‘We are proud of the commitment of our students to lifelong learning with a handful taking our short courses for over 20 years, and some taking more than 100 courses with us! It’s completely true that you are never too old to learn' said Professor Matthew Weait, Director of the Department. ‘For over 145 years, we’ve had students learning at all stages of life, from their teenage years all the way through to those in their 90’s.’ 

The meaning behind lifelong learning

Lifelong learning has become a cornerstone of personal and professional growth. At its heart lies the idea that education is not just a means to an end but a continuous journey. It’s about staying curious and engaged in the world around us. Lifelong learning is generally voluntary and self-motivated based on a pursuit to learn more, gain new skills or support professional development. Examples could be anything from discovering more about a favourite painter, to immersing oneself in the world of artificial intelligence, to exploring sustainability and tackling global issues. 

Lifelong learning is now essential

The advent of online education has made it easier than ever for adults to pursue further education and expand their horizons. In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven job market, staying competitive requires continuous skill development. Employers are increasingly looking for individuals who are adaptable and willing to embrace change. 

By participating in lifelong learning, adults can upskill, reskill, and remain relevant in their chosen fields thus boosting career prospects and job security. We live in an era where an undergraduate degree or formative pre-experience education is no longer enough to support the entire working career. Technology, artificial intelligence and global challenges have seen to this.

Step-on, step-off learning

In a recent IBM survey, executives indicated that 40% of the workforce would need to reskill due to technology and AI during the next three years. This wouldn’t necessarily mean a complete overhaul of knowledge, but a fine-tuning and enhancement of skill sets to ensure they meet the requirements of today’s challenging and fast-paced working environment.

Some adults are interested in obtaining a second degree, but many want to gain a finite skill set in a particular area. In this way, microcredentials have emerged as an essential tool to propel someone along their career journey. These are short, focused courses or learning opportunities that provide sought-after skills, knowledge and experience. Achieving microcredentials can define competence and skill attainment at a granular level. They are also stackable so that individuals can build their knowledge in a given area at a pace and time to suit them. 

‘We think there will be much more of a pattern of people stepping on and stepping off, engaging with learning for a while, taking a few years out in their professional development, focusing on their careers and then coming back. We look forward to working with them and helping them to hit the ground running each time they re-engage’, said Professor Roger Dalrymple, Deputy Director and instigator of our brand new Lifelong Learning Pedagogies forum. 

Lifelong learning not just for professionals

Lifelong learning is for everyone, whatever their interest, intentions and goals. It’s never too late to learn and you can always learn something new. ‘Lifelong learning is not a one-off event or a short-term project. Many of our students find that once they’ve completed one course, they are inspired and motivated to seek out their next learning bite!’, says Professor Weait.

Cost or investment?

Learning should be seen as an investment of time and money to achieve a personal or professional goal. The real cost actually depends on how you want to learn. There are many free resources available for the solitary learner and forums for those who want to build knowledge through community interaction. 

Courses are often priced depending on the amount of value you can gain from them. Accredited courses may cost more but you would achieve a credible, verified course that is attractive to employers. In addition, the networking value of attending a course either online or in person cannot be underestimated. Meeting like-minded individuals who each share their own perspectives for discussion in class is so valuable to furthering knowledge and learning, or a passion for a particular interest.

Providing over 145 years of lifelong learning opportunities

Explore the curious, the mysterious or the perplexing! The Department for Continuing Education has one of the world’s oldest and largest communities of part-time adult learners worldwide. Whether for personal interest, academic progression or professional development, for over 145 years, it has inspired learners to create solutions, innovate and gain new perspectives within a diverse, vibrant community. Embedded in an 800-year-old world-class university, the Department provides courses, events and programmes developed from the University’s rich and unique resources. Learners share knowledge at a global and local level, transforming individuals, organisations, business practice, and society.

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Published 10 November 2023