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Lifelong Learning in the Digital Age

Digital learning provides new access to educational resources beyond the traditional brick and mortar institution.

In 1986, at the dawn of the internet, Paul Simon released his Grammy Award-winning “Graceland” album.   “These are the days of miracles and wonder,” he sang, capturing both the excitement and trepidation inspired by technology’s impact on society.  And that was before the advent of the cell phone!

New types of degrees and partnerships

A college degree is no longer the only type of credential that identifies educational achievement.  Driven by at least four factors (technology, open educational standards, assessment and cost) lifelong learners can obtain alternative forms of credentialing, such as certificates or nanodegrees.  The pathways to these credentials are not frequently put through institutions of higher education but through alternative providers, such as companies or publishers.  Partnerships between companies and universities sometimes provide these credentials.  Most often, these opportunities are online.

Balancing work and new educational choices

This is significant and will be more so as the lines between work and educational achievement blur.  Whether for personal or professional development, alternative pathways to credentials and educational attainment will continue to increase.  Technology has created new pathways for a lifetime of learning by opening up possibilities for adaptive learning, or the development of an enhanced and individualized educational experience.

For example, managers with experience in the implementation of complex software may want to improve their credentials without having to take introductory courses that would repeat the information that they gained through experience.  The tailoring of nanodegrees and other specific credentials would allow such adult learners to build on existing knowledge and experience while expanding employment opportunities throughout their lifetimes. Of course, this will require more integration between the work and educational environments, but it is certainly within the realm of possibilities.

Available for all workers and learners

There has never been such a wide variety of opportunities available to learners of all generations.  With the increasing recognition of alternative providers and credentials as alternatives to degrees, there will be an ever-increasing number of professional and personal development options for lifelong learners.

There are more choices in how, when and where to continue learning.  As educational opportunities such as stackable credentialing, just-in-time learning, on-demand courses, competency-based assessments and adaptive learning gain favor, learners will select options that better fit into their lifestyles. That allows them to build an educational portfolio that includes work experience and a greater mixing of credentials and experience.  Much of this will be online through enhanced digital technology.  These really are the “days of miracles and wonders.”

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