The rise and challenges of lifelong learning at academic institutions

Via Evolllution

With a bachelor’s degree now only having a shelf life of five years, people seeking career-advancement are beginning to turn to the concept of lifelong learning, where they are generally motivated to learn and develop for both personal and professional reasons. Evolllution caught up with Darcy Richardson, Director of ASU Continuing and Professional Education (CPE), to talk about how CPE plays a vital role for people looking to advance.

Richardson says there are three key characteristics which define an exceptional experience for today’s adult learners based on a survey of Arizona State University Alumni:

  1. Delivering continuing and professional education courses in an online environment.

  2. Affordability, flexibility, and gaining a real-life experience.

  3. Courses leading to career advancement or an increase in salary, learning something new and challenging themselves.

“Today’s lifelong learner is seeking opportunities to gain new knowledge and skills in a flexible, convenient and affordable manner,” Richardson said. As it turns out, employers also seek out candidates who participate in lifelong learning, making career advancement or an increase in salary tangible for many over their lifetime.

Richardson isn’t shy about the challenges that she faces either. She explains that there are little innovations happening everywhere in education that can be hard to keep up with.

“Probably the biggest roadblocks have to do with the fact that, although we’re constantly scanning labor force market data to try and keep up with the latest advancements, there are innovations brewing that we haven’t even uncovered yet, and can’t always anticipate,” said Richardson.

While EdPlus at Arizona State University consistently seeks out new ways to innovate, sometimes finding the right resources at the right time can be a barrier too. Richardson says she is constantly looking for the right subject matter experts to develop courses to meet the rising demand.

“I’m constantly out among my colleagues at the university, learning what’s going on within their degree programs that we can possibly utilize in non-degree programs,” Richardson said.

Above all, Richardson believes that despite these challenges there is still a place for a fully-customizable education experience. She believes that institutions have to engage with their lifelong learners.

ASU Continuing and Professional Education consistency survey’s their learners to find out what programs and courses are needed to keep up with their needs and to help build their portfolio of skills. Richardson also advises that institutions monitor the market in order to identify the biggest areas of need. This includes looking at industry data and surveying employer constituents.

“We tap into what’s going on in the local economy to determine what skills gaps exist for the jobs of the future. We need to be able to take that information and rapidly develop programs that meet those needs. Skills are the new currency in the workplace, so we have to be able to address those competencies,” Richardson said.

CPE has done exceptionally well at creating programs and courses in conjunction with academic units. Richardson explains that the work being done between the academic units and subject matter experts is actually helping to create new pathways to future degree programs.

However, the content they create is the most important part in helping individuals make the most out of their experience with continuing and professional education.

“The main thing is that we’ve got to provide relevant content. Individuals have to be able to see that CPE programs are going to have a positive, immediate impact on their growth and development. As long as we’re doing that, and continue to build out workplace-responsive programs, learners are going to appreciate those pathways to different learning opportunities,” Richardson said.

As ASU Continuing and Professional Education continues to scale and thrive at EdPlus, the possibilities for relevant, flexible and affordable skills-based non-credit programs are endless.

Learn more about CPE