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Why lifelong learning matters for K-12 students

A new report takes stock of where the global workforce is going--and highlights the reasons lifelong learning plays a critical role in workforce success

In an ever-changing global workforce, today’s students are developing skills to make them productive members of tomorrow’s workforce. Perhaps one of the most important skills they’ll learn is lifelong learning.

A new report highlights lifelong learning’s prominent part in higher ed and the workforce, but the report’s recommendations are also important for K-12 educators and learners.

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Future of Lifelong Learning: Designing for a Learning-Integrated Life, a new whitepaper from D2L released during the 2020 Education World Forum, focuses on the future of work and learning. The paper describes how these forces and the interactions between them are permeating all aspects of our society, driving an increasing need for lifelong learning.

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“While we cannot forecast the future with any certainty, it is clear that there is an increasing importance on the education and workforce development sectors to continually enable working individuals for the jobs of both today and tomorrow,” says Jeremy Auger, D2L’s chief strategy officer. “Achieving the vision of a ‘Learning-Integrated Life,’ or ongoing learning and skills development as the enabler of employability, success, and purpose, requires a paradigm shift in the current models of education and skills development.”

The demand for lifelong learning appears to be strong and growing in both the short-term and the future. Up to 375 million workers across the global workforce—or 14 percent of all workers—may need to change occupations and learn new skills by 2030.

But for lifelong learning to be obtainable, education and training opportunities must be accessible to all–particularly for low-skilled and disadvantaged individuals. A lack of accessibility creates gaps in education and skills, leading to economic disparities.

Recommendations for lifelong learning include:

  • Acting as a convener, governments should leverage a national strategy to create a shared commitment between government, public education systems, and employers to create a cohesive lifelong learning system.
  • Industry-academic co-design of programs have shown compelling benefits for workers, employers, and educational institutions. Industry-led partnerships with labor organizations should offer similar potential in preparing new workers and upskilling existing workers for changing technologies and business processes.
  • Higher education should address the demand for learning through new, flexible models of learning for adults.
  • Employers and postsecondary institutions must work together to develop models for assessment and recognition based off what already works.
  • Industry and higher education institutions should promote the development of durable skills such as critical thinking, creativity, and emotional intelligence, all critical across occupations and for career adaptability.
  • In order for the shift in our learning systems to be realized and to meet the needs of a Learning-Integrated Life, data must flow more seamlessly between government, industry, and education.

While this research has broad implications for higher education, it is still relevant for the K-12 landscape for several reasons:

1. Students need to learn how to learn. And they have to do so before reaching college or entering certification programs or the workforce. When students participate in makerspaces and project-based learning, they take ownership of their learning. Student agency and student voice emerge, letting students find their strengths and develop skills they’ll need for success.

2. STEM education prepares students for the future. The majority of tomorrow’s jobs (many of which don’t even exist yet today) will require some kind of STEM competency. A background in STEM is essential. What’s more–as STEM roles in the workforce evolve, workers’ skills will need to grow and evolve. Giving students a strong STEM background before they graduate from high school gives them confidence to rely on that STEM knowledge, apply it to real-world scenarios, and learn more with STEM in the future.

3. STEAM education and makerspaces help students develop creativity. Creativity is consistently cited as one of the most-desired soft skills in workers today. In addition to creativity, STEAM and makerspaces help students develop other soft skills, or employability skills, such as problem solving, empathy, and the ability to collaborate. These soft skills will help today’s students when they are in the workforce navigating changing career requirements and ongoing learning opportunities.

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