Over a very short period of time, Covid-19 has helped business and education to replace and complement physical face-to-face channels by digital and online ones. This radical change also opened the way for more and better lifelong learning – via e-learning platforms.
Literally, lifelong learning refers to all learning that takes place throughout one's life. In practice, it mostly stands for the voluntary, self-motivated and continuous learning that takes place after one has completed formal education. It typically refers to the learning that takes place throughout and as part of one's career – from first to last occupation.
Lifelong learning is important at three levels:
Professional reskilling and lifelong learning have been important for many years. But Covid-19 is a strong catalyst with the potential to substantially accelerate and enlarge its adoption. Specifically, it is a catalyst for lifelong e-learning – learning online rather than through traditional face-to-face channels.
The Covid-19 crisis has two catalyzing effects that, in combination, are a substantial impulse for lifelong e-learning. The first effect is rather obvious and is directly related to the specific nature of this crisis. Due to the social distancing following Covid-19, businesses and education have replaced and complemented their physical channels by digital and online ones in a blink of the eye. As a study by McKinsey shows, in three months Covid-19 caused an increase of e-commerce penetration that would normally take ten years. This also applies to e-learning. According to Panos Siozos, the cofounder and CEO of e-learning platform LearnWorlds, “E-learning was already growing at a 100% growth rate per year. We hated that Covid-19 was the catalyst, but it has made us achieve in four months what would normally have taken ten years.”
The second way in which Covid-19 has a catalyzing effect is more generic and indirect. As argued in an earlier article, any crisis is a key driver of change. It creates momentum, it shows change is possible and in the face of crisis you have to change anyway. As such, and as David Hurst argues in his book "Crisis & Renewal," a crisis shakes up and transforms organizations from a stable and rather rigid “performance mode” into a more dynamic and flexible “learning mode.” Or as the Oxford Handbook of Lifelong Learning formulates it “Learning is all about change, and change drives learning.”
So, Covid-19 is a key catalyst for learning and for going online. This doesn't automatically imply that it also catalyzes lifelong e-learning. But there are good reasons why we can expect this. When we compare traditional learning with e-learning, we see that both have their role, advantages and disadvantages. Siozos: “There always will remain a place for schools and universities, especially because they are strong at creating a social environment that supports learning by likeminded people and valuable networking.” But what we also see, is that especially for lifelong e-learning the advantages clearly outweigh the disadvantages.
Here are some of the key advantages of traditional, face-to-face learning:
And here are some of the key advantages of e-learning:
What we can conclude from this brief comparison is that e-learning is especially suitable for motivated, capable learners who want to continuously become better and take the lead in their own learning journey. This is exactly the kind of learner that engages in lifelong learning.
To make lifelong e-learning a reality, the right technology is needed. While creating an appropriate online environment used to be hard and laborious until recently, there are various platforms available that include everything needed. While they differ substantially, all of them offer integrative solutions enabling lifelong e-learning.
Additionally, there are five key specific lessons to learn when it comes to developing an e-learning platform:
To sum up: both the need and the means are there for lifelong e-learning. As Siozos concludes “Remote learning is there to stay, increasingly becoming the dominant paradigm. And it is a necessity for throughout our lives as part of everyday life.”
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