Everybody is talking about continuous learning. Societies, technologies and even geopolitical premises are changing in an unprecedented way. It simply does not work anymore that you complete a degree and then work 40 years. Everybody needs additional education during her/his career.
There has been some discussion about who carries the main responsibility for continuous learning. As I see it, the society should provide possibilities and a clear framework. The companies have their own interests and they behave accordingly. However, at the end of the day the person herself carries the main responsibility for being up-to-date and having the necessary qualifications and skills in order to manage her duties.
It´s no secret that continuous learning has a tendency to accumulate. In other words, those who study, study a lot. I have also used the metaphor that “usually those who can sing, take part in singing classes”. We also know that generally speaking women are more active in self-development than men. In an ideal world everybody would be active in continuous learning but it´s more realistic to see it as a differentiating factor between those, who make it and those, who don´t make it.
In the political discourse continuous learning of less-skilled professions seems to be at the core. However, one should remember that high-skilled professions actually require even more continuous learning. That is also vital from the Finnish national competitiveness point of view. In order to survive in niche-markets we simply have to be ready to invest in continuous education. Finland is a small country and totally dependent on export. Therefore, national competitiveness has to be based on knowledge and innovativeness rather than high volumes and cheap labor.
Institutions of higher education have a lot to offer in continuous education. Modular curricula enable them to run smaller entities and luckily continuous education in a university or in a university of applied science does not automatically mean completing an additional full degree. It´s quite enough to build on one´s existing degree – even though we Finns have traditionally been quite degree-oriented in our thinking.
Universities of applied sciences work a lot with companies and all research can be characterized as applied by nature. Therefore, it´s no surprise that this second pillar in higher education has gained a lot of attention as applied approach serves quite well the interests of companies. All lecturers have practical working experience, which can be seen as an additional bonus.
One should remember that also continuous education is business of professionals. Unfortunately, we can quite often see operators on the market pretending to be educational professionals – without any pedagogical background. Usually their services are nicely productized. However, in many cases no efforts have been made to develop a clear pedagogical approach. In universities of applied science all lecturers have a pedagogical training, which guarantees a certain level of quality. In most cases the winning combination consists of up-to-date contents, proper combination of theory and practice spiced with sneaky pedagogical approaches.
When we talk about continuous learning, we talk about the future. Nobody knows what´s to come but certainly one is better equipped if one has carried the personal responsibility of educating oneself on a constant basis. There is no better investment than investing in oneself. Instead of creating new structures one should look at existing operators and fine-tune them more into serving the continuous learning interests of the society. One thing is for sure: in a rapidly changing world one is never fully-educated.
Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences
*) Leave of absence Feb. 1, 2022 – Nov. 30, 2023 due to wife´s posting to Stockholm, Sweden