Anyone actively following the development of education policy in recent year could not have avoided hearing about continuous learning. At some point during the previous government’s term, “lifelong learning” became “continuous learning,” and the current government has repeatedly emphasised, through the voice of the education minister Li Andersson, that the renewal of continuous learning is one of the key policies in this government term. However, the new concept still raises a lot of questions.

For one, it is not clear how “continuous learning” even differs from the previously used “lifelong learning.” Secondly, what exactly are we supposed to find once we tear away the gift-wrapping of this latest reform?

The question is one of change management. The goal is to bring attention to an important issue: as the world of work is constantly changing, lifelong competence development, as a supplement to degree education, is becoming more important. In the future, all types of education and competence development will interlace and alternate more with work as the competence requirements of the working world grow and whole sectors undergo structural changes brought on, for example, by digitalisation.

In the future, the ability to proactively develop your competence during your career along with changes in the world of work will become an increasingly important citizenship skill. The goal of the continuous learning reform is to build a system whose structures better support lifelong competence development regardless of one’s life situation.

The implementation of the reform can be a huge opportunity for a society that relies on education as Finland does. But if the project fails, it may be a burden that ties us to the past.

Though the reform is still largely in the preparation phase, in the higher education sector it is starting to become a reality, as the grounds for funding shift to profitable development actions that are in line with the changes. In concrete terms, this means developing education offering and flexible learning opportunities for people in the world of work. In vocational education the development of education is already largely based on the demands of the world of work. However, at universities, which rely on the development of high-level international research and degree education, the new approach requires a fundamental reorientation.

There is justified concern among the academic community that focussing on the education activities of continuous learning may reduce investments in the traditional cornerstones of universities. If a solution can be found for the funding model – the most challenging issue of continuous learning – and, for example, the proposed education account of citizens can be established, higher education institutions would also receive completely new bases for funding and new markets for continuing education would open up, neither of which would detract from fulfilling our basic duties.

Currently, the field of higher education in Finland is responding at a varying pace to the challenge of continuous learning reform. The theme is part of higher education’s vision work for 2030, but, at the same time, several higher education institutions are already constructing their operating models in order to adapt to this large structural renewal.

At the University of Jyväskylä, readiness to move into the new era is strong. The Open University is already one of the key providers of continuing education and a developer of flexible higher education in Finland. In 2020, the purpose is to build an operating model of continuous learning at JYU, which will provide us with a stronger foothold for the reform work in the latter part of the term of government. As part of this work, the education offering of continuous learning will be developed to include thematic modules and MOOC implementations. For now, the work in Parliament to renew continuous learning continues and maybe at the end of the year we will know more about its progress.

Antti Laitinen
Project Manager, Student and Academic Services

 

 

 

 

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