The Golden Age of Lifelong Learning
June 29, 2017



Education is becoming more accessible than ever, and we should make the most of it.

In 1858, the University of London became the first institution of higher learning to provide distance and flexible education to students around the world. Study materials would be sent out across the globe via mail, and students would sit exams at specified times in their home countries. This innovative solution was proven to be robust enough that it became a key platform for soldiers to pursue higher education while serving in the war.

The University of London International Programmes is still in operation today after almost 160 years and its alumni boasts seven Nobel Prize winners including Nelson Mandela who read law under the programme while in prison.

The model laid out by the University of London programme has evolved over the years and today access to education continues to grow opportunities for students of all ages. The emergence of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) alongside the rapid growth of Internet access has brought a new dimension to the way we acquire and apply knowledge.

MOOC opens the door to materials from top institutions from around the world and all you need is an Internet connection. Interest in the MOOC movement is exponentially gaining momentum, especially among individuals already in the workforce. But the challenge is in optimally utilising this innovation.

Apart from on-the-job training, the traditional approach to capability development at the workplace includes staff members taking time out from the office to attend classroom sessions at a remote location. Some employers view this as a form of reward for their staff, without fully ascertaining if the feeling is mutual. The challenge with learning is that when it is not self-motivated, the objective of capability building can be negated into becoming a checklist-crossing exercise.

One solution to this predicament is to include the workforce in the design phase of the training curriculum. With the tools and technology available today to facilitate online delivery (such as Google Classroom), the translation of content to lessons is becoming increasingly simple.

At Imperial College Business School, Dr. David Lefevre leads the Edtech Lab which collaborates with organisations in developing executive education programmes that are effective and flexible for their employees. A testament of this effort is the relaunch of the school’s Executive MBA programme which has been restructured into a blended (online and on-campus) mode to fit the busiest of schedules; the aspiration being a programme that is supportive of realising the student’s both career and academic ambitions.

Dr. Lefevre argues that it is vital for organisations to foster a culture of lifelong learning within their firms to accelerate and upskill their workforce as industries edge closer to the age of automation.

One concern that both organisations and employees have in the past is the high cost of attending training or continuing education programmes. With the advent of technology and the willingness of institutions to make their learning materials open, investment in education is becoming more cost-effective. Development programmes for senior executives can still exist without limiting opportunities for the workforce at large – given the wealth of potential yet to be unearthed.

In Malaysia, the government is also providing support towards lifelong learning within the country’s workforce. Through its Human Resources Development Fund’s ‘Online Distance Learning Scheme’, employers can reclaim their annual contribution to the fund and put it towards supporting their employees’ enrolment in postgraduates programmes up to a PhD qualification.

As the great Roman leader Julius Caesar once said, “Experience is the teacher of all things.” His words stand true today, although one could argue that there are also things you can learn on edX and Coursera.




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Photography by Azalia Suhaimi

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  • Asrif, b. 1983
  • Subang Jaya, Malaysia
  • asrifomar[@]gmail[.]com
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