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Delivering Learning Across A Lifetime: Higher Education’s New Paradigm​

By Chris Dede

Higher education is no longer a single engagement in an individual’s life, or a stop-off point between high school and a career. Today, and into the future, higher education’s role is ongoing as the demands of the future labour market will require individuals to continuously up-skill and re-skill to remain relevant. As such, while the traditional two- or four-year postsecondary model will continue to play an important role, colleges and universities must expand their repertoire to consciously deliver learning across individuals’ lifetimes.

The Sixty Year Curriculum (60YC)
Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education (DCE) is developing an initiative centred on The Sixty Year Curriculum (60YC). The Dean of DCE, Hunt Lambert, is leading this effort to transform lifelong learning, which is now a necessity in our dynamic, chaotic world. The 60YC initiative is focused on developing new educational models that enable each person to reskill as their occupational and personal context shifts.

The average lifespan of the next generation is projected to be 80 to 90 years, and most people will need to work past the age of 65 to have enough savings to retire. Teenagers need to prepare for a future of multiple careers spanning six decades, plus retirement. Educators are faced with the challenge of preparing young people for unceasing reinvention to take on many roles in the workplace, as well as for careers that do not yet exist. Simply put, the question is:

What are the organisational and societal mechanisms by which people can reskill later in their lives, when they do not have the time or resources for a full-time academic experience that results in a degree or certificate?

Thus far, attempts to address this issue have centred on what individual institutions might do. For example, in 2015 Stanford developed an aspirational vision called the Open Loop University. Georgia Tech followed in 2018, with its model for Lifetime Education. Models like these are a necessary step forward, but they are not sufficient because they focus on a single institution’s ability to serve its alumni, rather than on meeting the more general need to equip and help adults from any background at any stage of their lives. 60YC is exploring alternative models for example: a coalition of extension schools working together to extend their mission, or regional higher education coalitions.

Much remains to be understood about how 60YC might become the future of higher education. The biggest barrier we face in this process of reinventing our models for higher education is unlearning. We have to let go of deeply held, emotionally valued identities in service of transformational change to a different, more effective set of behaviours. This is both individual (an instructor transforming instructional practices from presentation and assimilation to active, collaborative learning by students) and institutional (a higher education institution transforming from degrees certified by seat time and standardised tests to credentials certified by proficiency on competency-based measures). Unlearning requires not only novel intellectual approaches, but also individual and collective emotional and social support for shifting our identities—not in terms of fundamental character and capabilities, but in terms of how those are expressed as our context shifts over time.

The hope is that higher education will increase its focus on the aspirational vision of 60YC as an important step towards providing a pathway to a secure and satisfying future for our students.

This is an extract from “Delivering Learning Across A Lifetime: Higher Education’s New Paradigm”.