When I was growing up, I viewed continuing education as either non-credit classes for adults with extra time on their hands or very specific classes with continuing education units (CEU) required for professionals to maintain their licensure. Most adults had a definitive end to their serious education. Once they received a high school degree or completed a college degree program, they were basically done with formal education.
While most people continue to learn new things throughout their lives, syllabus-driven learning with specific reading assignments, due dates, and tests usually ends in their late teens or early 20s. This is unfortunate because it makes formal learning seem more and more daunting the older we get. When learning stops, it impacts the mobility, flexibility, and performance of individual workers. It also hurts our economy, especially in industries that are undergoing rapid change.
Better educated individuals have higher earnings and lower unemployment rates and the gap between the economic success of the highly educated vs the less educated is increasing. Given that most people will work into their 60s, it is increasingly unrealistic to think a few years of school will give them all the all the information they will need for the next 40 years. The job that you have in your 40s, may not even exist when you are in your 20s.
What does this mean for today’s children? We need to cultivate within them a joy of learning and the attitude that their education should never end. I believe that in the future, adults will almost seamlessly move from traditional college and university programs to online self-study and back again. Learning will be much more continuous and something that people choose to do to maximize their employability and because learning is fun.
Most people have had at least one negative school experience. Mine was freshman calculus. I barely passed and to this day, when I think about it I get a bit queasy. The information I was supposed to learn still seems just barely out of reach and it has made me wary of other educational challenges. At the time I took the class, there wasn’t a good way for me to go back and actually learn the material properly. I had my grade and it was time to move on to the next semester. True understanding never happened — making it impossible for me to continue to build knowledge, when the new information required a solid foundation of calculus. Gaps in education like these can build over time and can contribute to the stagnation of kids and adults alike. We as a nation need to look at how we can improve education both during the traditional school years and throughout a lifetime.
For myself, I’m going to be checking out the Khan Academy precalculus and calculus classes to see if I can learn it again for the first time and continue my education.