60 Year Curriculum

Over time how much money and time we spend in education has increased as mentioned in the 60 Year Curriculum. As careers expand in length due to longer life expectancy, as technology changes what jobs we do and how we do them this trend looks set to increase. However, that will demand substantial change in our education system. These combined forces of technology and longevity will lead to changes in what we learn, when we learn, how we learn and who we learn from.

The need for lifelong learning was a theme in my book The 100 Year Life. But in writing The New Long Life it became apparent that changes in our educational institutions are crucial if we are to seize the benefits of smart new technologies and longer lives. If our educational institutions adapt it will support substantial economic growth and inclusive prosperity. A failure to adapt will see disappointing growth, widening inequality and increasingly dysfunctional political institutions. There is in other words a lot at stake.

That’s why I was delighted to contribute a chapter to Chris Dede and John Richard’s excellent volume “The 60 Year Curriculum : New Models for Lifelong learning in the digital economy”.

The volume looks at why we need to think about (in Gary Matkin’s words) a 60 Year Curriculum and reviews current efforts at trying to create one and what is needed to succeed. A genuine shift to a 60 year curriculum raises profound questions. What does it mean to graduate? What is the difference between students and alumni?  How do higher ed institutions shift from a ‘product’ based approach based around degrees to a longer term relationship between student and institution? Who helps the student craft their 60 year curriculum providing support and guidance for each step as life unfolds?

My chapter focuses on how the economic implications of longevity and technology will drive change in education. If education is to increase further that will have to happen at older ages and involve a substantial expansion of adult education. That is going to be a challenge as we have never had to provide at scale an inclusive system of adult education supporting upskilling, reskilling, transition and renewal.

Whilst this expansion of education might seem like good news for the educational system the fastest growing areas will be in areas currently poorly served – shorter cumulative programs, a focus on soft skills and behaviours and not just academic skills, employment based learning provided on a ‘needed now’ basis rather than anticipating future demand, intergenerational courses that support a range of ages, etc.

Existing higher ed institutions will change and adapt to support this market but its also likely we will see whole new providers and products emerge to meet this growing need.

There will be major challenges in meeting this agenda. The first will be truly understanding how adults can best learn. Many institutions already have great insight but it is still an area of learning where we know least of all. The second is that much of this learning will need to be guided by the individual. That then runs the risk, as with financial products, of misselling as the prospective student by definition doesn’t fully understand the course they are enrolling on. Promises are easy to make in Higher Ed and there need to be more concrete ways of measuring success for new programs. This leads to the third issue – credentialing and how to signal to a wider public and future employers the value of the skills acquired through these short courses. The fourth and most important challenge though will be around achieving truly inclusive adult education. Right now, those with most education are most likely to pursue further adult education. If the gains from technology and longevity are to be fully realised and growing inequality halted finding ways to support adult education for all has to be a major social priority.

For more about “The 60 Year Curriculum” do read Chris Dede and John Richard’s volume by clicking here.

My book with Lynda Gratton “The New Long Life – A Framework for Flourishing in a Changing World” also has a chapter on what we need from our educational institutions as well as implications for the individual.

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