Thorsten Blokzijl

The crucial role of lifelong learning in a turbulent society

Many people know how great it feels when you’ve learnt something new or mastered a skill. The importance of continued learning and development throughout your life cannot be overstated. What exactly is its importance, and how can we make lifelong learning a reality?

Whether it involves learning a new language or mastering advanced software, learning is a positive and powerful individual experience. Lifelong learning contributes to our health, well-being, earning power and overall prosperity. The need for continuous learning is a two-way process. On the one hand, there are the new technologies that continue to change the way in which we work, and on the other hand, we are constantly facing new societal challenges, such as the current transitions in digitalisation, health and sustainability. Ageing, artificial intelligence, energy crises and nitrogen issues have major implications for public health, the job market, the environment and the economy. In an effort to keep up with all of these challenges and respond to them effectively, it is vital to keep learning new skills and to exchange knowledge. 

However, the lifelong learning system that is currently available in the Netherlands is a patchwork of training and refresher courses with serious shortcomings. It is primarily flex workers, job seekers, freelancers and people with a low level of education who are often overlooked, even though in the interests of the economy, the job market and general prosperity it is crucial that every person is given access to relevant additional training.
Public and private lifelong learning institutions face a huge task, considering that the number of workers in the labour force is expected to rise to ten million by 2030 (this number is currently at 7.7 million). In accordance with the government’s requirements, six out of ten people should have received training by that time (at the moment this number is less than 2.5 million). Those with a higher level of education now form the largest part of the labour force, for whom the training requirement is even higher than average: at least seven out of ten people. If we look at how we should be preparing our society for these challenges, the role of universities is crucial in this respect. So too is the role of Radboud University which, as a pioneer in the field of Lifelong Learning, is actively contributing to the development of an inclusive and accessible lifelong learning system. 

Fortunately, the field is changing rapidly: at the global level, UNESCO is conducting research into the role of universities as lifelong learning implementing organisations, at the European level universities are joining forces at the EUCEN conference, and at the university level we are making preliminary preparations for subsidy schemes from the National Growth Fund, which is directed at the lifelong learning catalyst. On campus, Radboud Academy is endeavouring to encourage a range of lifelong learning initiatives, and aims to bring people together and develop training and refresher courses that offer solutions to social issues.   

What will it take to realise these lifelong learning ambitions? This is something that we’ll need to discuss together, but in the meantime, I’d like to give you these three tips:  

  1. Collaborate in a more interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary fashion. Because it’s only by working together that we’ll able to solve our challenges. Problems like demographic ageing, affordable care, the nitrogen crisis, the housing crisis and all of those that are still to come are not problems that you’ll be able to solve on your own. Every person has knowledge that they can contribute; we can learn from each other. 
  2. This means that you need to think inclusively when you’re developing educational materials and that you need to be aware of the drawbacks. We should strive to achieve an inclusive lifelong learning system that is accessible to everyone and responsive to the needs of different groups in society.   
  3. Encourage a culture of lifelong learning. We need to view training and development as valuable investments rather than cost items. We should encourage people to keep learning until their 100th birthday, and encourage them to be curious and to seize opportunities for personal development. What I mean to say is: embrace learning as an adventure and enjoy the journey. 

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about this subject.

Written by
Thorsten Blokzijl is Programme Coordinator at Radboud Academy. Radboud Academy combines the latest scientific insights with relevant societal issues and workplace challenges. If you have any questions, or you’d like study advice or coaching, or you’re interested in a tailor-made programme, we’d be happy to help you! / 024- 3612677 / / 06-25771360