Book Review: The 60-Year Curriculum – New Models for Lifelong Learning in the Digital Economy

Overall, this book discusses the roles that higher education can play in the organizational and societal mechanisms by which people can up-skill 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.

Creating this transformational evolution of higher education requires developing novel services for adults learning while working – through formal instruction – or informally in daily life, and then applying insights from the new organizations delivering those services – within and outside of higher education – to the related tasks of improving preparation for initial jobs and of having a satisfying life after retirement.

The ten main takeaways I got out of this book are presented below:

  1. Research universities are optimized to invent – spending money and time to create and disseminate knowledge. Innovation, on the other hand, implies spending knowledge and time to make money. Invention and innovation are operational opposites and very hard to do in the same organization at the same time, if they are not handled carefully.
  2. Harvard’s Extension School had been offering night classes to adult learners since 1910 and had an amazing brand, a solid technology platform, early online courses, and a great team to build on. Arriving at Harvard’s DCE and learning the details of our Extension School, Summer School, Professional Development Programs, and Institute for Learning in Retirement, I quickly recognized the average student age of 34 was similar to Global Campus and CSU Online, but I also quickly realized Harvard’s DCE’s student age range was much wider, from 12 to 92. Taking the tails off the curve, we have significant enrollment from age 15 to 75 with a mean age of 34. Early in my tenure, I was talking with Gary Matkin from UC Irvine Extesion, and he outlined his concept of comprehensive, lifelong educational services that he called the ’60-Year Curriculum.’ I was immediately hooked on the name and idea. My 60YC journey had become formal.”
  3. Georgia Tech was the first to offer graduate degrees at scale. Their early $6,000 Master’s in Computer Science created a new type of access… In a similar manner, the University of California, Irvine, realized that serving a learner over a very long period of time required a service-based relationship not a product-based relationship. By integrating career services, UCI was the first to be able to engage learners over the long term and to predict future product needs based on job trends and career paths… The University of Washington’s Continuum College was the first to purposefully integrate up and down the employment lifecycle. By investing in a trust network of blockchain-based credentials, Continuum achieved the amazing goal of democratizing credentials. In the trust-based network, all credentials earned anywhere, both credit and noncredit, had learning outcome and competencies embedded in their meta-data, along with electronic pointers to actual work products so the learner could control how their knowledge and skills were represented to employers. With credentials validated by the university on blockchain, control moved to the learner with true portability of outcomes to higher education for the first time.
  4. Looking ahead, the average lifespan of children born in 2020 is projected to be 90-100 years (Gratton & Scott, 2016), so many current students will need to work until their mid-70s to have enough savings for retirement or some other form of post-work life. In progressing through about 60 years of employment, they will face not only evolving jobs requiring expanding skillsets but also multiple careers as some occupations disappear and new roles appear in workplaces shaped by globalization, environmental crises, and artificial intelligence (Dede, 2018). As a result of these developments, society must prepare today’s young people for six decades of career growth (e.g., moving from student teacher to lead teacher) and career change (e.g., moving from automobile welding supervisor to high school science teacher) followed by retirement. To fulfill their responsibilities, educators at every level are faced with the increasing challenge of developing young people’s capacity for unceasing invention to face an uncertain and changing workplace and for taking on occupations that do not yet exist.
  5. Now, many nations face challenges with continuing employability greater than at any point in history… In a 2012 report by the US National Research Council (NRC), Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferrable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century, which posits that flexibility, creativity, initiative, innovation, intellectual openness, collaboration, leadership, and conflict resolution are essential for each person (2012). In the same vein, a NESTA, which is a UK-based innovation foundation, presented a report that stressed that current educational objectives overemphasize the acquisition of knowledge and underemphasize the mastery of generalizable skills of lifelong employability. Similar to the 2012 NRC report, the skills NESTA highlighted include fluency of ideas, social perceptiveness, systems evaluation, originality, judgment, and decision-making. Nesta emphasized educators must raise aspirations for sophisticated educational outcomes and prepare all students – not only an elite few – to reach ambitious, individual proficiencies in these skills. Also, a recent Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report (2018) completed the NRC and NESTA studies by emphasizing personal well-being, which goes beyond income, wealth, jobs, and earnings to stress equitable access to health, civic engagement, social connections, education, security, life satisfaction, and the environment. This OECD report described knowledge and skills people need for lifelong employability but adds an emphasis on attitudes and values, such as creating new value, reconciling tensions and dilemmas, and taking responsibility through personal agency. Finally, Stanford developed in 2015 an aspirational Visio called ‘Open Loop University’, and Georgia Tech released its report ‘Deliberate Innovation, Lifetime Education’, which present similar models focused on providing lifelong commitment to alumni that includes periodic opportunities to up-skill through services offered by the institution: micro-credentials, mini masterclasses, and credits for accomplishments in life; personalized advising and coaching as new challenges and opportunities emerge; and blended-learning experiences with distributed worldwide availability. Some of these services will require partnerships and collaborations with organizations outside of academia that have complementary strengths and missions (e.g., mentoring the transition to a new job occupation). While considering such initiatives, Harvard’s DCE is also exploring models in which a coalition of extension schools might accomplish this broader task by working together to extend their mission, moving beyond episodic “continuing education” to iterative, cyclical, continuous adult learning.
  6. What are the organizational and societal mechanisms by which people can up-skill 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? Creating these mechanisms requires developing novel services for adults who are learning while working, and then applying insights from the new organizations delivering those services to the related tasks of improving preparation for initial jobs and of having a satisfying life after retirement.
  7. Frameworks for Adult Learning Education – Thompson (2009) provided a brief history of research and theory on adult learning and cognition. Relevant occupational learning, Knowles (1970) identified andragogy (instructional strategies for aiding the learning of adults, as opposed to children) as including five basic assumptions: 1) adults are more independent and self-directed than children; 2) as adults mature, their life experience grows as a resource on which to base new learning; 3) adults’ motivation for learning is largely focused on life tasks, issues, and challenges; 4) for adults, learning just-in-time is valued more than learning just-in-case; and 5) for adults, learning is problem-centered rather than content-centered. Based on these five assumptions, the process of learning engineering will support the development of new models and refined approaches for adults (Dede, 2019)
  8. The history of institutions fostering adult learning in America – (pages 6-10 present a compelling summary of this topic)… In its 2019 report Leading through the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Putting People at the Centre, the World Economic Forum uses manufacturing as an illustration of the importance of talent and the challenge of inequality. Manufacturing is currently 16% of the world’s economy and employs nearly one quarter of the world’s workers. In their book, Human+Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI, Daugherty and Wilson (2018) indicate that organizations are quickly realizing that humans are necessary to leverage the full potential of intelligence technologies. Accenture (2018) estimates that, if workforce enablement does not catch up with the rate of technological progress, G20 economies could lose up to $11.5 trillion in cumulative GDP growth over the next ten years. This is equivalent to more than an entire percentage point from the average growth rate every year during this period.  The World Economic Forum‘s report Strategies for the New Economy: Skills as the Currency of the Labour Market describes the types of leadership actions needed to meet these challenges, centering on three types of initiatives: skills-building strategies in the learning ecosystem; labor market strategies to identify necessary skills and provide mechanisms for certifying these as warrants of employability; and enabling strategies, such as encouraging lifelong learning and aligning skills taxonomies.
  9. New types of credentials and novel mechanisms for obtaining them are essential for most adults facing career change because they do not have the resources to complete the extensive formal education associated with degrees and certifications… Whatever models emerge, they must include strategies that help those now involved in adult learning – both providers and students – to transformatively change their behaviors.
  10. (Chapter 8) Numerous colleges and universities offer a wide range of executive education and professional development programs as an important element of their mission and overall strategy. In most cases, these programs are offered through graduate and professional schools. As noted by Rasmussen and Callan (2016), “Schools that have active executive education programs display a strong understanding of the needs of practitioners and they work hard to convey the impression that they are integrating the experiences of practitioners into the executive education programs that they offer”. They also observe that “a strong brand, particularly a strong university brand” is an important success factor in the executive education arena.

The biggest barrier we face in the process of reinventing our current methods, models and organizations for these activities 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 behaviors. This is both individual (an instructor transforming practices from presentation and assimilation to active, collaborative learning by students) and institutional (a higher education institution transforming from degrees certified by a seat time and standardized tests to credentials certified by proficiency or competency-based measures). Unlearning requires not only novel intellectual insights and approaches but also individual and collective emotional and social support for shifting our identities – not necessarily in terms of fundamental character and capabilities but in terms of how those are expressed as our context shifts over time.

The authors hope higher education will increase its focus on the aspirational vision of the 60YC as an important step toward providing a pathway to a secure and satisfying future of students overall.

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