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The emerging trends of education technology for lifelong learning

Life-long learning is becoming increasingly important not only for businesses, but also for the wider society, and the quality of life of individuals. Ageing societies need older workers to stay productive and contribute to their economies, and the context for these longer working lives is one of rapid change in technology and the organization of work. If workers are to remain in employment over the course of a normal working life, they will have to be able to adapt to changes in the workplace, and changes in the demand for skills.

A report (2018) on the future of jobs from the World Economic Forum estimated that 54% of all jobs will require fundamental re-skilling or up-skilling. The survey that collated information for the report showed that companies recognised the importance of lifelong learning and planned to invest more. The demand for lifelong learning is going to increase.

In 2004, the German government published its strategy for lifelong learning. In 2019 a UNESCO survey reported that Germany’s investment in adult learning  - at 4% of the education budget – was one of the highest in the world, with 40% of other surveyed countries spending less than 1%. UNESCO encouraged policy makers everywhere to increase their spending on adult learning and highlighted the barriers that older people still face in entering and continuing in adult education.  The UK Government has just declared its intention to introduce new legislation on lifelong learning in the coming parliamentary session.

If new technologies drive the changes that increase the requirement for lifelong learning, they also have the potential to make it more accessible. Policy makers and researchers in Japan have promoted the concept of Society 5.0 since 2016. Different from the technology push that was championed by Industry 4.0 in Germany and Made in China 2025 in China, Society 5.0 wants to position people right at the centre of the technical, social and policy developments that are required to realise their goals. Education technology (EdTech) for lifelong learning is quickly moving into the mainstream, as an 83-old-app developer predicted.

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education recommended 5 areas of potential development in EdTech for adult learners as priorities for investment. First, technology can provide instructors with adaptive learning features to support learners through content at their own pace. Second, technical innovations can enable mobile tools and video conferencing and replace face-to-face interaction. Third, technology can be mixed with gaming features to motivate and engage learners. Minecraft Education Edition is a good example. Fourth, technology can be used to build a learning community, such as online study groups or social groups, and further enhance the motivation and effectiveness of learning. Last, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) can stimulate extraordinary learning experiences. These technologies allow for experiential learning on a level which was not possible before. Industry reports in 2021 predicted VR/ AR for education will continue to grow significantly. Recent trends in AI bring even more tools for teaching and learning, such as more interactive interfaces, voice assistants (e.g. Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana), personalised content and autonomous assessment.

Since 2020, the ongoing pandemic has further accelerated the development of EdTech. Apart from the effort from the public sectors, private sectors now also see the enormous commercial values. Pitch Book reported that EdTech for lifelong learning has attracted 10,76 billion USD in 2020, up from 4,7 billion USD in 2019.

Meanwhile, more and more emerging start-ups are focusing on older adults, supporting them working and learning. Retired teachers and senior citizens can be coached to provide teaching. VIPKID, a Chinese EdTech ‘unicorn’ (valued at more than 3bn USD in 2018), has attracted many teaching professionals, including retired and older teachers, to provide language classes for students remotely. Lido Learning (an Indian start-up) announced in mid-2020 that it planned to hire senior citizens, especially retired professionals, for online touring classes and significantly boost the tutor pool for the teaching capacities. GetSetUp (USA) is designed for elder adults to learn, connect and share with peers. Through peer-to-peer connection, GetSetUp supports elder adults to avoid loneliness and social isolation and provide them a platform to meet, to teach and to make income. Within one year, over 6,000 live sessions have been offered and the company has also partnered with local health care systems, care providers and employers to facilitate digital adoption. In a recent interview, Lawrence Kosick, the co-founder, made the point that “human connection is essential to a person’s growth, development, and happiness, but it is especially important in older adults, who suffer from loneliness and social isolation more than any other age group,”.  And as we know, the pandemic has made things a lot worse over the course of the last year.

In knowledge-based economies and the fast-changing world, the capacity (i.e. the infrastructure) for learning is one of the most important assets for businesses and societies. As we start to move onto the post-pandemic recovery, many companies are finding that skills are essential for re-staffing, and they are turning to lifelong learning platforms instead of the qualifications offered through the traditional educational system. 

There is good evidence then that the demand for lifelong learning and a range of emerging technologies are driving rapid developments of EdTech.  Policy makers in more and more countries are recognising  the importance of EdTech for national competitiveness. Older adults can benefit from these developments and stay active, healthy and productive in a more inclusive and sustainable ageing society.

About the Authors:

Luc Yao is a Visiting Fellow at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing. Luc is based in Darmstadt, Germany and is active in the electronics industry, related start-ups, and the Open Innovation networks.  His research at the Institute focuses on the adjacent domains of population ageing, innovations and strategic investments.


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