The State of Lifelong Learning for 2016

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Best TammyCropOverall, the field is moderately healthy and stable. The field is leading professional development for society and the primary player in the quality of life people enjoy. First released at the big LERN annual conference last month, here’s more. The photo is of LERN Information Specialist Tammy Peterson at our Member Services Desk giving information to a LERN member at the conference.

Lifelong learning programs are not being given enough support by their institutions and society, which is holding down registration and service growth. It is also putting budgetary stress on programs. This less-than-full-support is hurting communities during a time when a) a whole new generation in the workforce needs more ongoing professional development; and b) there is a need to strengthen avocational and leisure programs for communities to remain viable and prosperous. Nonetheless, elimination of programs has not been as widespread and devastating as it could be, registrations and income are relatively stable, and programs are positioning themselves for the new century.

Top 10 Stories of the Year

  1. New 21st Century Competencies
    We need to determine and describe the new 21st century competencies and attributes for lifelong learning administrators, Senior LERN Leaders agreed in this year’s annual leadership retreat in Tucson.
    Top questions being asked by the top 30 members in the LERN leadership include:
    -How do we identify 21st-century staff attribute needs?
    How do we measure those 21st –century attributes?
    -How do we develop a matrix to provide guidelines on what those are?                                                                             Two new areas of knowledge, they noted, would include sustainability, video production and generational characteristics. And there are some totally new jobs emerging in our field, they noted, such as instructional designer and sales account manager.
  1. Staff Not Getting Enough Training
    From his weekly travels all over Canada and the United States, LERN’s lead consultant Greg Marsello is now reporting that local program staff are woefully short on training and professional development to do their jobs. “At best, you know 50 percent of what you need to know,” Marsello tells the field.
  2. Youth Strong Focus
    Youth programming is a strong focus for lifelong learning programs, a new exclusive LERN survey documented.
    Youth programs are the top focus for recreation programmers, at 55 percent of recreation programmers. This tops Adult Programs, at 45 percent. And 40 percent of recreation programmers are involved in Summer Camp programming, the third top focus. Another youth related programming, After School Programs, came in at 15 percent. Members could cite more than one focus, so percentages add up to more than 100 percent.
    For Community Educators in Public Schools, Youth Programming was a focus for 28 percent of community educators, a distant second to Adult Enrichment at 65 percent. But Summer Camps were a program focus for 25 percent of community educators, tied with ABE/GED in the third most common programming area for Community Educators.
    In Continuing Education, Youth Programs get much less attention, being named by 20 percent of continuing educators as a field of focus. This is far behind the top programming area, professional continuing education at 55 percent.                                                                                                                                                                                                 All totaled, youth programming is a strong focus for lifelong learning programs.
  1. Staffing Big Issue
    Staffing issues are multi-dimensional now for lifelong learning programs, according to executives at our events this year and LERN on-site visits to lifelong learning organizations. Some of the staffing issues include:
    -Training Gen Y
    -Incorporating Gen X and Gen Y into organizational leadership
    -Forming a community for your instructors
    -Implementing the LERN staffing model.
  2. Field Successfully Fights For Print Brochure                                                                                                             This year LERN is still getting reports of programs eliminating or reducing print brochure distribution, but the reports are fewer in number at this time. This is a big victory for the field, which has seen too many programs over the past ten years eliminate the print brochure and the resulting huge drops in registrations. It appears the fight to keep the print brochure, which accounts for 70 percent of registrations, is winning.
  1. Stressed out over social media
    “Social media has flipped out many marketers in our field,” Suzanne Kart told participants at LERN’s annual Executive Leadership Institute this year. “People are stressed out about marketing today,” she says. She advises lifelong learning programs to focus on the top eMarketing priorities that generate registrations, rather than trying to have a presence on all of the social media platforms.
  2. Certificates Strong, Badges Not So Much
    Certificates continue to be the mainstay of continuing education offerings, and to be as profitable as ever.
    Certificates are basically the heart of professional development for the workplace right now. Both face-to-face and online certificates are doing well. Certificates have a big range in price and length, causing some problems for the field as a “certificate” may mean any number of different outcomes, competencies and skills gained.
    The talk about badges continues, but few programs are making a substantial commitment to the ‘badge;’ thus the ‘badge’ is not currently seen as a legitimate credential for the workplace.
  3. Training Younger Teachers to Teach Older Adults
    For the first year maybe ever, many younger people are teaching older adults, and there is an issue of training younger people to teach older adults. This issue is especially important now with Boomer and Gen Y generations in the workplace being so different. Boomers, more than previous generations, are skeptical of younger teachers. And Boomers have very different learning styles and preferences from younger teachers in either Gen X or Gen Y.
  4. For-Profits Invade Field
    Having failed in the U.S. with K-12 and higher education, for-profit education providers are now invading the lifelong learning field. The difference this time is they are going after your funding.
    This year for-profit coding schools were on Capitol Hill looking for government funds. The for-profits, from new coding schools to online course providers to summer youth program providers, have occasionally entered the field of lifelong learning over the past five decades.
    What is new now is that they are going after your funding. They do it in various ways. Some ask for taxpayer money for their students, taking money away from yours. Others by-pass your program and go seek government contracts directly. Some use your program’s nonprofit postal rates to get taxpayer subsidized advertising.
  5. Mobilegeddon
    Only half of LERN member programs have their website mobile optimized, eMarketing expert Suzanne Kart told lifelong learning executives meeting this spring in Tucson. Over the next year or so, a high priority for your lifelong learning program should be to make your web site mobile friendly.

The State of Lifelong Learning is an annual report to LERN members and the field of lifelong learning programming by the Learning Resources Network (LERN), the world’s largest association in lifelong learning programming, and the leading consulting and information organization. The Chair of the Board for 2015-2016 is Rob Watters of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
This report may not be reprinted or reproduced without written permission. © 2015-2016

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