Why continuous learning is more important than ever
The Further Education (FE) sector is undergoing significant changes. A UK Government report published in 2022 highlights some of the challenges of the post-pandemic FE environment: changes in learners’ social skills, students struggling to concentrate and engage, and mental health issues being on the rise. Based on a large survey conducted by the Education and Training Foundation, ‘there are also significant frustrations with the amount of paperwork and reporting alongside challenges of poor administrative systems…’
According to an article published by the Birmingham City School of Education and Social Work, the sector has endured some of the most challenging and unstable times in its history. In the current economically turbulent times, we need to take responsibility for our own continuous learning. The more we keep updating our skills and professional knowledge, the more we will be able to navigate complex future challenges.
Whether you are working as an FE teacher, trainer, support staff member or manager, the following article will give you some practical tips to develop a life-long routine of constant learning.
Although many people agree that continuous professional development is a great idea, a number of competing tasks may take priority. You might struggle to find the time or the financial resources to invest in your learning. You might feel confused about where to start. You might find it challenging to maintain your motivation.
Here are some of the characteristics of continuous learners:
- They are constantly seeking new knowledge and sharing insights with others
- They take the time to develop their personal and professional networks
- They make connections with others both face-to-face and online
- They are open-minded to developing new experiments
- They are following education trends and developments
- They are happy to take ownership over their own learning
Why is continuous learning more important than ever?
Continuous learning has numerous benefits. You will be more likely to handle complex challenges and to come up with more creative solutions. The more you engage in continuous learning, the more your critical thinking will develop. You will be able to look at challenges from different perspectives and make better decisions. One of the best strategies to avoid professional stagnation is by constantly expanding your knowledge. If you aspire to step into a leadership role, learning can give you an excellent opportunity to broaden your insights and to become a more strategic thinker. Lifelong learning can help you manage unexpected changes such as losing your job and having to quickly learn new skills to find employment. The more you engage in continuous learning, the more you will be able to inspire learners and make a positive difference in their lives.
What can you do to keep up your skills and learn new ones?
Learn new IT skills: Whether you work as an FE teacher, an administrative support officer or a manager, technology courses can help you keep your IT skills fresh and develop new ones. In the 2021, the UK Government has announced a £9.5 million FE Professional Development Grant Scheme to ensure that FE educational staff can benefit from professional development opportunities. The scheme aims to help teachers to develop their use of technology and improve the quality of curriculum design.
Share knowledge with others: Based on an article published by the Harvard Business Review, ‘Today’s economy runs on knowledge, and most companies work assiduously to capitalize on that fact.’ Conferences, workshops and training courses can help you share best practices and learn new trends. Informal coffee meetings with colleagues can give you opportunities to build professional relationships, learn about educational events, and to brainstorm solutions. You could set up monthly meetings with colleagues to share best practices and insights.
Find a mentor: A mentor can act as a soundboard. They may share their own experiences and offer you guidance. They could brainstorm solutions with you and help you see challenges from different angles. A mentor can keep you accountable for the actions you are planning to take. Studies on mentoring show that mentoring is associated with a range of favourable behavioural, health-related, motivational, and career outcomes. The University of Southampton’s website highlights that the benefits of mentoring include increased self-confidence, being able to correct skill-gaps and having a broader perspective on career opportunities. Some FE Colleges offer internal mentoring schemes for staff members. You could also consider working with a mentor outside of your college.
Further study: Have you been thinking about going back to university and completing a part-time degree? To dip your toe in the water, you could start with completing a free online university course in your preferred subject area. Several UK universities offer free online courses e.g. The Open University, The University of Edinburgh, UCL (University College London. If you would like to complete a masters or a doctorate degree, you might find it helpful to take a look at opportunities listed at jobs.ac.uk.
Step by step approach: Have you been daydreaming about a new promotion? Would you like to step into a more senior FE role? Have you been thinking about completing a postgraduate degree but find yourself putting it off year after year? Although we often get excited about changes we would like to make, it can feel overwhelming to take the first steps.
If you would like to apply for a postgraduate university course, you might feel overwhelmed by the number of steps e.g. researching universities, completing the application forms, attending open days, preparing for interviews, just to mention a few. Instead, try to focus on small steps you could complete on a daily basis. As an example, you could commit to spending 30 minutes every day to get started. You could start by researching suitable courses. You could set aside some time to make phone calls and clarify your questions. Try to break up your tasks into tiny segments. You will be more inspired and motivated to take action, and you will soon gain momentum.