Executive Commentary
Catering to the Professional and Personal Demand for Lifelong Learning
Jim Jenkins
Jim Jenkins
CEO, Universities East, Sodexo North America

It has been over 30 years ago since I finished college and that education has helped me climb the proverbial career ladder all the way to CEO. But last fall I decided it was time to go back to school. It was an easy decision but one that I wouldn’t have even considered a decade ago. But times have changed and so has my view on the importance of continuing my education both professionally and personally.

We are a global nation of lifelong learners. In America alone, 63% of those who are working (or 36% of all adults) are professional learners—employees who have taken a course or received additional training in the past 12 months to enhance their job skills for career advancement.

But many learners, me included, are just as vested in the knowledge building. In fact, Françoise Dany, Executive Education and Corporate Affairs Director at EMLyon Business School, says re-entering academia can boost confidence. “In a quickly changing world, people can think there’s no room for them,” she says. “Education can nurture confidence and lead to a new mindset.”

Academic institutions are tapping into this promising demographic by offering a wide range of services, from on-campus cultural activities to online courses. But satisfying this burgeoning breed of student requires understanding both the professional and personal key drivers for continuing education, and how to fulfil these needs.

Make it fun

According to Simon Nelson, CEO of FutureLearn, a social learning platform company, “Learning needs to be enjoyable again. Many of the platforms l look at are about as much fun as filling in a tax return.” Rather than replicate traditional learning modules, universities can break the mold with fun features such as gamification and rewards systems.

Make it flexible

Modular learning programs, such as microcredentials, badges and massive open online courses, are excellent options for today’s time-strapped learners. “Education is more important than ever, but people are busier now,” says Dany. “They need easier access to education because they lack resources such as time and money.”

Make it collaborative

Nelson says the biggest challenge of offering lifelong learning platforms isn’t technical but cultural. For this reason, he says academic institutions need to get teachers on board by instructing them on how to teach differently and cater to diverse demographics.

Make it tech-driven

Leveraging innovative technology is another way for universities to support lifelong learning. FutureLearn, for example, provides a platform that allows users to learn new skills through online courses ranging from coding to management.

As disruptive technologies proliferate and the desire for personal development grows, lifelong learning opportunities will only multiply. As Dany says: “Lifelong learning is more than a concept; it’s a reality.”

I have spent many years studying wine and with the help of the Napa Valley Wine Academy last fall I did go back to school, and have achieved the status of Napa Valley Wine Expert. While I may never reach the holy grail of wine by becoming a master sommelier, or receive a diploma of wine and spirits, this experience has inspired me to continue my education and pursue the next level. Many steps and learnings to come and someday I may receive a diploma of wine and spirits! Wish me luck. Never be afraid to learn!

To read more about the factors driving lifelong learning and other trends facing universities today, read our 2018 Sodexo University Trends Report.

Jim Jenkins is CEO of Universities East for Sodexo North America where he oversees more than 400 college and university partnerships.With $9.3 billion in annual revenues in the U.S. and Canada, Sodexo’s 133,000 employees provide more than 100 unique services that increase performance at 9,000 client sites and improve Quality of Life for 15 million consumers every day.

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