Recently a group of experts came together to discuss how lifelong learning fits into the higher education landscape. Panel members included Dale Johnson, Director of Digital Innovations at Arizona State University, Michelle Weise, Senior Advisor at Imaginable Futures, Paul Marca, Principal at Parallax Global Advisors, and Dave Sherwood, CEO of BibliU.

Topics included how businesses can partner with universities to prepare students better for a job market that is constantly evolving, whether the “60-year degree” will become the new normal, and how infrastructure can be established to allow for constant learning throughout adulthood. Here are the key takeaways from the panel.

Why is it critical for education to think of lifelong learning 60 years from now?

Lifelong learning may be the new postsecondary education, as lifespans extend and technology rapidly changes what skills are needed in the market. However, there is a lack of infrastructure beyond the traditional 2-4 year diploma that targets the 18-24 age group, and the lifelong utility of this degree is coming into question.

Higher education needs to be ready to adapt to coming changes with greater agility and openness to forge innovative partnerships with businesses. The pandemic made it clear that there is a need for clearer pathways for people who want to change their careers later in life, as millions of people who worked in industries such as service were unable to transfer skills to other industries.

Infrastructure for lifelong learning can be crucial in improving social mobility as the most at-risk populations, who only have a high school degree or spent time in prison, will be better able to rise through educational pathways.

How can universities partner with businesses and other organizations to help students find a better job market fit?

Businesses have partnered with universities with a traditional model of paying for student’s tuition in exchange for work experience opportunities, and an eventual employment opportunity. There is a need for greater flexibility and innovation in these partnerships to help match students with the learning pathway that is right for them, and that will meet the skills deficits of companies. Universities will need to set up processes to open up to outside partnerships with both for-profit and non-profit organizations in order to compete with lifelong learning programs from other industry sectors (such as LinkedIn, bootcamps, etc).

There have been many short-term learning institutions that have sprung up over the past 50 years that allow students to learn skills quickly without the traditional college degree, such as MOOC courses and for-profit universities. These institutions have sought out accreditation from the university space, and increasingly the firm line between nonprofit and for-profit may be blurred through the Biden administration.

What will learning look like for lifelong students, and how will the education system change in the coming years?

Currently, there is an issue of time poverty for older students, as adults have to balance a full-time job along with caring for families, and find it difficult to find time to finish online coursework. It is also difficult for students to finish online courses independently without any facilitation of accountability from another person, and universities may fill this role of keeping students on track. There may be a general paradigm shift in higher education as less faculty-focused and more centered around the student and their individual needs, with faculty becoming more akin to “docents” or guides to the curriculum.

The education system may become less bound by traditional accreditation and more based on results—were students able to find a job match? Were students happy with the skills they learned? Were students prepared for a life of constant learning? The future of online education must also be much more innovative, as the direct translation of classrooms to Zoom that the pandemic necessitated is not the best usage of technology available.


The higher education world has been slow to adapt, but it needs to be prepared for a future with a highly dynamic job market and diverse student populations. Structural impediments such as barriers to accreditation of lifelong learning credits must be put into question, and partnerships with businesses can provide students with greater experience and a more granular understanding of their individual career goals. Experimentation is key, and will broaden opportunities for students in a quickly changing world.

Click here to watch the webcast!