The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn
. Alvin Toffler captured the great anxiety and opportunity of our current era in his quote: the pace of transformation is so fast, the only way to survive and thrive is to adapt through learning.

Two environments most impacted are the education industry and business. While the first is trying to integrate innovation, problem-solving, critical thinking and entrepreneurship in their programs in order to prepare children and students for a future difficult to contemplate, the latter is trying to be agile in coming up with immediate solutions that also make sense long-term.

Businesses are challenged in three main ways: employees are seeking meaning and impact, while desiring increased flexibility and mobility; technology is automating both blue and white-collar work; and the competition is becoming fiercer, the diversification of options dilutes the loyalty of customers. The three are interconnected and influence each other. Competition is driven by the rapid pace of technology adoption and integration, which requires employees to redefine their skills on a constant basis. On the plus side, employees are encouraged to practice their intrapreneurial spirit more often and there have been cases where business have decided to enter a relationship of co-opetition rather than competition. Additionally, millennials are going to become the largest group of employees globally in the near future. Two years is the average tenure for millennials who are seeking growth and meaning, but are driven by instant gratification and require rewarding experiences immediately.

What is the solution? In the past years, an industry has been consistently growing, providing the necessary means to companies to learn, unlearn and relearn: learning & development. Companies are starting to change their perspective on education, moving away from considering it an expense. Lifelong learning is an investment, though one whose ROI is still difficult to be quantified.

The impact of learning and development cannot be denied, and it cannot be yet fully proven. The European Union (EU) has been ahead of the game in studying the impact of lifelong learning, given the issue of aging population the continent has. What the research reveals is a full spectrum of benefits: lifelong learning programs support the workforce, through reduced expenditures, increased productivity, employability and mobility; on a personal level, employees assume more responsibility, have better health and work-life-balance; society as a whole wins because it gains a more stable labor market, improved civic participation and a lower incidence of criminality.

Learning and development programs come in a variety of formats, and according to the Chartered Institute of Personal Development, the most popular types of products are: in-house and on-the-job training, off-the-job (outside of the working environment), coaching and mentoring (by peers and line managers) and blended learning (a mix of online and in-person training), which has seen the fastest growth in demand in recent years. There are challenges, of course, and companies need to be mindful of ensuring the content and delivery are suitable for their own employees, industry and line of business (customized programs work better than off-the-shelf solutions), balancing the learning intake to avoid learner apathy and providing a platform for the learnings to be implemented after the learning and development program has finished.

When it comes to MENA, lifelong learning can be seen as essential, especially given that youth has reached 108 million people, the largest to transition to adulthood in the region’s history and in the world (as per region). This generation values training, coaching and mentoring. Packaged in the right way – through bite-size content (microlearning) and gamification – lifelong learning programs provide the youth the autonomy they desire in using the knowledge to create the impact they desire.

When I was growing up, my parents used to say that we never stop learning. We are living times that do not allow us to stop learning. Evolution requires us to change and constantly adapt, and lifelong learning has become the most useful tool.

Blog Credit: Laura Toma

Laura Toma, a consultant with over 9 years of experience in education and marketing, is the CEO and co-founder of Grey Matter Education, an education consultancy company which works with educational institutions, NGOs, startups, SMEs, MNCs and government entities.

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