The continued pursuit of knowledge for personal or professional reasons.
That's a pretty standard definition of 'lifelong learning'. But what can sometimes seem like just another buzzword is in fact vital to some of the big challenges of our age, such as social equality, our ageing population, and employability.
Here's three ways we're leading on lifelong learning:
1. Distance Learning at Scale
September 2019 sees the launch of a MicroMasters in Predictive Analytics for Business Applications. This online postgraduate-level course is designed to advance careers, and is designed to be flexible and lower-cost than traditional courses to enable more people to participate.
We also offer a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) - Introduction to Marketing: Tools to Set Enterprises Apart - which is low-cost and no previous knowledge of marketing is needed. All you need is an open mind.
So far over 28,000 people have enrolled from almost 200 different countries. Significantly, the median age of people signing up is 30. Our Marketing MOOC is benefiting those seeking inspiration as they move into the next phase of their working lives.
In an exciting age where innovation and new business models are required to stay ahead of competitors, it's never too late to learn how to identify and target consumers, develop a product or service value, and communicate that value to consumers.
2. Executive Women in Leadership
There's still a scarcity of women in senior management positions and in the boardrooms of organisations. The professional development of women in middle management roles has historically been ignored.
That's why we launched the Executive Women's Leadership Programme in 2016. Since then, around 200 women have gone through the programme from private and public organisations, securing promotions and career advancement.
This mid-career education opportunity is helping build strong networks of women who support and encourage each other. Organisations benefit by unlocking the full potential of women managers.
As one delegate from the inaugural programme of 2016 said:
This course has given me the confidence to step up as a stronger leader. The amazing women I met both challenged and encouraged those around them to recognise the value each of them can bring to their organisations.
3. Non-Executive Director Programme
A key challenge for businesses is attracting the right blend of expertise and experience to serve as Non-Executive Directors (NXDs). This demand is set to radically increase in the years ahead as the University of Edinburgh and its partners involved in the City Deal look to launch hundreds of new companies, many of which will be involved in data-driven innovation.
Since 2017, the University of Edinburgh Business School, in partnership with executive search and selection firm FWB Park Brown, has offered a programme to accelerate executives' development and in turn benefit the boardrooms of public, private, and third-sector organisations.
The programme draws on some of the most experienced NXDs in the UK to provide first-hand insights into crucial issues, such as how to manage a Board, serving on Remuneration and Nomination Committees, financing growth companies, leading through crises, and ethical challenges.
In addition to helping the development of UK organisations, this programme also directly addresses the challenges that we face as a society in improving the way we leverage the accumulated knowledge and expertise of our experienced people.
At the recent AACSB international conference in Edinburgh I spoke about the Business School's approach to lifelong learning (AACSB is a global non-profit association that connects educators, students, and business with a focus on leadership).
The Business School's approach means we enjoy a mix of students from different age groups, countries, and social backgrounds. We give people the chance to return to learning throughout their lives, and by doing so we improve their employment prospects.
The days of learning being divided between acquiring knowledge in school and then applying that knowledge in the workplace are long gone. Learning is a lifelong process. Making education easy to access and relevant to career development benefits us all.
Wendy Loretto is Dean of the University of Edinburgh Business School and Professor of Organisational Behaviour.