Learning does not end at graduation

Continuous learning seems to have made it onto officials’ reading lists during this government term – and for good reason. The fate of our country is largely dependent on our expertise, as we have not been graced with many other resources. Looking back to
Group of people learning together at the University of Oulu.

Continuous learning seems to have made it onto officials’ reading lists during this government term – and for good reason. The fate of our country is largely dependent on our expertise, as we have not been graced with many other resources. Looking back to where we’ve come from, there is good reason to be proud of what we have achieved through investing in expertise and education. Looking to the future, on the other hand, competition and pressures to keep expertise up-to-date are only increasing. Learning should be continuous and focused, helping us maintain our competitiveness both at a national and individual level.

Our university's role is to provide opportunities for learning that are based on the latest research findings. In the case of continuous learning, we are talking about the need for lifelong maintenance and development of expertise, not just the stage of life in which we invest fully in obtaining a degree. The current Government Programme is investing strongly in this area, and this is also reflected in the provision of continuous learning at the University of Oulu. In the development of such learning provision, the starting point is the identification and meeting of the learner’s need. In simple terms, we must first ask who we are offering learning opportunities to, and only after this consider what we are actually offering. Doing things in this order is not in fact so simple.

It is challenging for those outside the university world to find a suitable course, study module or way to participate. Online you can find open university courses, summer courses and channels for obtaining a degree. There are multi-form studies, online studies, contact studies, independent studies. Some courses have prerequisites, some don’t. Some are free, while others aren’t. Even science education is considered part of continuous learning in some quarters. There are also communities and companies that need tailored education packages for their personnel, and there are good reasons to make this an option. When talking of lifelong, continuous learning, the breadth of needs is enormous, and it is clear that we cannot be endlessly flexible in what we offer. Nevertheless, we should identify the course offerings and ways of working that will meet the competition and attract sufficient numbers of learners to make the courses self-sustaining.

The goal-oriented approach to continuous learning and outcome assessment are, of course, important, but these also are not simple matters. The number of learners who participate or otherwise benefit from the learning offered is one clear indicator of our ability to reach those who need what we have to offer. The number of credits earned, meanwhile, tells us more about performance and outcomes. Feedback from learners is necessary for assessing quality, and there is a need for more in-depth analyses of how learning has affected learners' careers and lives. Of course, the money obtained from the educational activities must be calculated, but these figures are, in my opinion, only of instrumental value.

JOY forecasts competence needs also in companies and organisations

The University of Oulu is taking up the challenge of continuous learning. We will double our numbers of non-degree students, reaching 15,000 by 2024. The current number of study points obtained per year is around 16,000, and by 2024 this figure will be multiplied severalfold. Investments in quality need to be possible, the content must be distinctive and research-based, and above all, the range of study methods must be widened and the emphasis on needs-based learning increased. The possibilities offered by the University of Oulu must indeed be seen as much broader than just a channel towards degree programmes. We need the capacity to proactively identify competence needs, and this requires understanding of the market.

The University of Continuous Learning (JOY) Learning Service is now being launched, and it represents an important new initiative for the University of Oulu. It opens up the university's course offerings to the learner in a much easier and more understandable way. JOY is a means of producing more needs-oriented modules arranged by theme, need or the learner's life situation. It is also a channel for staff to produce new things more efficiently and more easily. JOY must respond to ever increasing competition for learners and ever-increasing expectations in the field of lifelong learning. For this reason, JOY must be able to grow, develop and have an impact on operating methods and perhaps even structures. But now, at the moment of its launch, it is time to take a moment to simply be proud and happy of this achievement. May I extend my congratulations and heartfelt gratitude to the authors of JOY and its content producers, who represent a large number of different university-level continuing education professionals, course authors, content producers and other contributors! The teamwork continues, because the learning never ends.

Tapio Koivu
Vice Rector for Education, University of Oulu

The University of Continuous Learning (JOY) Learning Service was launched 3.11.2020.