Return on Learning: A student view
Updated: Jul 5, 2021
COVID-19 has been a turning point for learning and learners. Now, more than ever, there is a need to focus what drives learning decisions. This has exacerbated existing shifts in the landscape. For example, The Future of Work for Australian Graduates noted that many graduates are becoming entrenched in jobs that do not need their qualifications. This built on the earlier Foundation for Young Australians 2016 New Work Mindset which claimed that the 'job for life' is over but noted that the skills acquired in one job can be applied in up to 13 other jobs as Australians journey through an expected 17 job changes over 5 different careers.
Against this backdrop, the increased attention has been given to lifelong learning is hardly surprising. There is a need to develop skills and knowledge that are transferable, broadly applicable and can be built upon in an increasingly agile and changing workforce.
1) What does this mean for formal (and informal) learning?
2) How do learners navigate the options to make the decisions on what is right for them?
There are a number of dimensions that contribute to a student's 'return on learning'. While this is often a term used to measure the financial return to an organisation for their investment in training, it can be argued that learners consider a number of factors, either individually or in combination, to determine the returns they might expect from their learning. Some of these factors include:
Economic - will this learning have the financial benefit to offset the cost of the learning. Importantly, how soon can this financial benefit be realised?
Time - How quickly can the learning be achieved? Does the learning outcome create options that can 'free up' time (such as creating capacity to freelance)? Is there an 'expiry' on the learning before new learning needs to take place?
Relevance - or more accurately, perceived relevance. Does the learning allow for identification and isolation of topics that the learner deems relevant? In other words, can the learning be 'cherry-picked' for relevancy?
Learning voyage - does the knowledge or skill satisfy a drive for personal development such as natural curiosity....learning for learning's sake?.
Career insurance - does the learning present upskilling or reskilling that can mitigate risks to changing or disappearing roles? Does the learning help prepare for changing, new or emerging roles?
Achievement - will the learning provide a sense of achievement and is that achievement a personal one or one tied to badges, certifications or other credentialing that signals or evidences a skill or set of knowledge?
Networks - will the learning provide access to networks or connections for future endeavours? These might be for work, projects, information, further introductions. The network return will be difficult to assess prior to learning and is likely based on assumption of the value this will yield, even after the learning experience it may be difficult to assess.
Prestige & branding - to what extent does the reputation of the institution have on the perceived return? Does the institute name 'amplify' some of these other considerations? Also do students see return from the alignment between where they learn and their personal brand?
Some of the trends in Australian education prior to COVID-19 included: a disaggregation of qualifications (skills, competencies, micro credentials, stackable qualifications), free or very inexpensive online learning. Over the past 12 months there has been incredible diversification and a great many more options available to learners. amidst this on-demand learning, personalised learning and the growing dynamic ecosystem of learning a sharp focus is needed on what matters to the learners.