The COVID-19 pandemic revealed a lot about how higher education systems favour some and not others. It also revealed many differences between effective and ineffective online learning, and what it takes to make online learning more engaging.
But how do we use what we’ve learned during the pandemic — and what we know about the digital disruptions taking place in many workplaces — to build education systems in a future-focused way? How do we take the lessons from the pivot to online learning to leverage a different future?
Colleagues at the Feruniversität in Hagen, Germany, have been exploring this challenge. They recently released the Hagen Manifesto, which is their view of what the future of lifelong learning could be. It is a focused, effective and clear statement of both the challenges and the opportunities of the moment.
According to the manifesto, the challenge is not just about the emergence of new, effective technologies for teaching and learning. It is just as much about rethinking the work of teaching, learning and assessment as it is about deploying technology to support this work:
“Rethinking learning thus encompasses far more than digital technology. Yes, it needs new infrastructure, new learning platforms and new technologies. Equally necessary, however, are concepts for hybrid teaching and learning, sustainable and cooperative forms of organization in schools and other educational institutions, and innovative policies to support learning.”
The challenge also relates to the social and organizational transformations happening all around us. The nature of work has changed. The way people and machines interact has changed. Social expectations have changed. So too must our understanding of what we teach, how we teach and how we learn.
The manifesto focuses on the need for lifelong learning to be an engine for equity and inclusion as well as a vehicle for social justice and social transformation. For this to happen, learners must be the focal point where barriers to knowledge — between learners as well as between teachers and learners — are broken down.
There must also be a more collaborative process for learning that breaks down barriers between universities, colleges and polytechnics so that learners can build their journey without feeling “trapped” or locked in. After all, new kinds of work and new occupations are emerging quickly, and our systems must be agile so students can transition in and out of programs.
This kind of learning — in which students play a significant role in shaping what and how they learn, and in which assessment focuses on competencies and capabilities — is enabled by appropriate technologies and significant human relationships. The role of technology needs to be better understood, while issues of privacy, security and personal dignity must be better managed.
The Hagen Manifesto is intended to trigger a conversation and to start a dialogue.
It is time for all who work and study in higher education to engage. The Hagen Manifesto provides a starting point for us to do so.