Recently, the University of Twente (UT) formally endorsed its plans in the area of Lifelong Learning (LLL). UT has the ambition to be a European Lifelong Learning powerhouse. A dedicated programme management team will shape this ambition.
With LLL, UT aims to give employees of organisations the opportunity to gain new knowledge and up-to-the-minute insights while also advancing their personal ambitions. On behalf of the Programme Management Team, Prof. Maarten van Steen and Prof. Maaike Endedijk explain how this ambition will be accomplished.
One of the targets in Shaping2030 is to develop a distinct Lifelong Learning profile for UT. Several steps preceded the milestone of the formal endorsement of the LLL programme by the Executive Board and the University Council. They included the work undertaken by a team in preparing an inventory of the full range of UT Lifelong Learning programmes. A Quartermaster Team then coordinated work to ensure a coherent UT Lifelong Learning offer. The aim is to strengthen UT’s regional powerhouse position, possibly in collaboration with Saxion University of Applied Sciences and the Twente Regional Training Centre. Specific attention was also paid to the role of alumni. UT is already involved in many major LLL initiatives at the European level, including ECIU University.
What are the next steps?
Now that a unique and recognisable LLL profile for UT is being developed, the programme team is keen to give concrete shape to the mission. Maarten van Steen explains: “In the shorter term, the focus is mainly on arranging support, facilitating and driving the faculties’ LLL initiatives. In other words, ensuring that support for LLL at UT is better organised and structured. Also, expertise in this area will continue to be developed. This will enable researchers and lecturers who shape and define LLL to focus more on content and less on form. Developing content without any consideration for form is simply not realistic in an education setting. It is key that lecturers should not have to worry so much about arranging support, even if the form differs from what they are used to in the context of standard education provision.”
“Our aim is always to avoid LLL being seen by UT members as something that comes on top of everything else. LLL does not mean additional courses or evening classes for professionals. If we really want to make an impact as a university within the context of the climate crisis and the energy transition, for example, then it is imperative that we step out of our academic bubble. To do that, we need to take an active role in continuously educating people. Added to that, our aim with Lifelong Learning is not just to impart, but also to insource. Give and get, if you will. We want to bring outside knowledge into UT through strategic partnerships with companies and public authorities. LLL will only succeed if we all recognise its intrinsic value.”
Back to how UT’s LLL portfolio is organised and supported. Van Steen and Endedijk believe that UT needs to train a smarter eye on LLL initiatives with significant impact involving the efficient deployment of lecturers. Maaike Endedijk explains: “All those workshops we give in research projects and all those activities we engage in with consortia also fall under the banner of LLL. But we can take steps to ensure that it is more firmly embedded and, above all, much better supported. By making some simple adjustments, we can sometimes make it easier for many activities we already do or want to do to get off the ground or reach more people. We are also going to pay much greater attention to how we can more easily adapt our current educational programmes to teaching formats for professionals.”
‘Effort lies with the learner’
Finally, Van Steen and Endedijk believe that UT needs to break free from the “traditional lecture-based way of thinking”. “In our education system, attention is still focused too much on instruction”, says Endedijk. “The thinking is: the lecturer instructs, now go away and do it. Relatively little attention is paid to making provision for learning outside that period during which instruction is given. In conventional education, a lecturer delivers a module and students are then expected to spend forty hours a week on it. Within those forty hours there are, say, ten contact hours. At the moment, attention is often focused on what has to be done in those ten hours. That needs to change to: what should we do in those ten hours so that they spend the other thirty hours actually learning? The effort should lie with the learner, i.e. the professional. At UT, we need to take the role of facilitator of that learning process, and learn to embrace it. That moves us forward.”
Endedijk continues: “UT is one of the founders of the Centre for Security and Digitisation (CVD) in Apeldoorn, a striking example of LLL. There, we organise a course for large organisations that are engaged in digital transformation and deal with large data volumes. The first version of the course involved lots of talking professors. The course evaluation revealed that this was not actually what participants were seeking. When we asked: what learnings do you apply in your work, the answer was often: not many. That set us thinking: how do we ensure that those professionals actively engage in learning and begin applying their knowledge? That turned out to be a challenge. We are dealing with people from different backgrounds who are all very busy. We had to design something with that in mind, and that demands a really good infrastructure. There is so much strength in learning from one another, meaning between participants. Now, we put people together to work on a specific problem and learn from one another in the process. UT provides them with the resources and guidance. This allows us to make a difference with relatively little time invested. That is precisely what we aim to accomplish with the fulfilment of our LLL ambition.”