With technology coming onboard faster, taking over many of the technical tasks, labor or manpower cannot run away from the fact that they will have to constantly learn to keep themselves updated. They have to learn throughout their career the new technical skills that is needed, and not forgetting the need to hone their soft skills such as communication, data analysis, critical thinking, design thinking,etc. Thus the need for life-long learning going forward.

Current State

A lot of nations has picked that up and has put up schemes to help their labor pick up the necessary skills to 'stabilise' their employability first before, leveling them up further higher value added task that requires good soft skills and updated technical skills to put together.

However, most of them used a tested system (not necessary proven system imo) which is our education system, bring it and adopt it for lifelong learning. For this I have several doubts about its effectiveness. Let me share my why I think that is the case.

1) Modules vs Short Courses

Education system teaches knowledge and skills in modules, meaning they are over a short period of time but across a long period of time i.e. lessons are conducted over 3 hours and spread across 3-6 months. This is good as we can use the short period of time to drill and build a foundation and students have time to set the foundation correctly, and its easier to scaffold the lessons and teachers have great confidence that studious students will use the non-lesson time to pick them up and build on top of it.

Short courses are a different animal altogether. There is no luxury of time in between lessons for the participants to put together what they have learned during the lessons, and with that they are then 'asked' to put more knowledge and info on top of the previous lessons. Why there is no luxury of time is cost. How so? Let me explain.

Put yourself in the shoe of a course provider. There is a fixed costs of running each cost, such as room rental, administration, logistics arrangement, marketing. As such, course providers will want as much of the expenses to be variable, i.e. incurred only when there is enough course participants. As such, most of these courses will hire freelancers to conduct training rather so that, one of the biggest costs of running courses, trainer fees is manageable, unless they are very sure a level of confirmation for their courses, then hiring a full-timer makes a lot more economic sense.

Now as a freelancer, time is money. To teach a half day course means revenue loss on the other half of the day unless luck will have it that the freelancer can put in another training opportunity on the other half often, which is not the case. Thus usually it is better for both the course provider and the freelance trainer that the courses are conducted over full-day rather than half-days.

So for modules, participants have the luxury of lax periods in the middle to build up and revise on their knowledge base acquired, while in short courses, participants are usually given a lot of knowledge and tools, but are required to bring back to the work place and apply immediately, lacking a well-organized knowledge base to work with. This explains why a lot of my participants, even though they enjoyed and understand the individual points I have shared in my class, still have issues trying to apply what is shared in the short courses.

2) Teachers vs Trainers

Teachers/Faculty usually have "whips" to motivate the students. What are the "whips"? Final grades. As such, students (well most of them) will tend to listen more attentively rather. With that, teachers do not have to worry as much as trainers when it comes to engagement and in fact I have seen condescending teachers who teach with a "take-it or leave-it" attitude because they will still keep their job unless the principals put in the added pressure when the overall grades in the institution have lowered. Teachers/Faculties have a level of authority over students.

Trainers is quite different. Engagement is very important else the participants may feedback that the course materials are not useful. And with that marketing for the course will suffer, due to the lack of "word-of-mouth" marketing. In fact, the trainer needs to be an entertainer while imparting his/her knowledge and experience. And sometime that lack of authority can make classroom management very tough, especially with participants that has NO motivation to learn but is merely present to satisfy his/her job requirement.

Some institutions required that the trainers to be certified which is something commendable at face value. However, what I have seen is that the certification is more on the teaching methods and experience rather than the technical skills, knowledge and background of the trainer which is more important. The certification is akin to saying that a company has the best logistical system of delivery but the products can is sucky.

3) Assessment vs Mentoring

Education system is more about building a foundational workforce, capable of performing the general skills that is needed in all careers, such as literacy, numerical literacy, calculations and analysis, scientific laws and principles. Assessment is needed to ensure that most of these are taught and retained by the students before they are released to become manpower for the economy.

In lifelong learning, we are expecting the participants to be able to apply what is being taught into their work. Applications to generate value is the key objectives for lifelong learning programmes. Assessment can conducted if it is on the application phase but unnecessary (but good to have) if it is to check if the participants have gained the knowledge needed from the course. In fact, mentoring might be more important as it guides participants, with an unorganized knowledge base as mentioned above, to start organizing the knowledge base and see where the applications of the knowledge are at the same time. However, this is difficult again due to cost issue. Yes, current experienced staff can be the mentor but they are already swarmed with their own work. Hiring external mentor could be a solution but again, opportunity cost for the freelancer can be high if the company only require an hour from the external mentor for guidance.


Over here I pointed out that we cannot bring the whole education system and apply it onto the lifelong learning system given the differences between them and provided reasons for it. The nature of education and lifelong learning is very different, in terms of content, delivery, trainers experience and background, and more importantly the objectives. We definitely should just scratch away the education system from lifelong learning and instead, rebuild a NEW system to support lifelong learning instead.

If there is time, I will write down my thoughts on how I will build such a system that can create a win-all situation, for manpower, companies needing talents and government, and trainers.

Meanwhile what are your thoughts on this? Are you an existing trainer in adult training and want to share your thoughts? Do share your comment and feedback with me! :)

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