Updated: Apr 27, 2022
On April 26th, for its latest Thoughtful Leadership webinar, ClassIn turned the focus to best practices of lifelong learning in Southeast Asia. Moderated by ClassIn’s Lingyue Zheng, the event welcomed distinguished scholars Dr. Maylyn Tan, Assistant Dean and Head of Academic Development at Singapore Institute of Management (SIM), and Dr. Anita Adnan, Founder and Admin of Doctorate Support Group (DSG).
Speakers detailed the concept of lifelong learning from theory to practice, addressing questions including what is the progress we have seen with lifelong learning in Southeast Asia? What are some successful case studies to inform further strategies? What are the existing barriers and reflections so far?
Lifelong Learning in Singapore: Growing Superpowers
What Is Lifelong Learning, and How to Make It Work?
“When I was a child, I was very interested in this comedy teenage miniseries called Out of This World, and this teenage girl has the superpower to stop time when she touches her fingertips together…so what superpowers do you dream of having?,” Dr. Maylyn Tan invited the audience to make sense of lifelong learning through an anecdote. “In our quest for problem-solving, it is very natural for humans to learn.”
“In our quest for problem-solving, it is very natural for humans to learn.” --Dr. Maylyn Tan, Assistant Dean and Head of Academic Development at Singapore Institute of Management
Recognizing UNESCO’s definition of lifelong learning, which positions its goal to be skills enhancement for the benefit of individuals, communities, and the planet, Tan put forward two explanations for why sometimes lifelong learning doesn’t translate to desirable outcomes.
An overwhelming amount of information makes it hard to figure out the right skills to learn.
Uncertain job placement after learning indicates a gap between the skills learned and value creation.
“There are three economies that the SkillsFuture Singapore has analyzed and concluded that will be very relevant in the next one to three years,” Tan emphasized.
Digital Economy: Business activities that are defined and enabled by digital technologies.
Green Economy: Activities that drive economic outcomes but are balanced by environmental and social outcomes, making sure that there are sustainable use of resources and equitable distribution.
Care Economy: Professional service delivery of health and learning solutions.
While certain industries are showing more promise in the coming years, Tan encouraged embracing cognitive skills such as critical thinking and interaction across the board.
However, Tan reminded us that “Some of us might be ambitious to jump into the deep water and transition fully outside that takes totally different skills, while lifelong learning is about incremental changes and looking at what can you do right now and combine it with different disciplines to create more value.”
"Lifelong learning is about incremental changes and looking at what can you do right now and combine it with different disciplines to create more value.” --Dr. Maylyn Tan, Assistant Dean and Head of Academic Development at Singapore Institute of Management
A Success Story of Lifelong Learning: Johnathan
Johnathan has made quite a few career changes from where he started as a columnist and journalist. “When he was 50, he decided to transition out from the media industry to a corporate comms role. But the company did not choose to extend his retirement upon 62…He decided to do a courageous pivot to do data analytics,” Tan introduced.
Change doesn’t happen overnight–Johnathan immersed himself in 6 months of learning with the government support of a $1200 monthly stipend.
And the result? “He actually developed a data model to reduce false negative in breast cancer examination…After that, he applied for a job to become a data science curriculum writer, so his journalistic background still came in handy,” Tan demonstrated a perfect case of expanding on existing skills in lifelong learning.
Lifelong Learning Cannot Be Done Alone
As driven as Johnathan is, it would be incredibly challenging to achieve such a career change without systematic support.
“I have three components in gears because they are interconnected,” Tan outlined the responsibilities of different agencies to best assist lifelong learners.
On a structural level, policies and frameworks have to be put in place, and government-funded initiatives are essential for older learners who hope to explore different skills.
For employers, help workers continue to be gainfully employed by taking advantage of funding mechanisms and providing a psychologically safe environment.
For educators and school leaders, think beyond providing content but to embed materials in projects and experiments with real-world situations.
For individuals, it is helpful to know your adjacent skills and look into interconnectivity of different dynamics.
Lifelong Learning in Malaysia: Find Your Community
Introduction to the Doctorate Support Group (DSG)
“Social media is now a place for lifelong learners to come to ask questions and make connections. If they have any doubts or anything they want to ask, they simply come to Facebook,” Dr. Anita Adnan pointed to crowdsourced online communities as an increasingly important hub in lifelong learning.
In particular, Adnan created the Doctorate Support Group in 2010 with the mission to connect postgraduates to resources and information, and the group is now the biggest postgraduate community on Facebook with 96,000 members as of April 2022.
“Learning does not just happen inside formal institutions, but it has now become embedded in our daily lives, especially when you do it in social media,” Adnan said.
“Learning does not just happen inside formal institutions, but it has now become embedded in our daily lives, especially when you do it in social media.” -- Dr. Anita Adnan, Founder and Admin of Doctorate Support Group
Growing Impact among Diverse Demographics
Adnan highlighted the journey of Dr. Gerald Jetony from the University of Malaysia Sabah. “He managed to pass his viva on his covid bed. Can you imagine? He came to the Doctor Support Group and said ‘Thank you so much DSG. I keep my motivation by visiting the group every day, and now, I am already a doctor.’ ”
The story of Dr. Gerald Jetony is one of many inspiring narratives DSG took part in. Adnan shared that DSG is actively keeping track of the postgraduate journey of over 500 verified members. In addition to organic group interactions, DSG is also reaching members through curated events and software demos.
“This data is very important for us to understand the kind of lifelong learners we are helping,” Adnan pulled up group statistics of group demographics.
She pointed out that “It is very interesting to see 18- to 24-year-olds who are undergraduates in this group because they say ‘oh we want to further our master’s later on.’ ”
Future Plans and Vision of the Doctorate Support Group (DSG)
In growing and managing her community, Adnan particularly credited the Facebook Community Accelerator Program: “I believe this program has helped us become more focused in terms of understanding what do we do with community building on a huge social media like Facebook.”
In the long term, DSG is envisioned to be a one-stop center for postgraduate needs, offering classes, webinars, informational software, and job opportunities. In fact, DSG is already in collaboration with higher education institutions in Malaysia and establishing mentorship programs and marketplace.
Q&A: Lifelong Learning Organizations, the Metaverse, and More
“Can I ask Maylyn a question?,” Adnan proposed future plans for offline DSG centers. “How do we start setting up a lifelong learning institution?”
With consideration for policy and support in the country, Tan outlined three steps to get started:
Collaborate within and between communities to leverage your resources.
Offer a diagnostic service–help learners figure out where they are in life and career and maximize the time they have for learning.
Clarify what kind of learning experience we want to offer to people.
Likewise, Tan expressed great interest in Adnan’s work. “People are talking about the metaverse and using AR and VR. How do you see this as becoming more relevant? Are you exploring?”
While DSG has already been invited to be part of the Facebook metaverse, Adnan laid out some of her concerns when it comes to the digital gap, age gap, and the general well-being of learners.
“It can’t be all the way sitting in front of the computer with your VR tools doing learning in the metaverse and not interacting socially outside…It is exciting, but try with caution,” Adnan said.
Addressing audience questions on flexible learning pathways and innovative platforms, both speakers suggested having some structure and guidance in place.
“When you design a flexible learning program, you must be mindful about the degree of flexibility you are offering, there will still be structure by giving people maybe three options but not 20 or 50,” Tan stated, recommending more hands-on assignments and cloud-based collaboration.
“I totally agree with Maylyn that it has to be guided,” Adnan reflected. “You can self-learn. However, you need to know what is it you want to do and where will it bring you to.”
Wrapping up the event, audience member Niñaflor Canoy left a comment in the live broadcast chat, neatly capturing the spirit of lifelong learning.
“I agree, learning is a continuous process. Never-ending and should never be confined in just the formal educational institutions. The pandemic has taught us that learning can also be done anywhere and anyhow we are willing to take in new information.”
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