If at First You Don’t Succeed, Become a Lifelong Learner: Gaining Capital through Online Higher Education Environments

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Become a Lifelong Learner: Gaining Capital through Online Higher Education Environments

Kathleen P. King (University of South Florida, USA), Christina M. Partin (University of South Florida, USA), Hidelisa C. Manibusan (University of South Florida, USA), and Gillian M. Sadhi (University of South Florida, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2181-7.ch021
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In this chapter, the authors propose examining online learning in higher education as a mechanism for promoting lifelong learning skills, and thus, as a way to provide capital to students. With that in mind, they provide a theoretical foundation to demonstrate the need for workforce development as well as interdisciplinary perspectives on the skills and requisites necessary for successful lifelong learning, and how both are important to the central mission of higher education. This chapter explores the literature and major issues surrounding the importance and use of capital and lifelong learning skills, and how both can be gained through online learning. The authors argue that lifelong learning skills can be generated through transformative leaning experiences and that facilitating these experiences should be a goal of online learning in higher education in order to ensure that students have the skills necessary to gain social, cultural, and economic capital in order to remain relevant through their lives in a 21st century, learning society. In this chapter, the authors discuss several relevant examples of “Tools for Lifelong Learning” including specific examples to demonstrate how online classes can serve as a mechanism to generate capital for students in higher education settings. They provide a model and build upon theory across higher education, sociology, adult learning, and educational psychology to provide a new perspective of the importance of lifelong learning as well as best practices for achieving these goals.
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The term “capital” takes on a variety of meanings from different disciplinary perspectives, but we’re looking very broadly at capital as “accumulated value” and we argue that different types of capital can, and should, be cultivated through online learning in higher education. There are several specific themes that emerge upon reviewing the existing literature regarding adult learning and lifelong learning, distance education, and transformative experiences. However, these separate bodies of literature have not been linked together in a meaningful way to describe how lifelong learning skills can be developed within the higher education curriculum, particularly through online courses, by encouraging transformative learning experiences. Additionally, no connection has been made to the increased social, cultural, or economic capital that exists as a direct result of obtaining lifelong learning skills.

Based on this review of literature, it becomes clear that the skill set of a successful lifelong learner can be enhanced through online courses that provide transformative learning opportunities. Generating a profile of a successful online college course will provide insight as to how the environment can provide the skills necessary to gain social, cultural, and economic capital in order to remain relevant through their lives in a 21st century, learning society.

This chapter exposes relevant connections between the separate bodies of literature related to lifelong learning, online learning, transformative learning experiences, and their relationship to social, cultural, and economic capital. The scenario below demonstrates the need for this chapter. Based on extant research, we introduce a model that illustrates the reciprocal relationship between lifelong learning and capital. The ultimate goal of this model is to serve instructors and/or administrators in developing and disseminating online courses as well as develop recommendations to facilitate student success and transformative learning experiences in online courses.

Example 1 illustrates how very difficult it has been for recent college graduates to enter the full-time job market since 2008. With the USA’s financial crisis persisting for several years, companies have chosen not to replace employees who resign for other opportunities or retire. As every field has scaled back, even graduates like Guillermo graduate from their undergraduate college experiences without the requisite skills needed to gain employment in their desired fields.

Example 1.
Recent graduates in the full-time job market
Guillermo Rey graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Technology in December, 2010. During his undergraduate studies, he worked independently as a private consultant troubleshooting and building both networks and workstations for corporations and individuals to support himself and build hands-on skills. As a highly talented and popular student, people thought he should have no difficulty finding a full-time position upon graduation, especially given the extracurricular activities that he undertook to differentiate himself from the other graduates However, in nine months, as of September 2011, there were still no call-backs or interviews. As difficult as his struggle is, Guillermo is not alone: his classmates across mathematics, engineering, science and even the liberal arts have also found the job market impenetrable.

The authors of this chapter acknowledge these difficult economic times and the struggles that many graduates face in terms of employment prospects. In light of these challenges, we seek to propose innovative ways to generate success for students, so that they have a skill set that will be deemed valuable to both their potential employers and to themselves alike in good or difficult climates alike. This skill set includes the knowledge that higher education traditionally provides to students, but it also includes other non-academic skills that extant literature reveals are equally important in creating workers for a 21st century society (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009). Later in the chapter, we will discuss Guillermo’s situation again, and provide suggestions of how his education could have contributed to improving his situation.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Cultural Capital: Consists of a person’s collected cultural knowledge that comprises an individual’s value and worth through perceived power or status.

Economic Capital: The associated with a monetary or exchange value, and it can often be earned through manipulation of the other kinds of capital mentioned in this chapter.

Social Capital: The value associated with a person’s social network.

Nontraditional Learners: This term usually is used in reference to higher education contexts. Within this setting, nontraditional learners are beyond the customary 18-21 year old students. However, more important than their age, are the constellation of varied characteristics which distinguish them from traditional students including more extensive prior experience, many and substantial demands which compete with school (for example, family, work, childcare, eldercare, military service, etc.), greater need for self-direction and autonomy, often part-time enrollment, and more.

Transformative Learning: Based on Jack Mezirow’s work (1979, 1990), this adult learning theory explains and describes how adults navigate the 10 stages which progress from disorienting dilemma to perspective transformation. For those who work with adult learners this theory provides insight into their coping strategies and needs.

21st Century Learning: Learning which is effective in the 21st century global world. Elements of 21st century learning include, but are not limited to, critical thinking, problem solving, collaborative learning, technology and information literacies, lifelong learning, and creativity.

Lifelong Learning: A model of learning which includes continuing efforts to seek new knowledge and skills. Lifelong learning is not limited to formal learning, and usually includes more self-directed and informal learning after the completion of higher education.

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