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Using the Internet for Lifelong Learning

Lifelong learning is increasingly common in Russia. One can assume looking at the booming global business of online education with platforms such as Coursera, EdX, and Udacity, and various webinars and video lectures that the internet serves as the main channel of lifelong learning today. In Russia, however, the World Wide Web comes second to more traditional ways of learning. So Konstantin Fursov and Elena Chernovich, research fellows at the HSE's Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge (ISSEK), found in their study Monitoring Innovative Behaviour in the Russian Population in 2013

"Despite the rapid development of the internet and its penetration into all spheres of life, it is not yet seen as an essential lifelong learning resource in Russia," according to Konstantin Fursov, Head of the Unit for Science and Technology Work Results Assessment, and Elena Chernovich, Junior Research Fellow of the Department for Analytical Research. "Alongside increasingly popular new ways of learning, more traditional offline resources, often just as accessible as web-based platforms, continue to grow. Public lectures, master classes, seminars, and workshops are reaching an ever-widening audience," note Fursov and Chernovich in the article "Trends in Continuing Education' published in Accreditation in Education.

They refer to data from a survey of 1,575 Russians aged 16 to 74 in the HSE's Monitoring Innovative Behaviour in the Russian Population study conducted at the end of 2013.

The study defined lifelong learning as both formal education received by attending a course and informal learning pursued outside education programmes, and focused specifically on self-directed learning where the knowledge acquisition was not formally certified.

More Russians Engage in Self-Education

The study found that more Russians engage in lifelong learning today – 25.6% of all respondents in 2013 compared to 17.4% in 2006.

Globally, this trend is supported by the availability of computers and the internet; in the Russian survey, 12% of the respondents engaged in self-education used at least one of the possibilities offered by the internet. This figure appears small, yet it shows a significant increase from less than 1% of the respondents in a similar survey conducted in 2006. According to Fursov and Chernovich, this finding confirms that the internet is an important resource for lifelong learning in Russia, but it does not play a determining role.

People engaged in lifelong learning use the internet for a variety of objectives, from seeking advice on thematic forums to listening to lectures online, to attending virtual master classes and webinars. Offline learning resources include educational radio and TV programmes, audio and video recordings, and learning from mentors, coaches, or colleagues in the workplace.

The Internet as a Source of Knowledge

More than half of the Russian respondents who go online regularly (at least once a month) still prefer learning things offline; 54% of the survey respondents report learning offline only.

The ISSEK researchers note that, "Despite the growing popularity of e-learning, just 9% of the respondents prefer online-only education". The option of combining offline and online learning was chosen by just over a third (37%) of the respondents.

Older Generation More Conservative

Examining how different age groups relate to lifelong learning, the researchers found that both 24-34 and 35-44 year olds choose combined on/offline sources (14% and 11%) and offline only sources (18% and 16%, respectively) in almost equal proportions.

Members of the older generation tend to be more conservative and prefer to learn new things offline.

Even though the younger people’s acceptance of online learning appears to support the leading role of the internet, say Fursov and Chernovich, "the findings do not suggest that we are dealing with a critical mass of users opting for distance learning,".

Reasons for the underuse of online resources may include both a lack of internet skills and limited online access for certain parts of the Russian public. Such underuse may be an obstacle to the further spread of lifelong learning.

Other obstacles (e.g. according to [Longworth, 2003]) may include mental barriers (such as poor family culture of learning, bad childhood experience of learning, and low aspiration), information-related barriers (such as poor or distorted information about learning opportunities), access-related barriers (such as distance from educational provision), and inadequate educational programmes (e.g. learning providers not geared to the needs of learners).

Internet Just One Option for Lifelong Learning

According to Fursov and Chernovich, how often one goes online makes a difference – 81% of those who favour combined on/offline forms of learning go online daily, compared to 70% of those who prefer offline sources, even though both groups go online regularly.

There is a direct link between good computer and internet skills and preference for combined on/offline learning.

Usually, three levels of computer proficiency are identified based on the number of technical skills mastered: high (5-6 skills), medium (3-4 skills), and low (1-2 skills). According to the HSE's Monitoring data, more than half of the respondents (56%) who engaged in combined on/offline learning had good computer skills, compared to less than a third (31%) of those who preferred more traditional offline ways of learning. In other words, "people with higher levels of computer skills are more likely to engage in various forms of online learning," the authors say.

Foreign Languages Broaden One's Knowledge

Fluency in English and other foreign languages ​broadens one's knowledge but only slightly contributes to the spread of online learning; the survey respondents fluent in at least one foreign language (English, French, German, or Spanish) were more likely to opt for combined on/offline learning than those who only spoke Russian ​(69% vs. 49%).

Fursov and Chernovich conclude that lifelong learning is slowly but surely becoming a basic human need, and people are increasingly learning new things for self-fulfilment and personal success, while formal recognition of such learning is less important to them. The role of the internet, according to the authors, is to serve as yet another window of opportunity for lifelong learning.


Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, June 06, 2014