The Shelf Life Of Education

The long term benefits of learning, education and training are reducing with education experts suggesting that the shelf life of education and skills is now just five years.

We are used to hearing the term shelf life in terms of our supermarket shelves or cupboards. It is the length of time a commodity should be stored before it is no longer suitable for consumption, sale or is unfit for use.

Is this what education and training becomes? Unfit for use?

Why Study in the First Place?

After school, many of us carrying on studying. This can be college, university, online studying, workshops and training courses.

What motivates us to carry on studying after school? There are a number of reasons –

  • There are often social pressures to carry on studying. There is a social expectation that young people will carry on studying at college or university after they leave school.
  • Young people may experience peer pressure to go to university, to gain the “university experience.”
  • There may be family pressures for young people to do well and carrying on studying to improve their job opportunities.

But education and studying is not just about young people anymore. Many adults are continuing to learn throughout their lifetimes due to the recognition of the importance of lifelong learning.  Education at school, college or university is a foundation now, not a lifelong ticket and the end of their studying. Adults may continue studying for a range of reasons too -

  • A passion for the subject – They have a thirst for knowledge, a need to know more.
  • A practical need to know more about a subject
  • To improve their skills
  • To gain a qualification

Shelf Life

If we don’t continue learning throughout our lifetimes, then our knowledge and skills will fade, but some things more than others.

But what do we actually mean by learning here? Learning is not just studying or taking courses.  Learning is an ongoing process that leads to change.  The more we learn, the more we understand about a particular topic, but also the world around us.


Why do we need to continue to learn?

  • Research in the UK has suggested that people are finding it difficult to move from one industry to another. As an industry declines, workers in that industry may find it hard to move on to another new job or industry without retraining.
  • People who leave the workplace for any reason, such as childcare, caring responsibilities, redundancy or illness can find that they need to update their education and skills.
  • The world is rapidly changing. Technology changes almost daily.  Theories and ideas about different areas also change.  Even language and terminology changes. Study is essential to ensure that we remain up to date. 
  • Changes in the job market mean that further training is essential. New tools, equipment and technology are being implemented into jobs and services at a rapid rate. Think of how AI is being implemented into many careers today.
  • Continuing to study also shows that you have a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is someone who believes that they cannot change or develop, whereas someone with a growth mindset will understand that they can change, that they can learn and improve. Employers want to see that their employees are willing to change, to learn and to move with the times.

Learning is not just about taking courses and studying though, throughout our lives, we continue to learn in many different ways –

  • By reading
  • Watching documentaries and programmes
  • Talking to other people, listening to their stories, their experiences and what they know.
  • Starting hobbies. Hobbies can help us to develop new skills, which can be relevant in the workplace, but also our lives in general. For example, starting a new hobby baking cakes could open up potential for a new business, or help us to develop new skills, such as patience, measuring, precision and more.

Lifelong learning is therefore essential to avoid our qualifications being well past their sell-by date, but many adults are put off full-time learning due to the financial implications to them and their family.

Learning something then moving on and never revisiting it is not useful learning.  Say we take a course in artificial intelligence, find it interesting, but then move on. We do not use it in our working or personal life, we do not really pay attention to it again. Then what was the point of taking the course?

With any learning, we need to revisit it to continue to learn and develop. For example –

  • Continuing to read and learn about the topic we studied.
  • Perhaps go back to the course and reread the notes we had or made.
  • Practising the skills we developed in a course.
  • Join relevant clubs or organisations.
  • Do voluntary work that makes use of our learning.
  • Use it in our work.

We need to review, update and reinforce our learning for it to be useful.