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Developing lifelong learning: Improving graduate retention and employability

A research project that can help to develop lifelong learners and prepare graduates to compete successfully for jobs has been piloted at Northumbria University.

The project uses a learning profiling system called the Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory (ELLI) which identifies seven characteristics of a powerful/lifelong learner. These are: curiosity, resilience, learning relationships, strategic awareness, creativity, preparedness to change and meaning making.

If an individual’s profile strongly reflects these traits it is likely that they will be a robust learner.

Following the announcement that 18 Higher Education Institutions (including Northumbria) are to pilot new approaches to representing the achievements of students at the end of their degrees, academics believe ELLI could be the next big thing in the quest to help graduates distinguish themselves in the job market.

Jamie Thompson, Learning and Teaching Advisor and a National Teaching Fellow at Northumbria University, says: “With ever more complex lives and more challenging roles in the workplace, graduates need these qualities ¬- which we know are highly valued by employers - in addition to high levels of academic achievement.

“This research is suggesting that we think carefully about the role of universities and about how we can ensure that our graduates are people who can continue to learn and solve problems throughout their lives.’’

The ELLI project, which is led by Northumbria but has also been piloted at 12 other universities, was used successfully last year to support staff and students in developing lifelong learners and will be rolled out across the country this year.

Meanwhile Northumbria, in collaboration with Bedfordshire and Manchester Universities, has recently been awarded £200,000 by the Higher Education Funding Council to investigate how ELLI might be used to improve student retention figures.

The project, ‘Dispositions to Stay,’ will evaluate and develop effective student retention strategies for ultimately the whole HE sector.

Jamie explains: “Retention is an important issue at all universities. A whole series of issues ranging from accommodation to home-sickness can trigger students to leave and these all need careful consideration. However, the crucial issue is whether or not students feel as if they belong, whether they feel the course and the university are for them. ELLI can help staff and students engage with some of these issues and is a useful tool for evaluating and measuring the impact of retention strategies.’’

Professor Andrew Wathey, Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of Northumbria University added: “ELLI has the potential to be a significant catalyst for change in how we think about learning and teaching in Higher Education.

“It will help us to equip our students for life beyond university and to provide employers with graduates who have the qualities and characteristics that they need.

“It will also provide our students with the opportunity to reflect and shape their own learning and awareness of their particular aptitudes.”

Katrina Alnikizil | alfa
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