A personal reflection on lifelong learning

23 May 2023

Our new team member Elena Liquete shares the experience of embarking on a doctorate in her 50s.


My mother couldn’t understand why I started a doctorate in my 50s. In her mind, now that my children had flown the nest, I should be starting to wind down towards retirement and simply be enjoying life. I did my best to persuade her that I actually enjoyed my doctorate (most of the time, anyway!), but she wasn’t buying it.

It’s easy to forget how much the world of work has changed in the last few decades. When my mother was young, most people joined an employer after college or university and spent their lives working there, often locally, until it was time to retire. Things had changed somewhat by the time I joined the world of work, with people developing their careers with multiple employers and being more geographically mobile. The technology for working remotely has been available for many years, but it wasn’t until the Covid pandemic came along that remote working became commonplace.

I have spent my career in higher education, a world of highly qualified people, and whilst I hadn’t made definite plans to do a doctorate, I did think it would happen at some point. That time came after I joined the School of Management at the University of Bath and learnt that they offered a DBA in HE Management. The programme has a taught phase, with four week-long residential modules, followed by the research phase. I thoroughly enjoyed the interactions with my classmates, all experienced HE professionals in their own right, who would fly in from the USA, China, Africa and Europe for our taught modules. By the time we were due to start the research phase, the Covid-19 pandemic had hit and, like everyone else, we had to adapt. All of my research interviews were conducted via MS Teams and I didn’t meet my supervisors in person until after my viva.

The pandemic made my digital transition non-negotiable. The vast amounts of reading we needed to do made it impractical to print everything out and yet my personal preference was still to read on paper. Once the pandemic hit and I realised I had no choice, I pretty quickly got used to reading everything online. As Clay Shirky from NYU said: ‘What Covid-19 and the shift to emergency remote instruction did was burn off the fog of unfamiliarity.’ In order to supplement the materials available at the university, I also explored the learning resources that the internet has to offer and found several online courses on Udemy that were a great help, particularly when it came to learning to use NVivo, for instance.

In July 2021, a report by CarringtonCrisp and LinkedIn into the future of lifelong learning found that people were expecting to work longer, and that this created a need for people to keep updating their skills throughout their lifetime – that was certainly my sense as I embarked on my doctorate. In the same report, 68% of employees believed that blended learning, combining face-to-face and online learning, was the ideal way of developing new skills and, again, my own personal experience aligns with that view.

A doctorate is a ‘terminal degree’ (i.e. the highest academic qualification that can be awarded) so I am unlikely to embark on further degree-level education, but that doesn’t mean that my learning journey has come to an end. Perhaps microcredentials and digital badges are next – who knows?

CarringtonCrisp will be running a new study on the future of lifelong learning later this year. If this is of interest or you would like your school to get involved, please drop us a note at info@carringtoncrisp

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