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How The Open University in Iceland Is Personalizing Continuous Professional Learning

In the increasingly knowledge based world we live in, continuous professional development (CPD) has become an integral part of professional life. Employees need to continuously update and up-skill their competences in order to keep pace with the changing requirements of the labor market. This need also appears to be well recognized by employers. However, a significant portion of the workforce in different countries still finds it difficult to participate in professional learning programs on an ongoing basis.

Senior executives often raise the issues of lack of time, whereas for lower level employees it is more about the cost of covering the actual educational programs as well the opportunity cost of the time spent on participating in CPD programs. The wide spread use of generic courses and programs that do not respond to the specific learning needs of different individuals and organizations is another major barrier often raised. The Open University within Reykjavik University (RU) in Iceland specifically tries to address the aforementioned challenges, by closely working with individuals and companies to provide them the most tailored learning experiences.

Open University concept as a tool to foster lifelong learning

The Open University is established in 2006 as a non-academic unit within the Relations Department of Reykjavik University (RU). The aim was to facilitate the achievement of the university’s broader objective of establishing stronger and more productive ties with the industry and society by meeting their lifelong learning needs. Ever since its establishment, the university has been offering a wide range of short-term and long-term training programs for executives, managers, and specialists mainly in the fields of business, law, and technology. In 2016 for instance, the unit offered over 400 different courses for individuals and companies.

The Open University has established itself as a premier training provider for professionals in Iceland and beyond. In fact, the number of students enrolled in the Open University programs at times exceed those that are attending the regular degree programs at bachelor and masters level at RU.

Key success factors

Although a number of factors have contributed for the early success of The Open University, two features stand out: responsiveness & collaborative design, and the delivery of courses.

The Open University follows a very flexible approach towards offering learning opportunities to professionals and this has allowed it to be highly responsive. Unlike conventional training providers, who design a set of generic courses, The Open University starts by consulting company executives on the general possibility of a training, which is followed by an extensive needs analysis. The program is then tailor-made to the skill gaps and general objectives of the individual learners and organizations. In one of its high-profile collaborations for instance, the Open University designed a “mini” MBA specifically custom-made for the middle management and executives of Iceland Air. The university is also responsive in the sense of continuously updating courses to meet labor market needs and changes in the knowledge triangle.

The fact that most of the training are jointly offered by industry experts, university professors, and renowned international personalities has allowed it to combine theoretical foundation with practical relevance. This unique balance between theory and practice is perhaps one of the main reasons that made The Open University programs one of the most sought after programs in Iceland. Finally, the very flexible nature of the approach also makes it transferable to other regions provided there is a concerted effort and commitment from universities and companies towards human capital development.


Want to learn more about professional learning provisions in the Open University? You can read the full report here

This blog is based on a case study originally written by Dr. Samo Pavlin (University of Ljubljana).

©all rights on images used in this article belong to Reykjavik University.


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