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A Q&A with Michael Golden about the McGraw Prize for Lifelong Learning

Michael Golden headshot

When he talks about the range of people who could win the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education for Lifelong Learning, Michael Golden gets excited, rattling off the new groups of learners potential winners are reaching: young children, workers, seniors. 

It’s about educating people too often overlooked or ignored—people that talented educators are finally reaching through well-designed programs, says Golden, Executive Director of Catalyst @ Penn GSE, which administers the McGraw Prize. 

The McGraw Prize will name a Lifelong Learning awardee in 2024 for the second time. We recently spoke with Golden about changing technology, 2023 McGraw Prize winner Barbara Oakley, and what makes a good McGraw Prize nominee.

Question: This will be the second year a McGraw Prize is awarded for Lifelong Learning. Why focus on this now?

Answer: Let me offer two answers: 

First: Learning is fun! Whether we are in a classroom or a less formal setting, learning fulfills our curiosity, sparks joy, and helps us connect with other people at a deeper level. We want to celebrate that, and remind people that education isn’t limited to a building we call a school. 

We’re also recognizing changing needs. Since at least the turn of the century, labor experts have been talking about a landscape where workers would need to feel comfortable changing jobs more regularly. But now, as the World Economic Forum recently pointed out, generative AI and other technologies mean that workers will need to be prepared to change not just jobs but careers throughout their lives. They estimate that half of all workers’ core skills will need to be updated every five years. 

The good news is there is no better time to be a lifelong learner. Before, we might have focused on the fact that the average person spends less time in formal learning environments as they get older. We spend 18.5 percent of our waking hours in school during our primary and secondary years, but only 7.7 percent during university years. Now, technology has allowed for an explosion of offerings and non-traditional and informal settings that are benefiting young people, including those dislocated from school and work, workers, seniors, and retirees.

Q: The first winner, Barbara Oakley, changed who could access higher education with some of her massive open online courses. Why was she a great inaugural awardee for this prize?

A: I can’t imagine someone more appropriate than Barbara Oakley. Not only for her work, but because she epitomizes lifelong learning as a career changer and continuous learner. Her books and MOOCs on how insights from neuroscience can be used to improve how we learn and teach advances the principles of equity and inclusion and demonstrates the power of education to elevate human potential throughout their lives, two core principles of the McGraw Prize.

Dr. Oakley's greatest gift is understanding what learners most need from MOOCs and finding an approachable way to provide that material in an accessible way. In doing so, she has opened the door for millions of people to take on often intimidating subjects like math, engineering, other STEM skills, language learning, music, and more. The influence of her work will only continue to grow.

Q: Lifelong learning can cover a wide range of topics. When you talk with the jurors, what ideas in this category excite them?

A: This list is long and growing. Early childhood programs, afterschool and out-of-school programs for youth, programs for special populations like the incarcerated, adult learning out of work tied to personal interests and enrichment, corporate learning and the growing array of bootcamps, works, and certificate programs, classes for seniors and retirees. The sky's the limit.

Q: People who work in lifelong learning don’t always receive the same level of recognition as their peers in other education sectors. Give us your best pitch for why you should nominate someone.

A: The McGraw Prize for Lifelong Learning is an amazing opportunity to recognize outstanding innovators working in non-traditional educational and learning settings. We strongly encourage you to go to and nominate someone no later than 5 p.m. ET on March 1, 2024.