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Breaking From Tradition to Prepare Learners for the Workforce

Educators need to provide today’s students with options for how they learn, just as much as what they learn. The demand for career growth opportunities means more students are on a crunch for time, while still demanding a quality education.
Educators need to provide today’s students with options for how they learn, just as much as what they learn. The demand for career growth opportunities means more students are on a crunch for time, while still demanding a quality education.

Given the rapid nature of change in nearly every professional industry, students need to be taught a foundation of skills and knowledge and then be challenged to adapt and apply them to a variety of situations and contexts. As important as the skills and knowledge themselves will be the student’s ability to use creative and critical thinking to make them relevant, regardless of how they are being expected to use them.

Higher education institutions must also show students how to embrace the values of diversity and inclusion in their careers. Learners must be shown how cultural diversity adds necessary value to the workforce of tomorrow. A diversity of perspectives and ideas uncovers new solutions to pervasive problems and enhances productivity by allowing all stakeholders to reach their potential. Contributing to a diverse and inclusive work environment requires honest reflection and an analysis of one’s own biases as well as a conscious commitment to challenging prejudice and eliminating discrimination in their workplaces and industries.

While a minority (albeit a growing one) of today’s learners will become entrepreneurs, students benefit from developing an entrepreneurial mindset in almost any industry. Applying key tenets of entrepreneurship, including risk management, innovative problem-solving and a willingness to challenge the status quo, will provide graduates with a distinct competitive advantage and maximize their own value to any organization. Graduates who have developed a great sense of resourcefulness and creativity will demonstrate tremendous value to potential employers.

The Challenges of Meeting Demand

Practical and relevant learning experiences are likely to dominate the educational landscape for years to come. The challenge educational providers face is ensuring competence in the most in-demand skills that at that moment while ensuring the student receives a well-rounded education—one that provides them with the critical and creative thinking skills to adapt to jobs that do not yet exist. With a new generation of learners who are used to getting what they want when they want it, education providers are going to have to clearly and quickly demonstrate their capacity to provide students with these skills using convincing data and validation from employers, alumni and industry experts.

Tremendous competition exists in developing learners into the next generation of the workforce. While this competition was previously limited to other higher education institutions, a myriad of means now exist to allow learners to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills for workplace success. Most recently, employers have become more open to the practice of hiring skills over credentials or valuing more targeted credentials over a college degree. To meet the demands of students and employers, providers of any kind of education must ensure that they are offering adequate value when compared to the cost of their services. The exorbitant amount of student debt in the U.S. is a tremendous burden to college graduates, as well as those who never finished college, is a key indicator that education providers must deliver on their promise to students or be overtaken by more cost-effective competitors.

Information literacy is another tremendous challenge in today’s education space. Understanding the process for validating sources of information allows students to speak with authority on the subject matters about which they have learned. However, while a healthy level of skepticism is the very nature of education, education providers must teach students how to develop trust in information that has been validated by the scientific process. As generations of digital natives move into the workforce, their challenge is not so much how to access information but how to assess its validity. A failure to do so will lead to furthering ignorance, which is antithetical to the mission of every educational institution. In the case of a college graduate, that ignorance will be linked with the institution itself.

Technology is a solution to many of the problems that the education field has experienced, including some very important ones such as accessibility for those with disabilities or those geographically separated from an education source. Technology also creates new challenges in education, particularly in competing for a student’s attention. Education providers have an obligation to embrace technology as a part of the learning process in order to minimize this competition. Students cannot adequately learn when they are constantly distracted, so it is incumbent upon both students and educators to remain engaged with one another, and the threat posed by technological distractions can be neutralized when technology is incorporated directly into the learning process.

Breaking from Traditional Models and Processes  

Learning silos are relics of a bygone era. Today’s education programs must be interdisciplinary as a reflection of the demands graduates will face in the workforce. Student learning itself must be an integrated process in which students are building skills across multiple areas while developing their ability to effectively communicate and present information to others. This holistic approach to learning as preparation for professional careers benefits from an agile and adaptive faculty, curricula that present information in various contexts and a university culture that embraces the value of multidisciplinary learning.

Today’s students demand the flexibility that has been afforded to them through having nearly every piece of known information at their fingertips on a regular basis. Institutions must learn to maintain their own value while adjusting to the needs and wants of the student body. Online learning, competency-based education and AI-infused technology are a few ways in which institutions of higher learning have broken the traditional mold of education. As these measures continue to gain acceptance among future generations of learners, institutions must adapt and lean into flexible learning options.

An extraordinary number of Americans have some college credit yet no degree to show for it. Many of these individuals would benefit from the credential that comes with completing a degree or certificate program. Institutions can look for opportunities to modify their policies and curriculum to provide as short of a pathway as possible to the acquisition of a completed program, which will in turn effectively represent their skills and ability to future employers.

Institutions should also embrace frequent performance monitoring and engagement with students. The technology to track student performance is abundant, and tomorrow’s learners can be engaged with most effectively over the communication channels they are already using regularly, such as social media. Institutions should aim to connect with students on a frequent basis while monitoring their performance closely in order to provide immediate engagement and triage in the case of a drop in performance.

The Higher Ed Revolution

Students have never had as much control over their own educational journey as they do now. The more their awareness of their control emerges, the more institutions must adapt to the factors that most clearly contribute to their success. The measures of student success are likely to continue evolving as they have over the past few generations of learners, so institutions must stay keenly aware of learner values and priorities. For the foreseeable future, career entry or advancement is of paramount concern to most students, and institutions that effectively communicate their ability to meet this demand are poised to lead the pack.

While higher education has become more critical for social mobility and career advancement, the costs have also increased, which is a main driver of the emerging alternatives to the typical college degree. Employers have done more to embrace college tuition as an employment benefit, and prospective students are more mindful of the debt associated with pursuing a college degree. These measures are directly related to student success given the impact that associated expenses can have on one’s ability to dedicate themselves to a successful college experience. Education providers and industry partners that alleviate this burden demonstrate a clear commitment to student success, and student demand for this commitment will only increase moving forward.

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