Education Institutions Must Become Continuous Learning Coaches

by Scott Rigby

posted on 05-01-2019

There is a lot of debate at the moment about the future of work and whether new graduates as well as experienced workers have the skills necessary to carry them into the future.

Who is on the bus, who is off the bus, who needs to retrain to stay on the bus and who do you need to hire onto the bus? Universities play a vital role in equipping our workforce for the future, but the bigger question is this: are they still equipped to do so? It’s a challenge we explored with Amanda Third, Professor of Digital, Social & Cultural Research at Western Sydney University.

“I think many universities around the world are trying to think – ‘what does university in the 21st century look like?’ The ways we generate and use knowledge has shifted and transformed. We’ve got to rethink how we train young people for careers in a world where certain professions are being phased out, and other professions are springing up. The challenges for universities are really big.”

As Amanda states, we are moving from a knowledge economy back to a skills economy. Technology has provided almost unlimited access to knowledge, but what people and businesses are demanding from educational institutions is improving our ability to wield that knowledge. This will take time and practice as skills need to be developed, not trained.

Education is no longer something we seek while we are young and carries us into a life-long career. Instead, learning has become something that people will pursue continually throughout their careers in order to keep pace with disruptive change.

Keeping the pace

The competition for education institutions is hotting up. Some of this is driven by the billion dollar education industry in Australia alone, but much of this is driven by commercial enterprises racing to upskill the current workforce in proficiencies that are not widely provided by universities.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are starting up everywhere to offer short courses in thousands of different subjects. Almost all the major technology companies are offering training to their employees in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts & maths) skills – from machine learning to videography – and personalised education courses like LinkedIn’s learning hub that’s customised to your career path.

Another factor driving education courses is the sheer speed of emerging technology demanding a new set of user skills and understanding. For example, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become essential to the marketer’s playbook and, according to the 2019 Digital Trends Report by Econsultancy in partnership with Adobe, will play a role in over 70% of marketing-related activities. Understanding how AI can bring cost efficiencies and customer insights first requires access to education about the tool capabilities.

In a world of continuous learning, we are moving towards micro-credentials where students no longer transition to alumni but remain students for life. Unless education institutions can offer an extremely wide spectrum of skills-based courses, students will be micro-credentialed across tens – if not hundreds – of institutions. The healthy loyalty and benefaction that universities have enjoyed up till now is being quickly eroded and universities will have to work much harder to retain this into the future. To continue to enjoy the patronage of Alumni, the value proposition will have to rapidly change far beyond the offer of networking meetups and special access passes, to something of far greater value – a continuous learning coach.

Providing continuous learning

For the most part, traditional universities are still applying legacy thinking in their approach to students, focusing on the institution (the campus and the faculty) and the product (educational courses). In my observation, very rarely is there a focus on instilling a learner-centric mindset in students. There is a striking bifurcation of thinking when universities are spending billions of dollars on campus upgrades, yet Australian students are increasingly choosing to consume their course information online, in their own time, on their own device, in whichever location best suits them. Although 45 per cent of students enrolled on-campus reported doing half or more of their study online, no university is spending a billion dollars to ensure these students have ready access to complete these courses wherever it best suits the student.

Education institutions need leadership and urgency when it comes to delivering digital experiences for students. A first step here is hiring and retaining staff, particularly those with STEAM skills, to both educate and engage the future workforce. As the commercial industry continues to work hard to close this skills gap, education institutions have an opportunity to become places we look to for this very guidance.

My concern is that commercial industry for the large part has realised that there is a gap and is working hard to close that, but the education institutions have not.

Presentation slide: Technology & Mastery: Digital Transformation & Security – Scott Klososky.

Here are some ideas to radically change education institutions:

We all fear change, but keep in mind that at no time in the past has the level of disruption been so fast, nor will it ever be this slow again. UNSW is one example of an education institution future-proofing themselves by investing in retention and harnessing technology to drive better student experiences. If you’re an education leader, take the opportunity now while its ‘slow’ to implement the foundations for future hyper-growth.

The student experience doesn’t start on campus, it starts online. See how Adobe is helping education institutions with their digital transformation journeys today.

Topics: Industry, Education, APAC