Today’s students are preparing for careers that probably don’t exist yet.
The workplace is changing, and roles are shifting faster than anyone can make reasonable predictions. So by the time students today are in the middle of their careers, whatever specific skills they’re learning right now may not even be relevant. There’s an increased pressure on schools to teach students skills that will help them get jobs when they graduate. But how are schools supposed to guess what skills their students will need?
What Will Tomorrow’s Workplace Look Like?
Millennials have already gotten used to the idea that they’ll have several different careers over one lifetime. That rate of change is only going to go up. So tomorrow’s workers will need to be able to build new skills fast, as the market changes. They’ll need to be ready to abandon old irrelevant skills as well.
The gig economy will most likely continue to ramp up, as well. That means that fewer workers will fall under the umbrella of corporate learning and development. Instead, workers will need to retrain themselves, deciding what skills to acquire next and teaching it to themselves.
While it’s hard to predict exactly which sectors will explode and which will unexpectedly wither, it’s easy to see technology will play a big role. Automation and algorithms are altering the rhythms even now. For the humans involved, collaboration is increasingly part of work, dividing up complex tasks and working remotely to accomplish goals.
The End of Liberal Arts?
With this increased focus on algorithms and technology, does this mean all students should stick to STEM? Hardly. While good workers and good citizens will need increased levels of technological proficiency in their daily life, the very values liberal arts instill will become even more important. Critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration will be what sets workers apart from well-programmed automation. The humanities give a sense of context that’s easily overlooked today. Taught well, they also create patterns of thought that will serve tomorrow’s graduates well.
How liberal arts are taught, on the other hand, needs to be re-evaluated.
Building a Plan for Tomorrow’s Educational Strategy
If schools want to be serious about preparing their students for the real world, they’ll need to make sure their students spend their time not just learning information but learning how to think. (Which is the goal for most schools! Unfortunately, it’s also the hardest thing to get students to do.) But they’ll also need to start building stronger bridges to the workplace.
1. Link students to the workplace.
Exposing students earlier to some of the many kinds of workplaces they might encounter can go a long way towards helping them realize the kinds of habits and skills they’ll need fresh out of college. Internships are obviously a huge part of this. But building mentorships and connections to alumni can also make a big difference. Using video communications can help pull in far-flung alumni. Asking alumni to record themselves talking about their work can also help schedules line up. When asking busy alumni to take time to talk to students, asynchrony is your friend.
2. Prepare students for the workplace.
If young workers are going to need to use many different technology platforms, make sure they get some exposure to those platforms before they graduate! This may include not just the standard Microsoft Office suite, but some of the many job-specific technologies out there. Familiarity with databases, a little basic programming (including HTML), streamlined graphic design software, and statistics can go far. Asking students to learn how to write professional emails as well as papers or to record professional videos instead of just sharing Instagram stories.
3. Support lifelong learning.
Online learning has already become a major component of many schools’ academic programs. Lecture capture is expanding into every classroom on campus. This is only going to increase. But finding ways to offer credentials in smaller, more targeted programs than a full degree may be the future. Some schools are starting to look at offering microcredentials. However, supporting learning over the course of years, even decades, will require better handling of data across many different platforms and long periods of time. It’s time to start looking at data standards such as Caliper or xAPI.
Just as the workplace of tomorrow will look very different, it seems likely that education will change enormously in the coming years. But the heart of education—teaching students how to embrace new information and think about it critically—will be eternal.
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