OP-ED Future of Work Edgar Wilson EDUKWEST

Future of Work: Tearing Down the Wall Between Work and School

School is definitely not out, and it never will be again.

Education does not–and cannot–occur in clean, distinct segments. The realities of modern workplaces, employment practices, and economics all demand that education be continuous. What this spells is a massive transformation of the old legacy institutions–primarily, universities–as working and learning overlap and interact in more, and more significant, ways.

Degrees provide less of a competitive advantage, instead functioning as a basic prerequisite for employment. Student loan debt continues to swell as high school graduates seek to pay for the credentials supposed to help lift them out of minimum wage jobs and into white collar occupations.

Income and debt, knowledge and skills—it is all getting linked together, with stakeholders and influencers overlapping. The futures of work and education are not just connected, they are the same: mobile, virtual, remote, and responsive.

The New Normal: Non-Traditional

Organizational challenges look broadly similar regardless of industry. A fast-paced, highly connected world is subject to near-constant disruption from technology, innovation, and global integration. As a result, professional flexibility is a critical asset for workers, and the ability to manage change is one of the driving leadership skills needed by contemporary executives.

Universities face the same disruption scenario: skills, knowledge, and the associated demand are moving targets. Students span the age spectrum, and many are returning to school with extensive hands-on experience, looking to supplement their practical knowledge with theory, or rounding out their professional background with academic credentials.

In short, what both work and learning used to be is different, and the institutions are growing increasingly interconnected. Employers and employees must rely increasingly on rapidly deployed educational resources to keep up with a fluid professional environment, and the traditional segregation between Degree Programs that take years to complete, and Professional Life, which commences after graduation and continues indefinitely, must be ended.

Instead, the notion of a ‘traditional student’ who is fresh out of high school and studying toward a career-oriented degree is blurring into something more like a ‘student-professional’ whose academic pursuits are informed directly by occupational needs. Instead of choosing between full-time work and full-time enrollment, work and schooling will require ongoing balance, as fresh ideas, technologies, and discoveries are disseminated among all industries in an endless cycle.

Concurrent Credit, Dual Enrollment

Work and school will overlap and influence each other over the course of an individual’s adult life. Professional demands will lead to academic engagement, which will drive workplace transformation, and back and forth.

As younger generations place a higher premium on work-life balance, academic opportunities that provide a similar balance will replace strictly time and campus-focused programs and delivery systems. Virtual classrooms, remote learning nodes, and the large-scale networking of education and its platforms, will be necessary to empower working professionals to acquire knowledge while remaining engaged at work.

Employers will have a greater stake in promoting the education of their workers, and in demanding more affordable, efficient options than have traditionally been offered by legacy institutions. Their influence will be backed by a captive audience of consumers, whose employment necessitates continuing education, with varying levels of employer financial support.

As employers and educators blur together, schools will increasingly invest in ensuring students are capable of succeeding, prepared to advance, and retaining what they learn. In this way, skyrocketing costs will be tempered by an increase in measurable, demonstrable value.

Certification and accreditation will need to be expedited, and employers may have a role to play here as well. Graduates emerging with skills, knowledge, and capabilities valued by employers will prove the merits of programs with or without any association with brand-name universities.

Experience will still be an asset, but only insofar as it informs ongoing learning and development, rather than a barrier to disruptive change. As employers shift from treating years of experience, to demonstrated skills and knowledge as a key worker asset, so too will educators and institutions have to shift away from time-based delivery and assessment models, to outcome-based systems.

Special Delivery

The idea that a modern university can still get by using archaic methods is on its deathbed.

Personalized learning methods and technology will cater to learning needs and styles, rather than old delivery systems that require physically sitting and listen to lectures. Consigned to irrelevance are the credit hours of yesteryear, the high-stakes end-of-year exams. In their place will be responsive, computer-administered tests, smart assessments that influence the learning process by gathering and disseminating data on retention, comprehension, engagement, and student confidence.

Gone also will be the predominance of on-campus instruction, and the costs and contrivances associated with on-campus/dormitory housing. Student-professionals will telecommute from their homes and offices, attend up-training seminars at work and from remote venues, and generally take charge of their own learning environments, schedules, and social networks.

On-demand education will displace the ancient, agrarian schedules with their harsh application and enrollment deadlines. When working and learning occur side by side, ongoing and fluid delivery platforms and course structures will become the norm—and will attract greater consumer support.

In short, universities, startups, and individuals will all have a part to play in delivering instruction—provided they get on board with the coming transformations, and the opportunities they provide. Economics will provide the demand, technology will provide the platform, and everyone will be life-long learners.

Picture by Leonardo Aguiar via Flickr

Edgar Wilson is an Oregon native with a passion for cooking, trivia, and politics. He studied conflict resolution and international relations and has worked in industries ranging from international marketing to broadcast journalism. He is currently working as an independent analytical consultant.