Teaching students how to learn, relearn and unlearn will set them up with the skills to thrive in the workforce of the future.

GUEST COLUMN | by Nathalie Mainland

When it comes to technology and education there are seismic shifts taking place on both ends. The needs and expectations of today’s student have changed dramatically—they need personalization and the skills to thrive in the workforce of the future. At the same time, the cost of education is getting higher, but students are learning through new models that are increasingly more accessible.

These changes demand the right tools and technology to ensure success for students in their academic journey, as well as for faculty and staff. We see major shifts happening in the changing landscape of education:

Future of the Student Experience

The era of the 18-year-old full-time undergraduate is trending downward. We are shifting towards colleges with more working adults who attend college part time and are often juggling child care on top of coursework. In fact, nationwide, nearly half of all college students are 24 or older and already working, 76% of students qualify as adult learners and only 15% are considered traditional.

And with the changing makeup of the student population and their needs, a new demand has emerged for the holistic education experience that is highly personalized, adaptive and relevant.

Students today are used to personalization—from Amazon to Netflix—and the higher ed experience should be no different. Students are juggling jobs and school, they need tech solutions that make their lives easier- and they need a seamless, engaging experience.

Tom Andriola, CIO & VP of the University of California System is seeing this shift first-hand. “The students that come to us today are digital natives and mobile-first,” he says. “Universities today have to become more student-centric. We have to meet the students where they are and design our services and interactions in a way that they’re accustomed to. That means a lot of personalization and the ability to do things with their mobile device in the palm of their hand.”

Future of Higher Education 

Just as the traditional student has evolved, so has the traditional degree. We’re starting to see a disaggregation of the college degree, and in turn, a change in the business model of Higher Education. This shift is being driven by the need for students to become lifelong learners.

We’re starting to see a disaggregation of the college degree, and in turn, a change in the business model of Higher Education.

Colleges need to embrace lifelong learning programs that allow workers to continually upgrade their skills and access a degree at different points in life. Micro-credentialing provides opportunities for students to learn new skills needed for jobs of the future, especially as technology and automation change the future of work.

A great example of this is the efforts led by the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges system launching the 115th community college in California that is specifically geared toward adult learners, completely online and tech-enabled. According to Chancellor Oakley, the goal is to reach individuals that can’t easily access the 114 colleges and find themselves in the workforce with no meaningful credentials and no means for economic mobility in this economy.

We’re also seeing financial dynamics within higher ed drive demand for accountability and innovation. With student debt now at $1.5 trillion, more and more students are looking for a return on their education investment. Institutions need tech solutions that can create a 360 degree view of students across the entire lifecycle, from prospect to alum.

As one institution noted in a recent report from Nucleus Research: “We set a goal that 90% of graduated students are placed to a job within 3 months of graduating. Each year since our Education Cloud deployment, we’ve exceeded that 90% mark.” Tools like this are especially important as more institutions are looking to bridge the K12 to higher ed gap.

Future of Work 

The World Economic Forum has reported that 65 percent of people entering college this year will ultimately be working in jobs that don’t currently exist. It’s hard to imagine what tomorrow’s jobs will need, but what we do know is that different skills, ways of thinking and analyzing will be required.

We need to rethink how we are preparing the future workforce. Thinking of students as lifelong learners, not just test takers, and equipping them with future work skills. The future employee will need to be well rounded with not only trade or degree-relevant skills, but with both hard and soft skills that will allow them to shift careers to keep up with the evolving economy.

Equally important to the future of work is exposure to new technologies. Maya Georgieva, a futurist and the digital director at The New School says “one thing new technologies do excel at is getting the attention of the next generation. Innovations involving augmented reality and virtual reality can fulfill young students’ desires for deeper experiences, while preparing them to use and develop such technologies in the classroom and the workplace.”

Teaching students how to learn, relearn and unlearn will set them up with the skills to thrive in the workforce of the future.

Nathalie Mainland is VP of Higher Ed Industry Solutions & Strategy for Salesforce.org She has also held senior positions at Blackboard and Autodesk. Connect with her on LinkedIn.