How education will change to support lifelong learning

A study by the Pew Research Center found 54 percent of working adults believe it was essential to continuously update their skills to be successful in their careers. Why? To keep up with advances in technology that are disrupting industries from automakers to retail. So what changes will support this need and how can higher education help?

Whether our young high school graduates enter a trade school, community college, or university, their degree or certificate will not be the end of their education. Employers know this and some now offer to pay for these advanced courses. Some offer their own courses like IBM, whose Big Data University allows you to take courses to learn to analyze big data or acquire skills associated with emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and cloud computing. But small companies can’t afford this and they require that you pay for advanced classes on-line through colleges/universities or services like edX or Coursera. How will you pay for them?

We need to start creating new ways to help us pay for our education. How about creating individual education account? They can be used like individual retirement accounts, allowing you to save money tax free to be used on continued education when you need it throughout your career, maybe even use it for your health care after you retire. How about a credit card that gives you money back for education for every dollar you spend? That would be better than airline miles or Disney dollars. How about enrolling Edflix instead of Netflix, allowing you to take video courses and earn competency badges for new skills once you pass the course(s)?

How will higher education institutions change to meet this need and competition from other competitors in the education market? Universities will need to support your educational needs for life. Once you earn your first degree, maybe you will have a five-year guarantee on your knowledge, allowing you to take online courses for free during that time to keep your knowledge updated. After the five years maybe you will pay a monthly fee, like that you pay for the Daily Mining Gazette, allowing you to continue taking your choice of courses. You will then earn badges or certificates (maybe even more degrees) to show current and future employers you are competent in these areas. There will no longer be alumni at universities just lifelong learners, forever a Husky.

Currently you can take many free courses through online platforms like edX and Coursera. The challenge for employers is how can they ensure that you have learned the material and can apply the knowledge at work, that you have become competent in that skill. Currently in higher education each university professor is responsible for making that decision using a grade on an official university transcript. In the future maybe this is a virtual transcript controlled by LinkedIn that all educational institutions can feed into! Your unique skill set can be looked up in seconds by employers.

How we will stay valuable to those needing our skills and intellectual talents in the future will become as important to us as health care. Our talents will become a true investment that will pay off as successful careers. Great changes in our educational system have already started and will continue as they adapt to support our new lifelong learning way of life!

Steve Patchin is director of Career Services for Michigan Technological University.

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