Throughout the U.S. and around the world, employers consistently report that they are unable to find employees with the skills they need, even among college graduates.
Most postsecondary education focuses on disciplinary or content knowledge. Yet often, the capabilities in greatest demand are those that cut across specific disciplines, such as oral and written communication, problem-solving, and the ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings. While these are sometimes called “soft” or “21st century skills,” it is more useful to think of them as Power Skills, since they enable individuals to build on what they know. This capacity for continuous learning is key to thriving in a context of continuous change.
One of our inspirations for this work is an adult learner named Flora. Flora is a single mother of two whose job as a front-line customer service representative is going away. Like many employers, Flora’s company is automating front-line work. At the same time, it’s adding higher-level, better paying positions. To qualify for these jobs, Flora needs new skills as well as additional credentials. And like many adults, Flora needs her learning to be relevant to her work—and her work relevant to her learning. She doesn’t have a lot of extra time; “going” to college is out of the question: she needs college to come to her. The key to her success is an educational model that leverages mobile technology, so she can learn and develop anytime, anywhere. She also needs the support of a dedicated coach and a peer community she can access from her smartphone. Of course, she also needs an engaging, realistic curriculum, lots of immediate, substantive feedback on her work, real time progress updates, and a flexible pace that accommodates her hectic life.
Older adult learners are now the vast majority of individuals seeking postsecondary credentials. Our method employs design thinking with end-users and key stakeholders, rapid prototyping, launch, and assessment remain underserved by traditional models of higher education, which are too expensive, too inflexible, and too often out of sync with employer needs.
In our rapidly changing economy, most jobs are changing dramatically; some will disappear altogether. This reality demands a different educational ecosystem built on lifelong learning and credentialing, responsive to employer needs, in tune with the life experiences of working adults, and leveraging educational technology to support learning and gain data-based insights.