By DAVID MYTON

Universities will need to embark on a range of “demand-driven” reforms to adapt to the needs of the emerging global economy, says a recent report.

And as new technologies continue to disrupt the workplace, institutions must ensure their offerings align “more closely to the needs of the job market”.

The need for reform is “especially true for university systems that are set up within the constructs and institutional realities of the mid-20th century”, argue Joe Deegan and Nathan Martin in Pearson’s Demand Driven Education: Merging work and learning to develop the human skills that matter (pdf).

“These systems are increasingly outdated and need to evolve if they are to reliably prepare learners for what comes next.”

Workers in both the UK and the US are changing jobs more frequently, they write, while the proportion of the labour force engaged in “gig” work and other alternative work arrangements “is significant and on the rise”.

Flexible learning opportunities

Employers will continuously redesign jobs to balance technology and human resources, so “workers will have to master new information throughout their careers”.

This will require more flexible learning opportunities 
to build knowledge while minimising opportunity costs.

“Even today, many workers are interested in pursuing further education, but view time commitments, scheduling, and cost as significant barriers.”

Education providers must quickly understand which occupational skills are critical for success and create programs that respond to market needs, they say.

Global forces shaping future of work

The authors argue that the global forces shaping the future of work indicate the need for a “third wave” of postsecondary education reform.

The first wave, they say, focused on getting more people into higher education and the second on improving academic success – “getting more students to earn certificates and degrees”.

The coming third wave, they contend, is demand-driven education in which programs will focus more “on ensuring graduates are job-ready and have access to rewarding careers over the course of their lifetimes”.

“This wave represents the convergence of the worlds of education and work, creating new intersections, pathways, and possibilities for advancement.”

Education systems will have to meet new demands from both employers and learners, “expanding access to programs that allow learners to demonstrate their existing skills and fill in the remaining gaps more rapidly”.

New forms of teaching and learning

Consequently, says the report, education systems will need to:

  • Develop and measure the specific skills that will be most in demand, especially interpersonal skills and complex thinking;
  • Utilise dynamic and work-based pedagogy to grow learners’ competencies, while also preparing educators to embrace new forms of teaching and learning;
  • Respond to the needs of the labour markets to ensure continuous alignment;
  • Create flexible and adaptive pathways to allow learners to rapidly convert learning to earning; and
  • Support changes that make the entire education landscape function better, enabling traditional and alternative providers to participate in creating the future of education alongside industry.

In developing and measuring higher-order skills educators must embrace new learning and assessment technology “to collect rich data on individual progress”.

Educators must learn how to utilise massive new flows of information and to determine what data to collect, when to collect it, and what to do with what is collected.

“In order to be broadly useful, digital learning tools must actually measure 
the skills they purport to measure, and the standard methods that researchers use to validate conventional assessments must be adapted to evaluate digital learning environments”.