With the Right Education Partner, Every Workplace Can Be a Place of Continual Learning

With the Right Education Partner, Every Workplace Can Be a Place of Continual Learning

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By Joe Schaefer and Terry McDonough

While businesses in every sector have been working toward a digital transformation for several years, Covid-19 accelerated this shift across industries. New technologies are advancing at a pace that requires employers to continuously retrain their workforce to stay current. Organizations must become places of learning if they are to prepare workers for jobs of the future.

Our workers must adapt quickly as the economy and in-demand jobs evolve. A shift in the division of labor between humans and machines may displace 85 million jobs by 2025, according to the World Economic Forum, while 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labor among humans, machines, and algorithms. As many as 120 million workers in the world’s 12 largest economies may also need retraining in the next three years as a result of an increasing shift toward artificial intelligence, according to IBM’s Institute for Business Value.

This scale of retraining and workforce preparation requires a paradigm shift. For employers to thrive in this new digital area and to stay one step ahead of competitors, they need to invest in the ongoing education of their employees and reinforce the importance of higher education when pursuing economic mobility. In turn, employees need to continue to learn in order to advance at work.

While employers are beginning to recognize their role in reskilling and upskilling employees, they are not trained educators. For the workplace to successfully double as a place of higher learning, employers will need to build strong partnerships with higher-education providers that offer flexible programs and incorporate innovative technologies to help support these working adult students as they pursue the next step in their careers through education.

An effective employer-education partnership should do the following.

  1. Meet employees where they are (and when they study).

Time is a precious resource for those who are working and learning. Students need the flexibility and support from their employer so they can learn, work, and balance the priorities in their lives. Employers should seek an education partner that can provide flexible learning programs in which employees work toward a degree or a credential on their own time.

In addition, working adults need support after work hours. They don’t have time to be placed on hold or passed around to numerous support staff to find answers to their administrative questions. Many of us have grown to rely on virtual assistants to save us time and make our lives easier. Virtual assistants in higher education can help students in such areas as admissions processes, class updates, and assignment submission deadlines.

  1. Engage and motivate students.

Online learning can make student engagement challenging. Add this concern on top of additional responsibilities for adult learners, such as work and caring for children, and engagement becomes even more difficult.

One way employers can better engage students is to partner with institutions that deliver course content in more creative ways than traditional lecture formats, such as by incorporating documentary-style videos instead of lectures. This approach can help students grasp the subject matter in more meaningful ways so they are more likely to continue through their next term.

Strategic Education has incorporated this format into some of our coursework, and the results are noteworthy. Students in a 2016 pilot of our Studios offerings passed their Intro to Business course at a 17.5% higher rate than students in the equivalent non-Studios course and continued to the next term at a 16% higher rate.

Gamification is another way to help motivate adult learners, as it’s already part of our everyday lives, such as with fitness-class leaderboards and airline frequent-flier programs. By placing game mechanics such as point systems, achievement levels, and prizes in non-game situations, gamification also serves as a great foray into online learning for students new to this type of instruction. It can help them get more comfortable with completing assignments online and nudge them to complete necessary, routine tasks such as reading a syllabus or signing in to the message boards.

  1. Encourage employee uptake—and track your return on investment.

Employers that offer tuition assistance or reimbursement programs as a perk likely have an education management platform to manage such back-end operations as disbursement of benefits and program verification. But many platforms are clunky, requiring employers to maneuver among multiple interfaces for information on an employee’s education progress and spending, and making employees figure out which programs are covered under their tuition assistance benefits. Partnering with institutions that offer simple, easy-to-use platforms like Workforce Edge for tuition assistance programs may encourage employees to take advantage of tuition benefits and make it easier for employers to better track their return on investment in these programs.

Work—a place of higher learning.

As with any technology, it’s most important for your organization to keep your end users in mind. A busy working adult does not have the same needs as a full-time student who’s ready to spend four years on campus. Training and reskilling programs for adult workers should be flexible, accessible, and engaging. With the right technology and educational partner, every employer can become a place of higher learning, helping their employees achieve career and economic mobility while staying one step ahead of their competition with a highly trained workforce.

Learn how Strategic Education Inc. can help your organization train your talent pool to achieve new levels of success.


Joe Schaefer is Chief Technology Officer and Terry McDonough is President of Alternative Learning at Strategic Education, Inc.

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