Increased Demands Create Learn and Work Ecosystem

Generally an adult or nontraditional student pursues higher education to gain a new needed skill, have better job opportunities or earn a higher income. This makes the experience of the nontraditional student seem very personal. And no doubt it is – for each individual. But the scope of the nontraditional student experience is embedded in something very broad. Disruptions to higher education, skills gaps in employment and artificial intelligence have created what some are calling a learn and work ecosystem.

An ecosystem is the whole group of living and nonliving things that make up an environment and affect each other. The learn and work ecosystem is made up of many things that interact such as employers who need qualified employees, employees who are also students learning skills they need, artificial intelligence and rapidly changing technologies that influence market processes, products and services. As all these forces interact the learn and work ecosystem continually evolves.

The Institute of the Future (IFTF) has been forecasting 10-year futures for the past 50 years. This year they worked with Lumina Foundation to create possible visions of the human-machine future. After a day of conferencing with business, IT and higher education experts, Lumina Foundation leaders said that they were “convinced that a connected, understandable learn and work ecosystem will be essential in an increasingly complex future.”

A connected learn and work ecosystem means that businesses, employees and higher education institutions will each have a stake and a responsibility in creating successful continual education plans. For higher education institutions this ecosystem may evolve to include:
• A need for more education with less focus on memorization and more on “learning how to learn”
• More academic advising and personalized assistance for students
• Helping students validate learning from multiple sources outside the classroom
• More project-based teams so students learn to deal with diversity
For businesses this ecosystem may include:
• The increased importance of tuition assistance plans as a vehicle for developing a skilled workforce
• The ability to use tuition assistance plans as part of a strategic plan for employee development
• A business growth and development plan that includes employee education as a resource for realizing production and service goals
• The opportunity to hire and retain employees who are committed to life-long improvement.
For businesses using a tuition assistance plan to encourage students to pursue higher education is a real advantage. Darcy Richardson, the director of continuing education at Arizona State University says that employers tell her, “If I’m looking at an individual who has taken the time to further their education, even informally, that tells me they’re committed to learning and development, which makes them a better candidate.”

Individuals in the learn and work ecosystem have already had a great impact. IFTF says that “They’re disrupting the long-standing tradition of lean first, then work. Breaking out of this serial model of education and jobs, they’re work their way through learning, and learning their way into new work opportunities.” Nontraditional, working students have already created change in the learn and work ecosystem, and they will find that more change is to come.

For students the work and learn ecosystem will include:
• The need to focus on developing skills in communication, teamwork and data analysis
• The advantage of work experience and the opportunities to have that recognized for academic credit
• Education opportunities that are include flexible schedules and include mobile apps so they can learn anytime, anywhere.
• The need to be a continuous learner, to create and follow through on a career plan.
Multiple forces are creating a learn and work ecosystem. By 2030, 35 percent of jobs will require at least a bachelor’s degree. Two-thirds of jobs will require education that shows a bachelor’s degree alone won’t be enough for a life-long career. Also, workers will participate in the workforce past traditional retirement age and will need higher education to keep up with changing job requirements. In addition, changing technology and innovation will force employees and employers to be part of a learn and work ecosystem, to ensure continued productivity.