Work and Learning: A Lifelong Connection

In today’s complicated and fast-changing job market, work and learning are tightly connected. Students often wonder what happens after graduation. The reality is that there probably isn’t going to be an “after.” For today’s students and future students graduation will mean the beginning of lifelong learning, and a lifelong connection between work and learning.

This month Joshua Kim, Director of Digital Learning Initiatives at the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning, responded to students’ questions about challenges future college students will face. His answers apply to nontraditional students who are pursing higher education to earn a degree, learn new skills or advance their career, as well as traditional students who are just embarking on their work and learning experiences.

Learning Opportunities
Kim believes the next decade will include the need for intense learning and exploration. There will be cross-over between work and learning, and workers will need to seek learning opportunities in many places. “Be willing to look for jobs that will challenge you to learn new and different things, and in new and different ways, than you have so far experienced,” Kim says. The way work is changing is forging this link between work and learning and creating the need for workers to be lifelong learners. “Education will give you (hopefully) the foundation, skills and mind-set (resiliency, growth orientation) to learn what you will need to know. It will be up to you, however, to keep learning new things in order to stay competitive in the world of work.”

The Blackboard report Future Forward: The Next Twenty Years of Higher Education reinforces the ideas that learning will continue throughout life and that work and learning are related. “Learning has never been about only one time and place; it’s about the lifecycle of the learner from K-12 to post-secondary and professional life,” the report states.

Erin Smith, Executive Director of Online Experiential Learning at Northeastern University shows that work and learning will be connected for students and employees. “Technology will evolve, but the need for connection and the desire for sharing and learning and advancing our global society will become very important,” Smith says. “That’s where that human aspect will persist and technology can be a tool to help us map the network and reveal and enable those connections.” It is clear that making a connection between work and learning will be an advantageous, both as a worker and learner.

Another point that Kim makes when talking about challenges future college students will face is that learning is about demonstrating what you know. “What is changing is that credentials are changing,” he says. “We are seeing a rapid growth of alternative credentials, such as the Professional Certificate and MicroMaster’s Programs from edX.”
MicroMasters are an ideal example of the work and learning connection. MicroMasters programs are graduate level courses that offer deep learning in a specific career field. The courses have job relevance that creates the work and learning connection. Most people get a MicroMasters after they have a bachelor’s degree. “They tend to be a top-off, not a beginning,” explains EdSurge an independent ed-tech resource. Certificate programs are aligned to industry standards and help students develop skills they will need for in-demand career fields.

Alternative credentials are generally very descriptive and name specific skills that people have. They help employers hire employees to jobs that match their skill set. Current and future graduates will earn credentials as they grow in their careers. Kim says, “Alternative and stackable credentials will not replace the need to get a graduate degree, but they will help you discover your strengths, and they will augment whatever traditional graduate degrees that you receive.”

Rafael Bras, provost of Georgia Tech explains how the work and learning connection will exist for students and schools. “It is quite evident to us that, after graduation, students and learners everywhere will probably have 10 jobs, 10 professions,” he says. Workers will be part of a worldwide population of learners. Schools will need to offer “flexible learning experiences and continual learning opportunities.”