Our new study of the views of learners across the globe points towards a bright future for higher education – but only if institutions are prepared to adapt.
Last week, Pearson released the results of our first Global Learner Survey – a new study capturing the opinions of more than 11,000 learners, aged 16-70, from 19 different countries.
The findings point to an important learner-driven revolution in education, a revolution propelled by the massive growth and influence of technology, a shifting economic landscape where developing talent across a lifetime will become the norm, and learner perceptions that education systems are increasingly out of step with their needs.
We know from our past Future of Skills research, and the work of many others, that the combinations of knowledge and skills needed for success in the future will be different from what is expected today. In a world characterised by faster change and greater entrepreneurship, a combination of hard and soft skills will be prized, and those who thrive will demonstrate strong technical skills alongside agency, purpose, and creative problem solving.
Although the learners in our survey still place a great deal of faith in education to help them achieve success, the ways they are choosing to access and obtain it are evolving. In addition to enrolling in traditional educational institutions, they are turning to a self-service approach, stitching together a range of education experiences based on what they can afford and what works for their lifestyle at a given point in their lives or careers.
In short, people are changing what it means to be a learner and, through their actions, driving a fundamental transformation in education that will, over time, impact all education institutions and their partners.
This opens a universe of opportunities to help people learn in new ways, more affordably, and with better outcomes.
The learners in our survey embrace technology and online learning. They also want more vocational education, soft skills training and bite-size learning across the course of their lifetime. And, both learners and employers are increasingly accepting of the promise of new learning options – such as stackable credentials and micro-degrees. However, both also struggle to navigate and assess their true value.
As we enter the era of the talent economy, we’ll need to embrace and take action on lifelong learning. It’s clear there is a mandate for learning that is more continuous and efficient, but the most effective ways to structure systems to support ongoing learning remain to be seen.
Governments, employers and other stakeholders in the education ecosystem have a massive role to play in stewarding this transformation. But higher education institutions – with their deep mastery of teaching and learning, and their centuries-long expertise in driving innovation through research – are uniquely qualified to chart the new lifelong learning models we need. And, given other challenges that the sector faces, higher education institutions have much to gain from being tightly aligned to what learners want and need.
Opportunity for higher education
Alongside our Global Learner Survey, which presents an unvarnished look at the perceptions of learners, we have also published a new higher education white paper, entitled Opportunity for higher education in the era of the talent economy. This paper shares our point of view on the opportunity for higher education institutions to take the lead on building learning that is lifelong.
In it, we’ve identified three big learner-centric principles that we believe will underpin the future of post-secondary education. All of us across the education ecosystem will need to grapple with these principles and collaborate in new ways to make lifelong learning a reality.
First, people will seek learning experiences at specific moments of need across their lifetime, delivered with the flexibility that their circumstances demand, so we must find ways to enable continuous learning.
Second, if learning is to be continuous over a lifetime, rather than concentrated at a young age, we must tackle the issue of cost in a new way, working toward a system that distributes the investment in learning – including money and time – throughout the course of a life, and build a sensible cost structure to match.
And third, outcomes-based learning will become the new normal. Education will increasingly need to develop the knowledge and skills that deliver the learning and employability outcomes that learners, and employers, seek. The divide between “learning for its own sake” and “learning for employment” will, therefore, close. There will also be demand for clarity about the knowledge and skills required for specific careers or jobs, as well as how to acquire, assess and refresh those over time.
To expand these principles and put them into practice, to truly revolutionise post secondary education, would require everyone in the education ecosystem to work together innovatively and openly. Just as the new model of post-secondary education must be distributed, its ownership should also be shared. With partnerships across the education and economic ecosystem and focused investment in the three principles above, institutions of higher education will continue to be one of the world’s great engines of prosperity, accelerating growth in incomes and living standards, and enabling a more equitable distribution of economic opportunities.