Higher Education and The Millennial Mindset

Dr. Ashish Bharadwaj, CIO, Laureate International Universities Headquartered in Maryland, USA,

Laureate Education is the largest global network of degree-granting higher education institutions, having more than one million students enrolled across more than 80 institutions.

Traditional Higher Education in India was studying hard, getting a good result and joining the program / stream of one’s choosing. The focus was more on education and one would pick up skills along the way. Careers were linear - starting in trainee cubicles and attempting to move towards the executive offices. Today, this has almost come full circle - with a plethora of skill based non-traditional career options becoming available to students coming out of school. The World Economic Forum* has stated that in many industries and countries the most in-demand jobs or specializations did not exist 10 years ago! Three global economic forces are driving this - automation, globalization and collaboration. Over the last three years, the demand for digital skills, critical thinking and creativity have increased dramatically.

This requires not only a change in ‘what’ is taught in Universities, but also ‘how’ it is taught. Faculty teaching these courses challenge themselves and rapidly ramp up their skills (especially digital) to become ‘best in class’ since they migrate from teaching a finite group of digitally native students (selected through a common selection process) in a classroom to a global audience - with disparate and varied intellectual prowess who are interested and self-motivated to learn that subject. For faculty, this has the ability to potentially scale to a scenario where all 7 billion people on the planet can be students - and not just for two, three or four years, but for lifelong learning!

Until recently online education was considered a poor cousin to traditional brick and mortar education. Today, it is the medium of choice for learning new skills. Earlier, debates ranged on how to find adequately skilled and relevant teachers for traditional institutions. Today, most of what a learner ‘learns’ can be looked up in seconds on the Internet cloud, and personalized instruction via machine learning based algorithms that optimally ‘deliver’ instruction to meet a learner’s needs are fast gaining traction. Therefore, we are in an era where ‘knowing has actually become obsolete’, but  ‘knowing how to use the vast resources available online to find answers to questions and concepts is paramount.’

 Games (accessed most frequently on smart phones and tablets) imbibe the highest standards of instructional design and user experience. These devices are the first user interface for children born in the last decade, and such applications train the user to think in a way that facilitates finding solutions to new (and challenging) problems. Learning therefore is not about studying endlessly about facts any more.

Most formal degree programs today are based on antiquated models that were developed to produce uniform industrial age workers – which are irrelevant in today’s job market. If we look at engineering graduates in India alone, estimates have indicated that between 75-90% (in India) are unemployable, as they do not possess the skills and/or competencies relevant in today’s workplace.

"Careers were linear - starting in trainee cubicles and attempting to move towards the executive offices"

The traditional benefits of going to a college/University and learning in huge rooms with a faculty who may never have worked outside academics their whole life teaching students skills relevant a decade ago are fast becoming passé. Learners today increasingly want to learn from instructors who are leaders in their field and can teach them relevant skills in the most contemporary way possible – online!

Social skills that used to get developed through interaction with peers are being replaced by social networks, unified communication, and other collaboration tools available on the Internet – that have been around since these students were born. It is increasingly common to find close friends sitting in the same physical space, not speaking to each other, yet furiously typing away on their smart phone/tablet, interacting with multiple friends around the world. Most Universities today do little to equip a student with skills like intellectual curiosity, negotiation, handling conflict, innovative thinking and creative problem solving.

Learners today have been demonstrating the knowledge and ability to create new products and technologies, creating companies that, at times, leave entire industries in the dust. Crowd sourced funding models through micro-loans are becoming a routine by the day thus making many of these economically feasible.

Of course, the impact of these trends would be different in different economies and geographies. However, one thing is unmistakable. Higher Education today is not about learning something by going to a physical space to get ‘an education.’ It is about what the learner does – a series of experiences in learning to adapt dexterously to change, navigating and curating the ocean of knowledge that surrounds us in the Digital multi-verse. At Laureate we attempt to understand these trends, accordingly deploying appropriate technologies in our partner institutions to give students a great digital experience and drive meaningful outcomes to support success.