The pandemic has caused a sea change in higher education. The mass shift to online learning has transformed the argument for the ‘anytime, anywhere’ classroom approach and opened the doors for a total pivot in how students can learn.
Wider economic factors are also pushing the education sector in a new direction. The jobs pipeline is changing. The closure of retail stores and the loss of other service sector jobs mean an even more pressing need to retrain people for jobs that will shape the economy for years to come – namely, those requiring digital skills. But this is no mean feat – the UK is already facing a serious shortage of skills in technology, with the number of young people taking IT-related subjects at GCSE dropping 40% since 2015.
Education must play a key role in accommodating the changes we’re seeing in the UK’s job landscape and ensuring a sustainable talent pipeline for businesses moving forward. This means providing more opportunity, and flexibility, for people looking to develop their digital skills – both young and old.
So, what will higher education look like moving forward?
A blended approach
The shift to a more blended style of learning is already taking place. Online learning is opening up opportunities for a wider range of people, and, while this is unlikely to become the dominant model, progressive universities increasingly are adopting a mix between remote and classroom learning.
The benefits of online study are huge. For one, learners can access higher education anytime and anywhere – for adults with families, it provides convenience on their own terms. And for all types of students – undergraduates or mature, it has broken the link between the need to pay high living costs in order to attend their desired university.
But there are other major benefits at play too, specifically how students are learning. It’s about a more interactive style of learning that incorporates classroom study alongside hands-on labs, projects and challenges, interactive sessions and virtual assessments. Utilising tools and technologies that support the dialogue between tutors and students puts tech into the hands of those who will become the developers of the future. Part of a blended approach also means creating customisable learning paths for students which can be built up over time depending on the direction of interest that faculties and students take. This is otherwise known as ‘micro-credentialing’: bite-sized learning that can be credit levelled for full degrees. It provides a more hands-on, less prescriptive approach to learning, especially as students become more familiar with new and complex technologies such as cloud-hosted environments or deep learning.
At Oracle Academy, this is our mission. By engaging our product teams and technology experts in creating content and lessons for the next generation, as well as providing the online learning infrastructure, we already have reached millions of students across 120 countries. We offer over 350 different lessons, labs and pieces of content for educational institutions to incorporate into their curriculum, at no cost to them, and we are growing this all the time to focus on the latest innovation and digital skills.
Vocational path to learning
Additionally, a growing emphasis on vocational learning can provide the necessary training for a wider pool of people. In modern times it has been an underused resource – just 3% of England’s school leavers gain higher technical qualifications, while nearly half attend university.
The future workforce requires everyone to have computing skills, so developing those skills shouldn’t be exclusive to a computer science degree. Businesses want a steady influx of trained talent coming through, and many can’t wait four years for a course to finish. A vocational college where a diploma can be completed in two years can do much to sustain the future talent pipeline and ensure businesses aren’t suffering from talent shortages. Again, technology can aid students in their training and create a more flexible, interactive model for them to develop a jigsaw of skills for navigating a multi-cloud world.
Training talent of the future
Online learning is here to stay. The pandemic has accelerated a shift in educational bodies adopting digital methods, proved ‘anytime, anywhere’ learning can be effective, and encouraged new groups of people to engage in further learning at their own pace. The accessibility that digital tools enable is key to training a more diverse workforce to meet the needs of a growing digital economy. Whether it is university or vocational training, a more interactive, flexible learning experience must form the backbone of higher education moving forward.