How Is Business Learning Evolving?

By Dan Dye
One interesting emerging trend in education is how shifting business needs are driving changes in learning institutions. In this article we’re going to explore some of the driving forces that are shaping business education needs, and what businesses themselves, and the organizations that support education for business are doing to address those needs.

We’re living in an age of change, sometimes called the second machine age or the fourth industrial revolution, whatever the name, the result is a shifting landscape where changes in business are having far sweeping impact into the ways people conduct their lives, and how they fundamentally go about learning. As we navigate this change, we are compelled to challenge our assumptions about what education is, where it’s conducted, and ultimately who’s responsible for it. Before exploring those questions, let’s talk a little bit about what’s changed.

In the past, education has organized around a fairly linear path, with jobs falling into the buckets of those not requiring a high school education, those requiring a high school education or trade certificate, and those requiring some form of degree from higher education. Compared to today, positions were fairly established, and when a company needed to hire another individual for a role, they would post the job, get candidates that had degrees in the field they were hiring for, put the individual through an onboarding training, then connect them to a mentor (most likely a senior employee in the department) for ongoing training. Education within a business was primarily hierarchical, with management training the next group of individuals that were rising up. Periodical trainings from business units to keep team members up-to-date on trends would be conducted to maintain institutional knowledge, with central trainings, such as periodic software updates, being managed by HR departments with IT support. Although much of this infrastructure is still in place today, the need to change how training is conducted before and during a career is increasingly more evident.

While computers and automation are creating tremendous opportunities, they are also displacing workers at a rapid rate, particularly in areas that focus on repetitive manual and physical skill, but increasingly for more sophisticated repeatable skills. The relatively inexpensive prospect of hiring a designer and developer to replicate and deliver a process to millions puts routine jobs at risk. An estimated 29% of workers in the United States will be affected by job displacement by 2020, and Oxford University estimated as many as 47% of American jobs could be displaced by computers within the next 20 years. However, while jobs are displaced, and increase in the need for roles with a higher level of preparedness are outpacing the output of qualified candidates from traditional institutions, resulting in a high number of jobs without candidates with the skills to fill them. To meet the needs of these roles, candidates need a higher level of analytical skills, critical thinking skills, and social skills to compete. More than ever, candidates are needing to prepare themselves to solve problems, rather than perform functions. This is reflected by the attitudes of individuals with degrees who feel like their degree didn’t prepare them to get ahead, and it is forcing institutions to reconsider their curriculum, and in most cases their core infrastructure, while businesses and individuals reconsider their views on training. When it’s no longer enough to have a degree, what do you do?

For businesses the role of education for their institution may be unclear. Employers are often challenged to find and develop talent. With many human resource departments designed to be more operational than strategic, they lack the capacity to evaluate the company’s current skill needs, much less the needs of the future. This leads to many questions about how the business should approach the development of its talent. Is it the individual’s responsibility to keep up with the latest trends? Should the business work with higher learning institutions, or alternative training programs such as bootcamps and apprenticeship programs to ensure candidates are graduating with the skills they need? Should they create their own curriculum to meet the needs of their unique circumstances? Should they invest time in evaluating and cultivating the hidden skills they’re not seeing on paper? Perhaps bypass training altogether and increase output through automation, process improvements, and temporary gig roles rather than maintain human capital?

For the individual the questions are equally complex. Rapid displacement, coupled with the increasing proportion of highly skilled roles may make career shifting difficult. While individuals are fairly aware that lifelong learning is critical to their ability to stay competitive and relevant, how should they approach it? Are the rising costs and time commitments involved with higher education worth the investment? Are bootcamps or alternative training programs recognized and effective? What about self-training? And if an individual does take the time to educate themselves through online courses and videos, or badged programs, how do they articulate that to a prospective employer?

For higher education institutions, there are significant opportunities and perils emerging from the various paradigm shifts in education. With learning happening all the time, and everywhere, and individuals and businesses increasingly questioning the value of a degree, how does the established institution remain relevant? Online education, whether formal or informal, makes rapid dissemination of ideas inexpensive and much more competitive. Simultaneously shifts in business needs change the demands from curriculum continually. How does the institution stay nimble, while maintaining the rigid standards for which their degrees have long held value? As lifelong learning becomes more the norm, what is higher education’s role throughout the lifetime of an individual? Should they branch into online universities and continuing education? Should they participate in boot camp or apprenticeship programs? Do they engage with businesses to create extension courses? What about working with micro-credential and badge providers to create courses and help highlight individuals’ self-learned skills to an employer? Should they integrate and promote open education resources in their courses, and if so, is that the institution’s responsibility, or the responsibility of the instructor?

Working between these entities is the government, establishing laws and regulations to help cut a clear and responsible path for how we educate ourselves in order to better prepare ourselves and our country for the competitive landscape of tomorrow. Do we loosen regulations to increase our ability to change, and potentially put our standards of education at risk? Do we shift funding towards emerging alternative education programs and paradigms? Do we test programs in small scale before making changes, and if so, how long can we afford to test, and what’s our criteria for success? Given an individual’s need to continue to learn over a lifetime, how connected should public education and business training needs be, and if it’s more connected, what happens to funding for programs that are not directly connected to a career path?

The challenge to meet the educational needs of businesses as they are changing is genuine, and there are a multitude of creative solutions being explored and applied to meet the demand. At this point it’s unclear what the face of education will look like in a decade, but it will almost certainly include lifelong educational paths more easily tailored to the unique needs of each business and each individual. That’s why Monarch Media’s goal is to listen to our customers, and help them create the best learning solutions and systems to meet their needs. Whether working with subject matter experts to establish online courses for partners, conducting OER content make-overs to help meet on-demand training goals, or working with government agencies to develop and deploy apprenticeship programs, we work with businesses, organizations, government agencies, and individuals to help meet their educational needs.

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If you’re interested in exploring this topic further, here are a few sources we’ve read through while writing this article:

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