Educate me! Education in 2019.

From early learning through high school and technical training to doctoral research and micro-credentialing, Australia’s education system is as diverse and complex as the industries and lives that students will live. Where is education going in 2019?

Nothing is more important than education. It is one of the key determinants of health. It enables us to make informed decisions at the supermarket and the ballot box. It helps us see the difference between truth, post-truth and ‘truthiness’. Education shapes our identity: how we view ourselves and how we believe others view us. It helps us make sense of the many complex actions and obligations we encounter every day, from a very young age. And education prepares us again and again for the changes in work that every human being is subject to, often as a result of economic forces far from our cities and borders.

So, yes, education is just a little important to the futures of all people.

Education institutions provide the learning opportunities and skills that people will use. They also do much more. Campuses, real or virtual, are a platform for communities of learning. A place to develop socially, and find support and resilience, as students overcome personal challenges and keep developing as human beings. They are connection points and doorways to other experiences such as art, sport, politics and community life. The informal learning so important to being an informed and confident community member.

Employment is an important goal of education (but clearly not the only one). Governments are continually seeking better alignment of a population’s knowledge and skills (labour supply) with the demands of industry, particularly that driven by government policy changes such as roads and rail, energy and care. And, while meeting the pressing needs of today is important, institutions such as universities create the economies of tomorrow – biomedical research, technology development, management practice are just some areas that, when linked to government incentives and industry, can lead to stronger or new industries with local employment.

Education – curricula, priorities and its very role – is also subject to debate. It can rewrite history, denying us our past or helping us learn from our mistakes. Education is limited by the same constraints as any other industry: funding, the leadership agenda, community support (social licence), demand.

Given this albeit brief summary, what should leaders in education organisations and governments be considering in 2019? Here are a few thoughts from our team based on our work and recent research into where education in 2019.

We work while we study. We study while we work.

The lines between education and employment are becoming less and less clear as we become lifelong students and need to pay more for our schooling, degrees, diplomas and credentials. Co-working is a worldwide phenomenon, driven by the ‘gig economy’, small business and the demand for flexible spaces from large corporations. Education sometimes inhabits these spaces, just as it does large workplaces. How will work inhabit our education spaces? If we are workers and students for life, why wouldn’t we keep our communities local, leverage the space and access to expertise, technology and collaborators that colleges, TAFE and universities provide? It seems to us, there are new opportunities for alumni beyond networking and philanthropy.

For an example, see our client LCI Melbourne. A design college, member of a global network of colleges in exciting ‘design’ cities globally, with a campus anyone would want to work from. Design, perhaps more most other professions, has been revolutionised by the gig economy and digital marketplaces like The Loop. However, how are freelance designers to keep honing their craft, pursue niche competencies, remain competent in the complex cloud technology that is now so essential to their craft, and find enough work to pay the bills?

The modern college, university or TAFE can be the lifelong partner in solving all these issues by offering flexible education, group learning and coaching, and creating pathways for employers to select freelancers they can be confident have the required, credentialed skills.

My (higher/post-grad) education needs to work for me.

Work is life, life is work. So many of us don’t work nine-to-five. We work earlier and later when required, and we balance that commitment with family, friends, exercise, social and professional networking – and education.

Convenience, flexibility, choice – these are the expectations of contemporary Australian society. They are expressed in our shopping, dining and learning habits.  Workers expect to be able to learn on-demand, getting the skills and knowledge they need, when they need them. They want to learn in the mode that is most effective for them – physical, virtual, podcast, workshop – to get the best outcomes. Even if we look fondly upon that time on campus, hanging out with new found friends in leafy courtyards or student cafes, it is simply less and less possible to take time off from work to go to – or back to – school. And there is no need.

Just as we listen to Spotify, and watch Netflix, in short spells and longer ‘binges’, so can we engage with education. The challenge for educators is to:

  • establish digital gateways that help students make the right decisions, and don’t erode health and wellbeing
  • create flexible education journeys that, even within one subject or course, enable students to learn in a manner most suitable to their lifestyle, and neurology;
  • seamlessly connect subjects and learning experiences so that the student builds knowledge continuously over a lifetime

Teachers as coaches, and the value of human connections

Ask any high school teacher what they really do and many will tell you they are psychologists. It makes sense! Students need to trust a teacher to share how they are responding to the subject matter and teaching style, and therefore maintain motivation or seek extra assistance. But when we get to higher ed, things get a little less intimate. And when we are in mid career or later life, the balancing act doesn’t really provide much time for sharing one’s feelings, and the critical impact it is having on learning.

Social isolation is an issue humans deal with at times across their lives.  There are many causes – from feelings of inadequacy, to feeling like no one understands, to loss of loved ones.

The real life experiences of our schools, colleges, TAFEs and universities are important opportunities to make connections and find strength and resilience in community. In all settings, facilitators help to create the right conditions and personal empathy.

Whether it is a trade or a profession that requires intimate human connection (there are few that don’t) we learn fundamental lessons from watching others. Those lessons are often the most important for keeping ourselves, colleagues and customers safe – physically and mentally – as we work.

Education institutions have facilities, human resources, and the trust of students. They need to train lecturers to be more than teachers. And they need to grasp the social and financial opportunity of providing coaching, mentoring and practical ‘check-in’ learning experiences for graduates throughout their lives.

Its a partnership in good health. And a great way to consider the role of older workers who have amazing soft skills, if not the latest understanding of technology.

Will entrenched privilege in education be challenged along with our systems of democracy?

Woah, that’s big! But is it unrealistic?

The more esteemed the school, the higher the university rankings, the more you pay for access. That’s fact not ideology.

We’re probably not much over a decade into the digital education revolution. And it has democratised access to learning experiences, some of them free and many of high quality.

How long will we continue to view a sandstone university as unchallenged evidence of competency? How much weight will the school or institution’s name be given in the decision-making of employers in the era of on-demand learning and contracted employment (an ability to assess competency on-the-job). When job markets are global and employer brands seem to matter much more than undergraduate education.

The role of the university is already changing as institutions compete, follow and reshape their revenue models. Incredible valuable research institutions and the seat of centuries of knowledge, they are seeking commercialisation while slowly adapting to the nimble disrupters cherry-picking subject and course streams, and remaking the learning experience.

We need universities and we need TAFEs but we, society, are not who we once were. Restless for change, uncomfortable with privilege, our expectations have shifted.

How will universities, in particular, respond?

Train them now!

In all of this near-term and long-term future gazing, we mustn’t forget that right now we need people to up-skill or re-skill and help Australia’s economy maintain its growth and resilience. The heavy lifting here will be done by TAFEs. More on TAFE this year from Pete here.

The challenge, particularly in a competitive marketplace, is to create inspired learning journeys, embed work experiences in course content, create advocacy in the student base to attract the right students, and establish career pathways that are comfortably evolving.

Easy, right?

It’s going to great fun.

At Ellis Jones, we exist to understand and help overcome government, provider and student challenges, with a focus on creating education opportunities for all. Talk to us.