A futuristic brain illustrates the new Learner Revolution coming to higher ed.

5 ways to support the Learner Revolution on campus

A change is coming to higher ed, and the so-called Learner Revolution will upend traditional diploma-based learning models

Work-relevant skills and competencies should be at the center of institutional leaders’ plans as they strive to remain relevant and meet students’ expectations in what is being called the Learner Revolution, according to a new report.

Education Design Lab’s (EDL) ​The Learner Revolution: How  Colleges Can Thrive in a New Skills and Competencies Marketplace reflects the experiences of more than 100 institutions as they reimagine their roles and grapple with changes in traditional students, the need for continuous learning as in-demand job skills evolve, and increased expectations from students who want to make sure their considerable financial investments are beneficial.

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“Working parents and other adults looking for additional training; students who are from low-income families or are the first generation to attend college; and underrepresented minority students want the promise and value of higher education,” author Kathleen deLaski, who founded EDL, writes in the report. “New majority students and the employers who would like to ultimately employ them demand new mainstream models.”

The report predicts that “within the decade, all but the most exclusive learning providers, old and new, will compete for students at the competency and experience level rather than at the degree level. That is the principal paradigm shift of the Learner Revolution.”

An estimated three-quarters of higher-ed students possess at least one non-traditional characteristic, and for these students, the report argues, higher ed is long overdue for a redesign. These are the students behind the Learner Revolution.

This Learner Revolution consists of “a future where power [will] shift away from institutions that define degrees to consumers and employers who are beginning to measure learning by other yardsticks.” It won’t happen overnight, but deLaski notes that it is happening quicker than anticipated.

Research cited in the report demonstrates how some employers are beginning to look past degrees–they are moving away from pieces of paper and are looking more for skills in their hiring process. In fact, when EDL surveyed its employer partners, all 20 said they need new hiring tools that recognize credentials other than, or in addition to, a degree.

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Over a five-year period, EDL worked with a number of institutions, including George Mason University, Arizona State University, Miami Dade College, and Harper College, to help institutions navigate the Learner Revolution and reframe thinking and design.

5 ways institutions can navigate the Learner Revolution

EDL’s research reveals five major ways traditional colleges and universities can revamp their existing models, or create entirely new ones, to meet the changing demands of the Learner Revolution.

1. The Platform Facilitator: A few institutions will be able to fashion themselves into Netflix-style distribution curators, while others will be content providers for those platforms, licensing courses, experiences, certificates, and other services.

2. The Experiential Curator: These institutions will double down on their role as the curators of expansive learning experiences, using advances in assessment, the maturation of online and hybrid education, and the increasingly connected globe to provide, measure, and certify transformative experiences outside the classroom.

3. The Learning Certifier: These institutions are recognizing learning across a wide range of contexts, in particular helping students codify, even gamify, their out-of-classroom learning experiences and translate them into a coherent whole that makes sense to employers and themselves.

4. The Workforce Integrator: These institutions are building deep connections with employers, ensuring tight connections between the competencies learners acquire through their programs and the competencies needed for employment in specific fields or jobs.

5. The Specializer: These institutions are taking a niche specialization or characteristic, such as religious affiliation, and reimagining it.

Laura Ascione