Constant interaction with technology often leaves people looking for ways to disconnect from their devices and reconnect with humans. When it comes to the future of work, this is welcomed news.

While technology may seem to consume us at times, whether personally or professionally, the jobs of the future will actually place more value on how well you interact with other people, not with technology. It is the skills that make us uniquely human that will be the most in-demand in the future job market, such as leadership, effective communication, and management.

Related content: Here’s what online programs do right–and what they can improve

There is real concern that in certain industries, automation will replace jobs that were once filled by humans. There is also a national conversation around the skills gap, or the discrepancy between the skills U.S. workers have and the skills required by U.S. businesses to remain globally competitive, and the fact that the future workforce may not be prepared for what’s to come.

Moreover, soon, one-third of students expect to study online, which presents a unique challenge for online higher-ed institutions. Consider these four strategies that student-centered online universities are following to keep human connection strong and support better workforce development.

1. Focus on strategic partnerships to increase networking opportunities for students.
Strategic partnerships have the ability to empower corporations, school districts, healthcare facilities, associations, and other organizations to create new opportunities for their people to pursue. This allows students to connect with and learn from potential employers, mentors, and colleagues. As with most partnerships, the relationship is mutually beneficial, meaning that if a company or organization has a unique need, the partnership would also allow them to explore ways for their employees to address those needs and advance their careers.

2. Create dynamic training programs to help students gain field experience as they pursue their degrees.
With online programs, the majority of students are adult learners with previous work experience and are typically working either full- or part-time while studying. Students often choose an online degree for both the flexibility and the affordability. Hands-on learning creates an opportunity for students to interact with others in the field they are studying, expand their network of peers, and gain additional experience while they study. Dynamic training programs allow for students to use their real-world experience and share it with other students and colleagues.

3. Ensure faculty stay active in their students’ success through resource sharing and mentorship.
Fellow peers and professors may seem as if they’re inaccessible through your screen when pursuing an online education. However, personalized instruction and customized programs and assessments are vital to maximize their students’ career potential. Faculty must recognize the critical part they play beyond teaching. Often-times, online faculty are more accessible and able to provide one-on-one mentorship, educational and professional resources, and more. Checking in on an individual basis can make students feel seen and heard. Sharing experiences and encouraging students to share their stories will in turn foster stronger connections and the confidence to succeed.

4. Provide opportunities for students to connect with peers for a sense of community and collaboration.
Having a support system and feeling like part of a community plays a large part in human connection. While many students pursuing online degrees may have support systems outside of the university, there is value in feeling a connection with other students who have worked through similar challenges or had similar experiences with completing their degrees online. Chat rooms, message boards, and online learning communities allow for connection with other students as it opens the door to share questions, successes and resources. Creating volunteer opportunities give students a chance to give back to community and meet others with similar interests.

Final thoughts

Students are busy. We are all distracted by the constant interruption of technology in our lives. On the micro level, it’s important to remember that our connections with others is what brings us fulfillment and individual success. On the macro level, human connection is essential to education, career advancement and the future workforce. Students at online universities are committed to their success and the universities are committed to their students. By following these four strategies, online universities can ensure their students are best placed to contribute to the jobs of tomorrow.

About the Author:

Alison Bell has more than 20 years of higher education leadership experience and is the chancellor of WGU Indiana, a nonprofit, online university offering 60+ degrees in the four colleges of business, teaching, I.T. and health/nursing. WGU Indiana is the first-ever state model within Western Governors University and prides itself on being the nation’s first accredited competency-based university as well as having a diverse student body across the entire state of Indiana.


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