How Online Learning Bridges the Gap Between Traditional Colleges and Workforce Needs

Written by
Lizzie Davey
Jun 15, 2016

It’s safe to say the landscape of the learning world is changing. Originally, traditional courses at colleges and universities were created to prepare students for the workforce, but now it’s less about qualifications and more about practical skills.

This has opened up a gap between the time when students finish a traditional course armed with credits and qualifications to when they start their first role in the working world.

But online learning is increasingly acting as the missing link between learning outcomes garnered in traditional courses and industry needs by providing competency-based education rather than time or credit-based education.

The Problem: Traditional Education Doesn’t Prepare for the Workforce

Entrepreneur Peter Thiel has said that people need to forget about college; that they’re better off taking independent courses online.

The rapidly changing landscape of the education world over the past decade or so has made it difficult for colleges and traditional learning routes to keep up with student’s needs. This, in turn, has created a disconnect between higher education and the workforce.

In the fast-paced, technologically-driven world we now live in, is it enough to offer in-person classes once a week? While this definitely isn’t the end of traditional courses by any stretch of the imagination, the fact that they dwell on theoretical values rather than practical ones might just be the thing that’s holding them back.

Perhaps the biggest problem with traditional courses, though, is their time-based structure.

The vast majority of college courses operate a credit system, where students must spend a certain amount of time studying a subject. This means that, even though students spend the same amount of hours learning something, they might come away with different knowledge levels and outcomes.

How Online Learning Can Bridge the Gap

There is absolutely still room for traditional courses in the education world, but something needs to be done to bridge the gap between higher education and the workforce, and that something might just be online learning. Here’s why:

A More Direct Pathway

By 2020, it’s thought 42% of students will be over the age of 25. These students will be studying courses that directly get them into the workforce, that offer practical modules, and that will get their foot on the employment ladder.

This calls for practical-centred courses that provide students with solid skills they can walk away with, giving career-orientated learners a more direct pathway into the workforce.

Competency-Based Learning

The main problem with traditional learning, as we discussed earlier, is that it is time-based. Loosely put, students get qualifications by putting in a certain amount of hours.

However, with the flexible nature of online learning and their competency-based structure, students at different levels can learn important elements rather than simply ticking off credits regardless of their skill level.

They allow students to dig deeper into topics and proceed quicker if they have a better grasp on a topic.

The Flexible Structure

Online courses are incredibly flexible, in that they can be taught anywhere, at anytime. Providers can easily mix and match modules to suit specific student’s needs, and learners can craft their own path through the content that best suits their goals.

Where traditional courses were once very rigid in nature, the emergence of online learning means providers can complement in-person sessions with online material, and encourage interactivity in learning with added modules, collaborative techniques, and a variety of multimedia.

It also means institutions can apply several different modules that relate to different industries, giving students the required skills they need for the work areas they’re interested in moving into.

Employers Can Step Up

For as long as education has been around, it has been the college or university’s responsibility to prepare students for the workforce. They teach learners what they need to know and help them gain relevant qualifications to get a job at the end of it.

But, with the emergence of online learning, the responsibility doesn’t have to fall solely on the institution. It seems surprising that only 11% of business leaders think graduates are prepared for the workforce, considering the endless opportunities for employers to run their own trainings.

With online learning this is becoming increasingly possible. Instead of sitting back and hoping colleges churn out students with the right qualifications and skills, employers can start honing their own workforces and provide training and courses that are specific to their systems and goals.

It’s easy to see that online learning can complement traditional courses both for higher education institutions and for employers. But is there a cut and dry solution?

The Solution

The solution here isn’t to completely dismiss traditional education at all. Instead, colleges and universities might look to complement their traditional learning style with online elements that will help their students cross the gap from student to employee.

For many institutions, this might simply be adding practical modules to classes, or ensuring there are online materials that students can dig into to gain further skills.

But the most important thing is to switch the focus back onto the student and allow them to learn in a way that suits them. This potentially means changing from a credit-based, time-led system to a competency-based one, where the learner is in control of what they learn, how they learn it, and when they learn it by.

Mapout can help you integrate online learning techniques into your traditional courses - find out how today. 

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