Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

The Future of Jobs and Jobs Training

Theme 1: The training ecosystem will evolve, with a mix of innovation in all education formats

To a striking degree, the experts who answered “yes” – that new ways of teaching and learning will successfully emerge for job skills advancement – focused on how trainers, educators and employers will innovate new ways to implement and partner with technology to provide solutions that enhance outcomes. Many of the hopeful respondents predicted that the education ecosystem would sort itself out such that different kinds of learning needs would be met in different kinds of learning systems. They said that, while universities will play important roles, they expect that by 2026 traditional classroom education will be successfully paired with the expansion of online learning programs like Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which will evolve to include elements of augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and gamification.

We are rapidly improving our ability to effectively train people over the internet, and that will be used to substantially improve all kinds of skills at a scale and cost that has not been achievable with more primitive, in-person training, or less-effective self-directed training.Anonymous engineer

[successful training of large numbers of workers for jobs of the future]

Below are some key subthemes that tie into the overarching thought that existing training systems will continue to improve and new ones will emerge, evolve and succeed in the next decade.

More elements will migrate online. Some will be self-directed, some offered or required by employers; others will be hybrid online/real-world classes. Workers will be expected to learn continuously

A majority of the respondents in this canvassing expect that formal education systems – K-12, community colleges, universities, postgraduate programs – will maintain some traditions while taking on new roles. They predict that – due to the high costs of higher education – other nonprofit and for-profit organizations will fill more specialized training roles and supplemental foundational education elements while many employers provide their own training programs and/or require workers they hire to train on their own to up-skill and become certified in certain specialties. They expect that savvy workers will be self-motivated to take advantage of always-available educational material online.

We’re evolving and perfecting tools for training and education that can be enhanced by technology, and in some cases can be completely online.Jon Lebkowsky

Jon Lebkowsky, CEO of Polycot Associates, replied, “We’re evolving and perfecting tools for training and education that can be enhanced by technology, and in some cases can be completely online. We can see signs of emergent innovation in educational systems and technology. We can also foresee a demand for more and better training, which implies the probability of a robust marketplace outside the traditional academic paths.”

Nigel Cameron, president and CEO of the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies, “Huge. No question, next-gen MOOCs using VR will move to center stage, delivering zero marginal cost training/education in many sectors, including the lower and middle components of postsecondary education. Perhaps a breakout will come from the community college sector. Interpersonal collaboration, communication, entrepreneurship … may well offer the best surviving jobs.”

Laura Stockwell, digital strategy consultant and owner of Strat School, replied, “We are already seeing the emergence of online training and education systems that are training people, and people are choosing these approaches over traditional schooling options. That is not to say universities will go away, but they will transform, as they already have begun to do. Research also points to a majority of the workforce being freelance in the next 10 years and there being less stigma around job-changing. That means that people will rely less on employers for training and advancement and will take training and job advancement into their own hands. As for qualifications, the best universities teach people to think, but many do not leave with the skills they need for the workplace. It may be that degrees are still valuable for teaching ‘how’ to think while training programs teach more skills-based programs. Or – in an ideal world – learning how to think and analyze occurs in high school. Being able to think and analyze will be critical with so many jobs being taken over by computers.”

Garland McCoy, president of the Technology Education Institute, wrote, “The internet is uniquely suited for individualizing education so that you can successfully move significant numbers through educational programs.”

An anonymous engineer at Neustar observed, “We are rapidly improving our ability to effectively train people over the internet, and that will be used to substantially improve all kinds of skills at a scale and cost that has not been achievable with more primitive, in-person training, or less-effective self-directed training.”

George McKee, a retiree, observed, “High-quality, free education sources such as Coursera and MIT’s Open CourseWare already allow anyone to acquire as much knowledge as they are capable of assimilating. Top-rank colleges will remain important, not for their direct educational value, but for the personal relationships that they enable among the managing and governing classes.”


Mary Chayko, a professor of communication and information at Rutgers University, responded, “We are already seeing the rapidly growing popularity of such nontraditional training programs as professional certifications, post-baccalaureate certificates, coding boot camps, etc. They are becoming indispensable in training a workforce whose technical skills must be almost constantly updated. While nontraditional curricula are most easily kept current and relevant, traditional four-year and graduate programs will continue to excel at providing broader context and deeper understandings regarding technology and its consequences. Employers will value applicants trained in diverse settings – traditional and nontraditional, face-to-face and digital – who can respond nimbly to constant change.”

Sunil Paul, entrepreneur, investor and activist at Spring Ventures, observed, “Yes, it’s obviously already happening with Khan, Coursera, Lynda, Udacity and the avalanche of other ed-tech companies. Silicon Valley sees that the mass-production education of high school and college is broken. At Sidecar, we hired one of the top performers from a code academy. He had an undergraduate degree in international relations that took four years. But after three months in a code academy and a few years mentorship by senior developers, he became one of our top software engineers.”

Robert Matney, COO at Polycot Associates, wrote, “Self-paced and asynchronous Learning Management Systems (LMS) will not replace ‘meatspace’ educational and occupational instruction, but it will grow to significantly supplement it.”

Dan McGarry, media director at the Vanuatu Daily Post, said, “Most of the most powerful tools will be crowdsourced. People will begin to come to terms with the limits of their own predictive capabilities and will learn to design and improve learning systems iteratively.”

Marcus Foth, professor of interactive and visual design at Queensland University of Technology, wrote, “I suspect that the mass educational approach of MOOCs will be tempered with more sophisticated peer-to-peer connected learning that traverses online and physical realms. The trend in new types of spaces (maker spaces, incubation spaces, co-working spaces, etc.) seems to give rise to a new form of Bauhaus. Maybe Bauhaus 2.0?”

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of EPIC, wrote, “We can anticipate more effective and immersive techniques for online training and education. Credentialing will remain important, but there will also be new forms of evaluation to assist employers.”

Kevin Novak, CEO of 2040 Digital and previously chief digital officer for the U.S. Library of Congress, replied, “The internet has created many opportunities for education and skill enhancement outside of our traditional education systems. A majority of knowledge gain is now self-directed. Higher education institutions continue to expand their online offerings towards self-direction while attempting to retain some form of the older models. The younger generations and their aptitude for technology will continue to expand their use of self-direction and individual knowledge gain. Organizations seeking to increase or improve staff skills should recognize the trends in the marketplace and adapt.”

Daniel Wendel, research associate at the MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program, replied, “The rapid evolution of technology is quickly outpacing our ability to teach it within the constructs of traditional educational systems. However, human needs and cognition and the ways in which people learn have not changed and will not change nearly as quickly. We, as a society, will certainly be forced into new models of education in which stale knowledge is quickly expunged and methods of thinking and doing displace facts as the primary focus of instruction and testing. However, the massive online systems of today (and even the next decade) lack many of the features of school that are necessary for normal cognitive development. Over time, I believe such online resources will become ‘modules’ that can be ‘plugged in’ to a new education system that keeps in place many of social constructs of current schools. What advocates of the MOOC movement miss is that education is much more complicated than knowledge transfer, and has implications for social development, family life, childcare, community formation, and more. Only when those other aspects are considered will the overall ‘feel’ of education begin to noticeably change.”

Jim Warren, longtime technology entrepreneur and activist, responded, “We have already seen some of those kinds of programs, both legitimate ones and costly legal scams of questionable (at best!) value. We will see much more of both of these – probably (hopefully) including some amount of legal oversight/control of those that have little (or no!) value; sort of like the minimal nutritional information that has (finally!) been forced on Big Foods. However, there are – and will continue to be – major areas of education/learning/teaching where skills and competency can be taught/shared online only in very limited ways (if at all).”

Shannon Tucker, an assistant dean of instructional design and technology at the University of Maryland, commented, “President Obama’s initiative ‘CS for All’ is an important first step in educating a generation on the technology skills necessary to participate in a technology-centric society. Funding and supporting this initiative provides an opportunity for industry and nonprofit organizations to support training of our K-12 students, but also educators, parents, and others involved in the educational pipeline to develop technology skills to support this initiative. However, encouraging sustained participation, supporting a wide range of educational needs and learning preferences will be a significant problem.”

Laurie Orlov, principal analyst at Aging in Place Technology Watch, replied, “The new training will be online – and filled with video – likely for licensing of work that includes serving an older population – see Penrose Senior Care Auditors, for example:


Adrian Schofield, an applied research manager, commented, “From schools to universities, from agriculture to manufacturing, more of the learning techniques will be delivered through personal devices, with the technology able to measure the level of understanding and to deliver the content appropriately. Assessment systems will keep pace, so that employers will be able to evaluate applicants’ abilities at the interview stage (or even before then).”

James Hinton, truck driver and writer, predicted, “The next decade will see positive growth in terms of educational opportunities and education thanks to the Internet. I previously worked as a writer for a search engine optimization company whose largest client was a consortium of famous traditional colleges (for example, the University of California, Davis) who were breaking into offering advanced degrees in 100% online settings. The thing that impressed me about this was that a pharmacist in a remote location such as Salmon, Idaho, could achieve a doctor of pharmacy (Pharm.D) without having to quit her job and move away. While the effect of this may be relatively minor for urban centers, for rural, less-developed areas this could be an injection of lifesaving blood, reversing the trend of young, ambitious people leaving for lack of educational opportunity. It’s quite the exciting development.”


M.E. Kabay, professor of computer information systems at Norwich University, wrote, “We already have the technology in place to reach a significant portion of the globe’s population even in developing countries – smartphones. Asynchronous online education at simple levels of awareness and training can support massive improvements in technical competence and in creativity. At a basic level, everyone needs to be able to learn new concepts, vocabulary and skills to continue contributing to a changing world – changing demographically, culturally and physically (think global warming and overpopulation). Clearly reading is one of the most important skills, and online courses can help people learn this essential skill. Similarly, increasing technical vocabularies is achievable using simple online training tools. Effective online examination of acquired skills will support the effort to improve individuals and organizations. The most difficult skills include critical thinking and evaluation of multiple sources of information, some of them contradictory, in the absence of a known correct result. The acceptance of online training and education will evolve as evidence accumulates of correlations between such processes and metrics rooted in real-world evaluations.”

By 2030, the average person entering the workforce had better plan to reboot their career six times throughout their working life. This type of training will become very popular.Senior futurist

Peter Morville, president of Semantic Studios, said, “I’ve been a skeptic of ‘distance education’ for a long time, but we’re finally starting to see online learning approaches that work. Our teenage daughter learned to code a responsive website (HTML and CSS) using Code Academy, and she’s now using Khan Academy to study for the new SAT. These learning tools really work, and they will disrupt traditional education.”

Lee McKnight, associate professor at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, observed, “The ‘future’ is the present for the cloud industry. Amazon makes more profit from its cloud offerings than the entire rest of the business – and of course offers plentiful online tools for students/prospective customers of any age and location to train themselves up. The wide availability of free education and training tools from all major cloud vendors for those seeking to join the growing numbers of workers with those advanced skills shows this future is here. Especially since university offerings of courses on distributed and cloud computing are narrowly focused in computer science departments, workers and industry have had to train themselves. However, more intensive faculty interaction, whether online or off, will still help researchers and advanced students, and hence future workers, learn the more broad-based critical analytic skills cloud industry leaders need. I fully expect many more universities to offer cloud management and cloud architecture courses as we do at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies, to meet the needs for hundreds of thousands of professionals with such training.”

An anonymous director at a nonprofit technology network said, “I see a huge emergence of on-demand (self-guided) training in areas that it has not traditionally been. For example, this type of education has traditionally been used in the professional space for mandatory trainings in the area of human resources – things such as ‘blood-borne pathogens,’ etc. We have seen a massive growth in personal learning (DIY, self-help, etc.) on platforms like YouTube, Udemy, and others. The next step is for the self-guided side of professional development to catch up to these two areas. Things like learning management systems will allow to individuals to gain skills in areas they want to advance in, not just areas they are required to pass a certification for.”

An anonymous open-source technologist commented, “We will surely see the emergence of new training programs – in fact, we must. Modern commerce relies on increasingly specialized and in some cases arcane knowledge (Linux, machine learning, virtual machines, blockchain, etc.) that has to be widely distributed to achieve sufficient scale for sustainability. We already seem to lack engineers in many domains. Training people of all kinds with these needed skills will lead to greater productivity, and the danger is of stagnation without these people.”

A senior futurist and strategic foresight consultant wrote, “I refer to these as micro colleges. By 2030, the average person entering the workforce had better plan to reboot their career six times throughout their working life. This type of training will become very popular.”

Scott McLeod, associate professor of educational leadership at University of Colorado, Denver, said, “Some of the key skills needed for the workforce of the future include the abilities to be a critical thinker, a problem-solver, and an effective communicator and collaborator, often across global contexts and within technology-infused environments. Many of the subskills necessary to do these things well can be taught through various online mechanisms. These subskills’ preparation environments will be particularly effective if, while they are being learned, the subskills are immediately put to use by being combined with opportunities to make a difference in the real world rather than remaining relegated to artificial, ‘classroom’-limited assignments.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “I earned a graduate degree entirely online, fully accredited by the accepted organization of my field. It was a wonderful experience and I can’t help but see how more and more educational experiences will happen online. You can reach more people with fewer resources. As Western society operates more as a knowledge-and-service economy rather than a making-stuff-based economy, specialized knowledge will become the norm. Learning skills necessary in knowledge work is fit for distance, asynchronous and self-directed learning. Programming, computer software and hardware engineering, IT job skills can be learned in this new way. Some fields, such as medicine and business, will benefit from hybrid training programs, both traditional and nontraditional. Overall, as our economy changes, training styles will change. While in-person learning and serendipitous discovery of new knowledge can never be replaced, it can certainly be augmented with new learning systems.”

An anonymous professor at New York University pointed out that for many technical professions, a full and very successful set of diverse training options, many of them online only or hybrid classroom/online, is already available, writing, “This is not really a prediction, since it’s there now, for programmers. General Assembly, Flatiron School, etc., are the new trade schools.”

An anonymous social scientist agreed that for many fields, online cutting-edge training resources are already fully available and deemed to be valuable. He said, “We are already there! What we haven’t done is align what skills we need from workers with the future of work itself. We wait years for skilled workers to matriculate through broad, expensive graduate curricula and it’s not clear whether they/we needed 1% or 99% of that for the wait and cost. The wider availability of such training expands the geographic reach of the potential workforce, it rewards curiosity without such steep financial penalty, and it removes us from the notion that a new science, for example, will grow and persist. It allows the learning space to grow, adapt and recede as new ones emerge.”

Daniel Menasce, a professor of computer science at George Mason University, said value will continue to be found in online and traditional settings, writing, “The workforce of the future will be mostly service-oriented. To be successful, workers will have to be competent in their technical areas and must have good people skills, time management skills and basic management skills. Some of the technical skills, such as learning about a specific product, can be taught effectively via online systems at larger scales. But I still believe teaching fundamental concepts is better suited for classroom environments in which the instructor can have a close interaction with students and tailor the explanation to the needs of specific students. My opinion is informed by more than four decades of teaching experience and by my experience of having taught online and in classroom settings. The nontechnical skills I mentioned above are even less suited for being taught via online systems. Employers recognize that most employees have to be trained on the job. Therefore, they want employees who can learn as opposed to employees that have been taught a canned set of skills but have a harder time learning new ideas and concepts. In that respect, I believe that traditional four-year and graduate programs will still be preferred. In summary, online systems can be used for training, while traditional university programs are better suited for education.”

Some respondents pointed out that there have been well-established corporate training programs of various types for decades and said they expect these to be more refined but not necessarily offered online.

John Perrino, a digital and creative communications associate at George Washington University, predicted, “Expect more boot-camp-style programming training programs and corporate sponsorship to build feeder programs of specially trained students from all walks of life. Online courses are great for building and reinforcing new skills, but do not expect them to be as valued as specially created and selective boot camp programs.”

There was pushback against the corporate boot camp approach. An anonymous respondent commented, “Unless incentives change, the gap between the vision of Jefferson and the vision of an obedient boot camp will keep growing in conflict – more coding and myopia, less creativity.”

Another anonymous respondent remarked, “I expect employers to continue to under-invest in their workers, and continue the trend of requiring higher and higher bars in terms of education, experience and personal connections for any sort of position that isn’t the most disposable.”

An similarly critical attitude about corporate training was expressed by an anonymous respondent who said, “The ‘skills gap’ is an effect of corporations abandoning their historical responsibility to train their employees, trying to push career-specific training onto universities or individuals, with the result that those who already have the resources available to train themselves are rewarded, those without resources are penalized, and taxed university budgets are further taxed to make up for savings accrued by corporations while having their educational missions compromised. The framing of the question does not allow this answer.”

I see the relationship between learning and working as becoming a lifelong process, versus the system we have today where we learn in an environment separate from work for many years and then we work in an environment separate from learning for many years.Ryan Hayes

Several respondents mentioned the importance of matching people to the best programs to suit their needs in the ever-evolving training and education marketplace. Terry Langendoen, an expert on information and intelligent systems based at the U.S. National Science Foundation, wrote, “Such programs will certainly continue to emerge. However, the real question is whether they ‘will’ (not ‘can’) succeed. The most important skills are computational and inferential, and at this level of abstraction these are the same types of skills that have been needed since the start of the industrial revolution. The current educational and training frameworks have largely been developed in response to this need, not only in science and engineering, but also in humanities and the arts. It’s fair to say that no single type of program has been shown to be adequate; many types of programs have been and will continue to be needed because of the wide variation in people’s abilities and inclinations to develop the requisite skills, and the really hard problem is to match individual learners to the programs that will be most effective in developing their skills.”

Many respondents observed that throughout the history of “work,” smart people have stayed ahead in the game via a learning ethic they practice regularly. At a time of accelerating change, this has become crucial. Travis Allison, business owner and consultant at CampHacker, commented, “The most important skill will be the ability to continuously learn – that will be very easy to encourage online as we take the lessons of attention-driving behavior from Facebook and other successful social networks and apply them to education.”

People with some level of expertise by the millions have been creating their own how-to training tutorials and videos online, many of them open-source and free. An anonymous university professor in internet studies observed, “YouTube is already there with the how-to videos. The ‘crowd’ is already there, helping out.” And an anonymous internet governance activist based in Kenya noted, “Kenyan braiders now learn West African methods from YouTube and use such skills for gainful employment.”

Joan Noguera, professor at the University of Valencia Institute for Local Development, Spain, replied, “A lifelong learning approach will be definitively needed to accompany workers in the process of gaining the new skills that they will need to gain continuously as technology and the information society quickly evolve.”

Demian Perry, director of mobile at NPR, commented, “Maintaining relevance in the modern workplace will require continuing education, not as a replacement but as a supplement to the more foundational learning (in logic, philosophy and organized thought) that comes with a traditional four-year or graduate program.”

Ryan Hayes, owner of Fit to Tweet, wrote, “I see the relationship between learning and working as becoming a lifelong process, versus the system we have today where we learn in an environment separate from work for many years and then we work in an environment separate from learning for many years. I wear a lot of hats as an entrepreneur, but one of the areas that I spend considerable time is in using technology to train my team to pivot quickly to new processes as our business and industry (social media) changes rapidly. It’s not just onboarding new employees, it’s ensuring that our whole team is constantly growing and adapting, and that will become necessary in more industries as the rate of change picks up.”

Online courses will get a big boost from advances in augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI)

I can image a Google Glass-like device where users have a step-by-step wizard to help starting to use new equipment, or where school children are using VR headsets to travel in space and time to different countries and different ages, enriching their learning experiences.Anonymous web developer

Some respondents expressed confidence in the best of the existing online education and training options, saying online course options are cost-effective, evolving for the better, and game-changing because they are so accessible globally. Those with the most optimism about the future of mass skills education generally believe great progress will be made in online training for effective learning because they expect to see rapid implementation of advances in augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI). An anonymous chief marketing officer at a major provider of educational materials replied, “Many investments are being made and experiments being run in the area of skills training, and there is every reason to believe that a blended model, heavy on self-paced instruction and exercises, will continue to expand. Virtual reality will find its most practical application in the area of skills training, so that we will ultimately be able to teach ourselves skills that once required expensive hands-on experience to master.”

Katharina Anna Zweig, a professor at Kaiserslautern University of Technology, Germany, wrote, “Many groups are currently working on blending the real environment with a virtual environment in which information and learning instructions will be blended in whenever it is meaningful and useful for the person to learn it. We will need to be careful that those machines support learning of the individual and do not replace it by their omnipresence. However, I am optimistic that we will be able to design teaching environments that will optimally motivate everyone to learn more.”

[the University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign]



Peter Brantley, director of online strategy at the University of California, Davis, predicted, “There will be a greater ability to reach people who are seeking training and learning through video tools, particularly immersive technologies, such as AR and VR. However, these will be expensive to produce and difficult to evaluate the outcomes in, particularly in terms of retained learning. Some hybrid forms will continue to be seen as essential as learning evolves.”

Mary K. Pratt, a freelance journalist who covers enterprise technologies, said, “It seems that nearly any topic can have at least portions taught online; only hands-on skills would need something more. The growth in virtual and augmented reality could create more virtual hands-on educational opportunities, however; we already see such uses in the medical space where computers and 3-D printing help train doctors or help them prepare for complex procedures. This kind of approach will likely move into other disciplines.”

Marina Gorbis, executive director at the Institute for the Future, predicted, “It will be easy to learn specific skills with the help of various tools (including virtual reality) that could guide workers in situ to understand how to use machinery or design things. As we embed information into physical spaces and objects, potentially the whole world becomes a classroom. You can point to a plant and learn its genus, origin, etc. Point to a building to learn its history or demographics of the place. Pokemon Go is an early signal of what is possible when we overlay context-specific information in physical places. I imagine similar applications will emerge for educational purposes. While specific skills will be relatively easy to learn, the skills for critical thinking and sense-making – which are essential to success – will be harder to learn, as these require deeper understanding, reflection and thinking that is not skill-specific and beyond particular disciplines.”

Ed Dodds, digital strategist at Conmergence, replied, “VR and virtual world 3-D object-based training will allow simulation-based education to be more effective.”

Steven Polunsky of agreed, writing, “Increasing interactivity, 3-D, and virtual reality will expand the number of jobs susceptible to computer-based learning. Universities and private startups will compete for this audience.”

A share of these experts expect that artificial intelligence systems will be incorporated. For instance, Ken Koedinger, professor of human-computer interaction and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, responded, “We will increasingly have technology support for ‘expertise transfer.’ Experts will be able to teach computers their skills. And these computers will act as intelligent tutoring systems to help others acquire these skills.”

An anonymous senior fellow at the University of California, San Diego is one of many who agree that AI-based adaptive learning systems will ramp up learning results. He observed, “Many jobs that require human interaction are hard to train without elements of the traditional hands-on approach. However, many skills can be taught better by systems that are adaptive to the learning style of the student, and with increased augmentation of human tutors by AI we can get faster and more personalized feedback to help students learn.”

An anonymous director of a major U.S. university’s futures initiative added, “Adaptive learning is getting better all the time. IBM’s partnership with Blackboard will be a beginning. AI-trained teaching assistants will be a help. For some skills in some areas (statistics, coding), adaptive online learning works exceptionally well for some people in some situations. Hybrid learning augments the benefits.”


An anonymous software-testing engineer said, “The combination of VR and AI is going to come into its own as a method of training more workers. The single most important skill for workers is knowing how to learn.”

Jannick B. Pedersen, futurist and impact investor at DareDisrupt, expects that such advances will allow online learners to enroll in training settings that individual students can experience as if they are in fully functioning one-on-one teacher-learner situations, “AI/neural networks will result in the emergence of learning systems resembling those of one-teacher-one-student,” he predicted, adding, “Use of ‘gamified’ learning approaches will improve learning impact and skill absorption.”

Scott Amyx, CEO of Amyx+, wrote, “Online educational platforms (, online universities, YouTube DIY videos, Scratch MIT) are setting the pace and tone for a new era of learning for children and adults. We have witnessed a wide spectrum of subjects being taught via online systems, from core curriculum to advanced AI and machine learning courses.”


An anonymous senior technology security architect disagreed with the AI enthusiasts, commenting, “Success won’t be the result of new educational or training programs, at least not dramatically different from what’s available now. Slapping a VR headset over a Second Life-style lecture hall isn’t innovation. Some improvements here are only going to be incremental. More importantly, these don’t scale well, as development of course material and recruiting good instructors both remain fairly intractable to technological solutions. And I’m sorry, but I don’t believe mind chatbots are going to replace lecturers anytime soon.”

Universities still have special roles to play in preparing people for life, but some are likely to diversify and differentiate

I don’t know what shape this will take, but I do know that the current higher education system is economically unsustainable. New training models will start at the lower end of the scale (activities/work that take less time to train) and then scale up as we figure out what works.Peter Eckart

Quite a few of the invited respondents who submitted comments in this canvassing work at a university or have had fruitful university experiences, so it should come as no surprise that they had insights to share about the values such an education bestows upon those who can afford the cost and the time to enjoy a residential college experience with face-to-face mentoring.

Larry Gallagher, organizational insight analyst at Stanford University, commented, “The skills that are cited as most important – creative problem-solving, collaboration, skilled communication – are not easily taught in isolation via online methods. There will always be a need for collaborative, face-to-face interactions as an integral part of learning. … I do believe that the deeper learning (again, collaboration, skilled communication, and the like) can enhance the performance of almost any worker, and opens up the possibility of creative improvements within the workplace itself. That is, a business can benefit from having a thoughtful, agile workforce, one that is constantly on the lookout for how to do things better. These are attitudes that are best inculcated beginning in kindergarten and nurtured through continuous modeling in the K-12 and higher education systems.”

Karen Blackmore, lecturer in information technology at the University of Newcastle, commented, “While online educational and vocational training exists and increases, the capacity to communicate using a multichannel approach, to engage and work effectively in teams, and interpersonal skills remain key skills for our future workforce. Indeed, as we move to a global workforce, the ability to communicate within and across cultural boundaries is critical. While intrinsical skills are required, the holistic approach currently afforded by traditional undergraduate programs is difficult to teach at scale.”

Richard Forno, senior lecturer of computer science and electrical engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, replied, “We already see a trend toward online procurement of technical and task-oriented training to fill critical jobs in many fields, such as IT. That’s fine, but if such narrowly tailored efforts do not foster the development of other competencies (i.e., teamwork, critical thinking, writing well, understanding contexts) needed to be a capable professional – what most two- and four-year universities provide – this process will provide trained technicians to fill the many immediate ‘job’ opportunities, but not necessarily the well-rounded foundation needed for a cohesive long-term career path. There is so much more to being a competent working professional than just ‘technical skills,’ you know!”

An anonymous professor at City University of New York wrote, “With texts, developing online content and developing cutting-edge curricula, I see a variety of clear differences between the kind of instruction available through, for example, online videos, and the kind of learning environment we try to create in a college, one that includes the development of the individual’s sense of identity, high-level information discrimination, ethics and more.”

Rob Smith, software developer and privacy activist, responded, “Clearly there are many skills that require practice and direct feedback to learn successfully, and it’s obvious that these will be less well-suited to an online environment than some others. … I suspect we’ll see universities focusing more on these foundational skills with options for specifics such as individual programming languages or development environments being moved online. This would increase choice for students, form the basis of a lifelong career of learning and could perhaps differentiate the more committed and able students from the rest. It might also help employers to become more accepting of online training. A job candidate with a good foundational degree from a good university and lots of additional credits for online learning might be expected to rate more highly (in terms of qualifications if not actual ability) than one with just online qualifications but is lacking the foundations. Or perhaps vice versa, depending on what the job is. In summary, I think online courses are here to stay and will proliferate. Companies and universities will make more use of them. And this is generally a good thing, because it would help people to tailor their education more closely to their abilities, interests and the type of job they want (ditto for employers). Perhaps it would go some way to solving some of the problems we face with the university system particularly in places like the U.S. and (increasingly) the UK.”

David Karger, a professor of computer science at MIT, wrote, “Computers can currently do a pretty good job of teaching calculation (by giving and checking lots of calculation exercises) or facts (with automated flash cards) or language (by giving and checking lots of translation exercises). But computers can or will soon be able to calculate, remember and translate for us. It’s much harder for computers to engage in abstract thinking, design a new product, compose a convincing argument on a topic or make art, but those are also things we haven’t yet figured out how to teach using computers. But as I mentioned above, these are all things that people can teach each other, and the web provides a powerful medium to connect teachers to learners. No matter how good our online teaching systems become, the current four-year college model will remain dominant for quite some time. Partly because of credentialing, but also because four-year colleges involve far more than teaching. College has encouraged us to stretch our notion of adolescence, thus 22 is the new 18. Those four years are a time when our coddled children are slowly eased into adulthood in an environment that gives them more independence than true children but far more support than adults have historically needed. We aren’t going to take that away. Even if we do away with the teachers and physical courses, this age group will continue to migrate to large residential blocks full of people just like them so they can build social bonds and learn how to be adults away from their parents.”

The high costs of residential universities are still expected to continue to inspire new alternatives that may prove attractive enough to draw many learners and thus cut down on future overall enrollment numbers.

Peter Eckart, a respondent who did not share additional identifying details, commented, “I don’t know what shape this will take, but I do know that the current higher education system is economically unsustainable. New training models will start at the lower end of the scale (activities/work that take less time to train) and then scale up as we figure out what works.”

Daniel Berleant, author of “The Human Race to the Future,” wrote, “Educational technology using computers for distance and self-paced instruction will continue to thrive and advance. The high cost of instruction will continue to exert pressure to reduce costs using computer technology, resulting in steady advances in that direction. Ultimately, the teaching profession will face progressively decreasing job opportunities as automation continues to encroach.”

Joshua Segall, a software engineer, replied, “We will see new methods of learning driven by increased cost of university tuition. They will be better at focused skill training and self-taught tactical skills. They will be poor at teaching critical thinking, strategy, and social skills such as communications skills and good management.”

Some respondents mentioned the divide between the elite who can afford a university education and those who cannot. Tse-Sung Wu, a project portfolio manager at Genentech, observed, “We are already seeing the proliferation of traditional teaching systems into the internet, with MOOC courses offered by leading American universities. The peril is that this may create a two-tiered educational system: one for the masses, online only; and one of the elite, at higher price, in-person. Not surprisingly, the skills that are most difficult to teach using these technologies are anything that is hands-on, requires face-to-face nonverbal communication, or otherwise is related to the provision of in-person services. These so-called soft skills are culturally and geographically specific, and, using current technology, probably aren’t easily taught except in person. Secondly, in a sophisticated, post-industrial economy such as the U.S., EU and other wealthy economies, the role of marketing, customer service, user-experience design and delivery is increasingly important. Think of how you can find a piece of home furnishing at Restoration Hardware and be inspired of its provenance and manufacture: ‘This birdhouse is made one by one by a group of fisher folk on the Andaman Sea who have been passing this craft mother to daughter for generations.’ Compare it to the same exact item at Target for a tenth of the price. Like design, these will be the high-value tasks, while engineering and manufacturing continues to be commoditized. So it depends on the application: I can imagine a multinational corporation willing to employ a poor Bangladeshi educated only in a MOOC offered by MIT if she’s only going to code. But if you want this person to design and oversee the retail experience of upper-middle-class Shanghai, you’ll end up with someone from an elite school, who had in-person interactions and, more importantly, the face-to-face relationships that led them to you.”


Some respondents said universities do not gear up quickly enough to provide the education necessary for many workers – especially those who are rapidly displaced (even after a university education) by automation. An anonymous developer commented, “Employers will continue to move to just-in-time training as old skills are replaced by new ones. Traditional four-year training programs are an anachronistic ‘coming of age’ ritual unsuited to the needs of continuous training of an aging workforce. Already over 100 million people in the USA are not working, and they can’t all go back to college.”

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