Delivering the teaching and skills needed for lifelong learning

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Innovative programmes can help higher education prepare students for the fourth industrial revolution

Universities must now prepare students for a working life that will likely require them to undertake reskilling for jobs that do not yet exist. As a result, how higher education adapts to the fourth industrial revolution is a matter for urgent debate.

In order to create a forum where sector leaders can share ideas, case studies and suggestions for best practice, Times Higher Education and Adobe will host the roundtable discussion “Creating ‘robot-proof’ students: how should universities deliver lifelong learning in the fourth industrial revolution?” before THE Live 2019. The latest collaboration between THE and Adobe to focus on improving digital literacy across the sector, it will build on the key takeaways and thought leadership from previous events.

“Society’s perceptions of the university are changing,” says Mark Andrews, digital learning programme manager at Cambridge Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, who will deliver a lightning keynote before the roundtable discussion that details Judge’s work with academia and industry.

Mr Andrews believes that to futureproof students for the world of work, universities must develop new ways of delivering education.

“I would advocate a bottom-up approach…enabling people at a local level to flourish but having good touch points to the central strategy,” he says. “It’s about how you design learning that is right for your learners, from what you teach to how you teach, and how you deliver it, to how you build the capability within faculty to work that way.”

At Judge Business School, Mr Andrews has helped develop three blended master’s degree programmes for professionals, in social innovation, accounting leadership and entrepreneurship. Each places a focus on equipping students with transferable and employment-specific skills. But he recognises that delivering a blend of campus-based and online learning programmes represents a “sea change” for universities that not all are presently equipped to manage. To drive innovation, partnerships must be established across the entire higher education ecosystem, he argues, especially between academics and learning designers, so that institutions have the capability to deliver new curriculum and qualifications. “You are creating a more learner-centric course, rather than something that is focused on the capabilities of the faculty,” he says.

As a result, Mr Andrews adds that there is a need for learning that is more “tangible and practical.” Collaborations with industry can help universities deliver the balance of an academic education and skills-based learning. “Universities are there to provide an education,” he says. “The education should try and transcend current trends or technologies with that mindset [and then] be topped up with training.”

Access to tools and developing skills used across industry is essential. At Judge Business School, examples of this are pre-courses in statistics for MBA students and integrating software packages such as Adobe Creative Cloud into its teaching.

In areas such as product management, where knowledge of Adobe XD, a design tool for web and mobile apps, is crucial, higher education can broaden its students’ understanding of how such a tool is used. “You are not just teaching the tool, you’re teaching the process of design thinking,” says Mr Andrews. “Where the academic can help is in terms of the process of teaching. ‘What is design thinking? What is UX design thinking? How does it apply to a particular industry or model?’ Then give students exposure to the tools.”

Models such as the National University of Singapore’s NUS Lifelong Learning programme, which offers 20-year enrolments, are pioneering alternative models for supporting students throughout their working life. Where UK HE sits on the disruption curve is up for debate, but there is little disputing that now is the time for the sector to evolve.

The 2019 Times Higher Education and Adobe roundtable will take place before THE Live on 27 November at the Leonardo Royal Hotel Tower Bridge, London.