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#NEOblog: 2020 in review

December 22, 2020

With 2020 in review, we can say pretty definitively that it has proved to be something of a wake-up call for the Higher Education sector. Over the past nine months, we have looked at those who are disrupting the education landscape and what universities need to do in order to future-proof their offer to students. Here is a look back at the developments and innovations that we have covered on the blog this year.

2020 in review: The future of education

Despite the gradual but persistent change in students’ lifestyles, job prospects and personal finances, the structure of university courses had not seen much change, until the arrival of Covid-19, when the dominance of long-term courses, synchronous in-person learning, and expensive tuition is finally being challenged. 2020 saw a vast and, many would say, irreversible shift towards home and distance learning, as campuses around the world closed their doors. While this was by no means a seamless transition, it was clear that students and academic staff alike found many benefits to this new way of learning. Once they’d all mastered the ‘unmute’ button, of course.

In September, we discussed the rise of the education disruptors focusing specifically on Google’s latest offering. Through Google’s forthcoming professional training certificate courses, students are not only able to secure more affordable qualifications in around six months, but support with entering the jobs market and securing relevant experience is also including in this attractive offer.

The World Economic Forum predicts that emerging professions, such as those in the tech, programming, and UX sectors, will grow to 13.5% of the workforce by 2025. With that in mind, it is clear that the big players in those sectors – Google being chief among them – are set to continue to challenge the traditional educational bodies with their new learning and training offers. So what can universities do to keep up?

With a decline in popularity of well-established courses such as MBAs, it might seem on the face of it that institutions aren’t nimble enough to stay relevant to their students’ needs. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown quite the opposite to be true. The concept of liquid learning, though not new in its component parts, saw a huge surge in popularity this year.

Described as an ‘infinitely customizable’ and ‘borderless’ approach by IE University, liquid learning offers students an adaptive curriculum that is collaborative, experiential, and uses technology as a pedagogical tool, rather than for the sake of the technology itself. With a blend of asynchronous and synchronous learning, it is a more democratic approach to higher education, attracting a broader age range than would be typically expected for undergraduate and postgraduate applications.

2020 in review

2020 in review: The future of the workplace

The biggest shift in the working world that we saw in 2020 was, of course, the move from office-based to working from home. The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed 83% of companies to scale up their remote working capabilities and 1/3 of all work will be permanently done from home by the end of 2021. This is a dramatic change that seems unlikely to be reversed.

Much like the future of education, the future of work looks to be liquid. With a rise in the popularity of remote working for both companies and employers, it is clear that the urgent need for flexibility and innovation brought about by the Covid-19 crisis has kicked this gradual shift in working culture up a gear.

For liquid workers, the future of work means the ability to choose contracts and projects that suit their specific skill set. Working remotely would be their primary option, leading to international work forces based all over the world. Over the course of their professional lifetime, this means working for a greater number of employers.

For employers, this liquid workforce offers a wider pool of potential employees and contractors to choose from. Moreover, businesses can have a blend of fixed and liquid employees, as giants such as Google and Amazon have done for a long time. Highly-skilled professionals can be brought in to fit the needs of a business as they evolve, without being restricted by location or tied into long contracts.

Initial concerns about any negative impact on productivity that working from home may have had have proved largely unfounded. Thanks to more strategic use of technology and the incredible success of video platforms like Zoom, teams are continuing to collaborate and create together, even when they are permanently physically apart.

That said, please remember: working from home is a work in progress. If it’s something you’re still getting to grips with, we shared our top tips for staying focused, productive, and well when working from home. We hope these will serve you well both now and into the future.

2020 in review: The children of tomorrow

As regular readers of the blog will know, staying true to our core values is integral to our work at NEO Academy. Within that is our commitment to inspiring and supporting the future generation, so what better way to round up our year-in-review than looking at what 2020 has meant for Gen Z and Gen Alpha.

While 16-24-year-olds in the UK are less likely to have experienced working from home as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, a 2017 study found that nearly half of older Gen Z-ers had actively sought out and taken on freelance work that year. The next generation to enter the workforce are seeking variety and work with integrity and purpose, with career development and financial freedom also high on their list of professional priorities. If the future of work seems to be meeting their expectations, how can the education sector ensure that it is supporting them too?

Voice and choice in higher education are important for Gen Z, as we wrote about in October. Giving students the ability to choose when and how they learn not only suits the fluidity of modern living but when it is done well, improves academic outcomes and reduces drop-out rates – benefiting both universities and students.

As well as the practicalities of how education is being delivered to our young people, we looked this year at the importance of what is being taught by schools and universities too.

We asked whether our young people studying in the best possible environments (pandemic aside) are developing the right skill-set to support themselves in their academic and professional futures. We looked at the increasing weight given to developing so-called ‘soft skills’ and how schools are working to encourage better collaboration and leadership. Emotional resilience and positive communication skills are being increasingly valued by academic and business communities too.

In September, we discussed the intersection of sustainability and education, and how embedding aspects of the circular economy into teaching and learning will hugely benefit our young people in schools and universities. As well as working to make our institutions physically more environmentally-friendly (something which may potentially be aided by the rise in distance learning and use of technology in the classroom), there is a clear need to improve the sustainability and longevity of how and what young people are learning, too.

If we want to equip the next generation for the future jobs market, we need to recognize what is not working and act to change it, fast. What is clear is that the world isn’t going to wait for us to catch up.

2020 in review

2020 in review: So what comes next?

2020 has shown that flexibility is integral to the future of education. Universities need to go with their in order to stay relevant and sustainable.

It is clear that the next generation of students and workers are demanding more of their educational and business organisations, with a liquid workforce that needs work to be as malleable as the rest of modern life. What is great is that we have already seen institutions (traditional and not) responding to this need to adapt.

As we quoted Timothy Devinney in August, “maybe this is the crisis that Higher Education had to have”. We at NEO Academy will be keeping a close eye on this evolution in education and will continue to report on these innovations as we move into a new year of this exciting new era of education and work. Next week we will look ahead to 2021 and discuss our hopes for what comes next.

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