During a recent PIE webinar, Caroline Evans, Arden University’s corporate strategy director, said that traditional universities and programs currently only equip people for the first two or three years of their career.
“If you don’t leave them with the skills to update that, and the mindset to continue learning from everyone around them, then their learning becomes redundant very quickly, and their career doesn’t have longevity,” she explained.
“If you don’t leave them with the skills to update… their learning becomes redundant very quickly”
The gap between the needs of employers and what students learn has long been an issue, including among international students from developing countries who can find that their technical knowledge is too advanced when they return home.
Online universities say they particularly focus on adapting courses and programs to meet the needs of employers.
“We actually developed a big data approach to using artificial intelligence,” said Fadl Al Tarzi, founder and CEO of Nexford University, which was founded two years ago and offers 100% online classes.
“We’ve analysed so far almost 40 million data points across the world, including job vacancies. We mine job vacancies every day, we analyse reports as well as employer surveys, and we extract from that big data set what are the skills employers need, and we design our curriculum based on that.”
Minerva, whose courses involve students spending time in seven different countries around the world including in Taiwan, Argentina and India, added that it also focuses on soft skills.
“[Employers are] looking for four core competencies: critical thinking, creative thinking, effective communication and effective collaboration,” said Diana El Azar, the institution’s senior director, strategic communications.
“If we think of critical thinking, some of the learning outcomes that are associated with that would be qualifying the source of a claim, fact from fallacy, arguing for and against, assessing the source, credibility, plausibility, understanding correlation and causality. We teach those very explicitly.”
While the demographics of students taking online courses are different – they tend to be older and are not likely to be influenced in their choice to study by their parents or family, for example – online universities also suggest that the time has come to review the benefit of the campus experience.
Evans equates it to “almost an adult kindergarten”.
“Do we really have to put these people in a synthetic environment for three years?”
“Do we really have to put these people in a synthetic environment for three years? How much of a real world experience is it?” she asked.
“Speaking personally, I grew up in a very affluent small market town in rural England. Then I went to Warwick University, which was a campus basically filled with the same people I’d grown up with. I wouldn’t really say it was a massive diversity experience or life experience from that perspective.
“I don’t think anyone could say that people who’ve [studied with us], as opposed to people who’ve gone to a traditional university, are less well rounded or have less of a life experience.“