Skip to main content

Podcast: Upskilling and the Future of Education Series – Part One, with Dr. Marie Cini and Dr. David Soo

  • 37 Min Read

Join us for a discussion on the future of education, breaking the societal stigma around degrees and the role of universities, employers and policymakers in upskilling and reskilling.


Welcome to Episode 8 of Teach & Learn: A podcast for curious educators, brought to you by D2L. Hosted by Dr. Cristi Ford, VP of Academic Affairs at D2L, the show features candid conversations with some of the sharpest minds in the K-20 education space. We discuss trending educational topics, teaching strategies and delve into the issues plaguing our schools and higher education institutions today.

Episode Description

Today’s episode is the first in a series we’re running on upskilling and the future of education. We look at why traditional methods of delivering post-secondary education are outdated, what can be done to address the societal stigma about not having a degree and offer suggestions for a way forward. To discuss these issues further, we welcomed Dr. Marie Cini, Provost and Chief Academic Officer at University of the People and Dr. David Soo, Vice President at Jobs for the Future. Dr. Cini, Dr. Soo and Dr. Ford chatted about:

  • Employers and the promise of skills-based hiring
  • What workers, companies and institutions can do to future proof jobs
  • Lessons learned from past boot camps and micro-credentialing initiatives
  • The role policymakers play in upskilling and reskilling

Show Notes

01:10: An introduction to Dr. Marie Cini and Dr. David Soo

04:21: Dr. Cini discusses the uptake and results of free post-secondary education at University of the People

07:57: Dr. David Soo speaks on why there is still a stigma around not having a degree

09:46: What gen Z wants from a college education and how to break societal and institutional structures around the 4-year degree requirement for jobs

12:16: What workers and companies can do to help future-proof jobs

17:08: Why higher ed institutes should approach working with employers as a partnership.

22:59: Takeaways from past bootcamp and micro-credential models

27:03: Dr. Cini discusses the importance of soft skills

32:06: Dr. Soo discusses the role of policy makers in the upskilling and reskilling of workers

32:21: Closing the equity gap and digital divide in education

34:42: How educators, institutions and corporations can be more intentional about lifelong and flexible learning

Resources Discussed in the Episode

Learn more about University of the People

Learn more about Jobs for the Future

Learn more about Dr. Cristi Ford and the Teaching and Learning Studio

About the Speakers

Dr Marie Cini is currently the Provost and Chief Academic Officer at University of the People, the first non-profit, U.S.-accredited, tuition-free online university. Previously, she served as president of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) and as provost and senior vice president at the University of Maryland University College (now University of Maryland Global Campus). Marie is committed to helping colleges, universities, and employers find points of collaboration and connection for the best outcomes of students.

Dr. David Soo is a Vice President at Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit organization that drives transformation in the education and workforce systems to ensure economic advancement for all. In his role, David works to provide strategic and programmatic leadership for key initiatives across JFF and JFFLabs. Before joining JFF, David spent more than seven years as a senior policy advisor in the U.S. Department of Education. He was a key architect of the department’s higher education innovation agenda during the Obama administration and later served in the Office of the Secretary’s Office of Educational Technology.

Dr. Cristi Ford serves as the Vice President of Academic Affairs at D2L. She brings more than 20 years of cumulative experience in higher education, secondary education, project management, program evaluation, training and student services to her role. Dr. Ford holds a PhD in Educational Leadership from the University of Missouri-Columbia and undergraduate and graduate degrees in the field of Psychology from Hampton University and University of Baltimore, respectively.

Subscribe to the Teach & Learn Podcast

Teach & Learn is a podcast for curious educators created by D2L, a global education and learning company. Make sure you subscribe for the latest episodes.

Full Transcript

Dr. Cristi Ford (00:00):

Welcome to Teach & Learn, a podcast for curious educators, brought to you by D2L. I’m your host, Dr. Cristi Ford, VP of Academic Affairs at D2L. Every two weeks I get candid with some of the sharpest minds in the K-20 space. We break down trending educational topics, discuss teaching strategies, and have frank conversations about the issues plaguing our schools and higher education institutions today.

Whether it’s ed tech, personalized learning, virtual classrooms, or diversity inclusion, we’re going to cover it all. Sharpen your pencils. Class is about to begin.

Thanks for joining us today on Teach & Learn. I’m so excited to have both of my guests joining for this exciting episode because it’s the first in a series that we’re running on upskilling and the future of education. This is a critical conversation for many of us, no matter your vantage point.

We’re going to look at how to engage policymakers to help create creative solutions that close the skills gap, discuss what we can do to reduce the societal stigma around not having a degree and offer suggestions for a way forward.

So listeners, before we jump in, I want to take just a moment to introduce my two guests to you today. Dr. Marie Cini is a current provost and chief academic officer at the University of the People. The first nonprofit US accredited tuition-free online university. You heard that right. Tuition-free. We’re going to talk to her more about that. Previously, she served as president of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, also known as CAEL, and as Provost and Senior Vice President at the University of Maryland University College, now known as UMGC. Maria is committed to helping colleges, universities, and employers find points of connection and collaboration for the best outcomes for students.

Fun fact about Marie. Back in 2016, she was inducted into the International Adult Continuing Educational Hall of Fame and something that I’m just learning now as I’m hearing this. Marie, is this right that you lift weights in your spare time?

Dr. Marie Cini:

Yes. I do. I just started doing that about two years ago and it just transformed me. I’m like ready to rock and roll. Nobody can push against me. I can push right back. So be careful, Cristi.

Dr. Cristi Ford (02:21):

I love it. I love it. Thanks for joining us, Marie. Really glad to have you with us for this conversation. Dr. David Soo. Great to have you as well. Vice President at Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit organization that drives transformation in the education and workforce systems to ensure economic advancement for all.

In David’s role, he provides strategic and programmatic leadership for key initiatives across jobs for the future and the jobs for the future’s lab. Before joining JFF, David spent more than seven years as senior policy advisor in the US Department of Education where I got to know him well as a key architect of the department’s higher education innovation agenda during the Obama administration.

And David later served in the office of the secretary’s office of Educational Technology. Fun fact about David. Outside of his work, his husband, they’ve recently purchased, is this right? A 50-acre farm on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.

Dr. David Soo (03:18):

That is also true and I have a lot to learn in that respect.

Dr. Cristi Ford (03:22):

So the two of you together, I can just see a CrossFit weekend retreat getaway on this 50 farm acre.

Dr. Marie Cini (03:30):

I love it. I’m looking for something like that, David.

Dr. Cristi Ford (03:32):

Sounds perfect.

Dr. Marie Cini (03:32):

We’re going to talk.

Dr. Cristi Ford (03:34):

Thank you both for joining me today. I really appreciate it.

Dr. David Soo (03:37):

Yeah, thanks for having us.

Dr. Marie Cini (03:39):

Yes, absolutely.

Dr. Cristi Ford (03:40):

So as I think about your work and your areas of passion intersection, you’re both involved in organizations with the mission to make education more available, equitable and affordable to learners. So Marie, I really want to start with you. Can you just tell us a little bit more about University of the People? I mean the idea of being able to obtain a tuition-free MBA while continuing to work. I can imagine it’s so appealing for so many people. And a note to the listeners, University of the People also offers free and master’s degrees in various disciplines. What’s the uptake been like in your programs, and what are the results that you’re seeing?

Dr. Marie Cini (04:21):

Yeah, so thank you for asking that question. So we are a US accredited institution and nonprofit, but our students come from 200 countries and territories and there’s only a few places left outside of that, that we don’t have students. My president really started this institution for those students who literally have no other choice. They’re either refugees, we have Afghan women, we’ve got folks from the Ukraine who have had to leave and can’t continue their studies.

Dr. Cristi Ford (04:57):


Dr. Marie Cini (04:58):

Yeah, it’s pretty heartbreaking some of the stories that we hear. But we also, 20% of our students are from the US, which shows you, the formerly incarcerated, those who have very little money. You might actually have a job, but you have three kids and you can’t really afford to pay for your own education. So we have between all of our undergraduate, graduate and we have some non-credit ESL programming, we have about 126,000 students right now whose lives we are touching.

So the uptake has been, I think, bigger than anybody would’ve imagined, and we’re constantly surprised by how many students join. Look, we’re opening the gates to higher education. That literally means if you have an undergraduate degree, a GED, something like, or a high school degree or a GED, we’ll accept you. And we try to give you the kinds of support you need at the very beginning. Retention is always going to be harder in those kinds of situations, especially with our student population, so we’re actually making great inroads on that, but it’s always a bit of a struggle.

Dr. Cristi Ford (06:07):

Marie, what I know about you from our time together at UMUC is that you are very action-oriented and results-driven. And so I’d love to hear a little bit more about the profile. It was great to hear about the profiles of the students you’re serving, but are students getting jobs? Are they getting promotions? What are you seeing in terms of the outcomes from your students that you serve?

Dr. Marie Cini (06:29):

Yeah, interestingly, a large number of our students have some kind of a job. They might not be professional, they might be working at a lower level, but they’re using the degree or the opportunity for more education to move up. So we are seeing students, it’s hard to track what happens after people graduate, especially with our population, but we get reports back from our students that they’re getting jobs.

I mean, we have a partnership with SAP, S-A-P. We have students getting positions there at Deloitte. I mean, it’s pretty amazing where some of our students are able to work after they get a degree. And some of it is because they’re so hardworking. I mean, when you find out that they have the degree, but also what they’ve had to do to get that degree, I think employers find that pretty compelling.

Dr. Cristi Ford (07:19):

Yeah. I find this to be really fascinating as we think about the flexible models that we need to put in place to make sure there’s opportunity and access for all. And so David, I’d like to have you jump in this conversation and join us. I know that as I’ve looked at your work and known you for many, many years, you’ve wrote about ensuring that there are multiple on-ramps and off ramps, pathways available to students.

And then really most importantly, thinking about ways that we can reduce the stigma that surrounds not having a degree. I mean, what do you see, and what do you think we can do to one, start to address the stigma?

Dr. David Soo (07:57):

Yeah, no, it’s a great question and a really important topic. I mean, I think degrees are so important and institutions like Marie’s that are making degrees available for people are really critical. And I want to make sure that we do everything possible to give people that opportunity.

At the same time, a degree is not the only way that one can be educated and get into the workforce or live a meaningful life, but there are many, many other ways that you can become educated. And for far too long, these other pathway options have been seen as secondary, or other than, or alternative to. And with all of the proliferation of new options available, it just seems like it’s time to start to reduce that stigma to really make it possible for people to choose those other options and to feel good about them.

And so there’s a lot of work and innovation that needs to happen both in those pathway programs themselves in the quality assurance around them. So there’s a lot of work to be done on many avenues, but a lot of it is really reducing that stigma and ensuring that people who might be listening to this podcast, who might be professionals can say, “Kids like mine might want to go to some of these other programs,” and see an option there.

Dr. Cristi Ford (09:06):

So I appreciate that, David. I really am interested in having this conversation because I’m finding that there’s such a chasm in this skills gap. There are individuals, as you just mentioned, and we talk about generation Z and the importance of really being able to have these multiple pathways, but how do we tackle some of these societal structures and institutional structures that there are many jobs out here that without a four-year degree you can’t even apply. And so have you been having some of those conversations? Because I think it’s also the input and the output, and how do we think about re-conceptualizing the requirements to get people in jobs?

Dr. David Soo (09:46):

Yeah, no, and I’m glad you mentioned students and gen Z students, and I’ve been doing a fair amount of talking to some of those folks and it’s great to talk to them. They really want alternative options. They want other pathways to and through schooling. And we in fact did a nationally representative survey with a bunch of gen Z students and found overwhelmingly that students wanted to have other pathways.

They still saw them, we called our report degrees of risk because they still saw it as a little bit too risky in some cases, or there were questions about it from their parents, from others, but they’re really open to it. The flip side of that was we also surveyed employers, large, medium-sized employers and found that likewise, they’re really open to hiring people from different roots. And you’ve seen a lot of groups trying to encourage this skills-based hiring, removing degree requirements, and there’s a lot of openness there.

There’s a little bit less implementation, especially when you get to the frontline. And so working with companies large and small to help them figure out what might you do? What are some of the practices you could put in place, what are some of the things that the frontline manager area that can be done? So I think that there’s a lot of interest here, a lot of momentum here. It seems like this might be the time when we can actually start to change some of these stigmas and change some of the pathways that are available.

Dr. Cristi Ford (11:07):

I think this is so critical because the three of us know that we’ve been having this conversation for a long time in higher education, and sometimes it feels very circular in terms of we know that there’s a big challenge or problem we need to solve, but we haven’t done a great job at really identifying these solutions.

So David, hearing some of your thoughts around the degrees of risk report is really helpful. I recently read an article that was published by the World Economic Forum, and it estimated by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labor. We have machine learning and AI, and so the division of labor will shift from humans to machines.

And more importantly, the report talks about 50% of all employees will need to be re-skilled by 2025 as adoption of technology increases. And so Marie, I’m thinking about the work that you’re doing at University of the People and the work that you’ve done in all the organizations where I’ve known you to do great work. What can workers do to have the best chance of future-proofing their work lives?

Dr. Marie Cini (12:16):

Yeah, I mean, it’s going to sound like a, I think we all know it. It’s continuous learning. It’s just always knowing that whatever you’re doing today and whatever you’ve learned to do for this particular place in your life, you’re going to be out of date in a year or two and I think all of us face that.

I have to, and this relates to when you went, we’re talking about with David and I about does it always have to be a degree? Can it be a certificate? Can it be… What’s fascinating to me is we’re sort of in this spot it occurs to me where the middle and upper classes are now finally saying, “If my kid doesn’t go to college, I think I’m okay with that. They can get a trade and make a lot of money, and I’m okay with that now.” I think a lot of it is parental pressure.

I work with a population where people probably didn’t think they could get a college degree. And I realize that part of why I still am so focused, look, I really, David, I support what you guys do. JFF is a great organization. I think we should have shorter-term certificates and shorter programs, but there’s something about putting it all together over time and adding in some of the liberal arts that really, I think expands you as a human being.

And so over time, I’d love us to see a college degree, if you will, what we used to call the four-year degree, be much more of a series of modules and learnings that you need throughout your life. And then at a certain point, maybe people in the future actually get their degree when they’re 45 because a lot of it is life experience too.

But you can’t stop learning. You just have to keep going back and figuring out what the next set of knowledge is to keep you up-to-date, and that should be exciting. I think we really get out of date and we become kind of boring when we’ve stopped learning, so it should just be how we do things.

Dr. David Soo (14:13):

Yeah, I agree with you, Marie, and I think that your institution and others have demonstrated that learning for that liberal arts kind of learning doesn’t have to happen within the four walls, the ivy-covered walls, as the picture goes from the past. There are so many different ways you could learn. You can get that really liberal learning. And so I just am excited for over time, over the future to have lots more institutions, organizations places where that learning happens for those to really flourish and for us to figure out what is the mechanism by which we record that learning and we make it visible so that other people, employers can recognize that.

Dr. Cristi Ford (14:52):

Yeah, I appreciate both of your comments on that. And I guess I would like to ask this of both of you. I think about the blockbuster effect when we were teaching people how to be VHS repairmen, and the time has long gone since that that trade is needed. And so I wonder what organizations and companies can do to future-proof their workforce and really to be thinking advantageously about where the future of work is going.

David Soo (15:19):

We’ve seen a lot of companies that are getting in on the reskilling game, and I love the VHS repairmen of the past. My favorite example is the social media manager that didn’t exist a generation ago.

Dr. Cristi Ford (15:33):


Dr. David Soo (15:34):

But yeah, we’re seeing a lot of companies really invest in the training of their workers, and a lot of it has to do with just meeting their training needs. They really need to have people to work in certain roles. And it can be a lot easier to find the people who are already in their roles there.

Other cases, it can be that they have enlightened self-interest in keeping people learning and working in the jobs that they are in today, and it’ll keep them in their seats for longer. So there’s a mixture of all of these different motivations, but you’ve seen the employers get in the game a lot. I think that there are other things that can be done to encourage more of it, some uncovering of best practices from multiple employers.

There are things that can be done in the policy space to encourage companies to invest in their workers through tax treatment and whatnot. But I really think that this is the future that employers are going to get much more in the game of educating their employees.

Dr. Cristi Ford (16:31):

Yeah, and Marie, I appreciate that, David, in terms of the organization and company’s responsibility. I wonder is there still a better way to be able to reach back and connect with institutions and higher education institutions?

And so, Marie, when I look at what you’re doing at the University of the People is so dramatically different from any other higher education model that’s out there in terms of how you’re thinking about making sure that access is available. As David talked about the organization or company lens, are there new models for how you work with those organizations and companies?

Dr. Marie Cini (17:08):

Oh, I think there has to be. And look, higher ed has made it hard for employers to know how to work with them because we have a tendency in higher ed to say, “Well, we have this degree and this degree and an MBA, so pick one and tell us which of these you want your employees to come into.”

And really, we have to be more of a cooperative partner that has the knowledge about these skill sets that we’re talking about. And we are thinking more in terms of having outreach folks, they’ll be hired this year who actually go to companies and say, “Hey, what do you need? Tell us what you need in terms of training or upskilling or further knowledge and we’ll work with you. And we can either put together something based on what we already have, or maybe we can design something new.”

But it can’t just be here we are with the monolithic set of degrees, pick one. And look, this is already happening for some institutions that are smart and forward-thinking, but I think we’re going to see a lot more of it. And I think those institutions that can get ahead with being good partners to employers like this will actually be ahead of the game.

Dr. Cristi Ford (18:20):

Agreed, agreed. And I think as you mentioned those comments, I’m starting to think about the fact that we had this universal disruptor in terms of the pandemic and a lot of innovation by universities and new providers and we’re coming, I mean, we’re not out of the pandemic, but we’re post-peak pandemic times now, I say, and we have some uncertain economic times. And so I guess I have a question for both of you. What do you think the future holds?

Dr. Marie Cini (18:51):

Wow. You mean for higher ed in general or for education?

Dr. Cristi Ford (18:56):


Dr. Marie Cini (18:58):

Yeah. Well, I’ll start. I think the answer is that that nobody knows the answer. The disruptions are going to be many. Institutions that we thought were never going to go away are going away. I live in Pennsylvania now, and we have a state system that for years was strong and had many, many students going there. And the PASSHE system is now, a couple of institutions have had to merge and, but they’re out of that sort of destructive element. There’s some really positive, really interesting things happening.

So I don’t think it’s just going to be destruction. It’s going to be that sort of transformation almost like the phoenix rising, and I don’t mean the university with that name, but I actually have a greater faith in most colleges and universities and I’ll just speak from that side of things that they are seeing where things are going and they’re innovating pretty quickly, but it’s going to be really hard. I don’t think it’ll be one thing. I think the monolith is really over.

Dr. Cristi Ford (20:09):

Agreed. David, what are you thinking?

Dr. David Soo (20:12):

Yeah, no, I mean, I share that optimism. I see that there’s a lot of dynamism in the college and university space. I think also in the alternative provider, as we were talking about earlier, employer space, there’s just so much happening. There’s so much innovation that’s occurring that it’s really exciting, and so I would just love to see more of that happen.

We just did another a market scan at JFF where we looked at some of the innovation that was happening in the space. And one of the key findings was that there’s a lot of these, we call them foundational models, things that have been around for a while, like apprenticeship or career and technical education or certificates. And those things are doing well and they’re continuing to grow. But we’re also seeing organizations that are combining different elements, and we called it a really dynamic time because people are mixing and matching, they’re starting to combine in new ways that might not have existed before. And Covid made that a requirement.

One of the organizations that we talked about is PelotonU, where students can go and they can do online coursework at Southern New Hampshire or Western Governors or other places and then they have mentorship and guidance around the side. And before the pandemic, it was all in person, and they were very adamant about that model. They switched during the pandemic, obviously, to being virtual, and they found that their outcomes went up, and they are now really rethinking what they had always thought was necessary before.

And so I think that out of this pandemic time, we’re going to see a lot of change, a lot of growth, a lot of challenging assumptions. And the old adage of never let a good crisis go to waste, I think that’s the case here. And so I’m just hopeful and optimistic that there is that innovation in a college university sector in these other sectors, and that when we look back a couple years from now, we’ll see this as really a time when a lot of innovation happened.

The one worry maybe that there’s the clouds of the recession looming. We don’t really know exactly what that’s going to look like. I hope that doesn’t dampen things down, and I hope that people continue to invest in that kind of education and training. But I think that’s just one thing we need to watch out for in the next couple of months and years.

Dr. Cristi Ford (22:15):

So as I’m listening to both of you, I guess I want to harken back to 2015 when we really started to see a lot of boot camps spring up, a lot of focus on micro credentials. As you’ve looked at this landscape and you’re both offering great optimism, but I wonder what did we learn from that time? Because we saw some of them that did well, but we saw several of them that in theory were a great model but failed miserably in terms of getting folks in the workforce. And so I’m just wondering your take on what have we learned from those experiments around the micro masters or those experiments around boot camps and the like?

Dr. Marie Cini (22:59):

One takeaway that I would add, I think is that a job or a first professional position is about more than skills. And I think that this is where I’ll go back and say some of the broadening of a college education is very important. I mean, when you look at all the research, what you hear is yeah, you have to have the skills and you have to have the knowledge, but how you work interpersonally, how you are in a team is really important.

And I know that some of that was built into boot camps, but my guess is that it really didn’t give the kind of broadening over a long period of time that one needs when they first go into the workforce because people fail, not because of their knowledge, they fail because they can’t get along with people and they’re difficult to be around, so I think that’s some of it.

We also have a generational change now and with millennials, et cetera, they’re not, honestly, I’ll tell you, I’m a boomer, although I’m a millennial at heart. I just was born in the wrong period of time, but I kind of love their attitude. They don’t want to be hemmed in. They don’t want to be tied to any one thing for too long a period of time. They want freedom. And I wonder if our models just are not following what people are really interested in their lives.

Again, I think we have to stop thinking that there’s this period of time between certain ages where you get the knowledge and skills you need, and then you’re set to go. There really has, I think that it has to be over a longer period of time where people can come in and out and get what they need. And we need to be okay with that instead of, if you dropped out of college, you’re a failure. Well, no, you just haven’t… Maybe that is where you’re going to end, or maybe there’s more that you’re going to do when you get older, so let’s make it possible.

Dr. Cristi Ford (25:03):


Dr. David Soo (25:05):


Dr. Cristi Ford (25:06):

That’s, go ahead, David. Jump in.

Dr. David Soo (25:08):

Well, I think one of the problems, so I agree with a lot of that. I think another one of the problems that has plagued the bootcamp sector or some of these shorter term programs is just, it’s unclear exactly what’s happening there, what the quality is, what the outcomes are.

And so we need much more robust ways of measuring that and making that clear both to students or to employers who might be hiring them. And until we really are able to demonstrate that, I think there’s going to be skepticism and hesitancy. And so I would suspect that there are probably some challenges inherent to the way that those programs were designed, some of which Marie just articulated, and there were just ways that we couldn’t quite translate what was learned there into a language that was readable or understandable by people who were on the other side of things. And so I think a lot more needs to be done to really re-think our quality assurance and paradigm in that space.

Dr. Marie Cini (26:05):

As David was talking, it occurred to me, I know many people in the HR recruiting space, and they tend to still recruit. If you’re comfortable with the degree or the kind of education you had, that’s where you go and recruit. And I think some of these new models are a little bit, we don’t understand them enough. We don’t know if we should recruit from there or what we’re getting.

And I think that’s also part of the reason why, you talked about micro-credentials and badges and oh, didn’t we hear so many times we’d have these stackable credentials, and I think it’s just still not something that we’re familiar with, or even it seems like, “Oh, that’s a good idea, but gee, I’m okay and I didn’t have that when I was in college.” I think it’s going to be a generational shift, and I do still think there’s a lot of value in that kind of model, but it just seems odd.

Dr. Cristi Ford (27:03):

Yeah. Yeah. I agree with you there, Marie. I want to go back to the point you made around the lack of comprehensive thoughtfulness around not just technical skills. And in that we’re finding there’s a lot more interest in key qualities in what used to be called soft skills, right? Resiliency, critical thinking, problem-solving.

And I will say that during my work internationally, really thinking about higher education globally, what are the kinds of skills that are needed there? And so from your perspective, how do we go about repositioning that and as the University of the People doing some of that to target this global population and think about all these other components and just being able to understand Python?

Dr. Marie Cini (27:51):

Oh, absolutely. So two different ways. Well, obviously we still have the broadening general education with those liberal arts outcomes, and we’re really making sure that we’re assessing those communication critical thinking to make sure that students have that around the globe. And that is, we sometimes forget that that’s a hallmark of US higher education, that not all education around the globe is intended to help you think more broadly, that a lot of it is still just wrote, you just memorize and you say it back to the instructor exactly the way the instructor gave it to you, so that broadening is one thing.

The other is that we received some funding from the Oak Foundation to add sustainability goals. And I’m talking about a broad range of them. The UN has a set of sustainability goals that we have embedded into our curriculum so that students aren’t just learning about business, but let’s talk about sustainable business and how we care about the environment even as we are making a profit and so I think that’s really important. I’m very, very proud of that.

And the other thing is at, because we have students from over 200 countries and territories, we actually have an algorithm when we place them into courses that we try to get them with as many different students from different countries or regions as possible so that they can really learn from each other, and that in itself is a broadening experience that a lot of students don’t get in most higher ed institutions.

Dr. Cristi Ford (29:32):

I love that. I love that from that perspective and the global piece around that. As I think about my work here at D2L, the sustainability goals, it’s really fascinating to me to see the international organizations really championing that work wholeheartedly in the curriculum, so kudos to you for that.

And so we’ve talked about corporations, we’ve talked about institutions, but, Dave, I know you spent a lot of time in the policy area. We need some support there as well. And so what do you think we can do to encourage the skilling of workers by policymakers?

Dr. David Soo (30:06):

Yeah, I think that there’s a lot of potential here for policy to make a real difference. I would say the good news is that there’s a lot of interest and excitement about it in DC these days. Another poll that we recently conducted was of these “DC insiders”, but people who work on the Hill and the agencies. And there was a lot of interest in finding ways to expand educational opportunity, actually support bipartisan support for some short-term Pell, and providing Pell grants and loans to new kinds of programs so that there are bipartisan areas of interest here, so I think that’s the first good piece of good news.

The other thing is I think you’ve seen from this administration even, I think frankly the previous one, interest from a lot of different agencies in this work. So obviously the Department of Education where I used to work, is doing a lot in this space. The Department of Labor is doing a lot of work not only in their apprenticeship work, but also other work that they’re doing with community colleges and youth training programs. So there’s a lot of interest from there.

The Department of Commerce has really gotten into this game in some of the Recovery Act and others there, they’ve gotten some money. Some of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act is sending money for re-training, we’re seeing at the Department of Transportation. So there’s really a whole of government approach to how we can re-think skilling and training and so I’m heartened by that.

I think it would still behoove everyone who’s listening here to continue engaging with policymakers, tell them why they should be engaged in this, encourage them to keep sending funding and resources and dollars to education and training. There’s certainly many more investments that can be done, and I think frankly, the bully pulpit of the government could be harnessed even more. We’ve seen some convenings from the Department of Education, but I think that they could be doing a lot more to really leverage and bring together people from across the different sectors from the education and training sectors, from the corporate sector, from philanthropy.

So there’s a lot that’s happening. There’s a lot more that can be done, but I think if you want to make changes at scale, you’ve got to include policy. You’ve got to include policymakers, and so we should all be clamoring for more in that space.

Dr. Cristi Ford (32:21):

Agreed. Agreed. And I’m really glad to hear about the short-term training programs that are Pell eligible. I mean, one of the things that is so exciting for me to hear about your work, Marie, and what you just offered in the policy realm is that part of this challenge is really being able to make sure that those with the least amount of access and ability to afford further education have a seat at the table.

So I always think about that equity issue, and how do we provide, even Marie, your institution where there is free tuition, how do we close that digital divide, and how do we make sure that there is equity for all? And what are some things that we still need to be grappling with at those intersections?

Dr. Marie Cini (33:06):

Oh. This just came up the other day. I was talking to my boss, our CS and IT programs, we still are heavily men, heavily. Without special programs or special sets of scholarships, women, for whatever reasons around the globe are not entering those fields. And yet those are fields where, you really can make more money. It’s a really good job, it’s in clean conditions, it’s great for the family.

And so we’re talking about how when you’re open access, do you encourage certain groups that maybe aren’t thinking that it’s the right skill set or the right career for them while not blocking anyone else out either? And so it’s kind of an interesting issue, but I agree. You can’t just open all the doors and assume [inaudible 00:34:01] will follow. It’s not how it is. So yeah, it’s still big issues.

Dr. Cristi Ford (34:07):

Yeah. Well, I-

Dr. David Soo (34:08):

Right. I was interested-

Dr. Cristi Ford (34:09):

Oh, go ahead, Dave.

Dr. David Soo (34:10):

Can I just say, and you can edit this out if you want, but I was interested, Marie, in what you were saying about the algorithm intentionally putting people from different backgrounds together. And I feel like there’s an interesting op-ed or something there about the affirmative action debate about not having the homogenous group of people. And maybe there’s something that you all are learning about when you throw people together from very different backgrounds, look at this dynamic learning that’s happening, and are there lessons for you as higher education elite, US higher education that they might be able to learn from them?

Dr. Marie Cini (34:39):

All right, I love that. I love that idea.

Dr. Cristi Ford (34:42):

Yeah. So I’d like to leave us with just giving our listeners an opportunity to hear from each of you, maybe a call to action. I think that as I look and talk with educators and institutions, corporations, this idea of lifelong learning, flexible learning models, really making education more available, affordable, equitable is something that is trending right now. And I really am interested in making sure that this is not just something that’s a hot topic, that we are really trying to call people to action in terms of really being intentional about the work.

So as we leave our listeners today, I’d just love to hear from you, David, and hear from you, Marie, if there’s a call to action for folks, our listeners who are mostly educators who are in the trenches trying to do this great work.

Dr. David Soo (35:34):

I would just say to be bold and to think big, and don’t be afraid to try new things. We all learned during Covid that we can do things that we thought were unimaginable before. So what is the big idea that you have? And that might be in your university, in your program, in your sphere, or it might be a way that you could bridge and work with others outside, do something totally different and transformational. But whatever it is, think bigger, order a magnitude larger than you might have been thinking and give it a try because why not? We’ve seen that it can work.

Dr. Marie Cini (36:07):


Dr. Cristi Ford (36:08):

All right. You heard it here.

Dr. Marie Cini (36:09):

For the next time you’re going to have to find people who disagree more than David, but no, I agree with that. And I would add to that your presidents and provost need you. So whatever level you are at, look, before Covid, we were all talking about innovation fatigue and change fatigue. It’s tiring. It’s tiring to always be trying to push against the status quo, but now we really know how much we need it.

And presidents and provosts are looking for good ways to serve more students, have a viable business model. Look, all universities have a business model even if you’re giving free tuition. You got to bring in revenue somehow. And so don’t be afraid, try new things, and very often, people higher up than you are going to be interested in it. So I think there was a time when we were afraid to try to rock the boat, if you will, but now that’s what people need us to do, so go for it.

Dr. Cristi Ford (37:14):

Love it. Love it. Thank you, David and Marie. I have enjoyed hearing you talk and give your insights, but also just being in your spaces for many, many years. I find that when people ask me this question, I’ve been talking about coming out of the pandemic and this being a year of return and a return to being a disruptor, a return to pushing the boundaries. And so thank you for, you all have just done this work for so long, and I really appreciate you joining us and being a part of this episode, this new year.

Dr. Marie Cini (37:45):

Thank you for having us. This was fun.

Dr. David Soo (37:47):

Yeah, thanks.

Dr. Cristi Ford (37:49):

You’ve been listening to Teach & Learn, a podcast for curious educators. This episode was produced by D2L, a global learning innovation company, helping organizations reshape the future of education and work. To learn more about our solutions for both K-20 and corporate institutions, please visit You can also find us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. And remember to hit that subscribe button so you can stay up to date with all new episodes. Thanks for joining us, and until next time, school’s out.

Subscribe to the Teach & Learn Podcast

Teach & Learn is a podcast for curious educators created by D2L, a global education and learning company. Make sure you subscribe for the latest episodes.

Written by

Stay in the know

Educators and training pros get our insights, tips, and best practices delivered monthly

Table of Contents
  1. Episode Description
  2. Show Notes
  3. Resources Discussed in the Episode
  4. About the Speakers
  5. Subscribe to the Teach & Learn Podcast
  6. Full Transcript
  7. Subscribe to the Teach & Learn Podcast