At D2L, we believe that education is the key to unlocking opportunities, and that learning can and should happen anytime, anywhere, and for everyone. To make this a reality, we have to go beyond maximizing and optimizing today’s classroom or workplace, and fundamentally transform the way the world learns. Over the past few years, we have published a series of papers that detail the policy decisions we believe will enable this mission to move forward, including:
- Better alignment of programs and credentials to labour market needs
- Scaling of innovative learner-centric models of education, and
- Strategic investments to ensure learning systems are affordable, accessible, and responsive.
See previous publications in the D2L Future of Work and Learning series.
In 2020, D2L supported millions of learners and instructors across primary and secondary schools, postsecondary institutions, and the corporate and public sectors as we collectively embarked on a journey “through the fog” of unprecedented disruption. As we all continue through it, doing our best to grip the wheel and steer ourselves safely through the crisis, we recognize the need to bring new ways of thinking to the top of the agenda. The challenges faced have raised awareness of, and accelerated, the need for further change to our education systems and policies. D2L has been actively engaged with education and policy leaders in conversations on how to build a truly resilient learning system, what skills are required to be successful in the jobs of the future, and how our systems of learning need to change
to be more equitable.
The findings, stories, and policy recommendations that follow in this paper recognize the extraordinary circumstances of this past year and offer four areas for government action to propel us forward in the future of work and learning:
Primary and Secondary
Invest in preparing teachers for their own lifelong learning journeys that will enable their effectiveness for the learning modes and models of tomorrow and beyond.
Transform the learning of today with new partnerships in order to scale innovative learner-centric models of education and provide students with more choice.
Invest in a Learning-Integrated Life, by providing financial support for individuals to meet their ongoing and future training needs.
Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring with quality labour market information and a common skills language.
This year has forced us all to rethink, to experiment and to build. Our goal with this paper is to support that process and to inspire discussion, and action, on a longer-term vision for technology-enabled education and training that is more sustainable, inclusive, and empowering for learners. If we do that, together we can produce favourable outcomes of employability, career fulfilment, and personal growth.
Educational institutions, non-traditional education and training providers, companies, and governments all have a role to play in developing a roadmap for lifelong learning for all. If we go the distance, the opportunities for learners are boundless.
The future demands a “Learning-Integrated Life”—in which individuals are always in a learning mindset, and intensive and episodic opportunities for learning are woven through the fabric of our lives, preparing us for successful careers and rich life experiences. This extends across the learning continuum—from primary school to postsecondary education through to learning while working.
Here we present four vignettes of the Learning-Integrated Life—beginning in secondary school, continuing through postsecondary education, and continuing learning while working. These vignettes are informed by interviews with experts in education pedagogy and policy, and reflect future-oriented stories of a world we can build in real life and real-time with specific policy changes.
In the first story, we meet a student whose self-initiated and self-directed learning in secondary school is equipping her with the lifelong learning mindset she will need to succeed and thrive after graduation. Her school’s investment in competency-based education allows her to learn actively using different pathways and varied pacing while ensuring her knowledge and skills are being assessed against rigorous and common standards.i
In the second story, we look at what kind of professional development support a teacher would need to succeed in a competency-based classroom. School districts should be providing personalized supports for their teachers and engaging them in the creation of professional development offerings, just as they do for students.ii Teachers need access to a customized pathway to learning that is aligned to the professional competencies they need to excel in their classroom.
In the third story, we meet a prospective postsecondary student who enrolls in a program that allows her to “stack” four skills-based credentials from multiple post-secondary institutions into a customized full degree. This networked approach to credential completion allows the student to benefit from the thought leaders and networks at a multitude of universities, colleges, and polytechnic institutions, and to gain the relevant skills and knowledge she needs to join the workforce.
In the final story, we meet an individual in her search for a new job using a platform that is defined by labour market information (LMI) that connects her with an employer in a high-growth industry. She needs to upgrade her skills and receives a stipend from her employer to take on specific upskilling courses to ensure she is prepared to work.
What policy decisions will help us maximize resilience?
So where do we go from here so that these four learners—and the millions they represent—can realize the educational opportunities that come from a truly Learning-Integrated Life? How do we take advantage of the opportunities that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore and come out stronger and more resilient than we were before it hit?
We believe that the changes of 2020 have only accelerated trends that were already reshaping the landscape of skills and work. Working individuals are changing jobs or vocations more frequently in their careers, by choice and out of necessity, due to technological advances. Employability is determined less by general credential attainment and more by the ability to demonstrate the necessary skills for a job.
However, our current model for skills attainment assumes we have a workforce in which job skills have a long shelf life and employers only need to make a limited investment in skills development programs. As the workforce requirements change, so too must the systems that students and employees rely on to learn and stay relevant—from primary and secondary schools to postsecondary education to workforce training, and beyond. Between December 2020 and January 2021, D2L and Innovative Research Group surveyed more than 1,000 individuals over the age of 18 across the United States to better understand perceptions of ongoing education and training.iv Our research shows:
- Lifelong learning, including online education, continues to be of interest to adults, provided certain barriers to access and affordability are addressed.
- Six in 10 survey respondents (59 percent) agreed that it was challenging to find the money to further their education or training.
- Survey respondents also agreed that it was challenging to understand how available education connects to jobs in demand, with 44 percent of respondents agreeing that microcredits or short courses are not given the same level of recognition by employers as formal degree programs.
Understanding the importance of online learning, affordability, and employer recognition, we have identified four key areas where governments at sub-national and national levels can focus their attention today to create a system that enables the Learning-Integrated Life necessary for individual and collective success:
Primary and Secondary Education
INVEST IN PREPARING TEACHERS FOR THEIR OWN LIFELONG LEARNING JOURNEYS
- Empower teachers with pre-service and professional learning focused on the learning modes and models of tomorrow
- Offer teachers holistic professional development that supports individualized learning pathways
TRANSFORM THE LEARNING OF TODAY WITH NEW PARTNERSHIPS
- Create the policy infrastructure needed to scale new learner-centric models of education
- Incentivize postsecondary institutions to form networks at the state, provincial, and national levels to provide students with more flexibility
INVEST IN A LEARNING INTEGRATED LIFE
- Invest in the development of nationally in-demand skills training led by industry
- Provide financial support for individuals to meet their ongoing and future training needs
ACCELERATE THE SHIFT TO SKILLS-BASED LEARNING AND HIRING
- Develop a common skills language
- Improve the quality, timeliness, and accuracy of labour market information (LMI)
- Improve the dissemination of LMI to the public
Invest in preparing teachers for their own lifelong learning journeys
A recent D2L survey found that 76 percent of parents want schools to make more use of digital learning tools than they did before COVID-19.vTeachers are expected to enable the Learning-Integrated Life of their students, delivering more personalized, engaging, blended, and competency-based instruction. Pre-service teacher training needs to provide teachers with a solid foundation of skills so they can use technology in the classroom effectively, identify students’ skills gaps, and remediate learning for students experiencing gaps in their learning. Teachers also need access to professional development programming that addresses their own skills needs—whether the programming is related to content, pedagogy, or ongoing technological learning.vi
1.1 | Empower Teachers With Pre-Service and Professional Learning Focused on the Learning Modes and Models of Tomorrow
- Ensure all pre-service teacher training programs include courses on delivering online education and adapting teaching styles to keep students engaged (see In practice above). Certification bodies should ensure all newly graduating teachers are able to effectively implement digital tools and resources in the learning environment in order to improve learning and close achievement gaps.vii
- Ensure current teachers also have access to professional development in hybrid, blended, and online pedagogies, recognizing that simply providing access to an online platform will not automatically enable teachers to conquer any instructional need, or ensure accessibility for students with learning disabilities.viii Professional development programs should be co-created by school districts and teachers to ensure teachers have the training they need in innovative learning models, pedagogical practices, personalized learning, and systems of authentic assessments in a competency-based education system.
Singapore has pursued a systematic approach to introducing Information and Communications Technology (ICT) for learning into schools, beginning over 20 years ago with training teachers to use technology to now focusing on improving the capabilities and skillsets of teachers in delivering effective training using technology.ix Each year, Singapore also hosts ExCEL Fest, an event showcasing the latest education technology developments in schools to teachers, parents, and members of the public.
1.2 | Offer Teachers Holistic Professional Development that Supports Individualized Learning Pathways
- Ensure professional development requirements reflect a holistic view of teachers’ skills needs, and offer teachers creativity and autonomy in developing their own individualized learning pathways.x
- Implement a state- or province-wide online professional learning system to enable professional development programming for teachers at scale, allowing for shared content, community building, and rapid upskilling of teachers and administrators.xi
- Develop mentor-based continuing education programs to allow teachers to benefit from the experiences of their peers, and provide another avenue to supporting them in refreshing, developing, and broadening their knowledge, skills, and practices (See In practice to the right).
New Zealand’s Manaiakalani Digital Teaching Academy is a partnership between the University of Auckland, Google, and Manaiakalani Education Trust that brings together newly qualified teachers and experienced teacher mentors to accelerate the skills development of new teachers, with mentors coaching them in how to use technology for the benefit of student learning.xii Teachers gain from learning from their peers and applying lessons in their classrooms.
Transform the learning of today with new partnerships
Traditional postsecondary education has offered degree or diploma programs requiring years of commitment to complete, or continuing education programs that may not always prove relevant or beneficial to the workplace. 49 percent of adults D2L surveyed who have recent online learning experience say that the ongoing education and career training courses available to them do not provide them with the skills needed to advance in their careers. 44 percent of adults D2L surveyed agreed that courses available to continue education or training took too long. Institutions are beginning to adapt but need incentives and regulatory flexibilities to accelerate innovation in program offerings, and partnerships with other institutions.
2.1 | Create the Policy Infrastructure Needed to Scale New Learner-Centric Models of Education
- Invest in research on the relative effectiveness of new educational models including competency-based education for postsecondary education, credit for prior learning, stackable credentials, work-integrated learning, and embedding of industry certifications into postsecondary education programs to offer more options for quickly training talent and addressing skills shortages as they emerge.
- Identify ways for sub-national and national education authorities and new learning providers (e.g., employers, third-party companies) to work together and allow for experimentation with new models, while at the same time protecting consumers from potentially fraudulent actors.xiii
- Coordinate between governments and postsecondary institutions to rapidly scale up proven and promising practices—like embedding industry certifications into degree-based programs—to benefit both employers and students.xiv
2.2 | Incentivize Postsecondary Institutions to Form Networks at the State, Provincial, and National Level to Provide Student with More Choices
- Enable a system that supports pathways for the recognition of prior learning and portability outside the institution where it was achieved.xv Digital credentials offer one avenue to allow portability across teaching and credential awarding institutions, including non-traditional education providers like developers of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and bootcamp providers (see In practice).
- To ensure success, support multi-stakeholder cooperation across institutions, and with employers, to ensure transparency and consistency in the provision of credentials.
In December 2020, the Association of Registrars of the Universities and colleges of Canada launched a new national learner credential wallet in which students can access, view, and share their verified and official transcripts, credentials, badges, micro-credentials, and documents in a digitized format anytime and anywhere.xvi This new platform is an important step in postsecondary collaboration and can be taken further by institutions collaborating to standardize prior learning assessment and recognition across institutions to grant credentials.
Invest in a Learning-Integrated Life
A successful lifelong learning system must be responsive, offering learning opportunities that adapt as learner demands, employer needs, and workforce trends continue to rapidly evolve. Governments can look at a variety of tools to incentivize individuals to take on training, and not penalize those taking time off work to further their education.
3.1 | Invest in the Development of Nationally In-Demand Skills Training Led by Industry
- Provide incentives to consortia of training partners from industry, education, and sector organizations to develop foundational training for nationally in-demand skillsets that can be easily adapted or remain evergreen for workers.
- Make these programs available for free to jobseekers in need of rapid upskilling, to small and medium-sized enterprises that would otherwise face a cost barrier, and/or to the public to stimulate interest and encourage further training in more complex skills requiring foundational knowledge (see In practice).
In 2018, Finnish technology firm Reaktor and the University of Helsinki joined forces to develop an online course to teach the basics of artificial intelligence (AI) to the public and to encourage organizations to train their staff on AI. In the first four months of the program over 200 organizations had pledged to do so—including banks, telecommunications companies, and healthcare organizations.xvii The course provided a low-risk, cost-effective way for companies to quickly train a large subset of their staff in the technology, and prepare them to actively look for new business opportunities and innovations made possible through AI.
Financial constraints are also a large barrier for unemployed and displaced workers, who are trying to fund continuing education and ensure a return on investment by linking courses to labour market trends. Six in 10 of the adults (59 percent) D2L surveyed agreed that it is a challenge to find the money they need to further their education, or career training. Governments can address these issues by offering increased financial assistance for individuals to pay for their own learning and incentivizing increased employer investment in training.
3.2 | Provide Financial Support for Individuals to Meet Their Ongoing and Future Training Needs
- Create new models of portable, personal learning credits or training accounts to support individuals in defining and pursuing their own learning paths, regardless of their employment status (e.g., employed, gig worker, or unemployed) (see In practice).
- Use progressive tax incentives to establish these education and training accounts, similar to those that already exist for retirement, education, and health savings accounts, to which employers, workers, and other funders could contribute to pay for eligible training expenses.xviii Tax incentives could be designed in such a way as to focus on individuals in low-wage, entry level positions, those most at risk for elimination due to changing economic needs and technology, and those in precarious work circumstances.
- One model is for state or provincial governments to certify employer backed partnerships with education, training, and credentialing partners. This would allow employers to recover the cost of training by having a portion or all of an employee’s state income tax deferred to the employer or a training fund managed by an employer collaborative.xix This model can also help reduce the state or provincial government’s role in grant making, empowering those closest to the challenges to identify the best solutions.
France’s Compte Personnel de Formation (CPF) is an individualized financing scheme for professional training implemented in 2015.xx A person’s individual account can be topped up by the account holder, their employer, sector-level collective agreements, or public employment services. Courses on the official list include training programs awarding a professional qualification, accreditation of prior experiential learning and training courses dedicated to business creation—all designed to ensure that individuals using the accounts have market-ready skills. The CPF is the only example of a national individual learning account in which training rights are accumulated over time. When employees change jobs, their accumulated entitlement to paid time off moves with them.
Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring
Rapid transformation of jobs and work requirements in the context of the pandemic has only further highlighted the urgent need to establish a common language around skills and associated indicators to measure them. 46 percent of adults D2L surveyed agreed that it is a challenge to understand which jobs are in demand, and which skills are needed to fill them. Countries looking to prepare their workers for the future need to improve the collection and dissemination of labour market information (LMI) to shift from a focus on occupations, tasks, and credentials to a more comprehensive focus that includes the skills required to be successful as jobs continue to change.
4.1 | Develop a Common Skills Language
- Measure the demand for certain skills by employers, the current supply of those skills from workers, and the potential supply based on courses offered by education providers and employers in a common skills language or taxonomy (see In practice).xxi
- For this to be successful, skills need to be linked to real-time jobs data to ensure ease of updating. Ideally, data will be machine readable to easily automate updates.
Nesta, a think tank in the United Kingdom, has scanned job advertisements from Burning Glass Technologies to identify common skills, including: specific tasks (e.g., insurance underwriting), knowledge (e.g., biology), software programs (e.g., Microsoft Excel), and personal attributes (e.g., positive disposition).xxii Machine learning was used to hierarchically cluster skills into a taxonomy based on job title that a user can easily search to find information about common skills requirements, changes in demand for specialists in recent years, and expected salaries. By using job advertisement data, Nesta can also update the taxonomy in real time to provide to job seekers relevant information that is based on the dynamic language used by UK employers, instead of the static language defined by academics or policymakers.
4.2 | Improve the Quality, Timeliness, and Accuracy of Labour Market Information (LMI)
- LMI needs to bring together datasets from early childhood education, primary and secondary education, postsecondary education and the workforce. This longitudinal view provides a longer, more meaningful view of education outcomes, helps identify changes needed to better support current labour market needs, and can be accomplished while protecting learner confidentiality (see In practice).
- This includes data from postsecondary institutions and non-traditional education providers on completion rates for credentials, employment outcomes, job titles, and earnings of graduates; data from the private sector on employment and job openings; and the required skills and credentials, wages, and career opportunities associated with openings.
- To be effective, the data system needs to address the influence of demographic change on the labour market, current and future occupations and demand, the skills profiles most suitable for these jobs, and prospective fields of retraining.xxiii Also important is the timeliness of this information as well as its availability at the local or regional level, where it can be most relevant to an individual’s locally driven decision making.
Denmark’s national skills anticipation system combines intricate labour market data and skills in demand for over 850 occupations across the country.xxiv Through a collaborative model involving employers, government, and other relevant stakeholders, this national skills anticipation system participates in activities such as skills forecasting, skills assessment, and employer surveys, and disseminates the information to regional and municipal stakeholders.
4.3 | Improve the Dissemination of Labour Market Information to the Public
- Invest in translating labour market information into open, readable formats for consumers, educational institutions, and employers in order to support informed decision-making. This includes developing digital platforms to help individuals understand recent and expected future trends in employment, earning levels and trends, links to vacancies and training opportunities, and information on the key competencies required for specific occupations.xxv
The European Union (EU) has been a leader in competency-based job matching through its public sector job mobility platform, EURES. In 2020, the EU launched Europass, a new, multilingual online e-portfolio where people can record information on their skills, qualifications and experiences, receive tailored suggestions for jobs and training, and find tools to help them prepare and track job applications.xxvi This skills-first approach is an example of the type of LMIpowered and technology-enabled solutions that can support jobseekers in finding employment and employers in filling skills gaps.
The events of 2020 accelerated many of the trends that were already reshaping the landscape of education, skills, and work. Our traditional systems of education that see learning as a once and done exercise to prepare for one’s career, never to be revisited, have been turned on their heads.
To support learners of all ages, governments urgently need to make investments and enact policy changes that enable ongoing learner-centric education, and to do so in a manner that ensures it is accessible, affordable, and inclusive for all.
Investing in supporting teachers for their own lifelong learning journeys will allow more students like Marama to experience personalized learning pathways in secondary school, and cultivate the skills needed to continue their independent education throughout their lives. It will also support teachers like ZheYuan in entering the classroom with existing knowledge of how to use digital technologies to support and assess students, and in having access to ongoing professional development opportunities to continuously upskill themselves.
Increasing partnerships among universities, colleges, polytechnic institutions, non-traditional educational providers, and employers will offer students like Sam more choices in how they pursue postsecondary and continuing education. This learning system reimagined for a Learning-Integrated Life will require new models of skills training, such as shorter-term or modular programs, stackable credentials or badges, and modified and adaptable curricula, and greater use of self-directed and online learning. These flexible and agile learning options will serve to rapidly train talent and address skills shortages as they emerge, regardless of how long it has been since these students were studying full-time.
Workers like Zaria will have access to information about the jobs that are in demand, and what skills they require through improved labour market information that is locally and regionally specific, relevant, and accurate. They can then understand what opportunities are available to them, and apply for funding for shorter-term programming with improved financial aid.
The vignettes identified in this paper are attainable with public policy changes. These stories offer inspiration for a future of education and training that is inclusive, accessible, and affordable for all—and one that acknowledges that learning can take place anytime, anywhere, and for everyone.
i Eliot Levine and Susan Patrick, “What is competency-based education? An updated definition,” 2019. 2. ii Sarah Jenkins, Matt Williams, Jesse Moyer, Melinda George, and Elizabeth Foster. “The Shifting Paradigm of Teaching,” KnowledgeWorks, 2018. 20-21. iii Ibid (Aurora Institute), 5. iv D2L survey of over 1,000 adults (2021). In order to understand perceptions of ongoing education and training among adults, D2L partnered with Innovative Research Group to issue an online survey to 1,288 adults across the United States between December 2020 and January 2021. We asked them about their interests in pursuing ongoing education and training, their perceptions of barriers to learning, and their impressions of digital learning tools. All respondents were aged 18+ and meant to be representative of the general adult population in the United States. v D2L survey of over 1,000 adults (2021). vi Nia Brown, “Building resilient systems of professional development,” D2L, 2020. 2-3. vii ISTE, “Policy principles,” 2020. viii Brendan Desetti, “A new door to the classroom,” D2L, 2020. ix UNICEF, “Raising learning outcomes: the opportunities and challenges of ICT for learning,” 2018. x Digital Promise and OCTQ, “Micro-credentials and education policy in the United States,” 2019. xi Ibid (D2L, Building resilient systems of professional development). xii Ibid (UNICEF), 8. xiii Tiffany Fishman and Linsey Sledge, “Reimagining higher education,” Deloitte Insights, 2014. xiv Michael Prebil and Mary Alice McCarthy, “Building better degrees using industry certifications,” New America, 2018. xv Borhene Chakroun and James Keevy, “Digital credentialing: implications for the recognition of learning across borders,” UNESCO, 2018. 31. xvii University of Helsinki, “Finland is challenging the entire world to understand AI,” 2018. xviii Jason Tyszko, Robert Sheets, Peter Beard, Stuart Andreason, and Sarah Miller, “Talent finance: A new consensus and return-to-investment,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, 2020. 39. xix Ibid (US Chamber) 40. xx European Monitoring Centre on Change, “France: Employers obligation to provide skill development plans or training,” October 10, 2019. Accessed February 17, 2021. xxi Jyl Djumalieva and Dr. Cath Sleeman, “Making sense of skills: A UK skills taxonomy,” Nesta, 2018. xxii Ibid (Nesta). xxiii Hana Řihová, “Using labour market information: Guide to anticipating and matching skills and jobs Volume I,” ETF, European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, and International Labour Office, 2016. 48-49. xxiv World Economic Forum, ”Accelerating Workforce Reskilling for the Fourth Industrial Revolution: An Agenda for Leaders to Shape the Future of Education, Gender and Work,” World Economic Forum, 2017. 9. xxv Ibid (Hana Řihová) 81. xxvi European Commission, “European skills agenda for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience,” July 1, 2020. Accessed February 17, 2021.
D2L Whitepaper Contributors
Malika Asthana, Manager, Strategy and Public Affairs
Joe Pickerill, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, International
Jeremy Auger, Chief Strategy Officer
Mark Schneiderman, Senior Director, Future of Teaching and Learning
Brendan Desetti, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, United States
Mike Semansky, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, Canada
Nia Brown, Senior Manager, Strategy and Public Affairs