Degree education will undergo a transformation. It is only a matter of time. Full-time programs will fade out, giving way to continuous learning. Here is why degree education will be disrupted and what educators should do to create meaningful learning opportunities.

The first issue is relevance. In a typical four-year degree, by the time students come out of the institute, they realize their interest areas have changed or work requirements have evolved.

Education needs to be more dynamic to a learner’s interest and the industry’s requirement.

Learners will prefer continuous development programs which can integrate with work. Second, it is becoming easier for employers to assess skills and attitudes of employees, rather than depend on their degrees and interviews. Twenty-first-century skills have become more important than possessing information, which can be found on the internet.

The quality of a B. Tech degree holder or any degree holder has a huge variance. Since no one can guarantee the quality of candidates coming out from the same institute, employers resort to other ways of assessing. Thus, the reliance on a degree to assess the employability of a person is reducing, giving way to evaluating 21st-century skills.

The cost of full-time education is another factor, which will influence the future of degree-based programs. This includes tuition as well as opportunity costs. A major portion of someone’s employment depends on their workplace performance. A level of societal understanding and intellectual maturity is more important than the knowledge gained in college. Smart learners will invest in this, rather than losing out time and money in unproductive years on campus.

Fourth is the advent of technology. Machines will overtake the workforce wherever possible. Creative jobs will flourish while repeat-work will get transferred to machines.

When our competition is with technology rather than fellow humans, different skills and abilities will dominate the job market. Degrees which prepare learners for complex problem-solving and creative outcomes will stand out. Others will find companies buying technology rather than coming for placements.

Fifth, the demand for a “government job” is declining. There are several factors contributing to this, including a rise in entrepreneurship, attractive job opportunities in the private sector and. perhaps, the declining prestige of a public sector career. The private sector would always rank talent higher than the degree, which may not be true for the public sector.

Sixth, the gig economy relies on someone’s ability to complete the work. Unlike formal employment, the gig economy does not place as much importance on the educational background of the freelancer. The growth of the gig economy is giving higher value to the quality of work rather than the degree. Therefore, the need for continuous learning and performance improvement is stronger than ever.

In such a situation, educators, institutions, and policymakers should evaluate the learning needs of the future and devise appropriate interventions. There are a few things that futuristic education will consist of. First, it will be linked to the workplace. The proportion of time spent in the workplace will be higher than that spent in the classroom. The classes will provide a philosophical foundation to the observations and learnings at the workplace. Thus, ‘full-time education’ would mean more time on projects and less time in the class.

Second, modular learning will gain in popularity and this principle should go into program design of degrees. Shorter programs which help learners develop specific skills will become the norm.

Employers will, therefore, look for workplace skills such as critical thinking, interpersonal communication, creativity and problem-solving. For fast learners, knowledge can be picked up quickly through shorter training programs, which can be online or on-campus.

Third, full-time programs might continue to be relevant for research-related learning where the student and faculty need to spend a long time together on specific research interests. Even in such situations, admissions should be based on their research appetite and not a previous degree as a compulsory prerequisite.

Educators who design such research-focused programs will attract people who drop out of formal education or realize their research interests much later in life.

The article was first published in DNA.