The educational practices and policies that most of us grew up with have been around for so long that it is tempting to see them as permanent and immutable. Learning takes place in a classroom, falling under a defined taxonomy of subjects (“math,” “science,” “social studies”), at a certain time in life (ages 5-22), under the auspices of particular institutions (schools, universities).
But in the 21st century, all of those assumptions are being challenged. Education is, in the parlance of the technology industry, going from being a product to a feature: from the defined mission of one set of actors to an underlying theme weaving through society and the economy.
Educational practice is evolving in many different ways, driven by technology innovation, rising expectations by stakeholders, retrenchment of commitment to public education by governments and taxpayers, and the limitations of traditional approaches that are being exposed by our shift toward a knowledge-based economy. As a result, good jobs require more education than ever, but legacy educational institutions are less able to prepare students for the increasing demands of the workforce.
One byproduct of that shift is that employers may be responsible for providing learning opportunities to current and prospective workers, rather than expecting the educational system to supply a steady stream of readymade candidates. One area where that is especially important to building the long-term value of the employee is a strong grounding in Business English.
Here are some of the emerging characteristics of successful strategies that educational policy experts have identified.
Personal: In contrast to the factory-like standardization of educational practice in the industrial age, next-generation learning can take advantage of mass personalization made possible by ubiquitous data gathering and analytics. Data not only gives us precise ways to measure the learning styles of individual students and the effectiveness of different pedagogical techniques, it can also be used to predict outcomes and fine-tune approaches to be most effective for each student and student/teacher/subject-matter combination. The ability to customize lessons and learning with data will be a key feature of educational practice moving forward, as more evidence demonstrates its effectiveness. Because of our increasing scientific understanding of how adults acquire language skills, data-based personalized learning is particularly applicable to the teaching of Business English.
Modular: Traditional four-year college programs were designed to provide a broad education across a number of subject areas. While this kind of holistic approach remains an ideal, many students seeking relevant job skills without incurring significant financial debt find they are better served by certificate programs or training in-depth around a specific subject. E-learning platforms like Khan Academy, Udemy and Lynda.com have extended access to modular learning and popularized the model for students in every stage of life, but to be most effective for workforce development, the courseware needs to be optimized as closely as possible to the use-case scenarios where it will be employed in the workplace. Business English is one area where modularized, specific curricula improve both speed and effectiveness of learning.
Continuous: The Economist recently devoted a 16-page special section to the subject of lifelong learning and its importance to the 21st century workforce. The key takeaways were that a secondary, college or even graduate-level education on its own was no longer sufficient to arm employees with the skills to power a 45-year career in the knowledge economy; that keeping ahead of the learning curve is essential for both individuals and organizations; and that the responsibility for keeping workforce skills current falls jointly on workers and employers. Business English is not only a core, portable skill that increases the employability and value of people in a wide range of job roles, but also provides the basis for acquiring new skills and knowledge through conversation, collaboration and informal exchange of ideas with colleagues worldwide.
Outcome Oriented: As education becomes more instrumental to workforce development rather than being seen as a more generalized ideal of citizenship or self-actualization, the outputs of education need to be measured in the context of organizational and business goals, not just in the narrow sense of demonstrating mastery on tests. Stakeholders need to measure how investments in employee education contribute to competitiveness, time to market, product quality, regulatory compliance and other key performance indicators. Widespread English language competency is not only a measurable organizational goal unto itself, but also the enabler of improvements in areas from customer relationships to innovation.
The Changing Model for Education Delivery. The demand for skilled, educated workers is on the rise worldwide as every industry gets tied more closely to data, and is held to higher expectations by customers and partners. For better or worse, established educational institutions from secondary schools and universities to local and national education policy-making bodies remain slow to embrace changes to traditional practices. That leaves it to employers and individuals to fill in the gaps.
Proficiency in Business English is both a career skill and an organizational competency required to compete in the global marketplace. For more information about how your business can take advantage of new educational models to facilitate language learning, click here.