Raj is a founding member of the LurnQ team. His LinkedIn headline reads – ‘A Designer who can Code’. He’s pretty good at it too. You can check out LurnQ.com from your mobile divides to see for yourself. However, you would be surprised to know that Raj holds a duel degree in aerospace engineering.

Then there is Manish, who interned with us since our founding days and became a full time member after graduating as a Chemical Engineer from IITB. He self-designated himself as a “Growth Hacker”. Even while he was in college he worked relentlessly to ensure user growth at LurnQ. Islahul put up a Facebook status update after finishing his final semester at IITB. It simply read – “Exams are over. Let the learning begin”. He has been programming since his adolescence and is perhaps the best web developer that you can ever have. Ironically he is a Civil Engineer.

The Scenario

These and countless other such career stories are screaming at us. Is a degree really that important anymore? Most people would jump up and say ‘yes, of course’! However, the fact that 20% of IITians don’t even complete their course, begs to differ.

India produces more than 500,000 engineers annually. Out of which, a mere 3.51 percent are appropriately trained to be directly employed. Isn’t that shameful? Isn’t that a cause for concern? More than anything else, isn’t that a serious challenge to India’s future?

Previously, while I worked at Aptech, the business thrived and grew across the globe because there was a great demand for programing skills and formal education did not have the capacity to deliver. Our fast emerging digital economy demands for proficiency in areas like data science, mobile development and ‘appware’, but are the institutions are aware of this?

How do we overcome this challenge? The answer lies in developing a radically new hypothesis based on the future of learning, the future of credentials and the future of work. The intention is not to provide a roadmap to the future, but rather to provoke thought about the quest that is ahead of us, and the actions we can take today.

Future of Learning

Conventionally, education was just about acquiring knowledge. But in an era where knowledge is available on demand, what do we teach in school? Future education will become less about acquiring knowledge and more about how to analyze, evaluate, and use the unlimited information that is available to us. Perhaps we will teach more critical thinking, collaboration, and social skills.

In a world where Google has all the answers; we need to teach how to ask the right questions.

Jay Cross, one of the leaders of informal learning, describes it as workflow learning or learning that is embedded in the flow of work. While doing a particular activity, where you need to know something, you reach out to find what you need to know. This kind of learning is about networks, about access, about critical thinking and problem solving.

As a hypothesis, it might be useful to ‘unbundle’ the different functions of education that are usually considered together. The first domain is that of linking research and education. Whereas in the past academics and their funding have bundled research and education together, these are increasingly being treated separately. Education itself could be unbundled into teaching and certification. Some institutions could focus on teaching students, with different institutions offering credentials of people’s knowledge and capabilities.

Future of Credentials

Certification or credentials are one of the most fundamental elements of what a university offers. There is a rise in reputation economy, in which individuals’ and organizations’ reputations become visible. People get jobs and succeed in them because of the esteem in which their peers hold them.

In many respects society at large operates on a peer review system, similar to that of the scholarly community.

A shift in thinking is perhaps required about what certification and credentials provide. A degree or certificate is just one dimension of learning. It provides an assessment of whether a student is good at passing exams, but does it reveal a person’s ability in the workplace?

Organisations certainly don’t think so because they employ a wide range of other tests before they hire graduates. A programmer looking for a job is now asked if he has an active GitHub profile. His designer friend, on the other hand, is hired based on their peer-reviewed portfolios on Dribbble or Behance. Writers now have platforms like WordPress and Tumblr to begin, grow and shine. Where then, on a priority scale, do we rank our college education?

Future of Work

In 1932, Ronald Coase wrote a paper titled ‘The Nature of the Firm’, for which he won the Nobel Prize in Economics. He wrote that organizations exist because of transaction costs. As we have become connected, transaction costs have fallen, creating what we can think of as a ‘modular economy’, in which value is created in smaller ‘inter-connected’ modules.

The unit of value creation in the economy today is not the company. It’s not the organization. It is the individual.

The modular economy is both a consequence of, and a contributor to, the globalisation of work. Innovation, productivity, products and services are all available globally. While this brave new world holds exciting possibilities for those with expertise, it also reduces possibilities for those without world-class skills.

The future of education is in free availability, openness, continuity and peer-to-peer learning.

In terms of structure, it needs to be modular, contextual and ‘just in time’. There is much greater value in an institution providing a credential that is based on an individual’s capabilities, and not their academic ability. We need an open and relevant system that lets the brightest of bright like Raj and Islahul can learn and excel in what they like to pursue or where Manish could formally train himself for emerging discipline to become a ‘Growth Hacker’. Change is always a challenge, but it is also an opportunity to create a new world order.