Opportunities & Challenges of the Higher Ed Networked World

The networked workplace is our reality. “It is always on and globally connected. This is where all organizations are going, at different speeds and in a variety of ways” (Jarche, 2011). People are connected throughout the world, and it changes our work and how we work. LinkedIn Global Talent Trends (People Matters, 2019) identified 4 emerging trends in this technology empowering world. The first is the increase in worker soft skills in creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and time management. The second is the workers’ desire for increased flexibility on when and where they work. The third is the increase in anti-harassment with establishing a culture of respect. The last one is pay transparency which can build trust.

With advances in technology, another significant trend is the changing nature of jobs. Chopra-McGowan and Reddy (2020)  noted that workers’ skills today will not match the jobs of tomorrow, and even newly acquired skills may become obsolete quickly. Rainie (2018) also noted the changing nature of jobs, emphasizing higher-level social and analytical skills. And Karbhari (2021) wrote that remote work, AI, and automation have dramatically changed the skill sets required for the future workforce. Jarche (2017) suggested educators focus on connections between people and ideas over new content and helping people build trust so information is comfortably shared. Who is going to offer worker reskilling? Higher education could play a role in ensuring that employees are educated and trained to perform jobs on the horizon.  

Higher Education Opportunities

Higher education has an opportunity to be a significant player in developing and implementing strategies to educate the workforce to meet the needs of today and tomorrow. This will require creativity, collaboration, and a willingness to let go of the “way things have always been done.” Karbhari (2021) noted this could provide growth in the higher education market by creating a continuum of knowledge meeting the needs of a wider array of students. Universities could expand their offerings, delivery methods, and class durations to provide greater flexibility for traditional students. In addition, universities could offer education to a new population of students desiring new educational and training programs to prepare them for future jobs. Rainie (2018) spoke of continuous training being essential to career success and new credentialing systems to meet these needs. Smith and Anderson’s (2014) research indicated the current educational system is not adequately preparing workers for the future. Wiley Education Services (2021) found a 64% skills gap based on surveyed employers and highlighted the impact higher education can have by working “with businesses to develop courses and programs that prepare workers for highly valued roles.” All of this points to the opportunities in front of higher education today.

Networked faculty and students also create opportunities for how classes are structured, content covered, and interactions. In a time when flexibility is desired, students have more options in classroom delivery – asynchronous online, synchronous remote meeting, in-person classroom, and variations of those formats. Students have access to more information when doing their work and do not have to go to the library to research. Access to unlimited information provides greater learning potential. As Kelly (2016) noted, the internet allows for unlimited questions and answers. Googling today is an easy way for students to access information. Zoom, Google Meets, and Teams are digital tools allowing for remote meetings. Digital tools offer convenience and flexibility for faculty and students. Tools like Jamboard and Google Docs create opportunities for collaboration among students, faculty, and any combination. If a student misses a class, they can be sent a class recording. Finally, Wiley Education Services (2021) stated that AI could personalize the student journey. Administrators and faculty should consider the ways AI can be used to tailor student support for their educational journey. One example is developing a “coordinated care network” personalized for each student, virtually linking all student services (Venit, 2021). Opportunities abound.

Higher Education Challenges

The networked community and technological revolution also create challenges for the higher education industry. The current environment finds universities scrambling to a virtual setting, facing decreasing enrollment and financial concerns, and providing support services to students (Wiley Education Services, 2021). Taking advantage of the opportunities requires resources the university may not have. The competitive environment for reskilling could be intense. LinkedIn Learning, MOOCs, Amazon, Google, etc., are already entering the business of reskilling their worker or the workforce. Universities are called to think differently about their role in educating the workforce. Higher Ed needs to act swiftly, which is not always in their DNA. However, agile and responsive universities are needed to face these challenges (Venit, 2021).   

Challenges also exist on the networked faculty and student level. Kelly (2016) wrote about the third age of computation focusing on flows and streams and real-time demand for information. Students may expect an immediate email or text reply from their instructor. Not receiving one within an hour, they may reach out again. Kelly (2016) also talked about the digital age and sharing technologies just one click away. Assessing individual student learning can be tough when papers are shared, solutions are googled,  and the networked environment supports continued collaboration. The process of filtering information can be difficult for students. While technology may empower students to share and access more information, they struggle with what is enough information and determining credibility. Finally, students do not all have access to the same level of technology which makes it challenging to provide an inclusive classroom.

Parker and Rainie’s (2020) research showed that many workers contemplate learning as a lifelong commitment and believe additional formal education is a good path for that. These are exciting times for higher education, filled with potential, and according to Esteves (2019), we are just getting started.


Chopra-McGowan, A. & Reddy, S. B. (2020, July 10). What would it take to reskill entire industries? Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/07/what-would-it-take-to-reskill-entire-industries?registration=success

Esteves, J. (2019, January 13). Did you know? 2019. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTM06NZOyDQ

Jarche, H. (2017, December 30). Embracing automation. https://jarche.com/2017/12/embracing-automation/

Jarche, H. (2011, May 22). The networked workplace. https://jarche.com/2011/05/the-networked-workplace/

Karbhari, V. M. (2021, May 19). Reskilling, upskilling and establishing a continuum of education at universities. Fierce Education. https://www.fierceeducation.com/administration/reskilling-upskillig-and-establishing-a-continuum-education-at-universities

Kelly, K. (2016). The inevitable: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future. Penguin Books.

Parker, K. & Rainie. (2020, April 13). Americans and lifetime learning in the knowledge age. Pew Trend Magazine. https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/trend/archive/spring-2020/americans-and-lifetime-learning-in-the-knowledge-age

People Matters. (2019, April 1). Infographic: Trends transforming the workplace: LinkedIn’s global talent trends identifies the 4 emerging trends which will transform your workplace. https://www.peoplemattersglobal.com/article/life-at-work/infographic-trends-transforming-the-workplace-21264

Rainie, L. (2018). Skill requirements for future jobs. [PowerPoint slides]. Slide Share. Pew Research Center. https://www.slideshare.net/PewInternet/skills-requirements-for-future-jobs-10-facts

Smith, A. & Anderson, J. (2014, August 6). AI, robotics, and the future of jobs. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2014/08/06/future-of-jobs/

Venit, E. (2021, March 2). Reflections on The Agile College and what it means for student success in the 2020s. EAB. https://eab.com/insights/blogs/student-success/student-success-in-the-2020s/

Wiley Education Services (2021, February 1). Top challenges facing U.S. higher education. https://edservices.wiley.com/top-higher-education-challenges/

8 thoughts on “Opportunities & Challenges of the Higher Ed Networked World

  1. We are just getting started, indeed! To tie in to our tweets this week, one Black Elephant few discuss is the growing burden of student debt needed to fund undergraduate education. Many of the affordances you discussed (increased access to information) come at low cost … yet higher education itself is a cost that continues to rise. Making the first two years of college “free” would bring benefits that equal the benefits to compulsory and free K12 education.

    Stanford and Northeastern (two that I have studied) are already exploring lifelong opportunities for alumni, tapping in to the need to continually reskill over the life of employment. See https://www.northeastern.edu/2025/ and http://www.stanford2025.com/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Increasing tuition costs and student debt is not being discussed with the great concern it should be. Throwing more loans at students is not the answer. Some students graduate with so much debt it is hard to get out from under it. Tuition, student loans, FAFSA, aid, etc. all should be looked at. Interdisicplany perspectives could be helpful.

      Intriguing concepts both Northeastern and Stanford have going. Thanks for sharing the links. I especially like the narrative around networks empowering humans to be agile learners, thinkers, and creators which go beyond machines.


  2. I love the idea of education in the workplace and universities/schools working with employers to skill employees for the needs of the organization (Wiley Education Services, 2021). Are there examples you have seen where this has worked?


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cameron, I have seen partnerships between organizations and universities. My university has developed a couple and offer certificates through these programs. I think much potential exists in these kinds of partnerships. Thanks for your comment.


  3. I love how you were able to remix (Kelly, 2016) course information to your benefit. Did you find that owners of content were willing to let you use it? Were you required to pay for it? Did you apply Kelly’s thought, and based on the depth of remixing, did you feel it became yours and you did not need to ask for permission?


    Kelly, K. (2016). The inevitable: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future. Penguin Books.


  4. Excellent post this week I love how you high lighted the opportunities colleges across the nation can benefit withy he new age technology. My role is quickly being more automated as the years ago makes me wonder will I become obsolete in the future.


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