The Balloon That Might Burst the Higher Ed Bubble

Tremors 02Updated 3/26/14
We look at clouds and see data and apps, and we forget that they’re a medium and not just an archive or platform. In the same way, we look at online courses and MOOCs and see courses, forgetting that they’re also a medium. This is an oversight that higher ed can ill afford since the message in this medium is that learning is rising, inexorably and rapidly, from the ground to the clouds.

This is not only a switch in medium from campus to online but a quantum shift in approaches to meeting employer needs in the 21st century. Add Microsoft, EMC Corporation, Adobe, and Amazon to this path less traveled and we suddenly have a freeway.

This is what Apollo Lightspeed’s Balloon is all about. In their November 2013 survey “of approximately 300 IT and technology hiring managers,” they learned that “73 percent have a hard time finding qualified applicants in IT/technology.”1 Reading between the lines, the implication is that colleges aren’t delivering. No one should be surprised. The increasingly rapid pace of change coupled with a titanic academic tradition has left the gates wide open for Balloon and similar services that are sure to follow.

Balloon, launched today, is “an online career skills and learning marketplace featuring many of the world’s leading technology companies and education providers. Balloon addresses the growing gap between career-seekers’ skills and employers’ talent needs by helping users identify customized career paths, understand the knowledge and skills required by employers along that path, and, then learn from the right courses to improve their chances in a competitive labor market.”

Suddenly, with a single stroke, we’re looking past our vaunted colleges and universities toward a swifter, simpler path to jobs and security. In this cloud scenario, higher ed, as is, will continue to play a part, but the outlook for their dominance is deflating.

In the coming months, it will be interesting to see how education leaders respond to this new trend in which employers, employees, job seekers, and students look to balloons for qualified workers, professional development, jobs, and certification.

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1The New Path from Education to Employment: Apollo Lightspeed Launches Balloon to Connect Revolutionary Online Learning Skills and Courses with In-Demand, Career-Relevant Skills,” press release, 3/4/14.

7 Responses

  1. Entrepreneurship seems to be winning here. Community colleges have been trying to provide career education for quite a while now. Universities only care about careers in law, medicine, and the like. To be fair, they also train for engineering but at a rather elite level.

    As I read about this initiative, I see an image of one person, the employer, building roads to a particular area and finding desert at the end of the road. I see a career-seeker building in the opposite direction and also reaching an empty landscape. The career-seeker’s road is being planned by the colleges. An educational institution purporting to provide career training should be providing a path from the one to the other.

    The questions to be answered are whether career-seekers are willing to build their roads as the employers wish, and whether employers can adjust their roads to reach more potential employees.

    In the 1960s, people used to ask, “What if you held a war and no one came?” Balloon seems like a good idea, but will it work?

  2. Good point, Harry, and good question. In the 1960s when I went to college, a degree meant a good-paying job. Your major almost didn’t matter. But that ride’s over, and a college degree no longer guarantees a decent wage or even a job. PhDs are driving cabs and standing in unemployment lines, BAs and BSs are competing for counter work at McDonald’s. The shift to balloons is the logical next step for higher ed. It’ll mean adjusting on all sides: employers, students, and ed services/colleges aligning their needs.

  3. Yes; mostly, PhDs are necessary for professor careers and for a few research institutions.

    We absolutely must be training people to think first and to have specific skills second. Those skills must include communication as the top priority. It you can think and can communicate, then you can adapt to quite a wide range of potential careers.

    However, recessions have changed the attitude of many employers who expect employees to arrive fully trained in the specifics of the job they’re seeking. To me, this makes little sense, but it’s the way things are.

    BTW, I would add the ability to innovate to the list of thinking and communicating if people can figure out how to teach that.

    PS: I really like my PhD. It’s one of the few things no one can ever take away from me.

  4. Re “employers who expect employees to arrive fully trained in the specifics of the job they’re seeking” — this is a sign of our global economy. When employers have the world in front of them, limiting the field to “local” applicants doesn’t make sense. They can afford to be choosy, and if the picks aren’t close by, they’ll look elsewhere.

    Re “We absolutely must be training people to think” — I’d shave that even closer and say, We absolutely must be training people how to become independent learners. This digital period in our history is unprecedented. Increasingly, critical decisions of what, how, and when to learn are in the hands of learners. The mass-production, lock-step factory model for schooling is woefully inadequate.

    Re “the ability to innovate” — I really believe anything can be taught. Variance is in the length of time required for mastery. Another term for innovation is “creativity,” and we know that there are dozens if not hundreds of ways people are and can be creative. Creativity in science is just one of the ways, but we, as educators, tend to ignore most of the spectrum.

    • Excellent comments.

      It behooves our employers to seek out local talent because these support the local community in which they reside. It’s short-term versus long-term thinking. You find this attitude in other countries. Why not in ours?

      The above is not to minimize the impact of globalization. I just don’t think that one criterion should rule.

      I disagree with equating independent learners with thinkers. These do have much in common but are not really the same. We can discuss which is more important, but being capable of rational thinking, of creative thinking, and of critical thinking is crucial and separate from independent learning in my view (using my definitions, of course).

      Yes, innovation can be taught, at least in my opinion. It’s a bit different from creativity because the former requires a broader scope of thought.

      I have this idea that creativity applies to everything you encounter. I also think that science is one of the less creative fields of endeavor. Much of science is a slow slog. Creative flashes occur rarely. How many scientists that you know come up with a new creative science idea every day? Consider yourself fortunate to have one a year.

      Other fields have more room for creativity. Writing has lots of opportunity. So does engineering. OTOH, mathematics may be the most difficult.

      • Re thinking and learning, innovation and creativity — I don’t think we disagree at all.

        Yesterday, on my walk around the neighborhood, I stopped to watch a city road crew repairing an underground conduit of some kind. After they’re done with a section, they cover the gaping hole with a thick sheet of steel. What caught my eye was the use of little wooden wedges around the edges of the heavy slab, about 2-3 to a side, between the metal and the road surface. I’d never seen this done before, but it struck me that this is a simple solution to reduce the noise level of cars passing over the slab and the damage to the softer road top.

        Creative, innovative; thinking and learning. It happens all around us, every day, throughout the day, and it’s not limited to scientists and artists. It’s the definitive characteristic of human beings. We’re born problem solvers. We can’t help ourselves. We’re always looking for ways to make our work and lives easier and better.

        The problem with schooling is that it squeezes this natural tendency to be creative into a narrow channel that’s valued by industry, and the prize goes to conformity rather than creativity. Let’s face it. Industry values workers who can step into the system, the assembly line, people who can follow orders and fit in.

        If we want to nurture thinkers and independent learners, creative and innovative individuals, it seems to me we’re going about it the wrong way.

        • “If we want to nurture thinkers and independent learners, creative and innovative individuals, it seems to me we’re going about it the wrong way.”

          YOU BET!!

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