As a result, Justin adds, we’re seeing a new type of educational framework. “We’re seeing an emergence of the micro-credential. It’s this ‘nanodegree’ or smaller certificate. But it’s university-based so it has the prestige of Harvard or MIT or Carnegie Mellon, but it’s more of an advanced certificate.”

It’s something that technology entrepreneur Tom Siebel has looked to integrate fully in his latest startup C3 IoT. The company is willing to pay employees $1,000 or more for each MOOC they complete in areas such as deep learning and natural language processing.

“In order for us to stay ahead of this, when we interview people we tend to self-select for people who are well educated and who are challenged by interesting problems,” Tom says. “People who have a book in their hand.

“We like to think of our people as self-learners. This is an important part of our core values — to be inquisitive and always learning.”

Not only are MOOCs and other online courses ideal from a cost and time perspective but, for younger “digital natives” in the workforce, these platforms effectively engage their innate learning style. These are students and early career professionals who see learning as something that can and should happen anywhere, anytime, and anyplace, so the flexibility offered by digital platforms is hugely appealing.

Face-to-face learning, bootcamp style

That’s not to say that physical learning opportunities don’t have their place in this new world order. Bootcamps covering a variety of topics are often hosted in a location near you, helping thousands of participants get an experiential learning deep dive.

Adobe recently hosted a General Assembly bootcamp with an eye on providing participants an intense introduction to topics such as UX design. These one-day sessions provided participants with meaningful hands-on experience paired with an opportunity to network with peers and industry leaders. The events are extremely popular among a diverse audience and, in particular, among students and professionals aiming to bridge disciplines and gain increased career flexibility.

“They’re coming to the workforce and recognizing what they’re lacking,” says Bianca Espinoza, regional admissions director for General Assembly. “These immersion courses are great for scaling them up with the more up-to-date ,” she says which, increasingly, is essential for success in an innovation-heavy environment.

“In technology,” Bianca says, “things are moving really quickly, so we’re giving them a portfolio of work that shows these skills, but also provides them with a professional background so they can jump into new roles and collaborate with others effectively.”

It’s also a common experience in creative fields where, more and more, students and industry professionals are being pushed to hone their skills and dig into new ones.

“I see a lot of experimentation from people in one field of graphic design going more into UX design lately,” Adobe Senior Community Manager Liz Schmidt says. “It’s something that they stayed away from because they probably weren’t developers or front-end designers and had a fear of getting into a field that really revolved around that.”

It’s an exciting shift, and it’s opening countless doors for lifelong learners. “We’re seeing our students come in and say, ‘I really want to show the world what I can do,’ and with training on new products they’re able to do that very quickly,” she says. “They can learn skills in a few hours — it’s very intuitive for them. That’s inspiring a lot of people to jump into something new.”

Challenging your peers — and your mind

As a student of data science, Bryant Baird supplemented his formal education with an opportunity to see how he measured up.

As a participant in, and 2016 winner of, the Adobe Analytics Challenge, he and about 1,500 other contestants from across the United States received access to industry-leading analytics products, real-world data, and live training as they competed to provide a solution to an analysis project.

Teams analyzed a company’s data and then presented their findings and recommendations to experienced analytics consultants for a chance at $60,000 in prizes. In addition to specific industry skills, Bryant also learned a few soft skills.

“Whatever the company, career, or role, whether inside or outside of the work environment, the ability to present yourself and your thoughts is a crucial skill,” says Bryant. “There are many others who are more outspoken than I am, but competing helped me learn that I have a voice too, and it’s just as important as anybody else’s, even if it’s not as loud or doesn’t have as large a sphere of influence as others.”

Networking for learning

Since the earliest online bulletin boards, communities of professionals have gathered to share their own skills with specific technology and glean tips from those with more knowledge than themselves. These have evolved into professional learning networks (PLNs), such as the Adobe Education Exchange, which allow people to share knowledge and expertise with their peers, as well as access lesson plans, workshops, and a whole host of other learning resources.

PLNs provide a variety of content — some user-generated, some from professional associations, and still more from specific vendors. For example, Adobe recently introduced Experience League — an online community of experts and peers, with guided learning modules to support businesses as they transition their organizations to focus on experiences.

But, like other learning opportunities, it doesn’t all have to be online. In-person conferences infuse energy and enthusiasm into the work and tools while sharing a vision of why different skills are important and the impact they can make. Adobe MAX, THE creativity conference, and Summit, Adobe’s digital experience event, both offer hands-on learning labs, live networking, and a chance to re-evaluate where you want your career to go and the skills you’ll need to get there.

A commitment to learning drives greater innovation and personal satisfaction

If the trend toward more flexible, forward-thinking work environments continues, it seems inevitable that we will enter a multistage life that will be characterized by breaks and transitions in skills across one or several careers — another critical reason companies and individuals need to commit to lifelong learning. If our collective workforce can learn how to adapt skills, expand horizons, and keep evolving as learners and leaders, then this commitment can drive even greater innovation, as well as personal satisfaction and professional growth.

“We are really excited about this learning model,” says Tom Ogletree, director of social impact at General Assembly, “and how it can get more people who may not have had a lot of access and opportunity, but are super-motivated and super-passionate about pursuing careers in tech, to be able to access careers in the digital economy.”

Beyond the opportunity, though, there’s also a professional and social imperative to a lifelong learning model. Technology continues to evolve in ways no one can fully predict. As a result, it’s not uncommon for lessons and skills that students gained in a traditional four-year program to be obsolete by the time they graduate — again, it’s the continuously shelf life of our professional skillsets.

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