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A revolution is taking place in digital education, and businesses should sit up and take notice.

We are creating new knowledge at unprecedented rates, and the business environment is changing just as quickly. Quantum growth in new businesses and an accelerated rate of innovation is creating new business models and jobs as fast as it is rendering the old ones redundant. Just 15 years ago, app developers and user experience designers were relatively few and far between, yet today it is one of the fastest-growing fields of digital work. This is creating a new problem for traditional education providers like universities and colleges: they cannot modify their curricula fast enough to keep up. As a result, graduates from these institutions can find themselves increasingly behind the innovation curve.

Into this breach have stepped the alternative education providers. The exponential rate at which new knowledge is being created is creating a unique opportunity for a new breed of alternative educators in higher and tertiary education, developing low-cost, on-demand learning solutions. They are closing the gap between the skills that workers or graduates possess, and what employers require. Companies like Hack Reactor, HackBright and DevBootCamp impart computer programming and web development skills in just three months.

These immersive education providers have an astounding placement rate for graduates: some like HackBright boast a 90% placement rate in companies like Event Brite, Facebook and LinkedIn. Tomorrow’s prospective employees will increasingly bring skills with them from non-traditional education providers, and employers need to be prepared for that lest they pass up on the best skills in the marketplace because they don’t come from a familiar institution. Services like Mozilla’s Open Badges Platform and Degreed allow employers to assess the credentials of prospective employees from accredited and non-accredited sources on an “apples vs apples” basis.

Accepting immersive and massive open online course (MOOC) providers like Coursera and Get Smarter is one way in which employers can respond to digital innovation in education, but it is a limited way of exploiting this opportunity. Businesses should be looking at how digital education can help them to digitise their own learning academies.

By 2020, the rate of new knowledge creation will be so rapid that a person who graduates that year can expect their degree to be obsolete in just five years. Just as the workers of the future need to adopt a life-long learning model, businesses need to have written plans for learning. Organisations are best placed to understand what their employee needs will be, and they should be actively curating the course material required to attain those skills. This could either be through recognising and compensating employees who study selected MOOC or immersive courses, or by developing company-specific courses in collaboration with digital education providers. Companies like Yahoo are adopting this employee learning model.

Organisations also need to learn to articulate the desired skills properly. Gone are the days of the waffling, indistinct job advertisements. Employees don’t need ads telling them they need to be “a people person” or “work well in high-pressure environments”. This surely goes without saying. Rather, they need to say exactly what skills are required, and judge applicants accordingly. If a job ad demands the ability to code in Java, then it will not matter if the successful applicant learnt that skill at DevBootCamp or the University of Cape Town.

Lastly, organisations need to broaden their recruiting strategies. Part of the reason why they are largely failing to recognise and exploit digital innovation in education is that they still insist on recruiting on campuses. They need to start looking at alternative educators too.

The most successful software and technology companies in the world have embraced alternative educators. It’s time for the rest of the business world to wake up to this opportunity.

Shyam Ranchod is associate director for digital advisory at Deloitte Digital

This article was first published in MoneyWeb on 28 May 2016.

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