The theme of Athabasca University’s (AU) 50th anniversary is Beyond 50. We want to look forward to the next 50 years and imagine what the future of learning might hold. How will higher education institutions like AU adapt to new technologies and new modes of teaching? How do we create programs that will suit the needs of our learners in the next 10 or 20 years?
This is the third part of a four-part Future of Learning series. The series explores current trends that are shaping education for tomorrow, featuring the next generation work that AU’s professors are doing today. You can also read part one, part two, and part four.
Employees who want to upgrade their professional skills to succeed in the workplace but without having to take a full credit program now have an opportunity through Athabasca University’s new PowerED™ program.
PowerED™ is an entrepreneurial start-up unit at Athabasca University (AU) and Jessica Scott, Director of PowerED™, said the new program is building on the University’s rich history of the development and delivery of online learning.
“Within PowerED™ we are extending AU’s educational offerings and services beyond our full spectrum of credit programs by providing micro-learning, non-credit, professional development for individuals who are seeking to boost their skills on their own terms,” Scott said.
The non-credit micro-learning courses are built to provide skills-based learning opportunities for people who want to upgrade their workplace skills with topics like leadership, soft skills, using machine learning for a competitive advantage, digital transformation or a Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification Training program™.
The courses focus on developing soft skills like being a good listener, being able to resolve conflict, being an effective communicator, and being able to pitch a presentation, all which employers say are missing when they hire employees.
“More and more it’s those soft skills that are becoming increasingly important because of the rapid change that’s happening within our world of work. It’s being brought on by technology and by the competitive nature and globalization of businesses,” Scott said.
Those soft skills are what make businesses able to adapt to a quickly changing workplace environment, which has become even more important now that the COVID-19 pandemic has upended many industries across the globe, Scott said, making these skills more important than ever before.
Scott said the program is filling a gap in the workplace to help employees transfer their current skills into new opportunities. Some jobs are going to be eliminated because of changing technology and artificial intelligence (AI) advancements and AU wants to ensure employees are able to adapt to the changing nature of the job market.
“How can we look at a person’s current skill base and perhaps provide them with enough short micro-learning experience to translate and boost that skill into a different industry sector?”
Athabasca University has been delivering quality academic content for 50 years and started the first online MBA program 25 years ago so the school is well-positioned to lead the field with an already well developed online delivery system for the courses.
“The nature of on-demand delivery is really important. People want to learn on their own terms,” Scott said, adding that if people are experiencing a problem they will often turn to YouTube or Google to solve the problem quickly and on-demand.
“What we found was that the flexibility in our offerings to be able to have our course content… available to professionals when they need them at the times, places, and spaces that work for them is paramount,” Scott said.
PowerED™ works with industry professionals for each course, with the experts sharing their own experiences and stories, which help bring the content to life. Learners will get tools like handbooks to help adapt what they are learning for their own sector or organization, which allows them to make an immediate impact in their workplace.
PowerED™ launched in September 2019 and has already been recognized with three awards, including the Peer Choice Award for the Best Online Program at the 42nd Annual Conference on Management and Executive Development in Austin, Texas in November, a Digital Transformation Leadership Award through Amazon Web Services for the program’s excellence, innovation and alignment to industry and the program was recognized for marketing and advertising excellence through the Canadian Association for University Continuing Educators.
Scott said PowerED™ has been so successful they plan to launch a project management certificate this fall with the University of California-Irvine and have other courses in the early stages of development launching at a later date.