The Future of Education: Adult Education

The “new normal” of COVID-19 is one of fast-paced evolution, and is anything but conventional. As we approach the one-year mark, we’re reflecting on some of the trends that seem to be here to stay—and ways to evolve beyond quick-fixes to design for success at all levels. 

With a new school semester underway, it’s likely that many universities will continue offering online classes and final exams—but does this solution prepare students for the largely-remote workforce, or are we losing human interactions necessary to cultivate critical thinking, connection, and effective communication skills?

In these new digital test-taking experiences, proctor automation and surveillance management replace human monitoring. On the one hand, it’s convenient and flexible: Flat tire on the morning of your exam? Breakfast for the kids taking longer than expected? No problem. Your professor offered a 24-hour window to pick a convenient window that fits your schedule. 

But there are tradeoffs: Did you run into a tough question and look up–just for a moment–to think? Boom. The test software read your errant eye movement as a tripped safeguard and flagged you for cheating. Why? Respondus Monitor AI includes advanced algorithms to “analyze the examination environment” to “evaluate anomalies associated with cheating.” 

The fact is: there are two sides to every innovation. Sure, implementing new technologies to relieve existing pain points is a groove well-worn by modern SaaS companies and digital transformation initiatives. Requirements are written, opportunities are offered, and trade-offs are made. Then implementation is hurried, and new problems are found (or provoked), but the show must go on. What’s often ignored are the impacts on end users (students) while buttressing higher ed’s credibility (degrees). 

After finals this spring, it’s time for (virtual) commencements and facing the reality that graduates (and dropouts) are walking into one of the most challenging job markets in recent memory. Recent job recovery is slowing as the September 2020 unemployment rate dropped under 8% only because 700,000 left the workforce. Major employers like Disney are still reeling from extended pandemic behavior change, projecting to cut 32,000 jobs through 2021. These grads have experienced first hand the abrupt shifts from in-person to remote instruction and what is gained and lost from each interaction method. And they seem to bring a digital pragmatism to education and professional outlook along with the ability to envision new paths to their entry into higher (remote) education or the working world.

The first step after your last step

Today, the value of theory and practice is at a crossroads when “what you know” meets “what you can do” in the real world. 

  • Only 13% of U.S. adults are confident that graduates are work-ready, which leads us to wonder where “real” education happens – in the classroom or in the field.
  • While brand names matter, the scope of work and point of entry has become more important than Ivy League prestige. When asked what they believe would be most helpful for a high school graduate to launch a career, 60% of Americans prefer an internship at Google over a degree from Harvard (40%).
  • With the COVID-19 crisis, the gap between college completion and job readiness is widening. 45% of organizations froze hiring in 2020, impacting the talent pipeline of internship programs, entry-level hiring, and the value and form of internships and co-op placements.
Remote Work Demands a Personal Brand

Prospects must stand out from the homogenous competition, often virtually. Digital native students have grown tolerant of asynchronous proxies of live interactions—and the job interview is no exception. The interview itself is a limited series, just like the delicious Queen’s Gambit, where the protagonist (ahem, you) lives a vivid story of talent, intrigue, struggle, and resilience. And if we tell the story well, the interviewer will be left with an inescapable thirst for more. Candidate interactions that were once minimized to a series of scorecards and stack ranks can now be woven into a rich texture of humanity and possibility.

Technology Isn’t an Analogous Substitute for Everything 

So now, as the foundation of a traditional educational system evolves, so shifts the educational journey of a prospective student—many choosing alternative paths and skipping college all together in exchange for apprenticeships, internships, and straight-to-the-workforce options.   

Completing an academic curriculum is no longer the sole proof of accomplishment to long-term or lucrative employment. Education is no longer a moment in time, but rather a continuum over time. What does The Future of Education look like once you’re finished with the formal classroom?

Pathways to Real Jobs

Imagine a future of education that creates new pathways to real corporate jobs by making interviews and internships valuable, accessible, and specific.

If you’ve comparison shopped for flights, you’ll love Just tell us your destination—ahem, major—and select the routes you want to get there. Select from semester-long for-credit co-ops or choose shadowing and volunteering—or let map the best route to build an envious resume. Only presents the most sought after opportunities that reinforce your degree with coveted pre-professional experiences. Whether you’re competing for a prestigious bio-med spot at the National Institutes of Health or software engineering at Google, is the best way for qualified candidates to develop professional experience. 


In preparation for holiday shopping, the mega-retailer Amazin’ is adding 100,000 seasonal jobs to keep those packages delivered in 2 days. Getting noticed and interviewed is tough—really tough—but with Reversee you can just add an internship or job to your cart, check out in a couple clicks, and show up the next day. Don’t worry about connections when you can stay connected with in-demand jobs that are guaranteed to be available to you for a small fee. For a gift that always fits, treat yourself to a new gig on Reversee.

The portfolio begins as a simple AI framework: the student uploads projects they are proud of, whether from school or extracurriculars. The AI visualizes patterns in the work, pulling out key indicators of growth, which evolve with each new uploaded piece of data. 

Unlike a report card or LinkedIn profile using only metrics (grades or awards), the Living Portfolio assesses key aptitudes such as autonomy, self-mastery, sociability, growth, curiosity, and craft. 

With each new addition, the AI looks for evidence that the student has tried something new, or has built on and deepened existing knowledge. It will also be looking for patterns in what type of projects the student is proud of and interested in to forecast future interests, successes, and aptitudes.

Eventually, the AI can generate “trend reports” for the student (and their SEL Coach) based on growth patterns. And the student can use the Living Portfolio to inform education and career moves based on an extensive analysis of their unique interests and competitive advantage.

Guaranteed Interview

Equally paralyzed by picking the right electives and making sure you’re prepared to land a job after graduation? Next time you register for classes online, look for onramp tracks from top employers. Add the suggested courses to your degree plan, make sure you complete them with at least a B, and you’re guaranteed an interview. Get an edge over your classmates by cutting to the top of the interview list with straight As.

Democratized Access to Real Job Training

Previously, physical visibility in the workplace created opportunities, both prescribed and serendipitous. Water cooler moments and impromptu hallway chats equalized strata by connecting optics with opportunity. Much of a shared sense of place is the kinetic interactions that happen throughout the day while seeing and being seen creates opportunities for advancement through repetition and recognition.

Accurate representation of oneself is crucial to help complete strangers form opinions and act on informed hunches. These hunches are increasingly replaced with the distillation of numerous data points into “insights” meant to ease decision making. Rather than normalizing behaviors to cells in a table, how can algorithms and automation enhance our subtleties?

Imagine a future of education that democratizes access to real job training after learning.


You’re putting time in and doing a great job in your new role, but how do you know that you’re on track for a promotion? If your employer has Wayfare enabled in their Human Capital Management suite, you can get smart nudges to improve your standing with courses that fit your schedule. Climb the ladder to a more prominent role with Wayfare, the intelligent way to spend the least time making the most of your opportunities.


The Boost intelligence platform analyzes your workforce to help you see tomorrow’s rising stars today. Create incentive-based progression plans that encourage free and discounted continuing education courses with aligned institutions. With Boost’s progressive planning, your team immediately realizes short-term applications of long-term upskilling and its connection to foster organizational impact. Boost also evolves with you as a co-pilot during reviews and planning to identify talent optimizations, revenue reduction efficiencies, and aligned incentives that boost the bottom line. Grow your organization—with Boost.

By providing more ways to learn and engage outside of typical educational pathways, we can accentuate what makes us distinctly human with accessible technologies. Futures inferred (or inspired) by these solutions can connect students with new worlds of opportunity, wisdom, and enablement. By recentering expectations that learning will be a prominent fixture in students’ lives beyond the traditional education system, students and employers can be prepared for atypical pathways that will transform entry-level hiring and bespoke employee development. Designing programs that encourage clear intentions for real, non-uniform humans are necessary for empathetic technologies that are enticing and lasting.

At Modernist, we’re in the business of identifying existing problems, and exploring the implications of provocative solutions. What are the implications of each of these “solutions” above? Will our future look like these scenarios, or can we design something better? That’s up to all of us to decide.

Check out our explorations of the Future of K-12 Learning and subscribe to our monthly Design Futures email (below) or follow us on Medium for more design solutions for short and long-term futures!